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Key West Journal – The Long Farewell Part 4

We are sharing our journal from our time in Key West as the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold.  When it became clear back in early March that this was something that looked like it could have a real impact on our lives, we started keeping a daily journal of how life began to shift and of the evolution of our decisions as well as notes on some of the news as it happened. 

We do not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the options we have.  We know our decisions pale in comparison to those many have been forced to make and still are suffering through.  This is simply our experience.  We’ve added language to our original entries to give context where necessary.  If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2 or 3, we encourage you to put this entry on hold until you do.  You’ll find all previous entries in this series here: Key West Journal – The Long Farewell

Wednesday, March 18 — Hit the Road, Cap

Tim:  Captain Scott and Marla wake with the urge to head back north before things get too bad. They drove two days to get here and have only been here since Monday, but the feeling is strong and we all know it’s the right thing to do. I spend my morning in the galley making enough meals for them for the trip home. They hit the road around 10:30am and it’s very difficult not giving them hugs goodbye.

A.J.:  One thing we’re now battling on a daily basis is indecision about what’s the right thing to do.  Stay put where we believe we can securely remain?  Fire up OLOH and head home to New York?  Leave the boat and drive home?  Where will we be better off?  It’s so hard to know, not having any good sense of what the coming weeks and months will bring.  It’s a conversation being had by boaters everywhere, including our friends on M/Y Alzero who have been in the Bahamas for a few months.  We’ve been concerned about them.  Fortunately, we just got an email from them letting us know they’re OK.  Their plan, at this point, assuming they don’t get sick in the next two weeks, is to extend their visas and cruising permit and stay anchored in the Bahamas until we all see what happens in the US over the next two months.  They say the Bahamas are still welcoming anchored cruisers to stay and haven’t asked Americans to leave or prohibited new arrivals yet.

Alzero’s admiral is a former health care professional and we have great respect for her insight.  So when she advised us to seriously decide where we want to spend the next six months we knew we had to really work at settling our indecision quickly.  She said that while she’s really not an alarmist, with her work in intense medical care for many years they have learned their lessons from under-reacting over the decades.  A common sentiment among our fellow boaters is that it’s impossible to know if what is a good move right now will still be a good move in a week and we shouldn’t take it for granted that we’ll be able to easily travel as more restrictions are mandated, which seems all but certain at this point.

The Alzero Crew a year ago in Key West during very different times.

We also got an email from the crew of M/Y Angelique, an 80 foot Hatteras that has been on an amazing journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Caribbean.  We don’t know them personally but we follow each others’ travels online so we feel a real boater-to-boater connection. They are in the middle of being quarantined in Jamaica for fourteen days and hoping to head to Key West early next week.  They wanted to pick our brains about what was happening with customs and immigrations for arriving US registered boats, where they should stay, and what the environment was like in Key West.  We answered their questions as best we could, of course recommending that they point their bow towards Stock Island Marina Village once they round Cuba.  Even with all of the communication tools we have available to us, it’s easy to imagine how Americans in other countries can feel isolated and unsure of what to do.  We’re really pleased that they reached out and so happy we could be of even a little help.

M/Y Angelique
M/Y Angelique

And with most migrating cruisers now faced with the same decisions, the tone has really shifted on the boating groups and forums we watch with lots of concern about marina and even waterway closures.  Some marinas are beginning to report that they’ve stopped taking transient reservations.  Waterway Guide and Dockwa have partnered on a web page dedicated to keeping boaters apprised of the status of marinas.

With Bob423’s Going North presentation that we’ve been helping with now canceled, we were going to help him shoot it to stream online.  But realizing it may make more sense for him to stay put he has decided to give it a go from his boat.  With his marina in downtown Key West emptying out he observed that his internet speeds have vastly improved.  So that’s now off our list.  Bob mentioned in an email that he’s not even certain that he’ll head north at all and is pondering hauling his boat.

Tim:  Tonight we saw images on the news of people – primarily spring-breakers – filling the beach in Clearwater, Florida. It was unbelievable and infuriating. It’s hard to believe the Governor has not demanded that the beaches be closed.

Thursday March 19 – Dear Oblivious America…

We both had a miserable night’s sleep. I spent time writing an article called Dear Oblivious America, Step Up. It was short, not sweet, and a good way for me to vent about how irresponsible it is for people to be gathering in such large numbers.

We are keeping close tabs on Scott and Marla’s journey home to New York and we realize that today is Marla’s birthday and she’s spending it in a car with a couple of corned beef sandwiches as her birthday dinner!

