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Key West Journal – The Long Farewell Part 3

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 or 2, 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

Sunday, March 15 — Let’s Go for a Boat Ride!

Tim: I woke this morning with a feeling of gloom and some tingling in my left hand. I poured over the morning Covid headlines, thinking about our families in Ohio and New York. My 104-year-old gram is in a nursing home that’s under lockdown and it made my heart heavy. Suddenly I started to feel a tightness in my chest. I checked my pulse and my heart rate was elevated. I took a deep breath. No cough. I felt my forehead. No fever as far as I could tell. I stood up and the whole room started to spin. I couldn’t find A.J. so I headed down to our stateroom where I thought he was and the whole boat was spinning. All I could think of was that I was having a heart attack or maybe a stroke and the last place I wanted to hit the floor was below deck from where they’d have to drag me out. I stumbled back upstairs and within seconds A.J. was there, checking my pulse again and going through various paces to rule out heart attack and stroke possibilities. He grabbed a baggy of ice which I put on my wrists. It had an almost immediate calming effect. I realized then that I was having an anxiety attack. It’s hard to admit, but it just happened. I never saw it coming. It’s an awful, uncontrollable feeling. It passed after about a half-hour but the tingling in my hand stayed.

The Center for Disease Control has issued new guidelines recommending against holding any events or group gatherings of 50 or more people across the U.S. and notes that this guidance applies for at least the next eight weeks.  A.J. and Bob423 will have to cancel the Going North presentation they have been working on which was scheduled to happen in four days.  Bummer.  And it’s feeling pretty clear to us that stricter recommendations or perhaps even mandates are inevitable.

The three of us needed to pick up our spirits, (Jasper was feeling our energy) so A.J. suggested a late morning Whaler ride.  We got Jasper in his lifejacket and headed out. We were barely off the dock when our friend John came off of his boat and asked if A.J. wanted to take a ride on the Hampton to Marathon (click here to see Part 2 of this series for context) as its owners were about to head out and they had invited him to come along. When we had first discussed the possibility of this happening I said I’d drive to pick them up and I was still game for that.  So we returned to the dock and just after noon, John, Carolyn, and A.J. were on their way for a sea-trial of sorts.

I spent the next few hours before my drive to Marathon catching up with my mom, who is really sick but slowly coming out of it. My sister was diagnosed with pneumonia and is on the mend now as well. I got updates about my older brother who has been sick for about five days. I can’t help but wonder if they all had/have it.

A.J.: It’s forty nautical miles from Stock Island Marina Village to Faro Blanco Marina which we expected would take around three hours.  It’s always exciting to go out on a new boat and, as we’ve been fans of this particular yacht, it was a real treat to not only get to see how it performed, but to see it through our friends’ eyes as they decided if it might be something they’d really consider.  And it was sure to be a great distraction from the rapidly devolving state of things with the coronavirus.  It’s getting harder and harder, psychologically at least, to feel good about doing “normal” things even though there was really no reason to feel that way.  We questioned whether it was sane for anyone to even be contemplating the purchase of a new boat given how uncertain everything was now feeling.  But we stuck with the plan and headed out of the harbor, passing Tim as he watched our departure from OLOH.

Our view of Admiral Tim on OLOH’s bridge deck as the rest of us head out on a Hampton.
Tim’s view of our crew.
Bound for Marathon at 18 knots, Captain John at the helm. Note: The water color has not been enhanced.

We had a spectacular ride up the Hawk Channel off the coast of the southernmost keys to Marathon with John taking it all in from the helm for most of our cruise.  Despite the forces at play, we managed to really enjoy ourselves and allow a good deal of our stress to wash away in our wake.

Tim: I got some stress relief on the drive to Marathon to pick up A.J. and The Three B’s crew. It was a spectacular, hot day and with the windows down all of my anxiety blew out the window as the mangrove rich mudflats and shoals and the turquoise waters passed by.  There was a fair amount of traffic in Marathon as their annual Seafood Festival has been underway all weekend.  It seems crazy that anyone would attend a mass gathering like that given everything we’re seeing and learning.  But there is no mandate against it, just a bunch of guidelines urging people not to attend if they have the virus or have been exposed to it (how would they know?), are over age 65, immune-compromised, etc.

