Panama 2021 – The Panama Canal

Sänna haulout Vista Mar

“Never did we think it would be over eighteen months before we could make it back to Panama. Covid travel restrictions ripped away our basic human right to freedom and that was that, presidents and governments decreed without much recourse to democratic process that our way of life would change in ways they alone decided… irrespective of what every free-thinking individual holds dear.”

Dave – Panama 2021

At the back end of last year, in 2020, we truly believed we’d seen off the worst of covid, that the free world was returning to something like normal. On this, we made plans to get back to Vista Mar in Panama as quickly as possible, we had abandoned Sänna in the harbour there nearly nine months before. Our emergency repatriation flight organised by the British embassy seemed like an age away, now all we needed were open borders, functioning airlines and LUCK that Sänna might be in reasonable good order. Sadly, none of this was to be.

First, a third national lockdown was announced in January, right at the beginning of the new year when we next thought we might get back to Panama. Then came the Kent variant of the virus. Discovered by British bio-scientists and announced to an outrageously nervous world, borders closed everywhere to British travellers, including Panama, irrespective of the fact that it made no difference to rampant virus infections worldwide. But hell, the UK was well and truly blackballed and we lost our brief travel window to get back to Sänna. Even worse – nothing would change for the next six months. The Panamanian border was closed to anyone from the UK – but then the UK government outright banned international travel anyway.

There was nothing much we could do, once more we had the strange rule of six, enforced stay-at-home curfews, a thing called the lockdown release roadmap, the rule-of-twenty outdoors which soon changed to thirty – the mind-boggling restrictions were coming thick and fast – they were bemusing and, unknown at the time, our government was partying behind closed doors breaking every rule they themselves had imposed. One rule for Boris Johnson and his cronies, one rule for everyone else. During this latest covid lockdown I decided to renovate my house, as an ex-builder I have the skills and knowhow to do much of the work myself – not having to employ contractors would make a big difference to my budget, it would also give me something to do. Marie’s holiday cottage on the Norfolk coast also needed refurbishment so it wasn’t as if we couldn’t keep ourselves busy. Come February vaccine number one came and went, so did vaccine two twelve weeks later – Marie volunteered her services and longtime expertise to the local vaccination centre, we planned and booked a series of music festivals through the summer and, of course, the cricket season would soon be in full swing – so all we needed was good English summer weather. We didn’t get much!

First, the Black Deer music festival we every year relish was cancelled because of still rampant covid, cricket crowd restrictions made buying game tickets almost impossible and just about everyone was downright miserable – the covid pandemic showed no signs of letting up. Then came the dreadful traffic light travel system introduced by the UK government. Every country in the world was classified as Green, Yellow or Red depending upon how bad the pandemic was in that country. Green meant the travel destination was relatively safe – arrivals into the UK needed to take a pre-departure test as well as a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their arrival back into the UK, but did not need to quarantine on return unless they received a positive result. Yellow – travellers to the UK had to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate quarantine at home for ten days. A PCR test was needed on day two and day eight of quarantine. Red was horrific – Red included just about every country in the Americas and pretty much elsewhere, every nationality except UK citizens were completely banned – UK citizens arriving back into the UK were subject to severe restrictions including a pre-departure test, a ten-day stay in a privately owned quarantine hotel and PCR testing on day two and eight. Given that hotel quarantine for ten days cost around two and a half grand each travelling out of the UK and then returning was just not financially feasible. In any event – all borders in Panama were still closed.

Then came real disaster. In March, we received a frantic phone call from Ollie in Vista Mar, Panama, where Sanna was left tied up. Ollie and his two boys, South Africans who lived and worked in the marina, looked after a number of vessels that had been left there including Sänna. The middle of the night call told us that Sänna was sinking, a thru-hull fitting had failed and seawater was pouring inside the boat. Ollie had rushed emergency bilge pumps onboard to keep the rising water level down then put his son Vikus overboard into the water to plug the underwater hole as best they could. It had worked – now they urgently needed my permission to haul Sänna from the water to save the boat from further damage. Back in England there was nothing we could do, certainly we couldn’t jump on to a last minute flight to get there and we already knew that Sänna was too long in length for the marina’s lifting facilities – what Ollie was proposing was high-risk and dangerous but we had no choice. We gave our consent, waited by the phone and stressed, our vessel insurance had already been cancelled due to the pandemic so there was a terrible risk that everything could go disastrously wrong.

