Running home from COVID-19

Salty Paws — Molly and Bill’s Rosborough 246 Pocket Trawler — gets a well-deserved rest after a long day of travel.  Photo by Dick Klain

By Dick Klain

My last cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) was several years ago. Since that time, I have stayed up to date on the ditch through friends. When the coronavirus hit, I wondered what my friends who were still down south would be doing.

Molly and Bill are recently retired, and were finishing up the Great Loop by enjoying some warm weather in the Bahamas aboard their Rosborough 246 Pocket Trawler, Salty Paws. On the loop they traveled slowly using their 9.9-horsepower outboard rather than their 250-horse outboard. As Bill said, “I can travel all day on five gallons of gas with the small motor. We were in no hurry.”

They had hoped to make it to the Abacos, despite the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Dorian. As is sometimes the case, the winds were unceasing from the wrong direction. On March 11, they turned the helm toward the north, then west from Eleuthera, and headed back to the States. They arrived in Fort Lauderdale three days and 300 miles later, using the big motor for the crossing.

“Now we are in Fort Lauderdale,” Bill wrote in his blog, “and vegging out a bit. We’re 50 years late, but we finally made it to Spring Break. News of COVID-19, and the request for social distancing, has apparently not made it to this year’s group.”

Their original plan was to slowly trek back up to Maine using their 9.9, and travel at a leisurely pace enjoying spring, arriving in Maine in early June. Their wake-up call came when a marina farther north in Florida called to say that their reservation had been canceled because of the pandemic and COVID-19. “We then traveled an exhausting 150 miles or so per day from Florida for a week to arrive at a marina on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” Bill said. “We secured covered boat storage for a month, and my brother Bob, and Nora, who live near D.C., dropped off our Prius they had had since we started the Great Loop. Greetings were an appropriate six feet or more apart.”

Bill and Molly had anchored out each night – except once at the Barefoot Marina in South Carolina – until they got to the marina on Kent Island, Md. On their way north, burning through 100 gallons of gas per day, Bill and Molly had no problem finding fuel. They noted that the cost of the fuel was less than half of what they had paid in the Bahamas.

However, the store in South Carolina where they stopped for produce had some bare shelves. Before leaving Florida, they had stocked up on the staples that they had needed, but produce was another matter, even in the space of a week of hard cruising.

They spent all day March 28 packing the car and cleaning the boat. They planned on having supper aboard and one last night with Salty Paws. Listening to the news, they heard that President Trump was thinking of quarantining New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to travelers. Their plans changed again, and they left immediately for home in the car. On the way, they heard that Governor Hogan of Maryland had closed his state’s waters to anything but commercial vessels beginning Monday, March 30, and that the President had changed his mind about the quarantine.

After a brief stop in Massachusetts to see their daughter, at an appropriate distance, Bill and Molly are safely in their home in Georgetown, self-quarantining and following Maine’s Governor Mills recommendation for social distancing. Salty Paws is safe in Maryland with Molly’s Prius, but that is another story.

Dave Jansen aboard Sea Badger, an older diesel trawler/cruiser, is of necessity taking a different tack, but definitely headed home. Dave had gotten just shy of South Carolina on his original schedule when the thunk we all hate to hear took place. He limped back to Brunswick, Ga., where his prop was refurbished, losing almost a week of travel time but enjoying the town.

Back out on the ICW, the coronavirus was all over the news. As he made his way north, the price of diesel fuel continued to fall. Being early in the season, finding marinas that were open became increasingly difficult. The Osprey Marina, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was open, but the lobby was not. Everything was taken care of through a window with a gloved attendant. The marina was still handing out their bag of “goodies.”

On most nights Dave has anchored out. In Coinjock, N.C., he noticed that all the attendants were wearing gloves. The restaurant there was closed except for take-out. A little later that day at the store at Great Bridge, Va., Dave managed to snag one of only three bags of flour left on the shelf. “I bake almost all of my own bread while aboard,” he said.

He refueled there for $1.91 per gallon for diesel, the least expensive of his whole time since leaving Maine early last fall. The gloved attendant handed him the nozzles for fuel and his pump-out rather than doing it himself. “They kept their distance and didn’t talk much,” he said.

During our last phone conversation, as he was approaching the Chesapeake, he wasn’t worried about Governor Hogan’s travel ban. “This is my home,” said Dave. “He can’t very well toss me out of my home.” Later on, he emailed me to say that he had had to hand-steer through much of the Chesapeake as the boat was surfing downwind in some swells. He was in hopes of taking the inside route from Cape May to Atlantic City, then hopscotch to New England through Long Island Sound.

He is traveling at a 60- to 110-mile-a-day clip. “I can’t make my normal cruising speed because I still have a vibration in the prop. I need my guy at home to do the job right.” With the food he has aboard he only anticipates having to stop once or maybe twice for fuel before he gets to Gloucester, Mass.

He and his wife have already discussed how they intend to practice his 14-day home-quarantine. It certainly won’t be a normal homecoming, but, then, getting back to normal seems a long way off right now.

Dick Klain is a sailor and cruiser, a retired Merchant Mariner with a 100-ton license, and a recovering RSP (retired school principal) who lives in Maine and is currently following social distancing.