24 March to who knows when 2020
Well, of course we are not sailing through this coronavirus pandemic. We are, probably exactly like you, spending a lot of time indoors with the exception of the weekly outing to the supermarket and a daily state mandated walk.
But since we completed that Mediterranean circumnavigation, where have we been? And where are we now?
We fast forward nearly 11 months since we arrived in Almerimar, planning to take a break from the boat for the summer. Lifting Pintail out of the water revealed an issue with the rudder which, at the time, seemed worse than it turned out to be and whilst back in the UK we made the rather rash decision to take more time out than we had originally planned and do some land travel. It seemed logical, to us at least at the time, to escape the European winter and head Down Under. You might have followed our Australian adventures but if you haven’t you can catch up here.
It was definitely the time out we needed from the almost constant, subconscious stress of weather watching and boat fixing in a foreign language and we returned from Australia refreshed, ready to tackle the rudder repair and get Pintail back in the water.
Only the world had other ideas.
During our last month or so in Australia we had watched the news of the mysterious outbreak in Wuhan, China. We had started to see the impact of the travel ban from China on tourism on the Gold Coast and in the restaurants of Brisbane but it still seemed like something that was happening to somewhere else.
By the time we got on our flight back to the UK via Brunei things were starting to look a lot more serious. Brisbane airport was spookily empty. There were murmurs about the need for quarantine on returning from East Asia and we had our travel history and temperatures checked when changing planes and yet we walked out of Heathrow to a UK that seemed completely normal.
It took just two weeks for all that to turn on its head – two weeks during which Stefan returned to Almerimar to start the repairs on the boat and very nearly didn’t make it back. The day after Spain announced its lockdown he was able to get on the last flight out of Almeria back to London.
Not knowing the extent of what was going to happen in the UK or how long it was going to go on for we had to make a decision about what to do. It seemed a foregone conclusion, to us if not our Prime Minister, that lockdown was coming to us too. We didn’t want to increase the risk to our parents by staying with them and, if we were going to be here for a while, wanted our own space.
So through more by happy accident of an Air BnB booking we ended up
There is some logic to it. It’s equidistant to our parents should they need us. It’s a town we had visited before together to see a Tracey Emin exhibition at the Turner Gallery and it is round the corner from our all time favourite Thanet town of Ramsgate, a regular stop in our early adventures with Pintail. It is a big enough town to have everything we need – albeit during lockdown mostly closed! And perhaps most importantly it is beside the sea. If we can’t be at home on Pintail, being able to see the sea every day is the next best thing.
We arrived in Margate on the afternoon lockdown in the UK was announced and settled in to what was to become our home for somewhat longer than we initially thought. We lucked out on our accommodation, finding ourselves in a beautiful 1608 terraced house set over four floors in the heart of the Old Town’s maze of narrow streets and just one minute’s walk from the harbour. Hanging our clothes in a wardrobe and putting things in drawers was pure luxury after nine months of living out of our bags. Arriving at the end of March, we were just glad to be in one place for a while. 19 King Street is now the place we have lived for the longest time apart from Pintail in the past 4 years and the first to have stairs for even longer than that!
Our daily walks through the Old Town have introduced us to the neighbouring quirky shops and old buildings although all from an enforced social distance. Seeing so many small, independent businesses shut really drives home the impact this lockdown will have on the many local people who run them.
The only time we have got to glimpse and wave at our actual human neighbours is when King Street noisily gathers in our doorways and windows on a Thursday evening to celebrate our superhero key workers, an act that became all the more poignant on only our second week when a young Margate nurse died in the local hospital. Someone let off fireworks for her that week.
We have reflected a lot on how our sailing life has prepared us for life in lockdown without us really realising it. We are used to being isolated physically from friends and family and sometimes any other humans at all. We are used to finding ourselves in new and strange places. We are used to provisioning for weeks not days. We are used to being in each others pockets 24 hours a day and to finding our own space in a very small space. Our recent daily life has never really followed a routine and we have learnt to adapt to changes caused by wind and environment. So we have just got on with it and quickly felt quite at home.
