All at sea during the pandemic

Keri Algar
Swellnet Dispatch

"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!"
- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote.

By Keri Algar.
All photos by Jana McGeachey

Don Quijote rolls gently at anchor off the island of Antigua as Beef O'Keefe and Jana McGeachy sit to Sunday night toasties. For two months a mercurial coronavirus has left them dancing between anchorages around the tiny Caribbean island. With their cruising permit expired and nearby sea borders closed, the Aussie-Canadian couple say they feel like refugees of the sea.

"We're out of Vegemite too, that's another apocalyptic situation," says Jana on her second cheese toastie.

If isolating aboard a 43-foot yacht in the Caribbean doesn't sound like the end of the world, consider this: Antigua and Barbuda is in the middle of the region's hurricane belt, as Jana loosens her own belt – she's five months pregnant.

"Our decision to stay here and ride out the pandemic has not been so great," admits Beef. "If we leave Antigua now, we won't be allowed back and nowhere else is open. We'd planned to haul the boat out for the hurricane season and to be back at work in Australia by April." Their off-season earnings bankroll boat life for now: Beef's a carpenter and Jana an eco-guide and photographer.

"Once June hits we're going to need to leave and if ports aren't open we may have to take the boat to Panama."

The 1,000 nautical mile sail west will be the longest passage undertaken by these novice sailors. It's as many miles as they've sailed since acquiring Don Quijote two years ago in Florida.

"We knew we wanted to sail across the South Pacific, but you need experience for a crossing like that, and we needed training wheels," says Jana. 

While it exasperates sailors with its doldrums more often than not, the world's largest ocean is far from pacific. After two years in the Caribbean, there's still much to be learned.

"We've still never flown a spinnaker, and we don't know how to sail downwind. We surprise ourselves daily with how little we know," says Beef. "There are so many systems on a boat, navigation, plumbing, the engine, rigging, electrics. You need to be able to fix anything that breaks at sea, because it will break."

Jana advocated they learn by island-hopping through the Caribbean's 7,000 islands, reefs and cays – overall a fascinating region. To tropical climes and spectacular scenery, add an exotic mix of lively cultures – Spanish, Carib, Afro, and French among them – the sounds of steel drums and cheap rum.

"Plus it's the sailing wonderland of the world. You've got 15-20-knot winds every day from the same direction, and you don't get gigantic swells."

Which is precisely why the Caribbean as a surfing destination is relatively unexplored. "There are a few known spots, like Cane Garden Bay, Barbados, and the Bahamas," says Beef. "A lot of islands have got amazing setups. They just don't get a lot of swell. They rely on swells from the northern hemisphere winter, then it can get really good and light up all these little islands, and you've got no crowds and warm water. But the majority of the time you're looking at little crappy wind swell and its frustrating to find surf. It's okay, one day we'll be at P-Pass!"

But not today. "Instead we're smack in the middle of hurricane alley living on borrowed money with a kid on the way."

Beef pauses. Is theirs a quixotic misadventure, or like their yacht’s namesake, are Beef and Jana making real their impossible dream?

"Can I just say, this is one of the nicest anchorages we've been in for a while. There's a beautiful little roll and we're looking up through the hatch to a three-quarter gold moon shining on the mast, the flag's blowing on a light breeze. I wouldn't be doing anything else.

"The world kind of shrinks when you're on a sailboat. In five days we could be in Venezuela, in ten days in Panama in twelve days in Mexico or Colombia, South America…all these places you dream of when you're younger.

"It's hard to describe the feeling when you motor out from your anchorage and into deep water, when you set your course, set your sails, shut off the engine, when it's quiet, and you're travelling by the power of the wind…it's magic.

"It might bite us on the arse in twenty years. A house goes up in value, and a boat depreciates, so yeah it's financial suicide. And in the most corrosive environment in the world, the salt eats into everything, light fittings, electrics, the boat is disintegrating every day. It's the most expensive way to travel the world for free.

"But life goes so fast and then you're thirty and then you're forty. This way we can travel on a budget. It gives us a little home. We can explore, hunt for waves."

