International Sailing During COVID-19

Pandemic impacts cruising sailors around the world.


The Valiant 40 on the cover of the September issue is named Brick House and belongs to longtime contributor the late Patrick Childress and his wife Rebecca. Patrick was 69 and healthy when he arrived in Cape Town, South Africa in May.  Last month, he died there after contracting COVID-19. The loss of our friend, co-worker, and such a widely followed sailor has sent ripples of sadness through the cruising community. Patrick was a fellow South Florida native, and his circumnavigation aboard a 27-foot Catalina helped inspire my own sailing dreams. There is a tribute to Childress’ work for PS in the upcoming issue, and readers can follow Rebecca and Brick House at their blog “Where is Brick House?” which also has links to their widely followed YouTube channel “Sailing Brick House.”

Patrick’s illness and death was a particular shock because we were in correspondence by e-mail not long before he was hospitalized. He e-mailed the photos for our Valiant 40 review about a month before he got the virus. We’d both mused about how lucky he was to be in Africa, where the COVID-19 seemed to be less prevalent than in many US ports. Currently, however, Cape Town is struggling with the disease, with more than 2,000 deaths.

Today, in South Africa, as in many parts of the world, the free movement of foreign cruising boats is curtailed or closely monitored. New rules are changing the shape of international sailing and making it especially challenging for sailors who are already out there, or who were on the verge of launching their dream of an island escape.
In some places, US cruising sailors are still effectively confined to their boats in the foreign port they cleared into. Cruising between islands, even those within the same country, is limited or completely restricted. Leaving a country entails research as to whether one’s destination port is welcoming foreign boats.

The good news is that many countries that rely on foreign cruisers are beginning to open up. The Bahamas have opened up to cruisers who can prove that they have been tested within 10 days prior to arrival, and more distant locales like Fiji are establishing clearcut guidelines for foreign vessels that want to visit their country.

It is clear that many of our favorite destinations are eager to welcome back world sailors, if only because their local recreational marine industry depends on us. This imposes a great responsibility on the sailing community to ensure that we not only protect ourselves and other cruisers, but the communities we visit. Many of these countries simply don’t have the resources to deal with outbreaks, so the blatant flouting of local health advisories that is going on in our own country can have dire consequences in small island nations.

The websites for the host countries you hope to visit can provide guidance on where things stand in that country. For the latest on COVID-19 in ports around the world, Jimmy Cornell’s Noonsite website provides a “biosecurity” link with status updates. Even if you are cruising domestically, you’ll want to do your research.

This leads me to my last point. Many of the sailing organizations that sailors rely on are going through a rough patch. Groups like Noonsite that depend on advertising to support their services have seen revenue drop. Our favorite charities like Shake-A-Leg Sailing have had to cut back on activities and/or institute costly changes to their programs to prevent the spread of disease.

Those of us who have the privilege of realizing the dream of escape can’t and shouldn’t escape our responsibility to our community, both ashore and afloat. Now, more than ever, it is important that we give back to the organizations who helped bring us this far. If you have some favorite sailing-related charities to promote during these times, send you recommendations to

PS Publisher Belvoir Media and Harvard Medical School have created the Harvard Coronavirus Resource Center to answer questions regarding COVID-19.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


  1. It would be nice if we could learn anything from this. What were Patrick Childress practices in terms of protecting himself and his family from infection. What can we learn from these practices.

  2. It is not feasible or possible to avoid a contagious virus. Wasting time and resources to do so just puts off the inevitable and sets people up to get sick later because they failed to be exposed and gain immunity. It is clearly useful to let the least in danger of a serious illness, including children, young adults, and healthy adults, gain immunity and thus contribute to herd immunity.

    Then, we need to give good medical care to those who do become seriously ill. We have some good treatments, including HCQ, antibiotics, and zinc in combination, that can be used even before an illness is serious. We also know now that intubation and ventilators are seriously the wrong treatment, with 80% mortality—not a good outcome at all. Lung issues tend to appear more like altitude sickness, which means patients should be put on supplemental oxygen and allowed to clear their lungs and fight the illness.

