Winning the Jackpot
Having departed South Africa on blind faith, we look back at the last six months of travel knowing that we won the jackpot when we gambled in June. At that time, we sailed away from a strict winter lockdown in South Africa into an ocean with borders closed in every direction: Namibia, closed. Brazil, closed. The Caribbean, closed. Europe, closed. We departed into the the Atlantic knowing we couldn’t return and aware that we wouldn’t be accepted anywhere we we heading. Our blind faith lay in the belief that Europe would open within the two months it would take us to sail the 6,000 miles from the southern Atlantic to the northern Atlantic.
We rolled into the Azores at the end of July to a warm welcome. The chaos that resulted in the early Covid confusion had cleared into a smooth entry protocol: An email was sent to our Sat phone a week before our arrival welcoming us to the island and accepting orders for food delivery on arrival. The officials had prepared a free covid test with results given within 24-hours. We were free to travel around the archipelago unhindered.
After spending two months under strict lockdown in South Africa and two months of total isolation at sea, being given the pass to travel freely through the archipelago was akin to winning the lottery ticket. The weather was warm, the water inviting, the islands Covid-free and we could wander around the streets freely. We slowly island-hopped our way around the country enjoying our new found freedom, we were finally doing what we’d set out to do four months earlier — cruise.
After filling ourselves with the splendour of the volcanic isles and treating ourselves to a very relaxed atmosphere free of the usual bombardment of summer tourism, we decided to follow our what we could of our original plan of cruising the European Eastern Atlantic. We sailed across from Terceria to Porto and spent the next two months exploring Portugal from northern to southern tip. We struck it lucky again as Covid was under control and restrictions were lax: The bars and cafes were open, no reservations were required and the lines to get into the top sights were non-existent. Given the reduced tourism, we were free to experience the country void of the usual thong of summer holiday-makers and beer-binging beach-goers. Places that usually required bookings weeks in advance and would pack you in with another 200 visitors were on a walk-up basis and you shared with no one. We explored castles and cathedrals, drove inland through mountains, sipped port in the valleys and sailed around Europe’s westernmost tip down to the stunning cliffs and caves of the southern Algarve.
After the indecision and gamble of deciding to cruised in 2020, so far we have experienced hassle-free entry into Europe through the Azores and a wonderfully relaxed and comfortable cruising season; for us the decision has been the right one. As Spain and France experience their second wave of Covid infections and winter descends on Europe, we decided it was time for us to start moving on. We sailed for at the Canaries at the end of October and are currently enjoying the stark beauty of these volcanic isles.
Looking towards 2021 we must decide if we are going to maintain our seats at the 2021 poker table. Do we fold and head home? Do we hold our cards and remain in place through uncertainty? Do we place our bet and head for the Caribbean, hoping we hold the winning hand? As a second wave of Covid strikes Europe and America and countries are looking again at closing borders, perhaps a trip up Africa’s deep Gambia river is a sensible detour. No one can guarantee the outcome and we can only hope that our luck holds as we sail forward into uncharted territory in this Covid-influenced world.