As the epicentre of the pandemic shifts to the Americas, they embrace a sense of fatalism. There's only so much worrying one can do in a day, the rest is for living.

Now on the north of Antigua, Beef takes the dinghy to check the surf. Ashore, they hike jungle peaks and harvest wild honey. Back onboard by the noon coronavirus curfew, they spend afternoons working on the boat: taking apart the heat exchanger on the engine, scrubbing the waterline, checking in on other cruisers on the two-way radio, pickling local produce. Beef has a rum and Jana practices hypno-boat-birthing meditations – just in case.

"Life is simple," says Jana. "We're learning that what we think we need is different from what we actually need. Our goal is to be fully sustainable and get to a point when we don't even need to turn the motor on to make water.

"We'd like to find a way to earn an income while we sail. We've got a YouTube channel about our journey but what we'd really love is to document is the ecology of remote islands and archipelagos in the Pacific, maybe connect with an environmental or research group and provide them with that remote access, somehow to give back to the remote communities we visit.

"But it'll be interesting to see how the world of cruising changes after the pandemic dies down. Will there be that freedom of movement that we've all come to think of as normal? Will remote places want visitors, or will coronavirus make that different?"

Never more than now have the plans of sailors been written in the sand at low tide. "For now, we can't really plan for the future and for birthing this baby until we know where we're going to be."

// KERI ALGAR

Check out Nauti Nook Sailing Adventures if you'd like to see where Beef and Jana drop anchor next.

Comments

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 12:08pm

A life that exists only in my dreams. You never fall out of love with sailing- that feeling of being carried by the wind stays with you forever.

If Jana changed her surname to Banana they could really run with that, Beef O'Keefe and Jana Banana. Has a nice ring to it.

1173

dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:38pm

beef and banana sounds like an interesting combo

Ride on

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 3:06pm

A few plantains on the barbie never go astray Dawn.

1173

lazydave's picture
lazydave's picture
lazydave commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 3:51pm

Bit late on this one but laughing my arse off at Beef O'Keefe and Jana Banana!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 1:14pm

Epic , epic adventure.

Good on these crew .

Forget about the future and enjoy the rewards of your courage !

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 1:20pm

there's no life like a life on the old blue briney.

thats what an old cray skipper used to say to me in the Kalbarri pub.

Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:15pm

Hah!

A little Beef is comin'!

Good stuff, mate.

“The dog leg. That dog had four legs. One you found in my trunk. The other three went out with the information you're thinking about right now. Two people you don't want coming around here if anything bad happens to me.”

mr mick's picture
mr mick's picture
mr mick commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 8:23pm

Haha a little veal coming soon.

Mr mick

Fraser G's picture
Fraser G's picture
Fraser G commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:19pm

Haha Beef cake

the-spleen_2's picture
the-spleen_2's picture
the-spleen_2 commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:34pm

Some goodness to be found in their youtube channel.

spookypt's picture
spookypt's picture
spookypt commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:35pm

A dream for me.... sadly I just dont have the guts to do it! Kudos to them. wow!

Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 2:48pm

gumtree has some great bargins if anyones keen

Nicko

mr mick's picture
mr mick's picture
mr mick commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 6:02pm

Great life, great adventure keep moving forward you won’t regret it, more to life than a mortgage, the great ‘Aussie Dream’. Also houses don’t always go up, they do go down in price, you only got to look back to the GFC, the trick is to be ready. You’ll be rich in experience & memories! Good luck!

Mr mick

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 8:47pm

free and easy now
wait till the baby comes along then you join the rat race.

MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 9:50pm

Sailed around there in 2003. Shhhhhhhhhh

stanfrance's picture
stanfrance's picture
stanfrance commented Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020 at 10:30pm

I stayed on a yacht for a month in Fiji in 2006. The couple who owned it (a dutch guy and a brit lady) had a 2 year old son and did what you guys are doing while hosting crew like me and a few others on board ...and kept doing it when they had a second kid, so no reason you guys can't keep going!
We were in a harbour near Namotu and surfed great waves, dived, fished and explored most days and enjoyed hanging with the nomadic yachting community. One day a new boat rocked up, it was a 23ft yacht with a Hawaiian couple onboard who had sailed from Hawaii with apparently very little knowledge about sailing before leaving, including not knowing how to reef a sail. They obviously learned pretty fast and made it in a tiny boat - pretty impressive stuff.
Maybe you guys are playing it safe!

