Sailing through Covid in the Keys

 

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Within a few days of being back in Illinois after our Florida Trail section, we had job interviews lined up for this upcoming Spring & Summer seasons!  Sometimes things seem to fall into place just when plans were being upended.  By the end of the week, we had our gear switched out from hiking & camping to scuba diving & sailing, and found ourselves back in the car, heading back to a very familiar state. 

 

We not only found a Spring job back in the Florida Keys, but also got hired to return back to Denali Backcountry Lodge in Alaska for the summer season (back where we started <3)!  We had pondered the purchase of a new vehicle for a while and agreed if we landed the Alaska job, we would seriously contemplate a car.  Well, within 3 days of accepting the job, we found ourselves at a car dealership in northeast Florida, test driving the odd-man-out at a BMW dealership.  On Leap Day, we decided to take a leap and see what happens!  Next thing we know, we’re driving the remainder of Florida with two vehicles — our lil Kia Soul and our new-to-us Subaru Outback!  We knew our little Kia Soul is actually quite perfect for the Florida Keys life because it’s small, light-colored, great AC, and very popular in the keys overall, so we figured there wouldn’t be any problem selling it while we were there.

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We arrived at Florida Sea Base High Adventure Camp, a Boy Scout organization located near Islamorada, Florida, on March 1st.  Our contract was through the end of April, working on the sailing crew.  Spring season is a shorter season compared to summer, but a busy burst of activity as schools are on Spring Break, so scout troops take advantage of their time off to explore the high seas of the Florida Keys.  We were happy to quickly feel good camaraderie among our coworkers and launched into staff training, as our first crews arrived the next week. 

 

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Being a Sailing Mate entails welcoming a crew, which is 6 scouts and 2 adult leaders, and getting them checked in and prepared to head out on their 5 day sailing trip.  We make sure they don’t take too much on the boats (you don’t need 6 t-shirts, you’ll be in your swim attire 90% of the time), run through a snorkel review to make sure everyone is comfortable with their snorkel equipment, help them provision their boat, and then send them on their way.  From there, they spend 5 days on a sailboat with their captain, learning how to sail, fish, snorkel, man the helm, and just get a taste of what life is like on the water.  Many of these crews are like us and come from more northern, land-locked states, so this may be their first time on the open water.  Many of them quickly learn what it means to feed the fish. 😀  

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On day 5, they return to base, some more than a little sun-kissed (teenagers – too cool for sunscreen), some with their prize-catch in tow, or at least their logs of fish they caught, and many smiles from their new experiences.  Back at base, their last night is Luau Night, where all the crews returning from various boats come together to play games and celebrate their friendships.  We eat lots of food, tell stories, sing songs, and perform skits.  Awards for biggest edible and inedible fish are handed out, then everyone tucks in for a stable night of sleep (much welcomed after being on a moving ship all week), before heading back home & back to school.  In full summer swing, it’s common on each day to have 6 crews arriving to base, 6 crews departing on boats, 6 crews arriving back from sea, and 6 crews heading back home, so there is constant motion and organizing.  

But as everyone may have guessed, early March is when things took a turn for the bizarre around the world.  We only had a handful of spring crews before our last scout group left just after mid-March, as the world seemed to come to a screeching halt while figuring out what to do about this new virus.  But while the world worked to figure out what to do, staff at Sea Base continued to work within the new limits of social distancing.  We took the opportunity to beautify the campus and work on those long-term to-do list projects, now that time was ample and many hands were available & still on payroll.  So out came the paint brushes, shovels, and sledgehammers as we all went to work on various projects around property. 

 

But a day into this new way of life, we were informed one of the last scout troops on property could potentially have been in contact with a positive Covid case, so any staff member who worked in close quarters with them needed to go into quarantine immediately.  This meant the 2 staff members who were on the boat with them living in very close quarters for 5 days and the 2 staff members who spend several hours in a 12 passenger van driving them from Key West had to go to quarantine.  Well, guess who those drivers were. 