    BTW, testing positive from a test that is based on general coronaviruses tells us nothing and also does not make one a case. You have to also be ill to be a case. Both the PCR test and antibody test are based on general coronaviruses. A specific test is simply impossible because no one has yet to isolate the specific virus. I refuse to take either of these tests as they are 80% false positive and seriously meaningless.

    I was very ill with the worst flu-type illness of my 70 years last February—nothing so bad since I had dengue fever in Mexico. My wife did the same one week later, lost her sense of smell and everything. Taking a test now is simply asking for results that have no meaning. Coronaviruses are environmental, there being fairly harmless forms circulating about all year round. Between the faulty tests and the pervasiveness of coronaviruses, it’s no wonder they get lots of positives even this late in the flu season.

    We have had the flu season for, like, ever and we never behaved this way. Why now? The virus moved with the flu season and behaved like the flu season salad of viruses and left with the season. It was also the same or much weaker than the flu in its lethality. Wow. [Notice how little the media wants to mention the numbers from previous years.] They love to call it a novel virus and pretend we know nothing about it. This is simply not true as it has all the constraints of coronaviruses, which we have been studying for decades. They love to repeat “novel” all the time to keep the public sacred; it’s a stranger! Stranger danger!!!!

    Normal good hygiene and avoiding others when sick is all that is needed. Lockdowns and contact tracing are not recommended by the WHO under any circumstances. Masks are only for the sick and social distancing is supported by NO science at all. There are quite a few health problems posed by healthy people wearing masks and sick people wearing masks when they are not near others. It’s simply not healthy.

    • Be advised readers that there are layers upon layers of misinformation included in the post from Mr. Higley – so much so I am reluctant to even address each layer. Just follow the guidance of professional epidemiologists and ignore those commenters who I expect either have a grudge against government, science, or have economic interests that are threatened by social distancing recommendations.

  3. And, yes, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) does work. It was reported in 2004 or 2006 in a CDC paper that was lauded at the time by none other than Dr. Fauci. He crowed about how HCQ was so effective against coronaviruses.

    Interestingly, today, as he has a financial stake in redemisvir and also a partnership with Bill Gates regarding vaccines, HCQ suddenly does not work. It’s all about politics and money, as usual.

  4. Charles Higley, you are such a dangerous and misguided soul. YOU, sir, are all about politics and money. You are a true conspiracy theorist and, if listened to, will kill many good people.

    Folks ….. trust your doctors, your scientists, your front line medical heroes. Don’t listen to this man.

  5. Charles Higley, you are, what we in the Navy, would call a piece of work. You and Trump seem to have much in common. Believe me Dr. Fauci exposes the two of you and makes look like the amateurs you really are! You are dangerous on two front 1) was you say is rubbish and 2) you think you are right!

  6. While mr. Higley and the current president have the right to spout nonsense why are the editors of Practical Sailor giving people who don’t believe in science, facts and reading the available technical information giving them a pulpit? These people are either dangerous or just plain malevolent.

  7. Well I sure hope Mr. Higley never chooses to visit my country in his travels. It is that attitude that has the US in the situation it is in now.

  8. Please note the following is my opinion. The research was done quickly and I might add – easily.
    I do not purport to be advising anyone on anything but share information as I comprehend it:

    I gathered the following information after tiring of hearing comparisons of covid 19 with the flu. If you desire please read and confirm the facts for yourselves.

    I have not edited these notes for publication, I release them as they are in my note form. Hope they will help someone.

