Update from Panama

Hauled, safe and saved…

“The general covid situation in both the Caribbean and Central & South America is highly unpredictable. Vaccine supplies continue to be erratic and will remain so with the major manufacturing nations combating new covid waves and variants of the virus in their own countries. The situation in Brazil and other South American countries greatly affect the Caribbean and Central America, therefore it would be prudent to expect at least twelve to eighteen months before normality returns to the region. This advice is being extended to all UK companies with business activities in Central America, in particular to trade relating to Mexico and Panama. Both countries are currently social planning at government level against the expected threat of second and third waves of the virus.”

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office – Central America Desk. April 2021

Clearly the dire situation now wreaking havoc in India is a warning to anyone who thought we had the virus beat. Here in England, many of us who follow the sport of cricket watched horrified during January and February when the India v England Test and Limited Overs series was underway, packed grounds of non-social-distancing spectators without masks cheered and hooted every Indian run and each England wicket. Those of us under stringent lockdown during the rainiest of English winters watched with envy, seeing a nation that had beaten the virus put to torch the best English cricket side we could muster.

Now everything has changed, or has it? Here in England we too are convinced we have the virus beat, our vaccination programme is the envy of the world, our renowned and much respected pharmaceutical industries have discovered and created vaccines that are driving the virus back into the Chinese bat caves from where it came.

But the economic and social upheavals are surely, without doubt, going to be with us for some considerable time. Meanwhile, back in Panama…

Some of you may already know of the leaking thru-valve that necessitated Sänna’s emergency haulout from the water. Sänna’s minder Ollie noticed the pumping bilge pumps and that Sänna was lower in the water than she should be. Quick action by Ollie saved the day, he quickly found the seized thru-fitting then put large pumps onboard to reduce the water levels inside which, by this time, had reached the cabin floors. A hastily arranged diver plugged the hole with an epoxied wooden bung.

The offending fitting was one of four located in the old toilet heads we no longer used since we turned the heads into a wet locker for our foul-weather gear. It was our intention to swap out the unused thru-hull fittings which were all closed but seized through marine hull-growth – it seems that marine growth had broken the hull seal of the thru-hull. We had planned to haul Sänna out of the water in Vista Mar to do this and other work when first arriving there, but quickly decided it was too dangerous and high risk to haul out. A number of boat owners in the region warned us of previous misadventures when being hauled in the marina, particularly vessels of over forty-foot in length. In the event, frantic middle-of-the-night phone calls between here in England and Panama saw Ollie admirably arrange everything to get Sänna out of the water onto the hard.

Of course, we needed to be there in Panama for such an emergency. With Panama already restricting travellers from the UK and South Africa because of virus mutations – completely banning any traveller who had been in the UK during the previous twenty days, it was not going to be easy. On top of Panama’s travel ban, the UK then placed Panama on the Red List of banned countries, allowing no travel at all to the UK except for British or Irish nationals who were required to then quarantine in government nominated hotels at the traveller’s own expense – at £1700 a time, each, this is no joke. Nevertheless, we found flights from the UK thru Amsterdam and Madrid to Costa Rica, where we could arrange with our good friend Carlos in Panama’s Boca Chica to legally get us over the border by sea between Costa Rica and Panama. Carlos confirmed with Panamanian customs & immigration that the twenty-day entry restriction did not apply to UK nationals arriving by sea, only by air – though he confirmed the land border with Costa Rica was closed. We were all set to go. Then the Netherlands, Spain and France all shut down, covid third waves swept thru with the EU blaming the UK for stealing all the Astra-Zeneca vaccines – until it was rightly pointed out how the UK had pre-ordered and approved vaccines far ahead of the EU. Sore feelings from the EU over Brexit were clearly evident. Then came another bombshell.

Boris Johnson, in a widely predicted move against the virus, announced further travel restrictions and finally closed the UK’s borders. To leave the UK for Costa Rica and then Panama, we now had to apply for government international travel permits for strictly permitted reasons only… our permit applications have since been turned down stating non-essential travel. The airlines won’t even consider bookings without permits and our backup plan of driving through France to cross the Spanish border to take a flight from Madrid closed with the virulent virus wave that has since brought the French to their knees.

Right now, it’s chaos. Not until the 17th May will the British government review international travel restrictions – perhaps then we might be able to travel to Costa Rica, then over the border to Sänna. In the meantime, our hero Ollie, and our good friend Bob from the US ketch Singularity, have taken care of things and Sänna is out of immediate danger. Our worry now is the internal state of Sänna’s cabins and the time that Sänna will be left in the hot humid heat of summer… those of you who own your own vessels will know the worrying risks involved in leaving vessels unattended for long lengths of time. In the meantime, we receive regular situation updates from the British Embassy staff in Panama and we have an excellent contact in the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office who tries her utmost best to keep us updated. The longer term outlook is not at all good.

Maybe, by next year, some level of normality will perhaps return. There is little be gained from the UK beating the virus while the rest of the world still reels. The bitter vaccine wars benefit no one, every country and island nation needs to be able to defeat the virus. Nor are there any comprehensible arguments from the anti-vaxers that make any semblance of sense – I heard this last weekend that these vaccines which will save us are a Zionist plot to take over the world.

If you’re a Zionist, whatever a Zionist is, and you have the power to get us over the border into Panama, please let me know to, in five years perhaps, win a free holiday for two in Barbados…

Take care everyone – and look after yourselves. Get vaccinated, don’t be a wally.


You can follow our circumnavigation adventure by clicking the WordPress Follow button below or by Liking our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sv.sanna. Our blog page can be found at  www.sailblogs.com/member/eastwards.

Sänna - covid 19

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