How Risky is the ICW with Covid-19?

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2003-ICW

Being a cruising sailor, one is already practicing a kind of social distancing. But coastal cruisers, and those transiting the Intracoastal Waterway, in particular, still have to return to land for re-provisioning and things like water, fuel, and pump-outs. When you dock in a marina you become part of a cohort of potential viral sources as well as a potential viral vector for the cohort. When you next come to shore to a second marina you are now exposed to a second cohort of potential virus sources and become a new potential vector to that cohort in the marina. At the third marina, you are now exposed to a third cohort of potential virus sources and you become a vector for that cohort as well. By moving on you are not only increasing your exposure, increasing the possibility that you will infect a new cohort of cruisers.

What does this mean to cruisers given the threat of Covid-19? Each new marina where you get fuel, water and a pump-out, you are exposed to a whole new source of potential infection. If contagious, you are bringing the virus to a new location. Who knows how widely this virus will spread? No one can yet say, but the numbers seem to be north of 60 percent of Americans being infected before this is through, so there is a better than 50/50 chance one of them is you. If you are a cruiser in the over 60 cohort and need to be especially careful.

Let’s look at a northbound cruise along the East Coast for somebody who is infected with Covid-19. Hypothetically: you depart Florida feeling fine and arrive in Beaufort, South Carolina, where you spend a few days and tour the city. In South Carolina, you are exposed to a whole new cohort and shed your viruses among it. Then, still feeling well, you take off for Little River Inlet and Myrtle Beach. When you get there, you notice a sore throat and a bit of a cough. You spend the night, top off your fuel and water and head farther north. You are feeling poorly, though, and decide you need to stop in Southport. Then when you get there, suppose the marina is closed to transients, forcing you to push on to Wrightsville beach and find the marinas there are also not accepting transients. You then push on until you get to Swansboro, North Caroline, where you are ready to collapse. You tie up at the town dock without reservation (and not knowing that the dock is closed to transients) and call 911.

So, now you have infected people in first Beaufort and then Myrtle Beach before you land in Swansboro and infect more people there. Now you and your boat are in Swansboro for 2-3-4 weeks while you recover, and perhaps your spouse or crew is also sick? Is this really where you want to be?

After wintering in Florida, sailors want to get home and escape the summer heat. That is understood. If you hop in a rental car and go, you will probably stop for gas four times and spend a single night in a hotel along the way. You will have very little exposure to any new infection vectors and there is little chance of infecting others. When and if you do come down with the disease, you will be at home and able to access to your regular doctor.

Moving the boat north, however, simply does not observe the admonition to limit unnecessary travel. I don’t think anyone would say that going on a cross-country RV trip right make sense. The CDC has pointed to graduations, reunions, weddings, etc. as examples of non-essential travel. Similarly, cruising/sailing is not essential travel. As much as you may want to get the boat home for the summer, possibly becoming severely ill en route north presents very significant problems both for individuals and society as a whole as the entire world has to work together to fight this pandemic.

Beyond that, whatever you decide is best for you and your family, may you stay safe and healthy. And may we all rejoice and celebrate together when this disease is finally conquered.

March 2020

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