Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ferrie family of Scarborough – from left: Mairead, Kevin, Clara, Lilah, Stephanie and Callum – embarked in September 2018 on a two-year sailing adventure along the East Coast and through the Caribbean. Since the coronavirus outbreak, they have been anchored off the U.S. Virgin Islands for several weeks – unable to go ashore. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Colotti Ferrie

Planning and preparation are key when you take a family of six (and two Labrador retrievers) on a two-year sailing adventure along the East Coast and through the Caribbean.

But who plans for a pandemic?

“The border closures here in the Caribbean are forcing many to change plans,” said Stephanie Colotti Ferrie, 41, of Scarborough. She, her husband, Kevin Ferrie, 45, and their four children, ages 9-14, are stranded in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

“We have been living on anchor in a small bay on the east side of St. John for several weeks now.

“We had originally intended to sail from USVI to Puerto Rico in late March and then on to the Bahamas in early April for several months, before heading north back to New England for the summer 2020.

“We had intended to spend several months in the Bahamas, and provisioning is difficult there, so we had stocked our boat very well to be able to remain off the grid for many weeks.”

So, that part of the planning has paid off. The Ferrie’s cupboard – on their 45-foot Jeanneau sailboat Serendipity – is full.

But their journey, which began in September 2018, will be abbreviated. And, as has often happened with this worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the plans changed quickly.

“Within 10 days of arriving to the USVI, COVID infections were spreading rapidly within the United States, Europe and the Caribbean,” Stephanie said. “Restrictions were taking place almost on an hourly basis and, ultimately, the Bahamas closed their borders, leaving us no choice but to stay in place.

“During that same time, Puerto Rico also implemented strict rules and quarantine, which also drove us to shelter in place here in USVI. Borders around us quickly closed and we suddenly had nowhere to go. Our current choices are to stay here in the USVI or transit over 1,000 miles to the East Coast of the U.S.”

Such a transit is not so simple. When the family sailed from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgin Islands in 2018, it took 11 days, covering 1,700 nautical miles. But that leg of the journey featured better weather and an extra adult crewmate.

“Every country surrounding us is closed, which means instead of being able to transit from island to island,” Stephanie said, “we are now planning a straight, non-stop trip to the mid-Atlantic, which is around 1,200 nautical miles – 8-10 days.

“(But) we’re shorthanded. It will just be my husband and I (as the only adults), and we will be sailing around the clock, non-stop, taking 3-4 hour shifts. When we sailed south in 2018, there were three adults on board. An extra adult makes a huge difference in how much sleep we each get, and in an emergency, it would allow us to have an adult for the children, while having two adults for the boat.

“We are hoping to find a crew member who may be looking to get back stateside and could also help us sail.”

They have a month to find help.

“Right now, we are remaining here in the USVI as the weather on the East Coast of the U.S. is generally not conducive to safe sailing, as there are frequent weather systems,” Stephanie said. “We hope to leave the USVI sometime in early-mid May when the weather usually changes for safer sailing north.”

So, Stephanie will continue her home-school lessons in the morning, with Mairead, 14; Lilah, 12; Clara, 10; and Callum, 8, as the family stays on the boat.

“We have not been to shore in close to one month,” Stephanie said. “We have had provisions delivered to the beach near us a few times when the fresh food supply runs low.

“We are under a stay-at-home order, and the beaches are currently closed. We are afraid of COVID-19 because the islands are limited in their testing, so the numbers are assumed to be higher than what is advertised.

“(So, we are) riding out COVID-19 on our boat. We are self-sufficient, meaning we make our own water, and have solar and wind power. … We feel quite safe where we are, especially staying isolated.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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