Yup, that would be Steve and myself.  As part of the social distancing measures, staff members were already being relocated into new rooms to space out our living quarters.  Steve and I were now able to room together under these conditions, so we fortunately didn’t have to move again once we were quarantined since we were already in a room together.  Not gonna lie, quarantine was a bit odd.  We had a nice room with a bathroom inside, so we didn’t have to really leave.  Meals were delivered to us by our coworkers, taking proper precautions.  All we were supposed to do is stay away from others while they continued to work.  Although we all felt fine and no one really exhibited any symptoms, it was still part of the national organization’s protocols, especially during that early time frame of the crisis.  During the 2 weeks, Steve leveled up several characters on World of Warcraft and I progressed fairly well in my DuoLingo German and Spanish lessons.  In the evenings, once most of the staff had returned to their rooms, we would go for walks around property to stretch & get some fresh air & play Pokemon Go.  But by the time day 14 rolled around, we were all very excited to be out of quarantine and into normal isolation with the rest of the staff. 

We were able to return back to work, as well as participate in staff sparklers.  Sparklers are events planned by staff members to add some sparkle amongst the daily grind.  These mainly involved weekend dive trips, which were still within state regulations of 10 people or less to a boat.  Several of the staff were able to start and/or continue their dive certifications, and for us already certified divers, we were just able to go out and have some fun. 

Steve organized weekly lionfish dives on Sundays, which gave staff the opportunity to learn if they’d never been by going with experienced hunters.  The results were mixed each weekend as far as yield, but I collected quite of bit of lionfish fins to experiment with some jewelry later this quarantine.  Other staff sparklers included an overnight sailing trip with one of our captains, a movie float-in, sailing lessons, a tie-dye session to spruce up some staff T-shirts, and a Easter Egg hunt! 

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Overall, our 5 weeks in isolation at Sea Base was very productive, educational, and fun.  Outside of work and organized events, I learned how to weave palm fronds into bowls and baskets (thanks YouTube).  I’d like to think my skills saw significant improvement from my 1st bottomless “bowl” in March to my latest baskets, which are in the car now as I travel back to Illinois.  My first batch of baskets was motivated by the Easter egg hunt hosted by some coworkers.  I wanted folks to have pretty baskets and bowls to collect their eggs in.  Many of the staff kept the bowls they used, which made me so happy.  As the tree trimming on property continued, I snagged a couple more palm fronds to weave some more baskets to bring back to Illinois. 

The tie-dying event turned out great!  Once again, the YouTube came through and taught me some new skills, which translated pretty successfully to some snazzy designs for our shirts.  Several others made some stellar tapestries and shirts!  My tapestry [bed sheet] ended up being not made of cotton, so the crazy, beautiful design washed right off.  Live & learn (and hope the tag is there to read the type of fabric next time).

Now that our contracts ended, we are taking our 2 cars back with us, because surprise, surprise, once Covid hit a week after arriving to the Keys, people weren’t really in the market to buy a car now that a significant amount of people were jobless.  But this means my baskets have plenty of space to not get crushed in transition.  

Our current plan is to hurry up and wait, along with the rest of the world.  We are waiting to see if tourism in Alaska is even a possibility for this summer.  Many large corporations, like some cruise ship lines & hotels, have already cancelled their whole summer season, or postponed until at least July.  Others are waiting to see how the re-opening phases in place will unfold in these early days of May.  We are also watching to see what happens with Sea Base.  The roadblock at the entrance to the Keys is to remain in place until at least the end of May.  Though I have a Key West license, and can return through the roadblock, none of our visiting scout troops would be able to enter, even if social distancing or other precautions are lifted. 

Until then, we are safely secluded at the family farm house in Illinois, happily ticking away at home improvement projects and looking to knock out a chunk of this sewing stash!  Time to finally contribute to the mask making initiatives now that I’m back at a sewing machine.  We’ll take this time, whether it’s a quick turn around back to normal life, or a long isolated recovery process, and continue organizing, learning (canning, gardening, hunting?), and spending time together (with momma, too!), and enjoying the rural life. 

Stay healthy and stay tuned!  Much love to all of our friends, family, and followers.  May your adventures be safe and stress-free during this odd time. 

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2 thoughts on “Sailing through Covid in the Keys

  1. Sierra & Steve – love seeing your pictures & reading about your adventures. Reading about your adventures makes my heart happy. Looking forward to future posts. Maybe I can see you all while you’re back in Illinois. Take care – love ya Aunt Re.

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