As the coronavirus continues to change and reshape the world as we know it, Cruising World is reaching out to contributors, our partners in the marine industry and other sailors to get their take on where they are and how they’re doing. We’re asking five questions to each of them, and in this installment, we’re checking in on Carolyn Shearlock, a longtime cruiser and creator of The Boat Galley cookbook and website. She and her husband, Dave, are currently anchored in the Florida Keys aboard Barefoot Gal.
Where are you currently and who are you with?
As I write this, I’m in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon – right in the center of the Florida Keys. My husband Dave, dog Paz and I are aboard Barefoot Gal, our Gemini 105M catamaran. Since March 15, we’ve spent most of our time in what’s called the “backcountry” – the less populated (often unpopulated!) keys in the Florida Bay.
We’ve spent the last several days stocking up and will be heading out in the morning to hopefully spend at least six weeks in the backcountry before we need to return and re-provision.
What’s it currently like in the area?
The Florida Keys are quite locked down. The mainland area just north of us – Miami and Ft. Lauderdale – is the hardest-hit in the state, while the Keys are underserved medically. No non-residents are allowed into the Keys – there’s a checkpoint on the road.Boaters are welcome to transit the area, but it’s my understanding that newcomers are not allowed to set foot on shore. They can go to a fuel dock; if they need water or provisions, supplies will be brought to them. Marinas are not taking new customers and existing customers had to go on month-to-month leases in March in order to meet the “resident” requirement.
The Marathon City Marina – more commonly known as Boot Key Harbor – is doing everything it can to avoid COVID and its spread. In addition to not accepting new rentals, they have a rule that if you go to the mainland by boat or land, you cannot return to the mooring field. The workshop is open only for emergency repairs. The outdoor gathering spots are roped off. Only a small section of the office is open for picking up packages and mail. Cash is not accepted; payments must be made by credit or debit card.
Restaurants are take-out and delivery only; many are also selling groceries and paper products both as a service to residents (flour, eggs and paper products are still in short supply at the grocery stores) and as a way to keep themselves in business. Non-essential businesses are closed. Masks are required in the stores that are open.
The Keys have a lot of commercial fishing boats, so marine stores are considered essential and generally open although some are closed. The commercial fishing fleet is feeling the effects of decreased restaurant business locally, in the US and even lack of demand worldwide and many are now selling straight to local consumers. While it’s devastating economically, the good news for cruisers is that there are far fewer crab pots out.
The Keys lifestyle is totally water-based. The county government understands that people live on boats and even those who live on land are often on the water. Consequently, residents have no problem staying on their boats in various anchorages throughout the Keys – the only requirements are no rafting up, no more than 10 people on a boat and appropriate social distancing ashore.
How are you passing the time?
We’re doing pretty much the same things as if we were cruising anywhere, with the exception of how we socialize. We’re anchoring out, watching the weather, moving when we want to explore a new area or need protection from a different direction. We look for anchorages with shore access but not a lot of people, good holding and protection, and good cell coverage for phone calls and internet. A public trash dumpster is a wonderful bonus! The Boot Key Harbor Cruisers Net now livestreams the morning VHF net on Facebook Live, so those of us in the backcountry can hear the important announcements regarding changing regulations from the marina office. Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, various people are leading moderated VHF talks on topics such as snorkel and dive spots, fishing, and gardening on a boat.
I tend to work in the mornings. In the afternoons, I typically have a few more chores than usual, even when we’re cruising – I’m doing all our laundry aboard and baking bread for Dave every few days. Some days we’re sailing and others we go ashore for a walk or go swimming and snorkeling. Sometimes we’ll visit friends on other boats by dinghying near and chatting for a bit. Or we may see them ashore and chat for a bit . . . again, at a distance. And I’ll be honest, we spend a little more time catching up on news and calling or texting friends. It’s become important to both of us to stay connected to others even if we can’t share a cockpit for drinks or dinner or work together on a project.
How has this impacted your work on The Boat Galley?
I’ve shifted my focus some in order to help people with the questions they have right now. My Eating Well With A Tiny Fridge online course, which teaches how to go three weeks or more between provisioning trips, has become very popular as people are trying to limit trips to the grocery store. I decided to offer it on a pay-what-you-can basis (free to $19) which has enabled everyone to get the information.
Many cooking on a boat topics are big now, too: making yogurt and bread, cooking from scratch, substitutions. I’m answering a lot of questions on those, plus food storage. Isolating in a pandemic is remarkably similar to cruising in remote spots: managing food and other supplies, living 24/7 with others, living with uncertainty.
I’m also trying to look ahead and see what questions people will be having in the months ahead and prepare resources for then. Hurricane season is one I’m particularly thinking about right now: coronavirus certainly adds complexity when you think about prepping and evacuating. I’m spending quite a bit of time updating articles on my website as well as downloads and courses. I think more people will be out on boats this summer as it’s a great way to have fun without being in a crowd.
How have your cruising plans been impacted?
We had planned to be take Barefoot Gal to the Chesapeake this spring and cruise there until the Annapolis Show in the fall. Instead, we’re cruising the Florida Keys as we’re based in Marathon. No worries, it’s still great!
Jennifer Brett is CW’s senior editor.