I’ve been struggling about the topic on which to write our second blog. I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time; however, the beginning of our winter charter season had been quite busy and I just didn’t have the time to focus on it. Things have changed drastically over the course of just one month though, and now I have more than enough time on my hands, as do many of you reading this. The coronavirus has severely impacted our business; which, as a new business coming out of our first year, could end up being detrimental to our success. I think that many people believe that we just play all day, snorkeling and fishing, and may not realize just how hard we work, and how devastating this pandemic is to our business. As a hospitality / travel business, we only post fun photos on social media, because our goal is to show people how amazing of a time they would have with us if they chartered with us. And so, the goal of our posts is to show a guest’s perspective, and not a business owner’s vantage point (duh, right?). So for this post, I had originally thought I’d share a brief synopsis of our first year, and the struggles and accomplishments that our business has endured, ending with a perspective on where we are now and where I hope we can end up once we all surface from this pandemic. But, to be completely honest, I have been getting to a certain part of writing it, and just, can’t write anymore. It is so painful to think of all of the hard work that we’ve put into our first year of business, all of the ups and downs, overcoming huge obstacles, and to now be where we are. So instead, for today, I thought it would be helpful to give you a sense of what the last month has been for us, because I think that people sharing their experiences bring a sense of togetherness in a time of feeling isolated, and I want you to know that what you are feeling, I am too, all of the way from down here in the Caribbean.
Our last charter ended on March 16th, one month ago to the day. We had had a fun and positive start to our winter charter season, hosting a few great groups in Key West, and then three wonderful charters in the Caribbean in March. Things were looking really positive for spring and into summer, with a fully booked Caribbean spring and a positive outlook on our Maine charter season. We’ve had to invest a lot in our boat and in the business in our first year, as is the case with most businesses in their first year. And this spring was scheduled to be the upward rise on the financial curve towards positive profitability going forward, as our capital expenditures could level out and our revenue would continue to increase. It was the first time in a year when I could actually sleep at night, not waking up calculating financials in my head. With the last charter we had, the BVIs were still completely open, and I remember commenting about how amazing it was to see SO many boats in all of the locations that we visited, showing the health of the islands’ recovery from the hurricanes of two seasons ago. For those who know the BVIs, the Willy T was bustling, with folks jumping off the back of the boat and drinking Pain Killers into the wee hours of the morning…Foxy’s hosted live music every night…the Soggy Dollar Bar was full of music and revelry…and all of the anchorages were full.
But, during our last charter, the news started trickling in of more illness, more quarantines, and our world changed within five days. Our next charter was scheduled for a few days later, and, one by one, the ladies in the group started backing out, and then, the day before the remaining few were supposed to arrive, the BVIs closed their borders. And so, they canceled. This charter had actually been booked through Airbnb – we’d been using it to subsidize our regular charter schedule. Airbnb said that they would refund 25% of the canceled charter, even though the charter had been booked at a discounted rate to make it “NON-refundable.” I still have not received the 25% owed to us.