Lockdown has forced us to establish a daily routine to keep us occupied and, frankly, sane. This includes yoga for me in the wonderfully calm and bright top bedroom, rather appropriately under the watchful eye of Ganesha. Stefan has taken over the basement and turned it into his own makeshift gym where he descends once a day and makes noises that make it sound more like a torture chamber. One lovely thing about our increased reliance on technology during this time has been reconnecting with my favourite gym teacher from our time in Gibraltar who has taken her Pilates and other classes online. Following along on Instagram Live and getting a real time shout out from Lucia feels like somehow she can see me too and has been remarkably motivating!
We are so grateful to have the sea so close and to be able to look out into the Thames Estuary with its shipping and wind farms – a stretch of water that we regularly navigated in our early days on Pintail. Seeing the harbour fill and dry out every day has reminded us of those pesky tides that we haven’t had to think about in the Med. Stefan has even cycled out to the lighthouse at North Foreland which brought back rather queasy memories of that washing machine like patch of water where the Thames meets the Channel.
We alternate our daily walks between turning right at the end of King Street passed the Turner Gallery along Turner Way and passed the sea pool towards Botany Bay. At low tide we can walk all the way on the sand and return along the top of the white cliffs.
Going that way we also get to see Antony Gormley’s sculpture, Another Time, at all states of tide. At low tide Stefan joined him at the end of the old pier’s footings. At high tide he is completely submerged.
Turning left at the bottom of King Street and if we time it right, we can walk all the way through the dried out harbour across Main Beach, passed the boating pool to Westbrook Bay and back along the promenade and into town passed a silent Dreamland.
We have walked everyday, except two very wet days, in all sorts of weather. Sometimes the sea is flat calm and all sorts of beautiful blues but often the harsh easterly winds that batter this corner of Kent whip up huge swells out at sea and reek havoc with my rather out of control locks. However, I have yet to follow Stefan’s lead in going for the lockdown buzz cut!
Of course nothing but the essential shops are open in Margate. Regular readers will appreciate just how disappointed Stefan was to find the local museum firmly closed. The Shell Grotto, the caves, even the beach huts are shut. The tiny lanes are full of ancient watering holes fallen dry. We really hope that we might still be here when everything starts to open up so we can explore the town even a little bit. Right now we would settle for being able to buy a coffee at one of our local cafes and sit by the harbour to drink it.
Instead to fill the rest of our time we have been grateful for technology allowing us to learn Spanish. Studying separately and together via an app on our phones and a YouTube tutorial we are now able to string some sentences together into a conversation of sorts. Nuestro maestro favorito, Dr Danny, is extraordinarily patient with us – especially when we put him on pause! I have found myself getting sneaky extra lessons during Lucia’s fitness classes as she does them in Spanish and English.
And through the newfound magic of Google Hangouts and Zoom we have celebrated birthdays, Easter and VE Day through the screen with family and friends and have enjoyed virtual drinks, quizzes and catch ups – sometimes gatecrashed by felines!
Having a fully equipped kitchen has also been a very welcome change from the bush kitchens of the Outback and a very welcome epicurious distraction. All this extra time has enabled us to try out new recipes and even dabble, seemingly along with the rest of the nation, with a bit of baking.
Latterly we have started volunteering for a local organisation doing shopping for those shielding themselves from the virus. We collect their shopping lists and bags and head off to the big Tesco’s about three times a week before delivering their weekly groceries back to them. Shopping in the main for the older generation has seen us searching the aisles for items such as breaded ham, fish paste, Coleman’s mustard, dried prunes and hard toffees! It has been so good to feel useful again even if we do occasionally have to lower ourselves to buy copies of the Daily Mail and The Sun.
In the evenings we have settled in to a renewed Netflix subscription to bring us up to date with all the TV we have missed and I have returned to embroidery. I too quickly completed a cross stitch of the Coast to Coast walk my Dad completed in the 1980s. In return for daily updates on my progress he has shared memories from each section of the path as I complete them. So I have moved on now to the Pennine Way which has brought it’s own memories for me of visiting the Brontes’ home in Haworth.
So here we are in Margate, waiting and wondering what will happen next and when we might be able to see Pintail again. Our enforced separation has only made us all the more eager to be back with her and to try out our new Spanish. But like everyone we want the world to heal and know that will take a while longer.
Until then there are worst places we could be.
Wherever you are, stay safe, keep going.