COVID-19: Should we stay or should we go
I am certain you have heard or are familiar with a recent viral outbreak affecting the world right now. It seems you would have to be very disconnected to not have heard. Perhaps like the couple who were traveling on their sailboat from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean during the month of March. Due to their 25 day passage at sea they were completely unaware of the ongoing outbreak, until they attempted to arrive in the Caribbean. They discovered borders closed and were turned away from several countries before being allowed entry in St Vincent.
So, why do I share this story with you? We don’t want to be that couple. Oh, the sailing part, the 25 day passage and arriving in the Caribbean are all great, however being turned away from a port due to the virus is the part that we want to avoid.
In this new and unfamiliar environment, our central question is and has become, where can we go? What is open? What will we find? Will it be safe? Right now there are more questions than answers.
Our “plan” has us leaving Manitowoc in mid-June. For our route information, check out “The Plan” on the home page of our blog. The plan has us going through parts of Canada, 4 Great Lakes, 5 states to get to the Atlantic and 2 canals.
Like the closures we have all experienced due to COVID-19, the marine industry has also been affected by closures. In mid-March we were told Manitowoc Marina was closed and we were not able to even access our boat, which is in indoor storage there. At that point, we had no idea when were we even going to be allowed entry to even see the boat or do any work on the boat. Thankfully, on April 15th, we were told that we would now be able to access boats, with some new rules due to COVID-19. The rules include, signing up for a time slot via a website to request our time to be there, a limit of no more than 5 people in the building at any given time, marina employees must escort us in, and the installation and use of hand sanitizers at all entries.
Social distancing at it’s finest! 5 people allowed in the building the size of your average Costco
As they say, a journey begins with the first step, so access to the boat is a good first step. Now, what else do we need to be able to actually leave? First and foremost, marinas along our path need to be open and boating open and unrestricted in the states we are traveling through. Even if marinas are open for business, it is an entirely another question if they will accept out-of-state transient boats.
We are carefully tracking state stay at home orders for the states we will travel through. Other key considerations are the opening of the U.S./Canadian border which is currently closed. One of the highlights of our trip will take us into the North Channel of Lake Huron in Canadian waters. We do not want to miss this portion of the trip. The other important consideration is the opening of the New York Canal System (a.k.a. the Erie Canal). The canal is currently closed and there are several locks along the canal system that require repair or maintenance for the canal to open for the 2020 season. The repair work has been halted due to COVID-19. The New York Power Authority, which governs the Erie Canal, has stated they will need at least 60 days to complete this work prior to the canal being open for the season. The New York Canal System just issued a Notice to Mariners today that stated the canal will not be opening on May 15th as previously indicated. They did not provide any guidance about a new date.
There are only 2 routes a boat can take from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. One is the Erie Canal and the other is the St Lawrence Seaway. If the Erie Canal remains closed, the only option with be the St Lawrence Seaway. This option adds significant mileage and time to our trip. In addition to that, both the St Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal (connection to get from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario) are closed to pleasure traffic. The St Lawrence Seaway locks are predominantly in Canada and the Canadian border is closed.
So where does all this leave us? Well, there are options. Option #1: Leave as planned (seems less likely as time goes on). Option #2: Leave in a delayed time frame. We will continue to monitor all the closures to see what will open and when. Perhaps the openings will accommodate a delayed time frame. But we would likely need to leave sometime in July. Option #3: delay our departure for an entire year. We would enjoy sailing Lake Michigan and exploring places closer to home and start our longer journey in June 2021.
Definitely lots to consider! Mark and I think the universe is teaching us the lessons of what it’s like to be a cruiser already. Rule #1: Be flexible.