Changing plans, being flexible and social distancing

Back in early January I and Momma Kitty run away from all the PNW wet and cold to enjoy the warm and dry conditions in the greater Phoenix area. The world has change a lot over the past 75 days.

I am currently at a location where the situation is more stable than greater Seattle. Yes the local to me grocery stores have been panic purchased, like much of the US, leaving little to no toilet paper, water, fresh meat, produce and dairy. But there are fewer cases of coronavirus and fewer people.

The Arizona desert

Being away from our boat/home, SWALLOW, is worrying and I and Momma Kitty miss being afloat. There is the concern that Swallow is being neglected with us away and if there would be a problem we are not present to resolve the situation. SWALLOW is moored in a secure facility and friends are keeping an eye on her while we are away. Still …

SWALLOW is in a safe and secure location.

I had planned to return to SWALLOW the middle of March to begin some upgrades and do needed maintenance. The work list included: bottom scrub and check/replace the zincs (aka, contract a diver to check out Swallow’s bottom), servicing the outboard, and adding solar panel(s) and the related power controller(s). The world situation now requires making a decision on when it will be appropriate to return to the Pacific Northwest?

The Canadian border is closed so going to the enjoyable Gulf Islands isn’t an option. Marina and public services throughout the Salish Sea are becoming increasingly limited or outright closed for transient boaters. Will there be locations to collect water, potti dumping and filling the fuel tanks? Will I be able to restock food and as there are only a few locations remaining in Puget Sound where a grocery store is within semi-easy walking distance will there be bus service to go shopping and will anything in stock? There are many unanswered questions.

On the Internet many are stating they are ready to ‘bug out on the boat’. I question this logic as few really know how to go an extended time aboard without going ashore every few days for food & water and the proper disposal of garbage and holding tank waste. Most can’t be alone with themselves for an extended time. It is my belief that folks like the idea of floating security and self quarantine on their boat … but don’t have all the information nor skill set to be secluded away from society’s conveniences.

To ‘bug out’ the following topics require a responsible solution:

  • How many days can you go before the head’s holding tank fills? ‘Bucket and chuck it’ is not appropriate for any location in the Puget Sound nor San Juan & Gulf Islands. Pumping the holding tank overboard shows complete disregard for the environment and other boaters – and people wanting to eat food from these waters.
  • How much water can you keep aboard and how long does that last? With careful use I & Momma Kitty use about 1.5 gallons a day. This use includes doing dishes, cooking, hygiene and drinking. If I don’t wash the dishes and drink less coffee this can be reduced to just under a gallon a day. I know many suggest using saltwater for washing … waters within the anchorages of the Sound and Islands are not safe because of toxic land runoff (raw sewage in most cases) and the gray and black water discharge of other boats (see point above). If you have a watermaker I question how safe it is to use the Salish Sea as a water source. These waters are filled with toxic chemicals like pesticides, solvents and volatile organic chemicals are not removed by the reverse osmosis process.
  • How long can you go before garbage and recycling overwhelms on-board storage?
  • Are you a skilled cook, adept at having the correct mix of foods for an extended period without going ashore? Do you know how to store and safely use perishable items? Will you be able to replenish ship’s stores when going ashore?
  • Power use and generation: How much electrico do you use a day? Are you smart about limiting the use of electronic devices and electric lights? How long can your battery system go without needing charging from the engine/generator? How much fuel do you have aboard to run a motor? Will marinas be open to buy more fuel or even have fuel to sell? If you have solar and/or a wind generator can you operate your boat using limited or no electrical power while at anchor if the system(s) fail?
  • Are you comfortable wearing unlaundered clothes, including underwear, for extended periods? If you have weeks, or months, of food aboard you likely will not have space for a daily change of clothes. If marinas and other public facilities are closed how will you do the laundry? (See above discussion about the amount of fresh water you have aboard.)
  • How well do you do when not taking a shower for weeks? (Yep, again see point above about water.)
  • How well do you handle isolation? Can you be by yourself for weeks or months? If ‘bugging out’ with your partner/children/buddy are you able to be in close quarters without wanting throw them, or them you, overboard?
  • Do you have a pet? Can the pet remain aboard or requires a trip ashore?
  • What will you do to entertain yourself? Books? Board games? Cards? Rely on electronics (ex, a Kindle or a computer)? And if the cell system fails can you go without the Internet and communicating with friends & family?
  • How able are you to repair a boat system that fails? Do you have the tools, spares and skills to fix any part critical to safety and livability?
  • What will you do if you get sick? Besides coming down with COVID-19 (remember your don’t know you don’t have it until you have been away from ALL possible infection vectors for 14 days) you can also become ill with a wide variety of other things (think food poisoning if you are not skilled cook or don’t have the correct stores aboard). Each time you go ashore, as you are touching surfaces that may be contaminated, or get within 6′ of another person, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you have another 14 days until you know if you are not sick.

The above are some of what I think about when I read/hear someone state they are ready or are going to ‘bug out’ on their boat. Essentially all of the these are the same concerns if you were going to go on an extended crossing (note I wrote CROSSING, such as a bluewater trip from the US west coast to Hawaii, not a cruise – for most people an extended cruise means going from one marina to the next while eating at restaurants). SWALLOW’s current limit for extended stays ‘away from civilization’ is about 7-9 days – the head holding tank needs emptying, water tank needs filling and the batteries need charging (as SWALLOW doesn’t yet have a solar panel so I need to motor around for about 6 hours to recharge the house batteries).

Things are not are not all gloom and doom. I’ve enjoyed Arizona’s dry days and warm temperatures. My dad is also in AZ so we have spent time together. In February I met up with a group of sailor friends at Lake Pleasant and my sister and niece.came for a visit. A LOT of books and magazines have been read. Many shows have been binge watched on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I have even done a boat maintenance task –

At this time my plan is to remain where I’m currently at as returning to and then provisioning SWALLOW would place me at greater risk of catching this bug. I’ll monitor the news and speak with friends and family nearer the boat and move back aboard when the situation seems more stable.

Readers please be smart during this challenging time. Believe what the professionals (doctors, the WHO and CDC, scientists) recommend to stay healthy. Wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow and practice social distancing.