Operation Freedom?

21 February to 17 March 2021

With the roll out of the vaccine in Gibraltar the situation was improving very fast. Operation Freedom, as it became known, was going full steam ahead and was really making a difference to the number of infections.

The situation was not, however, looking quite so good across the border in Spain or in Portugal where we wanted to head. We still had a vague plan to leave at the beginning of March to start making our way back up the Portuguese coast towards the UK but whilst we were enjoying so much more freedom from the virus in Gibraltar it was hard to think about moving on to somewhere that was still in full lockdown.

And then, if we had any thoughts of moving on, the weather took a turn for the worst and we were mainly confined to the boat by strong winds and torrential rain for almost two weeks. We remained fairly philosophical about it all. As Dörte says “we can have plans and we can have wishes!

During this time, through some friends, we were told that, as long stay visitors in the marina we might be able to get our vaccine in Gibraltar. We hopefully sent through our details and waited for a call. We waited and waited. Frustratingly the authorities muddled up my name and number with our friend Helen and she received a call asking for me. The call to my phone still didn’t come.

While we waited and when the skies cleared we took the boat out for the day to test our new top down furler. On a beautifully calm and sunny day we found it so much easier to get the cruising chute up and down than in its sock (which has found a new and happy home on SV Sunflower!) Sailing around the lighthouse and round to Catalan Bay made us very conscious of that Gibraltar really has probably been the best place to sit out the second wave of the pandemic. We have been so grateful to have had so much freedom relative to others in the UK and Europe.

Back on dry land our opposite neighbours on pontoon E, Helen and Phil of SV Sunflower and Yvette and Derek of SV Delite, all got their calls and went off for their jabs. We patiently waited and hoped for a call.

On 15 March the phone rang and, excited, I answered it. It was not, however, from the vaccine people. It was from the dreaded contact tracing people. Stupidly, with our new found sense of freedom, we had, for the first time in a very long time, decided to have lunch outside the reopened Waterfront restaurant at the top of the pontoon. It was a decision we would live to regret because, despite there only being 20 people infected with the virus in Gibraltar, we had chosen the restaurant where one of them worked! And as a result we had to self isolate.

For 7 days we were confined to the boat, unable even to step off onto the pontoon. Luckily we were stocked up with food for the eventuality and Dörte and Jens ensured a regular supply of bread and treats and helped us fill up with water as well as keeping us company from the safe distance of the pontoon!

But it was extremely frustrating. We grinned and bore it and found jobs to get on with. The stainless steel was thoroughly polished and Stefan got on with some engine jobs. Unfortunately, those jobs revealed that our old heat exchanger was beyond repair and we resigned ourselves to going nowhere until a replacement arrived from the UK.

We had regular calls from the contact tracing people checking on us – both that we were well and that we were obeying the rules. When, during one call, Stefan was asked if he had any symptoms he replied “yes, boredom“! Operation Freedom was not delivering much freedom to us! We were definitely not going to go to a restaurant again in a hurry.

On the seventh day in self isolation we got up early and walked to the (amusingly named) COVID-19 Drive Thru’ for our tests. This was Stefan’s second test but I wasn’t as prepared for just quite how far down your throat and up your nose they have to go for the swab. Ouch!

Back at the boat we waited for our results. At lunchtime we received two texts in quick succession with Stefan’s date of birth confirming he was COVID free. I waited patiently for mine, sure it must be coming soon.

By late afternoon I still hadn’t received my text and thought I should phone to check. It turned out that they had muddled our dates of birth and the second text with Stefan’s date of birth was actually mine. At last confirmation that I was also COVID free and we were free to leave the boat!

Whilst I was on the phone to the Gibraltar Health Authority I thought I would check about our vaccines. We knew that our period of self isolation would have affected us having our jabs but I wanted to check we would be getting our call soon. I was told that after all that we were not on the vaccine list at all. Our faith in the GHA’s admin systems was not high at this point and we began to doubt we would get our jabs before leaving.

We decided that if we didn’t get our first jab by the end of the month we would start making our way back to the UK where our friends had all started to get their vaccines.

Just one slight hitch, we needed the new heat exchanger to arrive to be able to go anywhere…

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