1/30/2021 Cruising Independence Update... Cruising in a Covid World
With our last update we were greatly anticipating coming home for a few months and then returning to Ecuador to resume our trip to the Galapagos, Easter and Pitcairn Islands and into the South Pacific. Like almost every other cruiser, those plans were dashed with the spread of Covid and the subsequent closure of almost every country. We were “stuck” at home and the boat was stuck in Ecuador!
While the boat was prepared for three months away in a semi-supervised environment, it was not mothballed the way we would for a year’s time! We were on a mooring, and the Puerto Amistad YC had good security, with a guard in a small workboat checking the fleet every ½ hour or so all night. Ultimately they moved Independence in closer on a fore and aft mooring. We paid extra each month for a diver to “do” the bottom and periodically replace the burlap bags which were tied around the propeller to inhibit fouling (it really worked!) A friend we had made in Ecuador was kind enough to check on the boat and reported that the Pelicans had found a new perch on the bow and that the humid environment had indeed fostered the growth of mold, and that we should plan on some serious work… (Thank you Ron!!)
With the rest of the world, we watched as Covid struck Ecuador and thousands died. The small town where the boat was only had a triage medical center and any serious patients were moved to Manta or Quito, both hours away – if there was room in the hospital…
Candy threw herself into tax season, volunteering for the local Norwalk food bank and the Red Cross and passed her US Coast Guard Captains test!! Rick returned to working for the marinas and resumed instructing new boaters on the water and on zoom – it seemed that everyone wanted to be on the water to “distance” and the season stayed busy through September! We even gave a live presentation of our voyage (so far) at Indian Harbor YC
(see the link at the bottom of the page to watch the seminar) and also gave a multi-day "Capable Crewmate" seminar at Noroton YC.
Ecuador allows a vessel a one year grace period before considering the boat imported and liable for a serious importation duty. Gene, the marina owner, had been in contact with the authorities and had assured us that Ecuador was going to extend the one year by six months. On month four, he sent a very distressing message – the extension had been shortened to three months and we were already over!! Since Candy had already immersed herself in tax season, plans were made for Rick to return to Ecuador, move the boat to Tumaco, Columbia for a day or two and return, thus restarting the one year clock.
Upon arrival, Rick was told that there was to be a fine for overstaying… initially $6,000 but quickly swelling to $8,000 – YIKES!! Gene immediately ran interference for us, submitting a formal protest (that would take two weeks or more to be decided). With the odds not being in our favor, Rick reached out to the Port Captain and solicited a Zarpe – the formal document that the boat could leave Ecuador. Since the tax folks and the Port Captain are different parts of the government, and not in tight communications, the Zarpe was produced… and within a week Rick had cleaned the boat, checked all systems, made some necessary repairs, provisioned, found a pick-up crewman recommended by the marina, and bolted for Panama!
It was the wrong time of year for the trip, and we broke the cardinal rule of cruising, “don’t let the schedule dictate your voyage… plan your voyage on the favorable weather window”.
After a day and a half of familiarizing our Spanish (only) speaking crewman with the boat, safety procedures, watch keeping duties, food prep, and heavy weather tactics (reefing) using Google Translate, we left Ecuador. What usually would be a downwind, with the current, four day sail turned into a seven day upwind slog into the current (and 15 foot tidal flow)! There was initially no wind as we crossed the Equator (going the wrong way) through the doldrums and we motored for almost three days straight. Then we were bashed by winds on the nose with gusts into the high twenties with matching waves… Great fun! Torrential rain, dozens of 600 -900 foot ships approaching the Panama Canal and rapidly increasing currents and temperatures greeted us as we clawed our way into the Gulf of Panama.
We made it, finally, and arrived at Vista Mar Marina, about 45 miles west of Panama City. It took an hour and a half cab ride ($130 round trip) to get to immigrations and get that important stamp on the passport (with no questions about the lack of an Ecuadorian exit stamp). The cruising visa couldn’t be done in one day and will require yet another cab ride… but we are in – legally! Unfortunately we may have to forgo the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands. The winds haven’t let up and it is brutally hot in the sun. The marina is subject to the ocean swell and the boat feels like she is constantly underway. Projects on the boat have to be accomplish early and late in the day and mid-afternoons are spent hiding from the heat in the marina’s crew lounge or napping.
Future plans??? That’s the tough question. With new variants of Covid emerging, much of the world, and certainly the South Pacific, are closed or re-closing. Despite our opportunity to get the inoculation, much of the world will lag behind by months or more. We may cruise the Central America coastline, possibly as far as Baja Mexico and be forced to put off the South Pacific for yet another year. We intend to make the best of it, but never in our wildest nightmares could have imagined a closed, unwelcoming world after spending so many years preparing…
Link to our Indian Harbor YC Presentation: https://youtu.be/cnMAhZpR97k