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Superyacht Covid19 Lockdown in Spain, A Captains Story

This week we spoke with one of our Captains who runs a 50m vessel currently in Spain. The yacht has been stuck in Spain for the Covid-19 Lockdown.

He talks about the challenges onboard and how they handled one of the strictest lockdowns on the planet, dealing with crew rotations, crew health, mental health & travel restrictions.

The beginning

My swing started with me flying out on the 21st Feb 2020, Coronavirus was not an issue.... fast forward to the 11th March, we were tied to the dock, unable to leave the yacht, 12 crew onbard for a 2 week lockdown.  1 week later it was extended to 4 weeks, 2 weeks later another 2 weeks...... we celebrated the half way point of lockdown onboard 4 times which is horrible for crew morale.

I was lucky enough to get some of the non-rotational crew away on leave before it got too bad which was lucky. 

Rotational Crew

The boat operates with most crew on rotation. I had continual issues getting crew in and out, especially as we were stuck in the canary islands. 

The biggest issue was that flights would show that could be booked right up until days before it was due to depart.  I would book the flight even 4 days out and it would be cancelled a day or so later.  no airline is issuing refunds and only providing travel vouchers for the future so the cost of crew travel for the month was massively over budget.  

Given flights (or lack there of) i would need to fly one crew member home before flying the other to the boat.  This in turn meant both positions being at home at the same time which makes it difficult to account for leave, pay, time off. 

Issues with Flight Bookings

Seamans fares (usually refundable) were not being honored, airlines would not issue refunds even with seamans fares were booked. 

More than once crew were not allowed to board at the gate at flights they were already checked into. We had crew having to sleep in the terminal overnight after not being allowed out into the hotel and also crew being denied boarding despite having all relevant paperwork. 

We provided crew travelling with the following when flying from Australia (with travel ban in place) to Spain.

Seaman discharge book and CoC, S.E.A, Vessel Registration, letter form captain,  itinerary, letter from marina manager stating that the vessel was indeed berthed there (in English and Spanish) letter from local agent (in English and Spanish)

Permission to depart from Australia was obtained 48 hrs before departure. All documents had to be printed in triplicate.

Crew Health

We had some issues onboard.  Stress, mental health, how to keep active?

Work was the only thing that passed the time.  I contemplated reducing the work week, having shorter days, working 4 days etc. But after a few weeks, weekends actually became resented.  I kept them as days off to break up the weeks and keep some sort of routine but I found nearly all crew would work in same sort of fashion for a part of the weekend.  As with all yachts, crew share cabins, I split these cabins up by moving one crew from each shared cabin into guest cabins.  It was important for crew to have their own space.

Keeping fit mentally as well as physically was a challenge.  I encouraged all crew to take advantage of discounted online courses which a lot of them did.  Either for professional development or personal interest/development. 

The physical side was easier at first but as the weeks turned into months, it was a challenge.  I am quite fitness minded and luckily so are some of the crew.  We would come up with challenges for each other.  With fitness comes Diet, things like removing junk snacks and eating super healthy were key (met a lot of resistance on this one)

The end of swing

The end of my swing was perhaps the hardest part. It took me 6 days to travel from Canaries to New Zealand. My flight to Doha had 6 people onboard.

Upon arrival in Auckland i was sent to a Quarantine hotel only 5km away from my children who i had not seen in 3 months. Here i remain, conscious of the fact that each day is likely coming off my precious leave time at home. We have yet to work out a rotation plan that covers quarantine & i am not ready to think about my travel plans to return yet.

To Summarize

I don't think anyone will ever forget their lockdown experience but the biggest difference being on boat stuck in a foreign country is that it was the first time in my yachting career that I literally could not get home, even if I wanted to. 

It was scary at times with military and armed police patrols (something we are not used to in NZ)  But it was a time where all your friends and family were locked up together and being stuck on a yacht in a world so far away was very isolating, especially with family back home.

I don't know what the industry will look like in a few months/next year but there have already been talks that it is a far safer option than a cruise ship so there is a glimmer of hope yet

Europe is busting to get the yachting season open.  There are very good reports from Greece and Turkey that things will open up there for yachts in the coming weeks and allow owners and guests to travel freely late June/early July.  Flight will be the next hurdle but humans want to travel, once they are allowed, they will.  Every poll i have read is that well above 60% of people surveyed would travel as soon as they were able.  If i owned an airline, that would be comforting.