Back in Key West, we have learned that the Bahamas have confirmed their first Covid-19 case, but the government there has not made any announcements about forbidding incoming boaters. We have friends over there right now and more on at least three boats that are planning to head there, still holding out hope that they’ll be able to go. The big question is, will they be able to get back into the U.S. if things get worse?

Monday, March 16 —  Social Distancing

It’s tough to stay away from the news. The U.S. has now banned travel from Ireland and the UK. The EU has begun to close borders between countries. The World Health Organization has declared Europe the new epicenter of the virus. With everything that’s happening in New York, it’s quickly outpacing other states with new cases.  The White House issued new guidelines suggesting school closings and that people should avoid: groups of more than 10 people, discretionary travel, bars, restaurants, and food courts.  Those guidelines will apply for fifteen days, it seems light but wouldn’t that be great if that’s all it took.  There are signs everywhere that the national economy is grinding to a halt.

A.J.:  Even though these are guidelines and not mandates, doing the right thing should be obvious to everyone at this point.  I’ve confirmed the inevitable with Bob423 that the “Going North” presentation scheduled for Thursday would have to be canceled and we’ll put together a live online event instead.  Bob told me about a letter from a friend back home in New York who he considers to be one of the most level-headed people he knows.  His friend is encouraging him to avoid returning to New York as he says things are getting crazy there with all of the closings and empty shelves in stores. That certainly has given us pause.  We were originally planning to leave in about a month and we’ve already protectively extended our stay at the marina in case returning to New York doesn’t make sense.  But now, hearing a firsthand account of trouble in our home state just adds to the angst and uncertainty.

While it’s perhaps a bit quieter around the docks, things still feel fairly normal on the property with both pools full of spring breakers and the restaurants and bars are still hopping.  Bob said it’s quieting down quite a bit where he is in Key West bight and sent me this picture of the just-closed pool at Dante’s, a really popular spot for vacationers by the Key West waterfront…

That was a bit of a shock to see in mid-March as this is what Dante’s usually looks like this time of year…

We’re hearing that a couple of superyachts will be arriving in the next few days.  Our understanding is that they’re coming here from the Bahamas and other countries, getting out and back to the states while they still can in the event that things change even more radically with what’s allowed.  And we’re thinking, if you owned a superyacht, wouldn’t you want it as close as possible in case things get really bad and you want to be completely isolated while being completely self-sufficient?

Tim: Captain Scott and Marla arrive after their long drive from New York.  Things have changed quite a bit in the short time since they hit the road just two days ago, more than we could have imagined.  We let them know that we are no longer hugging, shaking hands, etc. We also let them know that we are not eating out at restaurants or going to the pools.  Welcome to your vacation in paradise!  Of course, they are fully on board with this, even though it’s difficult not to hug since we haven’t seen them since October. Captain Scott gives one hell of a back-crackin’ bear hug! Jasper is beyond excited to see them and he gives them plenty of hugging for us.

A.J.: We’re starting to get dozens of emails from marinas and other places we do business with, letting us know that “your well-being is our top priority” and “rest assured that we are not taking this situation lightly.”  Our gym back in New York has informed us that “with our heaviest heart we are notifying you that our gym has temporarily been closed due to government mandates.”  This is all so unbelievable.

We were happy to hear from our friends Steve and Ann on M/V No Regrets II, who left the marina just before this all began to unfold, bound for the Chesapeake.  They’re making good progress, now in North Carolina, and anchoring out as much as possible to avoid human contact.  They understandably just want to keep moving in case restrictions or closures begin to happen on the waterways.  They are likewise concerned about us, checking in regularly, which is very much appreciated.

