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 Neville and Catherine Hockley who have just wrapped up an epic 13-year circumnavigation aboard Dream Time, their Cabo Rico 38.
1. You guys have been on the move quite a bit! Where are you now and what’s the scene like? How are you spending your days?
We’re in the US Virgin Islands, so while it’s not quite home waters, it is home territory. We crossed the Atlantic earlier this year, and count ourselves very fortunate to be here and not stranded at sea between countries. And considering some countries are issuing fines to cruisers for just swimming around their boats during lockdown, we have a remarkable degree of freedom here. Stores have remained fully stocked, stay-at-home measures are reasonable and sensible, so we’re permitted to go ashore for provisions and exercise, we’re even allowed to swim, snorkel, kayak … like I said, we’re fortunate to be here. The USVI government and the local community have been very welcoming to cruisers during this time. In fact, it’s the only country in the Eastern Caribbean still open. It’s a safe haven when cruisers need one most.
2. So you have been on a quite leisurely circumnavigation, now with a fairly dramatic ending. What was your arrival in the Caribbean like? How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your movements?
We sailed from Cape Verde, off western Africa, in January and arrived in St. Lucia after 16 days at sea. Our first two months in the Caribbean were cruising as usual as we sailed north through the Windward and Leeward Islands. It was in Antigua we started hearing more about COVID-19 and decided it would be best to sail direct to the USVIs in anticipation of restrictions. It turned out to be a good move. When we arrived in St. Thomas in early March, peak holiday season, up to five cruise ships were visiting the island each day. But just two weeks later we witnessed the first cruise ship being denied access to Crown Bay. It’s been closed to tourists ever since. Locals we’ve spoken to are taking it in stride. Many have shared that preparing for stay-at-home restrictions feels like pre-hurricane procedures, and the community is well practiced for emergency provisioning.
We plan to set sail for Florida next week, but as the counties en route are closed, what was going to be a month of casual island hopping through the Bahamas to end our circumnavigation will be a 1,000 nautical mile non-stop passage. Many cruisers we’ve met in the USVIs are comfortable only day sailing or spending 1 to 2 nights between islands, and the thought of an open 7- to 10-day passage is understandably quite intimidating to some. But the cruising community has been awesome. Particularly the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, which typically arranges rallies for boats this time of year. But due to COVID-19 they’re now focused on helping over 200 boats return safely to America in scheduled weekly flotillas. It’s a service they’re offering for free (although donations are appreciated) and includes weather routing, border advisories and, most importantly, up-to-date information on changing customs and immigration requirements for both US and foreign visitors at ports of arrival and territories en route. Their service and guidance has really helped a lot of sailors who would otherwise feel overwhelmed embarking on a long passage without support. They deserve applause for their contribution.
And maybe on a positive note, being forced to embark on a 1,000-plus nautical mile passage may actually be empowering to many cruisers who ordinarily wouldn’t choose such a long voyage. And once transited, who knows, maybe it will open new horizons and encourage cruisers to explore regions that they previously would of considered out of their comfort zone.
3. I know that it will be hard to choose, but what’s one place that you visited on your journey that you consider your favorite, or would like to return to most?
Oh that’s an easy one: French Polynesia in the South Pacific. Specifically the Tuamotus. It checked all the right cruising boxes, and we know how rare that is. In fact, everything that we dreamed of finding when we set sail from New York in 2007, we found in French Polynesia: an amazing culture; a variety of islands to explore—from towering volcanic spires to sandy motus; remote uninhabited atolls you’d have entirely to yourself; diving that would make even National Geographic envious; a flotilla of our closest cruising buddies, now friends for life; and more good times roasting fresh fish over evening beach fires than we can count. It was a cruising highlight for us and a destination that we’re already strategizing a return.
4. Social distancing is naturally part of offshore sailing, so you have plenty of experience! What advice do you have for people who are new to this—whether on a boat or on shore?
Stay active and find positive distractions. Try and recognize this time as an opportunity to do something new, perhaps learn a skill or pursue a passion—whether it’s a new language, painting, writing, a DIY project or planning a world circumnavigation… Get creative. I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the news, which is understandable, but we’re lucky not to have the distraction of a TV, streaming and social media on the boat, so it’s a little easier not to over-engage. We have lots of “arts & crafts” days on Dream Time. I’m currently whittling away the hours on a coconut carving.
We also stay physically active, whether it’s kayaking, snorkeling, kite boarding or exercising (Catherine has an impressive collection of bungies while I have a stack of dive-weight dumbbells). You can always find something to do, finding the motivation, however, is often the hardest part. But setting a goal and having a schedule, just like cruising, will help you get to where you want to be.
5. Now that you’re finally back, almost in home waters, is there anything that you’re really looking forward to, or any particular way you’d like to celebrate closing the loop? What’s next on your sailing agenda?
We’ve just learned that we don’t need to clear-out of the US Virgin Islands, and as we’re sailing directly to America, we’re no longer required to clear in when we arrive on the mainland. So I guess it could be argued that we’re already back in America and our world voyage is over. Our state of departure was Florida in 2008, but mile marker 0.0 was New York, which in 2007 was the official beginning of this adventure. New York is our home; it’s where we moved to when we first arrived in America, it’s where we got married, bought Dream Time, became US citizens and began our world voyage. So, for us, the loop won’t officially be closed until we sail back into Long Island Sound and berth Dream Time at the Safe Harbor Brewer Marina in Glen Cove, New York.
But in just a few weeks we’ll be arriving in Florida, living in a building again, and ironically, I find myself thinking more about the things I’ll miss on Dream Time than the advantages of being ashore. But after 13 years of cruising, as much as we love this lifestyle, it’s time for a change. We have other chapters in our lives and other challenges to pursue now. Cruising will always be a part of our lifestyle, but we’re ready to find a balance between Dream Time and what’s next. Whether that’s seasonal cruising for 4-6 months of the year or finding another balance, we’re not sure yet. We’ll take that journey just like Dream Time’s—one waypoint at a time.
What are we looking forward to? Hugging friends we haven’t seen for far too long. Hot water whenever we want it. Long showers. Our very own washing machine! Reliable Wi-Fi. Ordering practically anything we want and having it arrive the next day. And planning the next chapter in our life. That’s exciting and, ironically, just as nerve-racking as when we set off around the world 13 years ago.
What’s next? Blimey …