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Long passages and lockdown

by Heather Bacon 5 Jun 19:39 UTC
Argonauta I post circumnavigation in Venezuels 2006 © Hugh & Heather Bacon

Drawing a parallel between a long passage at sea and a lockdown during our Pandemic.

We have passed the anniversary of our pandemic. As my husband and I continue to hunker down on our property in rural Ontario, Canada there is much "Thinking Time". I reflect upon memories of a decade spent sailing around the world on Argonauta I. It might be thought that being alone on a small boat on a large sea for days or weeks away from land might have been practice for "lockdown".

Cruisers know that much preparation is required before setting out to sea. Provisioning plays an important role: You tramp down the street or across the sand to stock up on food, drink and vital necessities before heading for more isolated regions. Cans, boxes, consumables and bottles are loaded into backpacks and hoisted onto the deck to be stowed beneath the floor under the bed and in all available nooks and crannies.

When the Pandemic was first officially announced in Canada there was a rush to supermarkets. A person stocked up on everything they considered to be essential...toilet paper was one rationed item!

When we prepared for a passage during cruising years we first assured that all equipment was in good working condition, charts consulted and weather monitored. Then crew prepared to up the anchor. Goodbyes were shared, sometimes with locals we would never see again and with cruisers we hoped to communicate with by HF radio or even meet again in a foreign port.

There were no ostensible "goodbyes" in Canada in 2020 but we have had to acknowledge that there are people we will never see again. And there are good friends, literally next door to us, that we communicate with only by a wave from a distance...most of us are being very scrupulous about staying six feet apart.

OK, we were alone at sea for days, weeks... (longest passage was 22 days). Friends back home asked: WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY?

One might ask the same question in 2021: Well, there are routines to every life...on land or on sea but what most people are finding now is that there are no "absolutes". We do not record appointments at the dentist, hairdresser or Ladies' Lunch. There are meals...2 or 3 a day depending on one's habits, chores, hobbies, exercise, albeit limited.

Food played an important role during our passages: first consumed were the "special treats" like the tenderloin, amazingly low priced in South America and garnished with FRESH vegetables, not to last. I would spend much time thinking about dinner while sitting on deck watching for freighters.

Today, after over a year of Restaurant Deprivation I am not so enthusiastic about food preparation. When the garden was producing (and the garden is my husband's creative outlet while on Land) I did a few deep fried zucchini blossoms and savoured fresh peas. But some days now Dr Oetker pizza just calls to me from the freezer.

We had a freezer on the boat and could stockpile boneless chicken breasts and roo steaks (a taste acquired in Australia) but after some time in tropical climes frost gathered and it was time to (shudder) DEFROST. I maintain that I had to hang from the ceiling by my heels in order to sop up the water from the bottom of the fridge. And I almost had an involuntary mastectomy before I learned to prop up the fridge door. Perils at sea!

OK you would believe that I came back to Land and kissed all my appliances. Well, since Housework is not my preferred form of hedonism, when our refrigerator began to smell, I hauled everything out and began to scrub and scrape. I grew up in the era when the Iceman cameth! Now refrigerators have about fifty moving parts, none labeled: SLIDE ME HERE!!! I removed, working hard to not shatter the glass shelf. But I had to call my husband (the technical expert) to put it back together and after much problem solving and experimentation and minimum of hot air it was reassembled. Unfortunately the following morning the milk curdled in the coffee. We suspect it had been out of the refrigerator too long!

Books are a lifeline for me. I stockpiled twenty two for our longest passage. There was an eclectic collection on the boat: every Lonely Planet in print, Shakespeare and Janet Evanovich, memoirs and novels based on the countries we would visit. COOKING UNDER PRESSURE, inspired by my first pressure cooker which earned its place when I was able to make ratatouille in 15 minutes. I read ROBERT MUNSCH stories in tropical countries to kids who chimed in with glee! Books were an introduction to Kindred Spirits too. Another cruiser would come down the dock asking for "any books to trade?" and I would sometimes find treasures as well as a new friend.

Unfortunately, during the pandemic our local library is closed because it is in the basement of a school. It reopened during a short period for curbside pickup but choice was limited to its inter library loans. I can buy books but our chalet has two walls lined with every book I have ever owned. A few neighbours have exchanged books when restrictions on meeting were less stringent. I have donated children's books to deserving grandmothers. I have reread Stephen Leacock entertaining and surprisingly pertinent, i.e. his reflections on society in 1944. My husband buys historical and political books. I just don't want to read about war right now and our morning television session alternates local criticism with the latest vaccination news. BBC keeps us up to date on wars

One of the pleasures of looking out to sea was the sight of a pod of dolphins, the occasional whale breaching, a school of flying fish. Here in our country home we look out the window much more than usual. I feel quite maternal toward the squirrel triplets who nest in a nearby oak tree. During the subzero weather this week the chickadees are arriving at the feeder in droves, a group of turkeys wander across the snow and deer have been seen on the main street in town.

Returning to the "Big Question"...there was always something to do on the boat because SOMETHING'S ALWAYS BROKEN. Tools, duct tape and time were employed to deal with anything that could be repaired or "jury rigged" until we got to shore. Many tasks required three hands so I passed the wrench or pulled the line.

Here in our chalet of over thirty five years we have managed upkeep and updating. But if there is a serious problem it is now a little tricky to arrange for "dishwasher repairman"

On passages we were always very conscientious about Night Watch, believing that there must be someone on deck at all times. We spelled each other off in long shifts then had a decent time to sleep. When I hit the bunk I slept like a log. Curiously, certain vibrations within the yacht when under way were in the frequency range of the human voice. Thus, occasionally one could hear a voice but without distinguishable words. At night, alone in the cockpit, the boat was the only company. With the Pandemic we, like many of our contemporaries, have difficulty sleeping all night. I must admit that we now retire much earlier than we did during our working career. I guess I used to clean the fridge in the evening! I so much miss being able to go to real movies in a CINEMA, concerts, plays, restaurants and homes of friends. I am aware of all the virtual offerings but I crave real life experience and human contact.

Some cruisers confessed that after many days on a boat they began to question if they really wanted to return to land, leaving behind a rhythm to which they had become accustomed. But it was exciting to know that we would be setting foot on a site we had never visited: protected wildlife of the Galapagos, exotic culture of the South Pacific, Australia, beloved country where I had spent a year as an exchange teacher, Europe where we lived in the sixties. Sometimes, leaving Argonauta I "up on the hard" we could fly back to Canada and see familiar places and people, get dressed up and wear shoes.

I rarely wear shoes now and not only fashion but vanity has been abandoned. Masks remove the need for lipstick and I am too old for false eyelashes. Pools and Fitness Rooms are closed so my daily exercise is walking to the corner for the newspaper. I check the mail too; there is rarely any. I look forward to the daily CYBERQUOTE in the paper and am afraid that if newspapers go under so will my mental acuity.

Can we look forward to a return to things we treasured? Can we hope to reunite with the friends scattered all over the world, or even the ones next door? Will we ever travel again, stay in a first class hotel, dine in a three star restaurant, volunteer our skills without jeopardizing our health? It is obvious that we are very fortunate to have traveled and participated in much during our "three score and MORE". My heart goes out to those much younger than ourselves who hoped and planned to see the world. I hope Vera Lynn was right. WE'LL MEET AGAIN... but probably in Ottawa or Toronto, not Australia or the South Pacific.

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