March 17 —  A Leprechaun in a Wig

Tim:  I fired up the galley first thing this morning because, as an Irish-American, I don’t have a choice but to make corned beef, cabbage, and my Gram McFadden’s famous potato soup. My clan across the pond would be outraged if I didn’t!  I’ll be warming up Aunt Mimi’s Irish Soda Bread as well, which she slipped to me on our visit to Naples. It’s a national treasure! Since A.J. and I do not eat red meat, I’m also attempting to make vegan corned beef. OK, scoff all you want, just don’t judge! I love the challenge and I have high hopes that it will, at a minimum, look like a slice of corned beef.

A.J.:  Megayachts pull into Stock Island Marina Village all the time.  It is the best place in all of the Keys for really large yachts to tie up and, in many cases, the only marina with enough space to accommodate them.  So while it’s always a cool sight to see, it’s not typically that unusual or any big deal when a 130 footer pulls in (we’re so jaded).  But there was a bit more of a buzz than usual at around 9:30 this morning as superyacht C2 began to make its approach from the Atlantic into the harbor, arriving from the island of Nevis.  C2 is e-norm-ous.  257 feet 4 inches to be exact.  In 2018 it was ranked as the 127th largest yacht in Boat International’s list of the 200 largest yachts in the world.  She’s owned by Ron Perelman, the American businessman perhaps best known for his involvement with Revlon Cosmetics (and his net worth of around $8 billion).  It’s a spectacular yacht and while we understand her owner is not on board, it will be a very comfortable place for the reported crew of nineteen to ride this out.

Thanks to the brand new docks at Stock Island Marina Village, C2 has a beautiful spot to tie up on the south side of the marina’s liveaboard community, Coconut Row.

Tim: Our crew is all decked out in green and festive wear and it’s so nice to have some levity and festivity happening aboard OLOH. Captain Scott and Marla even brought Jasper a St. Patty’s themed bow tie so he’d be part of the party, too! I’ll probably burn out on the Irish music that A.J. has curated, but then again, I really do enjoy most of it – it reminds me of home.  At around noon we decide that a Whaler ride in our full garb would be in order.

Gotta love a dog with a bowtie!

In what feels like a bit of irony on St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve learned that Florida’s governor has issued an executive order directing bars to close by 5pm and remain closed for the next 30 days.  The City of Key West has mandated that in addition to bars, all restaurant facilities on the island be limited to take-out and delivery only and no on-site dining, also beginning at 5 pm today.  Whoa.  The county is also asking that any offices that are not offering essential services encourage employees to work from home.  But the Monroe County Tourist Development Council wants travelers to know that there are no restrictions to come to the Florida Keys as long as you’re not arriving from certain countries identified by the CDC.  An email from our friends Scott and Michelle back north summed up the oddity of this St. Patrick’s Day nicely: “All bars and restaurants are closed in Massachusetts. It’s like Christmas without Santa, presents, and reindeer or Thanksgiving without turkey, pie, and family.

Here at the marina, we learn that the poolside joints, the Salty Oyster Bar and Barrel House, will be closing until further notice as a part of the new order.  Because we are outside of Key West proper, Matt’s, the restaurant in the on-site Perry Hotel, is able to stay open by limiting seating and providing take-out service.  On hearing the news we decided to pay the two spots that will be shuttering one last visit and support the folks working there. These places and these people are an enormous part of our life at the marina.  We’ll miss our old friends Angie, Heidi, Zak, and Tom from the Salty Oyster and our new friends Kathryn and Cameron at The Barrel House. They are all incredible, warm, and welcoming people and this is inevitably going to be tough for them.

At the Salty Oyster, a guy in a green wig is staring at me across the bar and then comes over with a big grin, asking if we are from OLOH. His name is Derek and his mom works with my amazing cousin Julie (one of our favorite blog commenters) in Ohio. Jules wanted to send us some St. Patrick’s Day love so she got this…leprechaun…to leave us a margarita kit and a couple of green wigs on our boat while we were away. What a great guy, too, for making it happen. My instinct was to invite him and his two friends back for a cocktail, but we made a commitment to ourselves and our guests that we can no longer have anyone on the boat that we don’t know which is really not easy. It kills me because this guy is so nice and went out of his way to do something great for strangers. I tell him and he understands, but I feel like a real jerk. This is one we’ll have to pay forward.  Thanks, Julie and Derek for the green love!