Other New York friends have been checking in on us and we decided to give Captain Pauly and Jojo a call to see how our state is faring as we continue to decide what to do. They are both sensible and pragmatic so their thoughts are always appreciated. We’d gotten reports from a few others back in New York who have advised us not to come back.

We’ve begun stockpiling essentials for staying healthy.

We make a decision with our friends and dockmates John and Carolyn on The 3 B’s to avoid all close contact outside of our two boats. We’ve already curtailed unnecessary trips off the property and have a good regimen for sanitizing, hand washing and social distancing with each other.

When evening arrived our friends Jason, Naomi, and Django who are liveaboards at the marina stop by for an appropriately distanced dockside chat and Jason tells us that he had his wallet – which had a lot of money in it – lifted by a group of kids when he was getting groceries. It’s never happened to him before and it gives him pause. He said he wonders what it will be like if people don’t have jobs for months and can’t afford food. He recalled how bad it got right after the last hurricane, and how many people just left Key West and never came back. This is going to be a tough couple of months here and while he’s confident that people in the Keys take care of each other, there’s never been anything quite like this as it could continue for a very long time.

We remain on the bridge while Naomi gives Jasper some love.

So just as quickly as we began to really focus this morning on staying put, the idea of taking off is now back in a big way.  And with family concurring that the unknown back home could be better than the unknown on the boat, the thoughts of leaving are getting stronger and stronger.  What a difference a day can make.

Friday – March 20th – A Semblance of Normal

A.J.:  It’s a sunny, hot, perfect Key West morning.  OLOH is closed up with the AC cranking.  News of the day includes the federal government announcing that the tax filing deadline has been moved from April 15th  to July 15th.  Late last night the state of Florida mandated new closures on all non-essential businesses, including the closure of all hotels and accommodations, restaurants, and gyms.  And Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys, is mandating that anyone in the Keys without a longterm lease must leave by 6pm on Sunday and that visitors are to stay away.  This is copied directly from their official order: “If you have plans to come down today, tomorrow, next week, you are NOT allowed, it does not matter how long the duration of your stay was going to be. NO ONE SHOULD BE TRAVELING AT THIS TIME FOR LEISURE TRAVEL OR DAY TRIPS!”  Yes – their official announcement includes that line in ALL CAPS.  We are covered with our “lease” at the marina but our departure, while not officially yet decided upon, feels more and more imminent.

A nice bit of distraction comes just before 11:30 when John from The 3 B’s pops over to let us know that another superyacht is coming in and we should really go and watch.  Sure – why not!

Bella Vita is 247′ and was built by Lurssen in 2009. She can be chartered in the winter for $650,000 per week (plus expenses, of course).

Tim: One more trip out for groceries if we’re really going to consider leaving. John drove and we separated jobs, bringing our wipes and sanitizer. We don’t go into a store together. One loads, one unloads. Completely shifting how a normal task is done is less challenging with a protocol but still requires diligence. Today is a special day, it’s Caroline’s birthday. John had wanted to have a birthday dinner for her on Sunset Key but with that no longer an option he still wanted to do something special. We offered to open The Dockside Galley @OLOH for a one-time-only, social distancing birthday dinner. The menu was simple but delicious using only the ingredients we had on the boat. We started with a zesty, flavorful scallop ceviche with cilantro, ginger, soy, fresh orange, lime, and lemon juice and drizzled with toasted sesame oil. Dinner was a rustic chicken Marsala with shallots and baby Bella mushrooms cooked in cast iron and served on top of handmade fusilli al ferretto (twisted pasta) and a side of roasted, truffle brussel sprout chips. A.J. set up a beautiful table and put up birthday signs. John brought a couple of great bottles of red wine and the dessert and we had a lovely evening. It’s strange not being able to hug people, particularly on special days like this, but we let the food do the hugging! We’ll never forget this night.

Scallop ceviche fixin’s.
Lightly breaded and browned and getting ready for the cast iron skillet!
A delicious, hand-crafted Limoncello birthday toast to our dear friend, Carolyn. Limoncello courtesy of the spectacular M/V Esmeralde crew.

Saturday – March 21st – Should We Stay or Should We Go…Now?

The morning sun and calmer breezes hint at a spectacular day. Living in the moment, is there really any reason to leave? But we know that in three days, the winds are looking as if they’ll abate and we’ll have a calm-seas window to leave if we decide to.  One of the things that has made it easy to feel good about staying put over the past week is that even if we wanted to leave, the weather hasn’t provided what we felt was a safe opportunity, with high winds and big seas dominating the forecasts.

