Can you escape a pandemic by sailboat?

Published on September 16th, 2020

In the 2020 September issue of Sailing Magazine, columnist Bill Schanen reveals how hard it is to escape the coronavirus pandemic.


When the coronavirus started taking over the dry-land world, I started planning my escape. It would be on sailboat, of course.

The First Mate and I would depart these troubled shores on a sturdy sailing vessel and live our dreams of voyaging on distant seas until the scourge on land was conquered.

For our means of escape, I chose a Deerfoot 62. Covid-19 didn’t exist when Steve Dashew conceived the boat in the late 1970s, but the Deerfoot is ideally suited for pandemic sailing.

It is built battleship-strong of welded aluminum, but designed to be handled by a couple and sustain them for long sojourns at sea. Its 50,000-pound displacement can accommodate a vast tonnage of stores, more than 500 gallons of fuel for a powerful diesel and a generator, tankage for a like amount of water plus a watermaker. It has an apartment-size galley and a navigation station big enough to serve as an office.

With its tall cutter rig, long waterline, modest beam and low-wetted-surface underbody, the Deerfoot is a formidable passagemaker. As a bonus, it is built with watertight compartments that might prevent sinking in the event of a collision with a whale, iceberg, shipping container or vessel.

We bought a well-maintained 1980s model berthed in Newport, Rhode Island, spent a week stowing truckloads of provisions and then sailed away on a course of 140 degrees.

Our escape plan included stops at various ports of call, not to go ashore (unless the virus had abated), but to anchor in protected waters for an occasional hiatus from 24/7 ocean sailing. Bermuda would be first.

But Bermuda didn’t want us. The island and its anchorages were closed, locked down, with not even brief stopovers allowed except in emergencies. So we turned south, bound for the Caribbean with a plan to drop anchor after a two-week passage to the waters of our familiar cruising destinations in the Leeward and Windward Islands.

But they didn’t want us either. Saba, Statia, St. Kitts, Nevis and the BVI, among others, were locked down. Some islands required sailing visitors to agree to 14-day quarantines and testing. Frustrated, we modified the plan again. We would transit the Panama Canal and sail to South Pacific landfalls we had dreamed about for years. Tahiti, here we come.

But the islands of our dreams rejected us too. French Polynesia was closed to cruisers, as were Vanuatu, Tonga and others. Full report.

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