By Captain Andres Celada
As we all know, this has been a pretty unusual season. The Coronavirus was ever-present and the threat grew each day as we explored the Maldives until the situation became extremely difficult to manage. But lets come back to that…
While we were in Maldives isolated from the rest of the of the world we had access to the news and media, but everything seemed very far away. Could it effect us? Would it effect our season? Living on Discovery, having fun everyday, exploring remote atolls, looking for wind and waves it’s easy to feel the news cannot be real, that it must be overblown. There is always enough to worry about just in our own little make-believe world: where to get provisions, how to fix the broken generator, why is this one water pump is acting funny, or simply how to enter a new lagoon to anchor and snorkel where we could see even more amazing sea life (without hitting any treacherous coral heads!).
It has been an incredible season. I feel very lucky for the people I have met and spent time getting to know. The places we have been and the experiences we have lived exceed what you see in your dreams. In every trip we have had good times but a few of course were more special than others…
New to us but a guest who has been with the Cabrinha Quest for years, Charlie and his awesome friends taught us the intricacies of the “Dirty Clubs” card game, which I understand has become a staple of the expedition. I was thankful I didn’t get thrown into the fire, as these guys take this game seriously! It’s quite hysterical watching the “loser” have to perform a forfeit, something usually quite embarrassing. On the last evening of their trip, Gerry Moffatt gave a speech that….left us speechless. Thank you Gerry, you are an exceptional person and orator!
The whole trip with Jacquie and Pierre was like a holiday with friends, just the four of us. We never met before, but it was like we knew one another for a lifetime. I would like to identify a special moment of that trip but there are too many! There was the sunset at “Dream Beach” with the super moon rising above the atoll, the squid fishing, the lobster dinner…the laughs!
With Stephano´s team, that sunset after the contest, surfing until sunset, glassy, crystal clear water, great waves, no one out, just Miguel and myself…the best session of the season for me. The dinghy ride at night from the resort going back to “Helena anchorage”, was…wow, I´m sure Helena is going to remember it for a long time! I will remember that “Discovery I love you!”. And then there was that morning the three of us surfed with “Samantha” the huge manta ray! We didn’t have much wind, but the foil made it possible for Stephanos to get some quality kiting in! Oh, and the food! Thais once again left us in smiles after every meal!
On the last trip with Brad, Holly and Katherine we had less kiting and surf, but there was definitely still plenty to do. We were foiling, sup´ing, snorkeling…everyday, all day. We had a great beach bbq under the stars, something we’ve made a new “regular” on the expedition. We all were amazed with Brad, always saying “I´m going just to try it, but it´s the first time and I´m going to struggle” then making everything look so easy! He definitely was born with a board under his feet. Katherine got her first flights with the foil as well, and they all got many great SUP rides. On this last trip we were all more concerned about the Corona Virus than we had been. Flights cancelled, resorts closed, people quarantined. More and more people getting infected and dying around the world. Back home in Spain the situation was becoming dire. Italy sounded like armageddon.
Flights were starting to get cancelled, countries shutting down, the last scheduled trip didn’t look probable. But in our little tiny nook of the world everything felt safe. There were a handful of confirmed cases in a resort hundreds of miles to our north. We had no neighbors, no contact with anyone, just the swaying palm trees and reef and ourselves for company. But one day, near the end of the trip with Holly, Katherine and Brad when we went to Thinadhoo (the “capital” island of Huvadoo atoll) to get provisions and fuel, like we’d done many times this season it was very obvious it was time to leave.
Thais and I were approaching the little pier where we always left the dinghy and things felt strange, with more people paying attention to us than usual. Before we tied up an angry mob was already yelling at us, telling we had to “leave the island, leave the anchorage, just go away!!!” It was really shocking to us. The locals in these atolls have been the most friendly, helpful and kind people we have literally ever met. But now they were completely different. Angry. Scared. It’s amazing how panic can change a group’s behavior.
We needed to get food and supplies before sailing 1200 miles to the Seychelles, so we smiled and put our heads down and pushed on through the mob. Everyone gave us space, treating us if we were infected. Our “foreign-ness” awakened their fear, distrust and hostility. We did our errands as fast as we could and returned to Discovery. We didn’t know it then, but this would be the last time we were to set foot on land for…a very, very long time. In fact we still haven’t, more than a month later and we don’t know when we will.
