31 December 2020
At the end of November we celebrated our first ever Thanksgiving here in Gibraltar. Our American neighbour, Cliff, found himself on his own and we thought it was as good a time as any to attempt to bake our first ever pumpkin pie. It also got us to thinking about everything we have to be grateful for this year. And this year, of all years, feeling grateful for everything we have has felt that little bit more important.
In a year dominated in every possible way by the global pandemic, we started 2020 running from another natural disaster.
It is hard to think that this time last year we were starting the final leg of our epic 23,000km road trip through an Australia in the grip of some of the worst bushfires they have ever experienced. We picked our way through still burning areas of Victoria, the Australian Central Territory and New South Wales back to Queensland
feeling so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend so much more time in Australia’s vast and diverse landscapes, the fern forests, the mountains, the plains, the endless beaches.
Spending time in Canberra, Sydney and Newcastle on our way back up to the Gold Coast and Brisbane wrapped up the perfect trip but as we put distance between us and the bushfires it was obvious that there was another threat to life coming out of China. Stories of a mysterious virus in Wuhan were already getting equal billing in the news. The absence of Chinese tourists on the Gold Coast, the permanent closure of Brisbane’s longest running Chinese restaurant and an almost entirely empty departures lounge at the airport suggested this was no regular ‘flu and we were very grateful to be able to keep our planned flights back to the UK.
With the virus spreading fast through the UK and Europe, being unable to fly back to Pintail as planned in March was a blow. She was destined to spend five more months on the hard in Almerimar but we knew she was safe and sound and waiting for us when the world was ready
and we completely lucked out with our last minute decision to book accommodation in Margate for the lockdown. 19 King Street was the perfect place to be stuck and being by the sea was the balm our souls needed amidst all the uncertainty and anxiety.
When restrictions allowed (and with grateful thanks to my Mum and Dad for lending us the car) we even got to do what we love the best and explore some new places. Whitstable, Dover, Minnis Bay and our beloved Ramsgate might not have been on our original itinerary for 2020 but they provided ample distraction to our temporary incarceration.
It wasn’t without some trepidation that we flew masked back to Pintail in Almerimar. How would she be after a year on the hard? Would we be able to go anywhere? Was the predicted second wave of the virus going to hit? As it turned out she was fine. Dusty, rusty and dirty but fine. Her engine starting at the first time of asking we took as a good omen for the summer and tentatively started making plans.
During lockdown we had not dared dream of having the freedom to set sail and yet we almost forgot about the pandemic as we revisited some of our favourite Balearic haunts and added some new ones along the way. It felt so good to be back on the water and
We enjoyed some of the best sailing we’ve ever had in our long passages to and from and around the islands. A combination of having had a break from the water, the new sails and a renewed confidence and experience saw us enjoying far more sailing hours as opposed to motoring hours. Pintail had been so ready to fly again!
And we have been so very grateful for the time we have been able to spend with sailing friends old and new along the way. Being reunited with Annemieke and Steve after four years and getting to sail again in the company of Babs, Rene and Rizzo to the Balearics was really special. Meeting up with our favourite boat family from SV Off Course and getting to spend a month with them as we headed back west again was a complete joy. Making new friends in the Pickles and the Passions reminded us of one of the best things about this life. When we can’t be with our actual family we have been so grateful for our boat family stepping up to fill the gap.
We usually make a rule of not returning to our favourite places but with Gibraltar’s strategic position Brexitwise and geographically at the end of this challenging year and of our European adventures it has been really comforting to return to somewhere so familiar. With the increasing coronavirus restrictions we have still been able to explore our favourite spots and even some previously undiscovered corners. With that familiarity even boat jobs have been a breeze and we’ve been able to spend time making some (tax free!) upgrades to Pintail. And we have been extra grateful for the sunshine which shines almost every day on Pontoon D.
It is really easy to complain about 2020. We know so many whose lives have been changed in so many and devastating ways. It would be churlish for us to feel sorry for ourselves. It definitely wasn’t the year we had planned but we have been able to make the most of the opportunities it has given us.
2021 isn’t exactly shaping up to offer us any less uncertainty or anxiety. Today Gibraltar has the highest infection rate in Europe with frightening daily increases in numbers. Like elsewhere our daily lives are now subject to strict restrictions but we have learnt to live simply (although we are extra specially grateful for Netflix and Zoom!). As we write, although the UK has its Brexit deal, Gibraltar is in up to the wire talks with Spain about the future of its border and, having carefully come here to escape our Schengen clock starting ticking on 1 January, we still might find ourselves inside the Schengen zone after all! In normal times we could escape over to Morocco to reset our clock but the pandemic prohibits that.
Our cunning plan to ensure we maintain Pintail’s VAT paid status inside the EU on 1 January is also looking dicey because of the virus. With the recent imposition of a near lockdown here in Gibraltar we cannot travel across the border to Spain and, thanks to those who thought Brexit a great idea, we face paying import duty when we re-enter the EU next year. So we simply have no idea what next year will bring or where we will be able to go. Whatever it brings we are just so grateful we made our amazing voyage through the Mediterranean when we could and that if the last few years have taught us anything it is that plans are made to be broken. So we will face the changing rules and global events with the kind of agility, resolve and determination that only a sailing life can give.
And amongst all the uncertainty and anxiety as 2021 starts, we wish you all the strength to bear its challenges and the hope of a healthier, happier world to live and travel in before it comes to an end.