UK Lockdown – month three

Well, here we are in Whitehaven…still.  I’m not complaining though. There are plenty of horror stories of other cruisers around the world either trapped in foreign countries, or worse, their world has been turned upside down due to a premature death of a loved one caused by COVID19. With the worldwide death toll speeding towards half a million people, and with almost nine million confirmed cases, this virus will certainly be around for some time yet.  It’s now compulsory to wear masks on public transport in the UK, but I’ve got no plans to be that close to people for now. So I’ll continue to wash my hands and keep my distance.

Whitehaven Harbour

Rules have eased in the UK at the end of month three – we are now at Level 3; some supermarkets have relaxed queuing and there’s certainly more people out enjoying the fine weather. Supermarket shelves are well stocked; there’s even flour and yeast available now. I suspect the millions of people who panic-bought toilet rolls, flour and yeast now have buyer’s remorse.

Most people around Whitehaven don’t wear masks and the harbour foreshore can get busy with people sunning themselves, being mindful to keep their distance – mostly. Fisher-folk keen to get a nibble space themselves equally along the west and north piers at Whitehaven Harbour whilst enjoying the slow summer sunsets.

Ironically summer is typically the season where we isolate ourselves at a quiet anchorage ,and all we can do is look out across the sea towards Scotland. But we’ve got no option but to wait it out sharing one toilet with boat-owners who can now come to the marina to check on their boats. Oh, to be out sailing…

Across to Scotland

Scotland have gone into Phase 2 of their re-opening, and announced that Phase 3 will allow overnighting at anchorages (with suitable permissions), however, there’s no date set for Phase 3. Ireland still requires two weeks in isolation, although the information is sketchy regarding travel between UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland. It’s not like we need to leave, but Skipper is getting a little toey with all this hanging around. The Faroes are around 500nm north and starting to ease restrictions so that’s an option.

It’s looking less likely that we’ll reach the European continent this season and more than likely hole up again this winter on the south coast of England. Well, that’s the plan today. In the meantime, we keep as busy as we can.

One job that always gets put off is varnishing. It’s not easy to apply seven coats of varnish when you live aboard – too easy to accidentally touch newly applied painting. There isn’t a lot of varnishing to be done, but we do have some chips and scuffs, and UV destroyed areas that need attention. We both worked on sanding the entry, but only one of us can varnish. I’m using Epifanes polyurethane two component clear varnish which should bring the wood back to life and protect it for a few more years. On my next exciting instalment, I’ll post some pics of the finished job!

New red wheels go faster

And then there was the time we created a job for ourselves. A few weeks ago, my pushbike ended up in the harbour after a gust of wind blew it off the jetty (don’t ask!). Since the dunking, squeaks and stiffness has materialised despite a subsequent dousing of fresh water and lubricant after the dip. Wayne helped me strip the bike down completely – goose neck, steering stem, gears, cogs, pedals, etc. We had to clean and regrease all ball bearings to remove any trace of damaging salt water. In the end I had to replace my rear wheel as the old rear hub couldn’t be repaired or replaced. I even had to take apart my Shimano combination pedals after they seized and stopped spinning (filled with wee ball bearings). Fortunately, Haven Cycles opposite Aldi had a couple of red-rimmed and dusty 26” MTB wheels (front/rear) hanging in the rafters which I took off his hands. My multi-coloured bike is built from parts around the world!

Bike riding is the only escape for us at the moment and there’s good bike paths and quiet roads throughout Cumbria. I’d love to ride across to Newcastle on the east coast, but camping is prohibited overnight and the police are out in force. To control the influx of people, public loos around Cumbria are closed for the time being (fun fact; Whitehaven has no public toilets – zero).

And just like that after a lacklustre start to the year we have reached the summer solstice – the longest day of the (longest) year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Hopefully we can expect things to ease soon, but not at the expense of a few lives.

For that we can wait a little longer.


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UK lockdown – month two

Since we left our home port of Melbourne in early 2011, we haven’t stayed in one place longer than three months. Typically a long stay means major works on Blue Heeler. As much as I like Whitehaven, we’ve been here now for nine months, which also means we haven’t been sailing since end of August 2019. But we are the lucky ones.

Other sailors are land-locked on their vessels in French canals, with no way of escaping; many are stranded in the Maldives or Caribbean, hoping to be able to sail to a safe latitude before the hurricanes roll in for the season. For the sake of their small populations, the Pacific Islands are closed to yachties. A recent article in the Guardian highlights the extraordinary challenges faced by sailors around the globe.

Horta, Azores

It’s reported that around 500 vessels are heading northeast from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to Europe, cutting short their sailing adventures to return to the relative safety of their homelands. Crossing oceans is dangerous and any under-prepared sailor attempting a crossing will be faced with a myriad of problems, usually the least of which is entry into a country. A safe harbour is critical to a weary sailor coming in from a perilous voyage so it’s a real problem for many sailors.