In these atolls, even though there is a lot of tourism it’s all concentrated in the resorts and a couple smaller cruise ships. No tourists go to where we go. Ever. The resorts and international flights were shut down one day after we left Huvadoo atoll. Thankfully we’d already been forced to cancel our last planned trip and were on our way on an overnight sail to Gan, the same place we’d checked into the country almost three months before, but this time to check out and head to the Seychelles. I’m afraid if we hadn’t left when we did we’d still be there, a boat with no home and nowhere to go.
Before arriving, the locals were already yelling on the radio to turn back and go away. When we dropped anchor, we couldn’t go ashore. We were told that first Mate Karolina’s flight was cancelled, and we wouldn’t be allowed to sign her off the boat. She couldn´t go home. After lots of phone calls with various agents and a lot of second-guessing and many “oh shit, this isn’t going to work” we managed to get her signed off and her ticket to Male, but from there it was totally unknown if she would make it home. She was flying via Sri Lanka, and the day she left the country announced it was closing its borders… Her journey home is worth another log, for sure (barely getting through customs in Male, being quarantined in Warsaw for two weeks on arrival, several flights cancelled on the way…). But she made it safe and sound.
I was getting really antsy, and wanted to depart as soon as possible. I knew the Seychelles borders were still open to foreign yachts, if not coming from risky countries. But I had the feeling they were about to close. It was only a matter of when. I didn’t want to call and ask permission, in case they said no. We had to leave Maldives, and we had nowhere else to go. I thought if we showed up there, they wouldn’t kick us out. Such is optimism…
We were supposed to be five crew on the passage, our two friends of course couldn´t come with the virus situation, and Karolina had to go back home, so at the end was just Thais and me.
The passage was tiring, especially with just two of us, but it was a nice complete break from the craziness going on in the world. As we were near the equator as expected there wasn’t much wind and ever-present squalls. We didn’t have sufficient fuel to motor the entire way so we used every little bit of wind we had, which gets exhausting. Set up the gennaker for a broad reach then half an hour later we’d have twenty knots on a close reach, then nothing. It was seven days of what felt like coastal cruising, constant changes day and night but it was much more pleasant than what we were about to experience.
We were anxious to get to Victoria. What was going to happen? We’d been totally disconnected from the world for a week.
Finaly early morning on March 27th, after more than eleven hundred miles, we arrived in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles. It was a bit shocking when our VHF radio chirped with a friendly voice “good morning Discovery, you are not allowed to enter Seychelleian waters, you have to leave”.
Since then we have been trying everything to get in. After a few days we found out that the government stopped allowing foreign vessels to enter the country on the 25th, just two days before we made it! If the paperwork could have been a bit faster in the Maldives, or we had a bit more wind…but it doesn’t matter now.
Now we are holding on. Gavin has been contacting everyone possible to help. The Spanish consul in Addis Abibi, Ethiopia, the US embassy here, super yacht agents, and even friends. But we are still in limbo. We are anchored outside Victoria harbor. But now they are used to us and for the most part we are ignored. Every day I wake up and hope to get news, but it never comes. For a month we have been anchored in filthy water, we cannot go ashore, we cannot do anything but wait. One month since the last time we were standing on solid ground or having a cold beer in a bar! We are officially…nowhere. Our passports have the exit stamp of the Maldives. We don’t have an alternative. Kenya and Tanzania is closed to foreign yachts. Australia is closed. Mauritius and Reunion is closed. Northern Madagascar has no services. We don’t have the range to go anywhere else. So we stay, and hope. If we eventually are allowed in Thais and I will return to Europe. I want to go back to Verbier where I spend summers paragliding and working with my friends. Thais was finally going to get the“Cordon Bleu” chef´s Diploma. Maybe that´s all a bit optimistic, but still I think and hope this situation is going to pass and we are going to continue our lives. On the positive side, the Earth and the natural world is thriving during this “break” we are giving them and the lessons for humanity are profound.
We still have food, Discovery is in great shape as I have endless time to dedicate to improving all her systems, Thais is working on new recipes…so it’s not a bad place to be in these strange times.
My first season on Discovery has been unique I would say, and I’m looking forward for the next one!
Let´s see what the future bring us!