Russell Hall Blog: Stuck in paradise

Russell Hall, Clinical Director at Avonvale Veterinary Centres, continues his journey sailing around the world with his family – Kate, Hugo and Felix. Read his latest update below:

“Just like everyone else in the world, the last 3 months have been very different for us. After the rigours of sailing the Atlantic, we had a fantastic time sailing between the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. We were often in a mini convoy of boats (including several family boats) we have met on the way. We enjoyed barbecues on deserted islands, snorkelling coral reefs- all the things you expect to do on a paradise island. We reached Antigua in late February, just as Coronavirus started to affect the world.

Some of the boats we were with prepared to head north to start their journey back home across the Atlantic. Others were planning their journeys further west to Panama and on to the biggest section of ocean in the world – The Pacific. That is where we are planning to head.

But borders were beginning to close, flights were being cancelled – how do we continue our voyage? Where should we go next? Where would we be safe?

We opted to leave Antigua and head to Bonaire, a little known island off the coast of Venezuela. It was the most sensible choice for us as Bonaire is out of the Caribbean hurricane zone and in the right direction for our onward journey. The 675 mile journey took us past Monserrat so we detoured and sailed within a few hundred yards of the active volcanoes. You can still clearly see the island’s old capital buried in several metres of ash with church towers and the old town hall poking though. You can smell the sulphur and steam still rises from vents in the rocky landscape. We didn’t stay long as there is a five mile exclusion zone.

We arrived at Bonaire on Saturday evening, 4 ½ days after leaving Antigua. The border closed on Monday morning; we had just made it in time! In those few days the world, it seemed, had changed. From being a relatively minor news item, Coronavirus had now struck with a vengeance

Once safe in Bonaire, inaction seemed the best action so we sat tight for nearly 3 months. But what a place to be stuck! Bonaire is a Dutch territory, in a similar way to the Falkland Islands being a British territory. Like many of the Caribbean Islands, Bonaire formed from volcanoes millions of years ago. The mostly cactus covered Bonaire has a colourful history, especially since the Dutch arrived in the sixteenth century. Slavery was a part of its salt mining and plantation-farming history, it served as a refuelling base in the Second World War and is now a wildlife and marine reserve. With all these activities it was a great place for home schooling.

After 11 weeks in Bonaire it was time to leave. Our next planned stop was Colombia but they’d closed their border and, like many South American countries, medical systems were struggling to cope with the large numbers of people falling ill. We opted to head directly for Bocas del Toro in Panama, Central America. Panama currently allow entry after a 14 day quarantine period at anchor off the coast. We faced a week’s long journey through the roughest part of the Caribbean Sea followed by two weeks at anchor before touching land. This meant several trips to the shops to stock up on fresh food and pasta sauce.

We’re now on day five of the passage to Panama. Last night we went through the biggest electrical storm we’ve ever seen. Thunder rattled the rigging, lightning hit the water all around us and the rain was so heavy it made an Indian monsoon seem like a small drizzle. It lasted for six hours and was the first time we’ve felt really alone; very few commercial vessels, and no other yachts, were within hundreds of miles of us. All we could do was pray we didn’t get a direct lightning strike – that would be a disaster.

We were lucky, we came through relatively unscathed. Water has leaked into loads of odd places and lightning has damaged the electronics at the top of the mast. The job list has now extended to include mending lightning-damaged electronics whilst 20 metres in the air, with no relevant spare parts. Something to do whilst in quarantine I suppose and, to be honest, probably a lot easier than home schooling!

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the live-a-board sailing community. When we told people we were going to move our family onto a boat to sail the world, people warned us about being overtaken by rogue waves, boarded by pirates and the difficulties of home schooling; someone even said we should watch out in case bare foot living turned our children’s feet into those usually seen on a hobbit! But a global pandemic? No one mentioned a pandemic.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, we are all facing challenges and obstacles in our daily lives. We are all living a voyage.”

You can follow the family’s travels on www.hallsaboard.com

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