The autonomous Azores islands, administratively linked to Portugal and 800 miles westward of Lisbon in the midst of the Atlantic, have become European pace-setters in controlling and eradicating COVID-19. And in doing so, they have been able to provide a welcoming if closely supervised process for receiving Transoceanic crews trying to escape from the Caribbean and other cruising areas where the disease is still spreading, and where brutally-imposed emergency restrictions took little or no account of the special problems of isolated long-distance cruising boats.
In the Azores by contrast, the Lockdown was imposed in a timely manner, and while boats newly-arrived from the Caribbean were put into quarantine, it was quarantine with COVID-compliant services to meet the special needs of ocean voyagers reaching a destination port.
No harbour has been more up-to-speed with handling the situation than Horta in Faial, which is deservedly popular as the cross-roads of the Atlantic. Thus when the Galway Bay family of Vera Quinlan and husband Peter Owens and their children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10) finally reached port after the 25-day voyage from Antigua with its stifling regulations, it was to be met in Horta by a cheery “Pandemic Patrol” which put them though the procedures in as friendly a way as possible, and ensured that their time spent anchored in quarantine in the Outer Harbour was minimized.
As Vera Quinlan has admitted in a report in Afloat.ie, there was definitely a bit of deployment of the renowned “Galway Gab” in ensuring that Danu was allocated one of the coveted quarantine-compliant marina berths, which permitted a minimum of shoreside exercise. But it would seem that by this time, the Horta Harbour Health officials were thinking of Danu and her crew as their restriction-lifting mascots. For as the process of formal testing to avail of the full lifting of COVID-19 restrictions throughout the islands got under way last week, it was the crew of Danu who were first to be declared free to sail among the islands just as they wished.
Naturally, the first thing they did was call at Transatlantic HQ at the legendary Café Sport in Horta, where Jose gave them a tremendous welcome. But a more thoughtful moment was visiting the painted memorial left behind on Horta’s harbour wall by Vera’s father Fergus Quinlan when he and his wife Kay were visiting with their 12metre steel cutter Pylades (which Fergus built himself) during their multiple-award-winning global circuit in 2009-2012.
The orginal plan had been that Pylades would sail out to the Azores from her home anchorage of Bell Harbour in North Clare to meet up with Danu in early August as the next two generations sailed in from the Atlantic, having completed much more extensive cruising along the American shorelines than has been possible with the COVID-19 shutdowns. The two newly-united boats would then do some Azorean cruising-in-company before heading home for Galway Bay together.
It’s a reminder of what might have been before the Pandemic struck, but in the uncertain circumstances elsewhere it was decided that Pylades was best to stay in Galway Bay. So for now, everyone is grateful that Danu is safely away from islands and coastlines where the plague still rages, and at liberty to sail among the islands which are the first part of Europe to be declared pandemic free.