I Was forced to Spend Five Days in Paradise

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.

I Found my Rigging Knife

You didn’t know it was lost, I realize, but I have been acutely aware of its absence for many months. I bought it in Zurich, Switzerland years ago. It’s a special edition Wenger Swiss Army knife with the perfect set of tools for sailing.

When I got back from St Martin in February of 2020, carefully unpacking my bag was the last thing on my mind. I dug out the dirty clothes and delicate electronics, then stored the bag with snorkel gear and assorted sailing stuff inside.

In June of 2021 I was packing for a sailing trip with friends. I could not find the knife. I searched through the bag from 2020, as well as various other pieces of luggage I use for sailing trips and where I store travel stuff.

No knife. I was surprisingly upset. I mean, my degree of unhappiness at this loss seemed out of proportion, and I’m sure I was loading all kinds of emotional distress from the past pandemic year onto it. I reluctantly packed an older, totally functional sailing knife for the trip. I never needed to use it as we visited Martha’s Vineyard.

So that’s probably an important point: sailors carry knives or multitools for emergencies, or at last as a convenience should they need to unknot a line or tighten a screw. But it’s an emergency tool that you don’t want to have to use. Except for this particular knife. Many of my sailing buddies will recognize it because on a boat, I use the main blade in the galley, and it’s got both bottle opener and cork screw. It has a good heft to it and a comfortable grip. It’s a great knife, which certainly contributed to my sense of loss.

Last October I did not search again, it was too painful to put that much focus on the loss. I packed the blue knife and went sailing. And did not encounter a need to cut or tighten screws on that trip.

Yesterday I went to the storeroom to get a snorkel for an upcoming trip to the USVI. I have already packed the dutiful blue knife. Feeling around in the depths of that same St Martin bag I pushed aside fins, water shoes, and a produce hammock, and my hand wrapped around a rough, rectangular lump. My heart raced—could it be? Slowly–delaying the disappointment I feared–I drew the object out into the dim light of the storeroom.

I nearly wept. I was sure I had not left it behind. I had concluded that some dishonest baggage inspector must have taken it. But there it was in its case, freed from under the fins.

I also found the snorkel.

This has been a week of good fortune for me, with a promotion and attendant financial improvement. But finding the missing knife outweighs what ought to be the more important life milestones. The knife is a touchstone for my sailing lifestyle. Finding it means I’m back aboard in mind, body, and spirit.