The haulout went okay. Ollie and the marina staff did a great job, the whole operation taking many hours of carefully handled manoeuvring. We got the call to say everything was fine. We paid the bill – another hidden pandemic cost to add to the growing sense of uselessness of our situation, but at least Sänna was out into the boatyard and safe – we could also get much needed out-of-the-water work done. But the experience was frightening, we had nearly lost our boat, it was only Ollie’s quick thinking that saved the day. In the meantime, covid restrictions continued, the pandemic raged and people died.

Our own situation slowly got worse, for Marie there was the added stress of her holiday home rentals. Highly reliant upon the income from Henrys Cottage, her fisherman’s cottage on the Norfolk coast, holidaymakers were by now heavily restricted by strictly enforced travel regulations, emergency laws introduced at will by the UK government which seemed to have little effect on the out-of-control sky-rocketing covid numbers. Holiday vacations were being cancelled under these new restrictions, not only did Marie have to refund all her vacation bookings, future booking incomes upon which she relies upon so heavily dried up – a severe problem that many small business operators faced if they could not get government-backed financial support. Marie fell outside the sphere of support, she worried constantly where her vital cashflows would come from but still dug deep into her savings reserves to refund every booking deposit already paid. Many holidaymakers faced similar problems when dealing with the big vacation organisations – who, unlike Marie, did not want to part with their own cash so readily. Like everyone else, we tightened our financial belts to prepare for the long haul.

We got ourselves through the summer. In June, festival and sporting event restrictions were suddenly lifted, virus numbers had fallen – first for no more than one-thousand people gathered outside then this limit was lifted to ten-thousand. Too late for the cancelled Black Deer festival but not for Latitude – we booked tickets for this mega-music-festival along with tens of thousands of others and still managed to come home covid free. We booked a vacation holiday for one week on the Isle of White, Marie’s ritual childhood holiday destination and we had a marvellous time visiting all her old haunts, visiting her auntie Jack and watching England progress to the final of the UEFA Euros football championship – we once more came home covid free. We got tickets for the inaugural ’Hundreds’ cricket extravaganza, we bid on eBay for tickets for the Wickham Folk Festival and got them, also the Fairport Convention Cropredy Festival and the superb four-day Off The Tracks music event. The Sausage & Cider festival got cancelled and we lost our money, Cropredy got cancelled too but with tickets rolled over to those heady days when there will be no covid. Then, in late August, both Marie and myself finally, after all this time, got covid – the latest Delta variant which by now was sweeping thru the UK. At this moment in time just about everyone we knew either had covid, had previously contracted covid or was about to get it – my eldest daughter for the third time.

A Pfizer or Astra-Zeneca Conundrum
Looking back it was only a matter of time. Almost certainly I caught covid at the Off The Tracks music festival, a close-contact event when the new Delta virus variant was already beginning to reap havoc. By the end of July all covid restrictions had been lifted when little was known about Delta and its highly infectious spikes, everyone had resumed normal living except those in the know – scientists who knew a thing or two about infectious virus pandemics alongside those who knew the whole thing had been a complete conspiracy, that covid was a fallacy and just a mean trick for Bill Gates, or possibly uncountable thousands of others depending upon to whom you listened, to take over our bodies before his evil quest to pitch for world domination. In the event my two Pfizer vaccines that were supposed to protect me achieved nothing, I still got covid. I quickly gave the virus to Marie, Marie’s two Astra-Zeneca injections also did nothing to prevent her contracting covid – though my overnight stay in hospital with chest pains was a real eye-opener. Accident & Emergency was full of covid sufferers though only those who were unvaccinated made it on to the isolation wards and into ICU. The doctor took time to explain that over 90% of the covid deaths in the Queens Medical Centre University Hospital at that time were unvaccinated…

Sänna - Festival Covid
Festival Covid – Off The Tracks

So who knows? Certainly not the myriad thousands of wild conspiracy theorists, nut-head activists who spend an inordinate amount of their time trying to convince me the virus is not real, or that our salvation will come from little-known horse medicines or other weird remedies dreamed up by weirdos in their dreams – do you really think 5G cellphone masts are to blame? That sonic-speed smartphone microwaves carrying maybe Facebook photos or a WhatsApp message are generating killer-viruses that destroy our respiratory functions right inside our lungs?

Then in October, at last, some good news. Panama had long since lifted its border restrictions though our problems still remained the travel restrictions in the UK.

We could get ourselves to Panama, but our problem would be getting ourselves back home…

Next page – Back to Panama & the Panama Canal