Late in the morning, we received an email from Stock Island Marina Village announcing that because of the new state mandates, the onsite Perry Hotel will close at 5pm tomorrow.  THAT will be weird.  The restaurant at the hotel will still be allowed to offer take-out and delivery.  Back home in New York, the directives are even more serious with the Department Of Health saying:

  • Stay home. All New Yorkers — healthy or sick — need to stay home. You should only leave your home for essential tasks, such as work (if you are an essential worker), getting groceries and supplies, or essential medical care. Try to use delivery services when possible.

We spoke with T.K. today, a dear friend we’ve known for decades.  He lives in Old Town and is part of the colorful fabric that weaves together the Key West scene and culture. As the face of a phenomenal restaurant called Antonia’s (the crew from Esmeralde can attest!) his good nature, humor, and seriousness about perfect cocktails are legendary. There’s something we call Three Degrees of T.K., because about one in every three people on the island seems to know him.  He’s been reporting to us on how eerily quiet town is with most everything closed and sending us pictures of empty spots that are typically teeming with tourists.  We realize, with great sadness, that we won’t be able to say goodbye to him in person if we do leave.  He’s bummed when we tell him where our heads are at but, of course, he understands.

Sunday, March 22nd  – Leaning to Leave

We found out this morning that all marinas and boat ramps in Miami-Dade County have been shut down and boats are not allowed to leave marinas there. It’s a little jarring but it makes sense given that there’s been a lot of news coverage in that area showing that people are not following the social distancing guidelines and boats are rafting up and partying as if all this time off from work was another opportunity to party. It’s irresponsible and reckless, and for everyone else taking this pandemic seriously, it’s maddening.  Even with the hotel officially shutting down later today, it baffles us that people are still hanging out at the pool this morning, in groups.  We want to believe they’re just grabbing a last bit of respite before they start doing the right thing.

As the Florida state government contemplates shutting down more marinas we feel the pressure building to firmly decide what we are doing.  If that decision is to leave, it’s feeling like we need to strongly consider getting out of here sooner, rather than later, before more closures prevent us from being able to tie up and get fuel along the way.  Our friends with plans to head to the Bahamas have officially called their trips off.

We spend the early part of the morning communicating with family who live in New York City, and friends who live upstate, gauging the risk/reward.  Among other things, we consider our access to healthcare and critical services if we need them.  We feel like it’s time to get back to our home in the woods where we can very easily self-isolate – even though that means heading into the belly of the beast.  And we need to solidify that plan.

A.J.: Prior to the unfolding pandemic, we had already started to reevaluate our plans with OLOH for the summer.  We’ve essentially been on board or have had the boat minutes away from our home for the past year and a half so we definitely can’t complain that we haven’t had plenty of great time aboard.  The north-south journey is a tremendous experience but it’s a lot to do twice a year, every year.  We don’t want to burn out on it and we don’t necessarily want to spend over two months each year in transit.  So we started to explore our options and decided that if we didn’t take the boat north this summer we would lay it up (store on land) at a hurricane safe, climate-controlled indoor facility in Florida.  That way we’ll be able to walk away, free of stress and concern, and come back to it when we’re ready, already where we want it and ready to go.  And now that we have decided to leave Key West, we firmly came to the decision that we would definitely rather put the boat away and drive to New York as opposed to making the trip by water under the current circumstances.  I reached out to my contact at the storage facility hoping to find out their status and even though it’s Sunday, I heard back and got confirmation that they were able to take us.  Our friends on The 3 B’s have also decided to take off but they will bring their boat home to Connecticut as they travel much faster than us and can make it back in a fraction of the time it would take is.

Tuesday will likely be our best day to leave as the forecast looks great.  We anticipate three travel days to get to OLOH’s new summer home.  One important logistical consideration is our need for fuel.  Typically we refuel the boat if needed when we first arrive at a marina.  But when we landed at Stock Island Marina last month it was after a very long day at sea and we were sure we’d have ample opportunity to refuel before the next time we’d take the boat out.  Lesson learned there.  The 3 B’s were in the same situation and around mid-morning they invited us to join them for a quick ride while there was another boat taking on fuel.  The marina has an enormous fuel dock but it was largely occupied by overnighting yachts at this point and there was only one spot left for boats our size to tie up for fuel.  So we headed out into the Atlantic for a little shakedown cruise, always good to do before a long journey, and then returned to take on diesel.  We decided we’d do the same with OLOH tomorrow.

Fueled up and ready to go, the 3B’s returns to the dock.