    cdc estimates (flu)

    from oct 1 2019 through april 4 2020 there have been
    39,000,000 to 56,000,000 illnesses
    18,000,000 to 26,000,000 medical visits calcu 50% seek medical care
    410,000 – 740,000 hospitalizations (1.3 % are hospitalized)
    24,000 – 62000 deaths (.11% % die

    of those who are hospitalized 8.37 % die
    in the us flu season is fall and winter with cases extending into May

    the 2017 2018 flu season was most deadly in past decade
    with a cdc estimate of 61000 deaths

    cdc covid tracker July 8

    total cases: 2,982,900 (there have been 18 times as many flu cases)
    total deaths 131,065 (4.39 % of those known to have contracted covid have died.
    this rate is 39.9 times greater than the morbidity of flu
    so far this year 2.11 people have died of covid for
    every 1 flu death despite the 18 times flu cases

    hospitalizations are becoming more difficult to track but in virginia with
    total cases of 67375 current hospitalizations are 6577 or
    approximately 10% earlier in the season the statistics were showing roughly
    15% regardless of where the cases were recorded but at this
    point nationally we are showing that about 1/3 of all cases have recovered
    This would explain the 5% disparity.

    given the percentage of hospitalizations for flu, were they the
    same we should expect that:
    875 people in Virginia should have been hospitalized vs the 6577 reported currently on July 9 or a cumulative approximately 10,000
    and that
    74 people in Virginia should have died rather than the 1905 who have actually died

    Virginia is currently showing 1905 deaths we should be seeing 74 deaths. It seems
    it is 25X more likely that we will die from covid 19 than from the flu
    and 11.5 times more likely to be hospitalized from covid 19

    given the morbidity for flue

  9. I am saddened at the loss of Patrick Childress, and the many thousands of people lost to this virus, and angry at the callous disregard for science that misinformed conspiracy theorists, such as Charles Higley, post on a daily basis. Such posts speak volumes of the writers’ ignorance of the subject that they pretend to be an expert on and Practical Sailor is no place for the likes of Charles Higley to share their nonsense.

  10. Currently sailors are banned from Canada. This affects many US sailors who were planning to visit Canada this season, including me.

  11. I want to thank our moderator, Darrell Nicholson, for addressing and promoting discussion of the current dilemma for international travelers amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and particularly so when our comments veer away from the context of our unanimous love for the independence of sailing to distant shores. This topic, coupled with the romance for sailing to distant isles takes me back to the book “Fatu Hiva – Back To Nature”, written by archeologist and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl of “Kon-Tiki fame. Thor’s account is based upon a year of research and experiences in 1937 when as newly weds, he and his wife Liv came to live among the natives of Fatu Hiva, then a relatively remote island of the Marquesas group. The motive for their travel was a honeymoon coupled with Thor’s objective to look for evidence of a diaspora of seafarers from the South American mainland. After arrival from Scandinavia at a busy trading port in the Marquesas group, they picked up a pacific island trading steamer bound for Fatu Hiva. A cabin boy aboard the steamer was suffering from a high fever and cough upon arrival in Fatu Hiva, and debarked for several hours to rest in the shade and replenish with coconut water while cargo was unloaded and copra taken on board, before he got back on the steamer and departed. By the end of a week, in increasing numbers the native people were prostrate and dying after only several days from the onset of high fevers and coughs. Thor and Liv began to realize that they had walked into one of the final devastating waves of a protracted flu epidemic that via contact from infected people on trading vessels, was intermittently wiping out nearly all the native population of the leeward coastal area of this beautiful island. It need not have been the same devastating strain of the 1918 flu pandemic (essentially the N1H1 flu strain), but that would have mattered little to those without any resistance to the common flu who were nearing their last breath. It is what herd immunity looks like to those who pay the price when a virus is thrust upon a people without prior active immunity to the virus. Given the fact that a major percentage of the world’s human population still have no prior immune experience with the SARS-Co-V2 virus causing the current Covid-19 pandemic, it requires little empathy and common sense to appreciate the danger and the point of view of modern day island people armed with current epidemiologic knowledge, if a foreign boat shows up on their horizon.

    The brighter side of that otherwise terrible experience of the flu epidemic in Fatu Hiva is that due to the steep hillsides and deep ravines of the volcanic island, other native peoples who had previously settled nearby in the upper highland areas were isolated enough to benefit from the physical separation. Without the benefit of any scientific medical knowledge, this separation afforded them enough time to agree on a plan to isolate themselves from their normal social interactions of trade and marriage with the lowland dwellers. Thor went on to describe in his account, the fear that the highland dwellers had for the two of them because of their association with the coastal natives and the trading vessel from the outside world. Then, hearing from one young native man of a plot against their lives, Thor and Liv abandoned their newly constructed honeymoon hut on the hillside above the coast and escaped to the other side of the island for the remainder of the year where he befriended an elderly native who with knowledge of the location of spiritually motivated carvings from many previous generations, enabled Thor to continue research on the theory of an ancient diaspora from South America to the Marquesas group of islands.

