This happened in the middle of a sailing trip during which we planned to visit the US and Spanish Virgin Islands (the latter are part of Puerto Rico). One could argue that the entire nine days of sailing was in paradise, and one would be correct. But we did not plan to spend five days of it secured to a mooring in Gallows Bay, Christiansted, St. Croix.
When we arrived in Gallows Bay on the third day of our adventure, our skipper–the guy who had organized the trip–did not feel well. Indeed, he’d spent a couple hours of the trip from St. John sleeping below. Most of us couldn’t spend more than a few minutes down there as the boat heaved on the swells, so his need for rest had to be very powerful.
Naturally, one of our group produced a Covid 19 self-test and the result was positive.
Cue the tense group dynamics.
We were all vaccinated, most of us with two additional boosters administered fairly recently. Two of the group have regular, close interaction with family members who are immune compromised. One of them also self tested that evening and the result was negative. He put on a mask and continued to provide moral and informational support to our skipper. The other put on a mask and said our leader should leave the boat immediately. Instead, he stayed outside, having us hand his dinner, and then his bedding, up to him in the cockpit. He called his wife and his doctor and his insurance company and studied the CDC protocols.
In the morning, our skipper and his supportive crew went ashore and took a taxi to an urgent care facility. The rest of us waited on the boat swimming, reading, and inevitably discussing what would happen next.
They came back a couple hours later and reported the same results, which were now officially recorded. The rest of us gathered our shore gear and left the boat to make the same trip to urgent care. Our skipper packed a bag, made a hotel reservation, and left the boat in the care of our other crewmate.
After the longest taxi ride imaginable, we checked in at urgent care. Our crew mate who cares for her aging mother is also self employed with insurance that does not cover her outside of New Jersey. She was charged $100 for the Covid antigen test. The rest of us produced insurance that covered the test. The doctor had us stand outside while she swabbed our noses, then told us to wait there for the results. An eternity later she returned and said, “you guys are all clear.”
That’s when I realized just how stressful this whole thing was–when the uncertainty about whether I’d have to pay for a hotel on an expensive island, maybe not be able to fly home on schedule, was eliminated the relief made me almost jubilant.
This is when I decided that although this was not what we had planned, we were going to spend five days in paradise, so we might as well make the best of it. The other three agreed.
We texted our crew mates about the results, and we had the taxi drop us at a restaurant just outside the marina for a late lunch/early dinner. We urged our other healthy crew mate to walk over and join us. Good thing we didn’t wait to order, because we were half-way through our meals when he turned up. It wasn’t until later that I realized he felt strongly that the five of us should be in quarantine on the boat, not eating at an indoor restaurant. He also was no longer willing to do any scuba diving because it would put him in close proximity with the other divers on the boat.
Distinctly different opinions about what we should do regarding Covid certainly shaded our five days in paradise. Our two crew with the immunocompromised family at home entered into frequent heated discussions about CDC guidance and protocols. The rest of us repeated what the doctor had told us upon delivering our negative test results: don’t get another test unless you become symptomatic. Our crew mate with the New Jersey insurance was adamant that she would not pay $100 for another test. So our other concerned crew mate became determined to find a pharmacy that would provide him the six monthly self tests provided by Medicare, even though all of us said no, we would not do those tests either.
Despite these conflicts, we rented a car and drove the length of the island, all crammed into a small SUV joking and laughing a lot. The next day four of us went to the beach at a nearby resort, and the day after that we signed on for a catamaran voyage to Buck Island, a mostly underwater national monument. Our fifth crew mate refused on the same principle as his no dive boat decision. The rest of us felt the likelihood of us infecting anyone–if in fact we did have Covid despite the negative tests–in the open air on a beach, and on a sailboat, was very low.
At last the five days ended, our skipper felt much better, and another Covid test was negative. Early in the morning of the sixth day he returned to the boat and we dropped the mooring to sail north. We had a couple more days–not enough to visit the Spanish Virgin Islands, but certainly enough to visit Christmas Cove on St. James Island and the pizza boat, and to snorkel in Caneel Bay on St. John.
Even as many places and people begin to view the pandemic as if it’s in their rear-view mirror, it is not over, and it can still disrupt lives. Our only recourse is to adjust and adapt, or we’re destined to lose sight of the joy and lessons that every life experience provides.
Read the full story of our USVI sailing adventure.