There’s a brief period of normality before things get weird again. After the Calima, it takes a few days for the dust to settle, and for the pace of life in Tenerife to return to its usual flow. We set our anchor in the town of Los Christianos, to the south of the island. The Knight family, and their beautiful Wharram design catamaran Hecate, are also in the anchorage. It’s fun to feel part of the family for a few days. We listen to Matt and Suzanne’s epic stories of adventure, and slip ashore in the evening with Harriet and Taz.
Los Christanos is a lively town. It’s built upon tourism, with nightclubs and fast food restaurants that mask the authentic side of Tenerife. The waves are what keep us. A short walk away from the anchorage are a string of well-formed reef breaks, culminating in Spanish Left. It’s a short, left bowl, that’s almost as aggressive as the locals that dominate it.
We become caught up in the waves, treats and nightlife of the hedonistic town — and fail to take notice of the developing signs around us of the strange events to come. One of the larger resorts on the island gets quarantined, after a group of Italian tourists test positive for coronavirus. The fact that the resort is only a few blocks away from the anchorage sows seed of anxiety. It’s reassuring to know that whatever happens, we’ll be able to sail away from it all.
The Knight family leave for Cape Verde, and we sail round to Garachico — a sleepy town in the North of the island. We set about preparing for the transatlantic; fixing things, provisioning and tidying up any lose jobs ready to go off grid for a few weeks. We would have left sooner, if it wasn’t for an important engine part delayed in the post. The five-day delivery time turns into three weeks.
On a cloudy Monday morning the part arrives, and Spain goes into lockdown. We’re all set to cross – and has there ever been a better time to set off on a long ocean voyage? Almost everyone we speak to offers the same advice, ‘cast off your lines and go’!
We set off on a final shopping trip, the sudden presence of armed men is surprising. After leaving the harbour, two civil guards with rifles point at us, and make a clear arm gesture suggesting we return in same direction that we came in. We try to check out with customs on the way back, to be told that we’re not allowed to leave.
Confined in the Marina
Like group of stubborn children, being told we can’t leave makes us want to go more. We begin scheming plans of slipping the mooring lines in the middle of the night, sneaking out to sea in front of a distracted security guard. A few more days of uncertainty pass before Ramón, the harbour master, gives us permission to leave. Under no circumstance can we stop at any other port in the Canaries, and we must disappear into the Atlantic as soon as possible.
We decide to hold back to mull things over. After a scan through Noonsite, we find that most islands in the Caribbean have closed their borders. Yachts arriving from Europe are being denied entry. The advice from yachts in the Caribbean is clear — to stay put. To complicate the situation, Lily starts to feel wheezy. I’ve done a few silly things, but I’d be a very irresponsible skipper if we left. Taking off on a transatlantic knowing a strange, potentially deadly, virus could be stowed away on board.
It’s hard to convey the feeling of unease. Confined to the cabin, faced with surreal rumors that are always changing. There’s a constant presence of official men, armed with either pistols or bleach. It’s all made more surreal by the language barrier, and the limited social interaction we have with other people.
To stay or go?
I call a friend in Grenada who confirms everything. It’s a shitty time to go sailing — yet, there’s still lots of people encouraging us to leave. It’s easy to romanticise being on a sailing boat, especially in a time of crisis, but where do we sail too? There’s something socially irresponsible about cruising through the West indies in the midst of a crisis. We’d be imposing ourselves and straining already delicate supply chains. And where would the fun be without cultural exchange? We make the decision to postpone the crossing and pause the voyage until the world is ready for us.
I didn’t realise how much stress I was under, until we decided to stay. I was able to let go of all the anxiety over what would happen to us at the other end, and the risk of taking the virus to sea. We surrender to the militant Spanish lockdown. No leaving the boat, no exercising, only one person can to go to the shops. We pass the time by reading books and editing videos, as well as befriending the local wildlife. There’s a friendly duck that hangs out in the cockpit, as well as a barracuda and some toe-sucking fish.
We ponder the idea of sailing back to the UK in spring, but then scrap that idea, as we’re not ready to let go of the dream yet. The obvious approach is to leave Elixir in the marina and fly back to the UK to wait out the pandemic.
We book flights, and spend our last few days packing up Elixir, getting ready for an emotional goodbye. On our last evening, we have socially distant aperitifs with a lovely French couple, who are also quarantined in the harbour. We give them the rest of our Atlantic provisions, and they offer to watch over Elixir while we’re gone.
I leave Elixir feeling confused. Surely there’s no better way to practice social distancing, than by spending three weeks in the Atlantic? I feel a pang of regret at not sailing away from it all, but ultimately, the rules wouldn’t let us — the Caribbean didn’t want us and Spain said, ‘go home’. So, we go. Two buses and a plane later, we arrive in a dystopian London.