So, what have we been up to? Not much. I’ve been busy chronicling our voyages into watchable YouTube clips. I have thousands of photos so it’s been a major task remembering all of the places we’ve been. If you’re interested in our trip from New York to Alabama through the inland waterways, I’ve finally uploaded a playlist on that trip. I’m currently finishing off our 2014 Indian Ocean trip too (yes, 2014). Plus there’s some more recent vids too. Wayne is quietly going mad reading anything to keep his mind occupied. A 12m boat is a very small space…

With no countries near us likely to fully open this summer, there’s little we can do for now. Scotland is closed so anchoring up in the islands is a no-go. Ireland requires 14-days of self-isolation before stepping ashore, and most marinas as closed too.  The Isle of Man remains closed for the time being with no reopening in the foreseeable future. A lot of our boat work is done too so there’s only a few smaller jobs to tick off the list. The longer we stay though the items miraculously appear on the ‘to-do list’. We had thought of going to Iceland but we’d have to self-isolate for 14 days or have a COVID19 test before we could step ashore. The Faroe Islands are closed for now too. The marina is allowing people to visit their boats, but no-one is allowed to stay overnight, except people with no option, like us.

Fitzroy Island

Happier times at Fitzroy Island, Australia 2011

If I could click my heels three times and say “There’s no place like home”, and end up in Australian waters, I would do it in a heartbeat.

But for now, we continue the waiting game. The remnants of Tropical Storm Arthur broke our sunny spell, but the end of next week looks like warmer weather. There are few hours of darkness here now, as nautical twilight begins around 3am and finishes towards midnight.

Stay safe everyone.

The photo at the top and those below are from Lizard Island in 2011 – happier times…





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Gallery: Signs of the times

The lockdown rules in the UK have eased slightly from this week. Although the current notice (14 May) from Whitehaven Harbour is that the rules have relaxed for recreational boaters and that “there is no restriction on how far you can travel on your vessel”, the interpretation for us is still a bit ambiguous. There’s still the issue of having no-where we can enter if we do leave. Despite the temptation to disappear over the horizon, for now we wait and do our best to enjoy the down time.

So for a little longer, we try to get as much exercise as possible. Walking around Whitehaven are signs of closure, positive murals and decorative rainbows in windows, a display of thanks to the NHS.

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Farther afield we took the bikes along the cliff walk to the St Bees lighthouse surrounded by fields of yellow rapeseed flowers. To the east, it’s less than 20kms to reach the Lake District through an easy ride along a shady bicycle route.

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Back in Whitehaven, the streets are quiet, the playgrounds are empty, and the green sports field hasn’t been stomped on for some time.

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UK lockdown – month one

This April is our third in the region, and much the same as the past two years, the weather is fine and sunny. The sailing conditions are perfect; conditions that would have us down in France and the European continent in just a couple of days. The wind is our ticket to travel and right now we have no choice but to watch the wind blow by…

Whitehaven looking north

Looking north west across the Solway Firth to Scotland

Whitehaven Marina

The UK Government’s recommendation is to stay home and save lives – fair enough. After months of cold winter, it’s hard for locals to stay home and not enjoy the sunshine, but they are keeping their distance. A walk along the cliffs is an hour I enjoy to escape from the isolation.

Locals heading to Vagabond pub during lockdown

Restrictions on movements generally are that “no one may leave the place where they live without reasonable excuse”. As such, recreational boating is not recommended. There’s also the case that there’s nowhere to visit. I suppose we could leave Whitehaven and head towards Europe, but with the situation as bad down there and restrictions entering the country(s), we need to question what advantage it would be to travel now. Unlike cruisers locked down in other countries, we have no problems in the UK regarding length of stay, nor do we have issues with language or are we stuck on anchor. We are safe in a marina, have close access to supermarkets and can get out for a walk along the cliffs. Whitehaven is a great place to hang out. Although we are keen to get moving and begin the slow journey back to Australia, like most people, we must be patient and wait.

Looking south-west towards Isle of Man

One month since the UK lockdown and shockingly there are now over 18,000 reported deaths across the UK attributed to COVID19. Across Cumbria’s two acute NHS hospital trusts, which includes Whitehaven, a total of 233 coronavirus deaths. On the tiny Isle of Man, a day sail away from Whitehaven, 15 people have sadly succumbed to the virus.

The art of queuing

On a brighter note, it’s nice to see people out painting their fences, washing cars, enjoying time with their kids as they practice physical distancing. Brits have mastered the art of queuing, so waiting in line at supermarkets is quite stressless as people maintain their 2m distance.

