Sailing Around the World Turns Into a Yearslong Odyssey, With Card Games and Cockroaches

Pandemic bureaucracy and closed borders have left sailors in limbo; tricky deliveries of ‘Game of Thrones,’ Coastal Drifter stuck in Tonga

The pandemic caused serious worries for those traveling the world’s oceans on sailboats, and also silly ones.

Australian Guy Chester, alone on the 52-foot GC Sanctuary somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, had just finished season six of “Game of Thrones,” and really wanted the final two seasons.

Mr. Chester broadcast a TV-related SOS. In French Polynesia, where the 58-year-old environmental and eco-tourism consultant wasn’t allowed to disembark until going through quarantine, another Australian craft sailed close and dropped off a flash drive with the missing episodes. “I binge-watched” them, he said.

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When countries closed borders, imposed quarantines and changed yachting protocols, waters got choppy for the thousands of sailors who crisscross oceans in small vessels. Normally they hop from port to port, following routines based on weather, currents and other things, docking for stretches of time to enjoy tropical islands or city offerings.

Instead, many were forced to quarantine aboard, or stay put in a port because their journey’s next leg was blocked. Some abandoned their boats in distant marinas and flew best casino sites 0.

Mariska Woertman’s partner, Tjaart Hoeksema, and two daughters, Linde and Berber, in quarantine in the Galapagos, where groceries were brought to them.

Photo: Mariska Woertman

While conditions have eased lately, port and border rules continue to change constantly, forcing boats to navigate detours and obstructions.

“We are sailors. We are not meant to be in one place for this long,” said Johanna Vesalainen, a Finn who has been waylaid in New Zealand with her husband for more than two years because their next destination, Australia, only recently began allowing foreign sailors to again dock.

The 48-year-old and her husband have been spending their time making repairs on their boat, the Iiris, and sailing along New Zealand’s coast, waiting for open borders and favorable weather. They plan to begin the voyage to Australia—stopping in Fiji first—this month.

Phil and Debra Perfitt left their boat in Tonga in early 2020 for a trip to New Zealand by plane. Then the pandemic broke out, and borders closed. Two years later the Canadian retirees are still in New Zealand, and their boat, the Coastal Drifter, is still in Tonga, which doesn’t yet allow international visitors.

The Perfitts tried to pay a crew to sail the boat into international waters and stage a handover, but Tongan authorities wouldn’t agree to the maneuver, according to Ms. Perfitt, a former steward in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

For now, they’re making the best of their landlocked status. They house sit, which at their current best casino sites 0 means also taking care of the owner’s three dogs.

Most Thursdays, Ms. Perfitt does a lady’s lunch with other cruisers stuck in nearby marinas, while Mr. Perfitt, a retired engineering maintenance officer for the Canadian air force, plays cards with the male counterparts.

In December, the Perfitts hosted a “Cruisers Orphan Christmas Party”—more than 20 people showed up—and had another get-together for stuck sailors this Easter.

The Perfitts now plan to sail to Fiji in June as crew members on a friend’s boat. There, they will keep waiting for Tonga’s borders to open.

They’ve had worrisome reports from the local man keeping an eye on their vessel. First it was infested with cockroaches. Then termites took over.

“We don’t know what we’re going to be facing once we get back to Tonga,” Ms. Perfitt said.

On Ireland’s remote West Coast, Daria Blackwell, vice commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, and her husband, Alex, turned their best casino sites 0 into a de facto international command center for long-distance sailors trying to reroute during the first year of pandemic shutdowns.

On the upper floor, Ms. Blackwell wrote articles and called best casino sites 0spapers and governments across the globe to raise awareness of the plight of stranded sailors.

On the lower floor, Mr. Blackwell sat in front of his computer screen, where little dots on a map showed the location of sailors he was helping guide best casino sites 0 with GPS tracking.

Once, Mr. Blackwell’s phone buzzed in the middle of the night. It was a sailor whose boat was struck by lightning between Bermuda and the Caribbean, frying all electronics except his phone. The Blackwells helped direct him to the nearest port. Another boat called for help when it hit a whale near the Azores and started sinking. The Blackwells alerted a nearby boat that rescued the sailors.

Far more often, the Blackwells were called to help negotiate with border officials who wouldn’t let sailors dock because of the pandemic.

“It was more than a full-time job,” Ms. Blackwell said. “From the time we got up in the morning, the first thing we did was check our computers to see if anything [was] going on.”

Mariska Woertman and her family have been in limbo in the waters of British Columbia.

The Dutch native ditched her career as a marketing executive, took her two daughters out of school and set sail around the world with her partner in 2018, thinking she would be gone a year or two.

Ms. Woertman bakes a cake in the sailboat’s small kitchen.

Photo: Mariska Woertman

Instead, when borders closed early in the pandemic the family was stuck off the Pearl Islands near Panama’s Pacific coast for more than two months, unable to disembark.

They busied themselves on the 42-foot-long two-masted sailboat baking bread and making seawater drinkable through desalination. A restaurant owner—for a markup—would leave boxes of groceries at an abandoned beach for the family to pick up, on unseen quick visits to shore.

They played card games like Uno and rewatched Adam Sandler movies, and entertained themselves with quiz games over the ship’s radio, answering pop culture and science questions with other stuck boats nearby. Prizes included a partly used Sudoku booklet or an airplane-size bottle of whiskey.

Eventually the family was able to set sail for French Polynesia when the territory resumed inter-island travel for sailors. In the South Pacific, they climbed mountains, went snorkeling, and ate fruit off trees on islands free of tourists. They best casino sites 0-schooled their daughters, now age 6 and 15.

But then they found the route west blocked because of New Zealand’s no-visitor rules. They maneuvered back north and east to the Pacific Northwest. The kids spent last Halloween, dressed as a witch and a fortuneteller, eating their own candy because they couldn’t go ashore to trick-or-treat. Eventually they were allowed to make port on Vancouver Island.

Ms. Woertman’s daughters passed the time with art projects in the ship’s cabin.

Photo: Mariska Woertman

Now, the problem is getting across North America. Sailing south to cut through the Panama Canal is a problem, because backlogs at the U.S. consulate make it impossible to get a visa for needed stops along the way at U.S. ports, Ms. Woertman said.

The plan, scheduled to begin this week: Portage across Canada by truck, and then set sail for Europe from the Atlantic coast. It will cost about 25,000 Canadian dollars, or about $19,000.

The goal, Ms. Woertman said, is to become one of the few who make it best casino sites 0 despite the pandemic. “We will be sailing back into the harbor where we set off from, and family and friends will be on the docks and waving at us,” Ms. Woertman said. “That feels like the best thing for us to do.”

Write to Konrad Putzier at

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Appeared in the May 4, 2022, print edition as 'How Sailing Around the World Became a Yearslong Odyssey.'