Stan France

ryder's picture
ryder's picture
ryder commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 1:05pm

Perfect lifestyle.
Having followed a few of these sailing nomads on YouTube I always ask where did/do they get the money from? Considering the maintenance expenses outlayed are anywhere between 10-30% a year of the value of the boat.
YouTube surely doesn't pay that well for influencers

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 2:21pm

i think you are watching the trust fund sailing community online,

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 9:58am

Smells like someone has a rich Dad out there somewhere for sure Dean

Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 11:31am

You know Beef, Mike? You'd know he had a life changing incident/accident up the NW that set him on this path. A truly gnarly YOLO one. The financial compensation allowed him to have a go at this particular one.

He's a good egg, a good surfer, and a good chippie!

“The dog leg. That dog had four legs. One you found in my trunk. The other three went out with the information you're thinking about right now. Two people you don't want coming around here if anything bad happens to me.”

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 7:45pm

No , whats a YOLO?

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 8:52pm

You only live once.

That, or a chocolate bar.

1173

Faunt Leroy's picture
Faunt Leroy's picture
Faunt Leroy commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 1:43pm

Yeah Beef!

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 2:20pm

Not ideal... sounds like they're in a spot of trouble and need help getting out??
The "Night of the Sorry Face", so wrapped-up in stories of adventure and chivalry, continued to punish himself with madness, in an effort to escape routine boredom and responsibilities, until isolation from society became the maddest thing of all. N.B. The great irony of Don Quixote (the adventurer) is that it was written in a jail cell.
Learn from Don Quixote, don't repeat his mistakes -return home in a well and sane state to tell us about your epic adventures!
All the best.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 3:50pm

Between the devil and the deep blue sea ..Surely they could find a competent skipper or qualified crew member who will work with them and maybe teach them a few tricks,, for a free ride across.{travel restrictions may be an issue for the moment tho} Most larger marinas overseas have notice boards for crew , skippers , boat parts etc. ,
Keeping the pointy end off the hard stuff around reefs is one thing, the deep sea is another , and not the place to be learning on the fly.
Awesome life though , but it's not for everyone. These guys look like they'e up for the long term challenges though.
Fair winds and following seas.

Clarky81's picture
Clarky81's picture
Clarky81 commented Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020 at 6:53pm

Reef and Beef?

How's the size of that cray?

mark.manuel's picture
mark.manuel's picture
mark.manuel commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 11:32am

Mick, hope you read this mate.
What an adventure!! Those pics Caribbean or our (secret) locals?
Best wishes to you three and when its possible to travel again hoping to see you again back here.
Cheers, Mark

D-Rex's picture
D-Rex's picture
D-Rex commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 6:40pm

Spearing a cray OK in the Carribean?

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 10:58pm

Everythings OK in the Carribean mun . chill

MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger commented Saturday, 6 Jun 2020 at 5:30pm

When they’re that big you can argue self defence

tonks's picture
tonks's picture
tonks commented Saturday, 6 Jun 2020 at 2:02pm

BON VOYAGE BANANA ,BEEFY AND BAMBINO!

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook commented Thursday, 11 Jun 2020 at 2:28pm

hi beef and jana...i've been following your adventures during lockdown. thanks for the distraction.

i've watched a lot of sailing videos recently. some other good sailing videos are:
Erik Aanderaa..."just sailing, no bulshit". this norwegian waits for massive storms to hit the north sea and then decides it's a good time to sail to places like greenland and the shetland islands.
https://www.youtube.com/user/kjolevannspumpe

and Sailing Learning By Doing is another good one
he spends plenty of time around png, indo and pacific islands
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgF3P33zmbewXrksprcvFJA