So, with nothing else to do, we keep busy.

Each fine sunny day we go outside – the weather is ideal for working on the boat and there’s always plenty to do. The topsides were scrubbed and polished; the Windex was bent back into position after a crow managed to bend it out of shape; the bikes were cleaned up; the cleats were removed, cleaned and re-bedded; stainless steel is now gleaming; new ropes spliced; fishing tackle box sorted; anchor chain cleaned; cables tidied up….and so on. I think we now have the cleanest boat at the marina! In the evenings we watch various series re-runs, movies and some news. I’ve got a few books waiting to be read too.

The current lockdown period ends May 7, however, it’s highly likely this will be extended, perhaps a few months yet. The situation in Australia seems fairly under control, at least by the reported figures and updates from family. I hope Australian’s continue their vigilance against this highly contagious virus as they head into the winter months.

That’s about it. Stay safe everyone and we hope that all is well wherever you are. Here’s some springtime pics from around Whitehaven.

April blossom

Social distancing Whitehaven

Walking in the park

Wellington Row, Whitehaven

Spring flowers

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Heroes and Homebodies

This week the UK went into lockdown stating:

“People may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs. Shops selling non-essential goods have been told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together will be prohibited”.

Since my last post two weeks ago the confirmed number of cases in the UK has increased from 150 to over 11,500, and sadly the death toll increases daily. The NHS has a website with clear advice for the population. The John Hopkins University interactive map is a good resource for statistics on this pandemic plus there is the WHO situation dashboard. Public Health England also has a good link.

Here in Cumbria, the town of Whitehaven is eerily quiet. Usually in the mornings we hear cars rumbling by on nearby roads as the smell of coffee and bacon butties steam out from nearby cafes. Now, nothing except screeching seabirds and barking dogs. People out for exercise are practising social distancing as they walk their pooches along the waterfront. The dogs are the clear winners at this time.

Over the past week I’ve gone out couple of times to get some fresh Irish Sea air and sunshine as I walk along the daffodil strewn cliffs, maintaining a visible distance between other walkers. Unlike a house we can’t walk around the boat so it’s nice to get out for an hour a day in the fresh air to clear the head.

A teasing Irish Sea

The winter storms have eased and the past few days have been delightfully sunny and warm – it reached 13degC today! The light breeze blowing over the Irish Sea is teasing my senses – I’ve never wanted to sail away as much as I do now!

No social distancing for sheep

Last weekend I popped into Aldi and their shelves were bursting with groceries – no problem there. Tesco’s shelves have run out of many items. Yesterday I went to grab a few ‘essentials’ at Tesco located next to the boatyard. They’ve now introduced a maximum limit of customers within the store at one time and others waiting to enter must line up outside leaving a 2m buffer between each other. Shop assistants wear rubber gloves and ask that customers stay clear of them at all times. Contactless payments in the UK are being increased to £45 from £30 to make payment easier without having to touch anything.

Whitehaven harbour in lockdown

The cruising community, people like us who live on a boat, are uniquely suited to living in isolation for weeks at a time. Not only are we fully provisioned (as we had planned on sailing away next week for the summer season), we can find a multitude of ways to keep ourselves entertained or busy. We have also fine-tuned the art of doing everything slowly – perhaps reading a book, researching or knocking off a few jobs, which there’s always plenty of. Yesterday Wayne fitted some new outdoor speakers, and today I think I’ll polish the topsides…

Keeping busy during lockdown

I keep in contact with many sailors who are also in lockdown throughout the world. The Ocean Cruising Club as well as Noonsite and other Facebook sailing pages for various sailing locations are adding details of the lockdowns around the world. Some we know have passed through the Panama Canal only to now be stuck on the Pacific side as many Pacific Islands are no longer allowing entry by foreign vessels. For now at least we are thankful to have structured our lives to live simply, but who knows how long our luck will last.

This week the Whitehaven Marina closed with only a couple to run the marina. Yesterday the female and male shower block and loos were closed leaving one unisex toilet/shower open for people to use. With the majority of users being male, I now have to share my morning ablutions with stubble trimmings and vertical toilet seats. Clearly an opportunity for everyone to pitch in and keep shared spaces clean. My hands have never been so clean!

A big thank-you must go out to the real heroes of this pandemic – the health professionals, police, ambulance, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, cleaners, etc. – all putting themselves at risk for the sake of others. Also, a special thanks to the paramedics and health professionals in Bendigo who only last week saved my brother’s life – so thankful Australia has a great health care system.

So grow your hair, clean your stove, read a book, clean your fridge, do some sewing, stop hoarding, take it easy, if you can.

For the sake of others, follow the rules, #staysafestayhome.

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