6:47pm: Back on board before the festivities continue. Wait, are we being phot-O’Bama’d? O’ wait, that’s just our friend Captain John.

Back at the boat, we settle in for some Irish fixin’s and some good Irish Whiskey.  There’s enough food for about 20 people!  After we finish feasting and begin to settle in, we pop on the news and learn that West Virginia is the last state to report coronavirus cases and now it’s in all 50 states. I got a text from my nephew, who lives in Santa Monica, alerting us that California has ordered all their nearly 40 million residents to shelter in place. This is just astounding. I can almost hear the panic in his text. He’s sure he’s going to lose his job, and he’ll have a tough time getting by if that happens. A lot of people are going to be in the same awful predicament. The treasury secretary is warning that there could be a 20% unemployment rate as they try and get a 1 trillion dollar stimulus package happening. Let’s hope it will go to the folks who are actually going to be out of their jobs and will need assistance to pay rent and feed their families!

The evening winds down and the four of us sit together in the salon for one last nightcap.  My thoughts wander to my gregarious, warm, and welcoming Irish family in Ohio.  There’s a closet in the back room of the old house my grandparents owned which my aunt now owns. On the floor, beneath the coats, the clutter and the what-for, sit bottles and bottles of Irish Whiskey.  Sharing them on special occasions and particularly on this day always felt like a rite of passage, an honor even.  The closet door would open, a weathered hand would reach down and pull up a random bottle — Tullamore, Jameson, Bushmills, Connemara, or some other.  The thud of the bottle firmly placed on the ancient, oak table and the softly blurred, scrubbed-too-much juice glasses clinking together is as familiar as the sound of a knock on the battered, old, paint-cracked front door and the creaking hello of its tired hinges, opening to welcome every person, Irish or not.  As A.J. poured us the last drops of our Irish Whiskey, we raised our glasses and then sat together in the silence, finding our own memories so as to shoo away the flies of indecision.

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If you’d like to continue reading this story, you’ll be taken to Part 4 by clicking here.   To be instantly alerted when the next 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 5 Comments
  1. Wow, it seems so long ago the beginning of the 'closings', while this weekend is the beginning of the 'openings'. Long ways to go now, and I find the recap blog posts a reminder of how the way historians will write the tale of this time in a few years. Who'd have ever thought are lives would be in some AP American History class in the future. So a personal/selfish note - I'd love a .gpx track of the Hampton's track into Faro Blanco (just the part from crossing under the bridge to the marina). It's a marina on my 'wish to visit' list, but I'm just a little chicken about passing the Fanny Islands/Pam Island area before turning into the marina.
    1. It really has been wild to go through and edit these entries, only five or six weeks since the time they encompass. It feels like another era. GPX track sent!
  2. Amazing entry!!! As I read about the yacht ride to Marathon, I felt myself relaxing just seeing the beautiful waters and thinking of the heat!! It is finally a warm day here in Ohio! I loved of course your Memories of St. Patricks Day, I of course teared up reading of the back room at Rita's. We did pull out the Irish Whiskey that day and I, who never does shots, even imbibed with those present. It was pretty special. I loved the picture of Derek in the wig!! He is truly a great guy and is back in Ohio, beginning a nursing career. I love these blogs as you bring us all right there! It was a great respite before starting back to work tomorrow in a different world.
  3. You know I always enjoy your blog, your journey, but how special this series is. This is a well documented piece of history that needs to be shared in many other places so that future generations can enjoy this treasure. Thanks Peace and Love Pauly
    1. Thank you Pauly. As we always are quick to point out, this is merely our story which we keep keenly in perspective with the unimaginable experiences others are having. But we've heard from so many boaters who could relate and from so many who simply enjoyed the distraction, which we were happy to provide. And it will definitely be interesting for us to revisit as the years pass, hopefully with this pandemic far in our rear-view. Cheers!

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