We typically have the luxury of time when prepping for departure after being somewhere for a while.  The boat hasn’t been run for over a month and there’s a pretty decent sized checklist to knock down before we can go.  Our first day out will be a long day which will take us some forty miles offshore out in the Gulf and there are extra checks and measures we take for those kinds of days.  So I dig in and get to work, changing fuel filters, checking systems, and going through our safety gear.  Fortunately, Jason was able to dive the boat last week and we know the bottom is clean and free of encumbrances.

As the afternoon wore on, the property started to feel noticeably quieter.  At around 3:30 I decided to hit the cash machine at the hotel before it closed (it seemed prudent to be sure to have a lot of cash on hand, just in case).  It was just over an hour before the hotel was to officially close and the place had emptied out.  This is something I never thought I’d see at this always vibrant and energetic spot (and it wasn’t lost on me that Adam Duritz of Counting Crows was singing, “can’t see nothin’ ’round here” while I was shooting this)…

Tim:  We are hyper-aware of the economic toll the Perry shutting down will take on all of the wonderful people who work there. Not a single person from either the marina or hotel crew has had a defeated attitude. They never lost their smiles or their upbeat, helpful attitudes. Our friends who crew the charter sailing yacht When and If down the dock from us have stayed upbeat as well, determined to make the best of the situation. We stopped by to check on them and wish them well.  We’ll also miss our friends at Bluesail Charter, but we got to see Captain Tyler and Hannah and say farewell.

6:27 pm: Fuel needs aside, OLOH sits ready for her next mission.

While Florida is woefully behind other states regarding safeguards, we feel the writing is on the wall and it’s just a matter of time before more things that will affect our ability to get north start shutting down.  Anxiety is front and center.  A heaviness remains pervasive.  But we end the day knowing in our heart of hearts that we’re making the right decision.


If you’d like to continue reading this story, you’ll be taken to Part 5 by clicking here.  To be instantly alerted when any new entry is posted, please be sure to subscribe (top right on a computer, scroll down on a phone).

Please let us know how you’re doing and tell us about your experience in this unprecedented time in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you.  And you can always find real-time updates with the very latest on how we’re doing on Facebook and Instagram.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. So interesting to red this after-the-fact. I need to go back and compare it to our own timeline and thought process. And importantly...glad to see the key role the Limoncello played, 🍋 !
  2. We were in Islamorada until 21 March, having wintered over in a marina here. Arrangements were made with various marinas heading back North, and we checked in with them regularly to insure that they would remain open. When unanswered phone calls started piling up, we became suspicious of them closing with no notice.......we were correct as web sites started to reflect what was happening. We also had that urge to get home as our feelings were, things will be better in the comfort of our own home. When Monroe County announced the closure of all hotels and mandatory departures, we already had concrete arrangements with our marina to keep our vessel until the ban was lifted. The decision that suited us, was to drive home and to retrieve the boat later, once life and the future had some clarity. Off we went that Saturday morning at 0430 and 18 hours later we drove into our driveway in Annapolis. Watching from afar, we could see that the Keys were isolated from the mayhem on the mainland. Waiting for a relative calm period in the weather, public sentiment, the virus’s progression and a mental green light, we flew to Fort Lauderdale on 05 May. We packed hand sanitizer, wipes, rum, and the newest most highly sought after commodity.......toilet paper. Arriving in the normally bustling FLL, we were shocked to see an empty terminal that was void of life. Occasionally the ship’s whistle that blasts to announce new baggage arriving, seemed out of place with every long blast........a symbol of a now dead industry. It was more of a one note Taps. Quick drive to Islamorada completed, we provisioned that afternoon and prepped the boat for an early morning departure. Seven days later and Final Approach was home. Now that the total mental gymnastics of ‘should I stay or should I go” behind us, the correct decision for us and us alone was executed on all fronts. Be smart, be careful and be healthy! John & Barb M/V Final Approach
    1. John and Barb - Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience. One of the options we strongly considered was doing just as you, leaving OLOH in Key West, driving home and then coming back when we felt it was safe to move her. Like you, we were of course concerned that it could be months before getting to “the right time” and since we had decided to lay up for the summer, it felt better, on balance, to take an informed leap with only two or three travel days as opposed to the week or more of travel you faced. And you were not alone when you said this - perfectly for both of our crews: "now with the total mental gymnastics of ‘should I stay or should I go' behind us, the correct decision was executed on all fronts." In these uncertain times, doesn’t it feel good to be able to say that? Stay safe...

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