Safe port in a coronavirus storm
A couple whose boat was damaged as they sailed across the Atlantic have thanked Bermuda for providing a “safe haven” in the midst of the pandemic.
Simon and Carla Fowler were both quarantined on arriving here; tests for Covid-19 came back negative.
The couple's catamaran, Ocean Fox, is now anchored at a friend's dock as they await their sails before resuming their journey to the Azores and onward to mainland Portugal.
“We thank Bermuda for taking us and providing us with a safe haven. There is no question about it, they have been kind and generous,” said Mr Fowler, a retired international events organiser.
The British pair, who have lived on Ocean Fox since they bought it two years ago, had been moored in the Bahamas.
When countries started imposing lockdowns to limit the spread of Covid-19, authorities there asked all boats to leave.
With bad weather approaching, the Fowlers stayed as close to the coast as possible although going ashore or anchoring was forbidden. After securing fuel, they left the Bahamas on April 23.
Once at sea, they encountered a storm with winds of more than 50mph, which damaged their catamaran and its main sail.
The Fowlers eventually reached Bermuda, which had closed its borders, and the Department of Marine and Ports Services had alerted marine traffic operators that all unauthorised vessels should avoid coming.
The couple were thrilled to be admitted in, their situation having qualified as a humanitarian exception under the International Maritime Organisation's Solas convention.
In St George's Harbour, the Fowlers remained on their boat. They filled out customs forms and started making arrangements for repairs.
They ordered food from Somer's Supermarket. A propane gas cylinder was also needed.
While in the process of completing repairs, they were hit by more bad weather, lost their anchor and almost struck another boat.
Mr Fowler said officials “were as helpful as they could be under the circumstances”, although some uncertainty emerged because there did not appear to be a set policy for their situation. One official felt the couple needed to stay off the island even after they had completed more than 14 days of quarantine in Bermuda on their boat.
They were finally allowed to take Covid-19 tests after 17 days in Bermuda's waters, and 38 days since they last set foot on land.
The couple have visited 40 countries on Ocean Fox. Since the beginning of the year they have been in Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas.
Both British, Ms Fowler is originally from Portugal where they hope to soon sail. Their first stop is the Azores, where they need to be before the start of the hurricane season on June 1 as their insurance does not cover their boat if it is within a defined hurricane-vulnerable area.
It should take them 12 days to reach the Azores, where boats are permitted to anchor briefly for supplies and to rest. After that, they plan to sail to mainland Portugal, by which time they hope pandemic restrictions will have been eased.
Mr Fowler has visited Bermuda twice before, both times as an air visitor.
“Bermuda is beautiful and the people are wonderful,” said Mrs Fowler who is on her first visit here.
“They have been welcoming us very much. The whole island is very tidy, clean — it is wonderful.”
• Learn more about Simon and Carla Fowler on sailingoceanfox.com. Follow Sailing Ocean Fox on Facebook and YouTube, where their sailing videos have attracted more than one million views