    To add further to this discussion on the dubious merits of herd immunity as a supposed advantage to humans in our current epoch, as a primary care physician I attended the CDC annual “Global Infectious Disease Conference” in Atlanta way back in January 2002. It was during the H1N1 epidemic and a time that would soon have nearly everyone on the planet at the brink of a world pandemic, were it not for the existing international cooperation for containment of the virus via shared viral genome identification, preventive control procedures, and cooperative agreements to add H1N1 proteins into the flu vaccine mix for the mutual benefit of all inhabitants of our planet. All of this was done in parallel with aid and support from the WHO. The conference was a chance to hear medical experts describe the genome composition of the H1N1 human flu and to witness a synopsis of the CDC’s latest computer-modeled predictions for the consequences of H1N1 herd immunity in the absence of a vaccine. This was presented as a timeline beginning with one sentinel H1N1 case, that of an infected person coughing in an international airport. We were presented with point in time delays in the recognition of symptomatic carriers of the disease, delays in adequate testing to identify non-symptomatic carriers, and delays in the quarantine of carriers together with delays in isolation of contacts. It was in some ways, a replay of 1918, only with the aid of air transport of H1N1 virus hosts around the planet at 600 mph. In retrospect it was also not unlike our experience in the U.S. since January and up to the present. The point of no return in the H1N1 prediction models was the time after which quarantine and isolation ultimately could no longer prevent critical loss of basic infrastructure of business resources and the public agencies of most countries on the planet. It would have occurred just three months later with a predicted worst case scenario of a loss of about 1/3 of the world’s population. Hypothetically, if we were to have chosen herd immunity in February as a method for eradication of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S., would or even could the surviving proponents of herd immunity support and nurture the vast numbers of orphaned children on our planet?

    The conference also included the opportunity to speak directly with researchers and epidemiologists at varied scientific exhibits. These included containment of Ebola virus and even the identification of several strains of coronaviruses with mutations capable of infecting the lower respiratory tract tissues of humans! Most of the other 400 or so coronaviruses thus far continue to have either no known effect as yet upon humans or are still limited to the nasal and paranasal sinus tissues (i.e. those causing the common cold). These medical investigators make possible the cooperative professional alliances with their counterparts in other nations to head off future epidemics before they become pandemics. Due to the de-funding of numerous departments within our CDC, together with the replacement of the former CDC director with a politically motivated replacement and complete de-funding of our national multi-agency emergency infectious disease response team, all done by the current administration, the former capacity to intervene in an impending pandemic was already dismantled long before the SARS-Co-V2 even hit our shores. Soon after that, the department head in the CDC who oversees quality control of independent vaccine lab production was demoted and moved to the NIH for unrelated tasks, also for political retaliation by the current administration. With that, hopes are dashed for mutually assured benefit of sharing advances in international vaccine content, production and uniformity of vaccine efficacy, these being among many of the goals of the WHO during the current pandemic. Meanwhile, two other coronaviruses with distinct potential for infecting human lung tissue are being closely monitored in exotic creatures in rainforests of SE Asia. Also, according to epidemiologists, further deforestation in Africa and South America poses present and near-future risks of viral pandemics that result from movement of forest creatures forced into areas where they coexist with humans, thus sharing other zoonotic viruses with the potential to cross over and mutate within those humans who cling to their neighborhoods and settlements on the fringes of rainforests. Time is not on our side and if we intend to find the freedom to reach distant shores and enjoy cultural international exchanges in idyllic anchorages, we would do well to get our hands back on a rudder to push for improvement in government policy and restore funding and autonomy of our epidemiologic resources – without further delay!


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