A week later, the BVIs went into a complete lockdown of not only foreign travel, but local travel as well. They instituted a seven day 24-hour quarantine, when you couldn’t even go out of your house to bring trash down the street or walk your dog. In hearing about this ahead of time, we decided to anchor in what would be a quiet, protected anchorage. We went to the store ahead of time, and were set to go. The first week was pretty boring – we sat on the boat most of the day, not allowed to go to shore, and would take a swim each afternoon just to get off of the boat and cool off. After the first week, we were allowed to go to shore for the weekend to reprovision. The BVI government said to “shop for 14 days,” released with another quarantine notice of staying at home for an additional two weeks straight. For most folks, that sounds difficult enough – think about your current situation – you are at home, but you can go for a run, drive to the grocery store, get restaurant takeout - for us, however, this situation meant that we were locked on the boat, and could not go ashore, could not get groceries, could not even paddle board off of our boat. And so, everyone rushed to the stores in herds to prepare for a two-week lockdown. I got to the local, small grocery store at 8am, and there was already a line of ten people. After an hour and a half wait, I got into the store (donned in gloves), and loaded up as best as I could on the perishable items that we would need. I was able to secure some lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes, ham and cheese, and was happy to have even gotten them. I had pickled some carrots, leeks, zucchini, and red peppers the prior week in anticipation of all of this, so we were in decent shape after our last trip to the store. Having lived on a boat for over a year now, you know how to provision well - what you can freeze (things like shredded cheese, all meats, cream cheese, some veggies), what you need room in your fridge for (greens, veggies, eggs), and what you can leave out (lemons, limes, oranges, breads, pineapple, etc.). So, even with a college sized fridge (and a big freezer), we do just fine. We are careful to provision hard to come by foods when we find them, and freeze them. So, we have lamb and steak from Shields in Kennebunk, Key west pink shrimp and stone crab claw from Eaton St. Market in Key West, foie gras, meats, and French cheeses from St. Martin, and lots of mahi mahi, wahoo, and lobser frozen that we have caught ourselves and frozen immediately. If you know how to provision and store properly, you can actually eat very well on a boat.
Fast forward ten days later, and here we are, still on the boat, almost done with the quarantine. Hallelujah! We were able to move our boat the first week to an area where we could explore some reef and spear lobster, and that was great – we would typically swim an hour or two every day, which broke up the day and provided us with a bit of mental and physical exercise. If there is one positive thing about this last few weeks, it was stumbling upon an amazing lobstering spot, which has been fun and has supplemented our food supply. After a few days though, the wind direction changed and the swell picked up, so we had to move further away from the reef and are in an anchorage now where there isn’t reef to snorkel. I am just happy that we’ve been able to stay here for the time we have though.
The BVIs just announced that they will be slowly reopening commerce here, which is great. But, unfortunately, they are not allowing foreigners in until September, and are restricting boat movement for the foreseeable future in order to protect their borders. We are not quite sure what that will mean for us. The next few days will hopefully give us enough information to come up with a game plan. Our next two charters have already canceled, and with the Bahamas most likely not opening up to foreign boats anytime soon, our spring season is pretty much done. It is hard to believe that our world turned upside-down within just a few weeks, with tens of thousands of dollars for our business gone in a split second. I wish that I could be more positive, but I also think that for all of you at home and feeling down too, it’s probably a different story that may help you to put your own situation into perspective.
But, here’s the deal. We are resilient. We all know we are, as painful of a time as this is. I am already looking forward to and planning our summer season, and gosh darnit, I’m going to do my best to make it as successful as we can. And for the short term, Nils and I will just be focused on getting home. The comforts of home take on a new meaning when you are stranded several thousands of miles from it! We are waiting for more news in the next day or so to map out our way home – pretty much every island chain between here and the U.S. is closed – but we will figure it out, and can’t wait to celebrate our homecoming with our friends and family (even if it is six feet apart!) in the near future. I am looking forward to working in the garden, giving my dogs hugs and treats, and going for long runs along the rocky Maine coastline.
I want to let you know that, even though we may be surrounded by the warm ocean and sunshine, we are right there with you. We are feeling the same emotions, and uncertainty, and we all need to have faith knowing that we are in this together, wherever we are, and we will get through this together. If there’s one thing that I hope we all take away from this awful pandemic, it’s to think outside of our little circles and to put ourselves in the shoes of every person we interact with in the future. We assume too much in life, when we don’t know what other people are going through. Everyone goes through hardships on an ongoing basis. Everyone. So, be kind. When we come out of this, support your local businesses as much as you possibly can, because they are going to need every single bit of support that they can get. Offer to get groceries for your neighbor. Start a neighborhood farm. Appreciate each other. We are all worth every bit of love. In the meantime, we are sending all of our love to every one of you from the Caribbean, and can’t wait to see you when we are back home.