Resourceful travelers discover ways to make their destinations; ‘The closer I got to her, the faster I was going’
Try telling an Irishman stranded in the Caribbean he can’t make it home to his daughter’s wedding because of the pandemic lockdown.
That is what happened to Garry Crothers, 64, who was on his sailboat in St. Maarten. He had been cruising around the Caribbean with his wife, daughter, and a friend but they had returned home. Crew became hard to find when the pandemic struck.
His boat, Kind of Blue, a 42-foot Ovni 435, normally requires at least two people to sail. But when faced with the prospect of missing his daughter’s wedding, Mr. Crothers decided to make the 37-day, 4,000-mile trans-Atlantic trip alone, also known as single-handed sailing. This would be the time to point out that Mr. Crothers has one arm.
How did he do it?
“Carefully,” said Mr. Crothers, of Derry, Northern Ireland, who lost his arm after a motorcycle accident in 2008. “Very carefully.”
The coronavirus pandemic may have closed borders, curbed plane travel, and stranded boats. But it hasn’t stopped some resourceful travelers from discovering loopholes and workarounds to make their destinations.
Jamie Wilkins, 40, of Villelongue, France, jumped on his bike in the name of love. He pedaled 440 miles across France through the driving rain in 24 hours to reach his girlfriend to propose.
Flying or taking a train meant potential exposure to Covid-19 and renting a car one-way was too expensive, he said. “We thought long and hard about all the options and cycling was the most practical, affordable and virus safe. Of course, I was quite keen to take on the challenge of the big ride, too,” he said.
His girlfriend had been in the U.K. when the borders closed. After travel restrictions were lifted, she started making her way back to Mr. Wilkins in France. But he couldn’t wait.
“The closer I got to her, the faster I was going,” said Mr. Wilkins, a British citizen, of his June ride. “She kept me going at the toughest points and made me smile through the rain.”
Eight rice cakes and 24 Snickers bars later, he met her in Alencon, France, and she said yes. They celebrated with two steaks. “And champagne, of course,” he said.
Kim Comfort, 51, a chef from Newport, R.I., arrived in Antigua in March to go sailing for 10 days with friends and family. She remembers feeling lucky to make it before all the flights got canceled, and hearing the phrase “social distancing” for the first time.
They found a cove in the nearby island of Barbuda, where they spent nearly two months watching the virus take over the world. They couldn’t fly home as planned.
After the first two weeks of quarantining with the other boats from the U.S., and Spain, Brazil and Norway, the sailors began to socialize with others, introducing themselves to each other on beach walks and meeting for sunset cocktails. She snorkeled and explored the island. Things fell into a rhythm, she said. “It was like the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’”
They searched for a safe weather window to sail back to the East Coast, where Ms. Comfort’s husband and dogs waited. “It was unsettling but we kept reminding ourselves that not only were we safe, we were safe in paradise,” she said.
She sailed back to the U.S., and made it home on May 20—71 days after she left.
Annabel Symes, 19 of Eastbourne, Great Britain, was working at Estancia Ranquilco, a 100,000-acre cattle ranch in Argentina’s Patagonia mountains when the virus hit. As flights started to cancel, she reached out to the British Embassy for help.
Internet access was patchy. “This meant lots of cold WhatsApp conversations sitting on a tree stump in the middle of a field,” Ms. Symes said, according to a press release from the British Foreign Office on May 25. Ms. Symes couldn’t be reached for comment.
The British Foreign Office said she decided to travel half a day on horseback to the nearest road where she hailed a taxi for a nine-hour ride to the nearest town. From there she caught a 17-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires airport where she finally managed to catch a flight home on May 8.
The U.S.-Canada border has been closed since March 20, but that hasn’t stopped cross-border couples. American Nick Smith, 27, and Canadian Leah Bosello, 31, who had been dating five years, started meeting in March in Lynden, Wash., on the banks of a 10-foot wide irrigation ditch along a busy road that separates the two countries. Each stood apart in their respective country, chatting as trucks roared past. More couples and separated families soon showed up.
“At least we finally got to see each other,” Mr. Smith said.
They soon upgraded from the ditch to a park 15 miles away from the roadside rendezvous, where Blaine, Wash., meets Surrey, British Columbia. Peace Arch Park is shared by the two countries and allowed citizens of both to mingle within the confines of the 40 acres. People drove hundreds of miles to meet loved ones.
Mr. Smith and Ms. Bosello were married there in June. More cross-border visits and nuptials followed, until Canadian authorities closed their side of the park later that month.
Ramsay Adams, 50, of Livingston Manor, N.Y., owner of Catskill Brewery, flew with his family to the Bahamas for a week in March. “Then I heard the bad news,” he said.
Mr. Adams had two choices: leave or shelter in place. The first week, he and his family enjoyed life at a luxury resort. Then he was forced to find other arrangements, and found a small shack on a nearby island. He stocked up and bought $400 of canned goods. Police patrolled the beach, and strictly enforced people stay inside their homes except for a daily period allowed for socially-distanced outside recreation, he said.
He found a soccer ball. “We kicked around that ball everyday for a month,” he said.
Once some people were allowed to travel, Mr. Adams found four seats on a cargo plane to Florida on June 18. When that flight was canceled, he found a pilot to fly him and his family that same day on a four-seater airplane to Fort Lauderdale. He rented an SUV in Florida and started traveling north, finally arriving back home in the Catskills on June 21.
For Mr. Crothers, of Northern Ireland, having one arm posed obvious problems. His challenges began even before he set sail—preparing for the trip as he stocked his boat with food and supplies. He took precautions. While underway, he wore a harness tethered to a safety line, making it impossible to fall overboard. “I even slept with it on,” he said.
He could tie knots with one hand, and sometimes used his teeth and toes to manage lines.
When Mr. Crothers finally arrived on July 4, locals gave him a hero’s welcome and delivered a basket of fish and chips to his boat, along with a beer.
“That pint of Guinness didn’t even touch the sides of the glass,” he said. “Gone in seconds.”