It was a lovely cruise to Ireland at first, with fine, sunny weather rather than the extraordinarily high temperatures that hit central and southern England. But half way through we had a problem for which there was no easy answer – three of us tested positive for Covid after feeling as if we were getting mild colds, with headache, sinusitis and sore throat.
We did the tests at Carlingford Marina, which looks across its loch to Northern Ireland on the opposite bank. We had all had dinner in a pub two nights before, after seeking out a quiet room in an otherwise crowded place. That pub does seem to be the likeliest source. The result was obviously as worrying for the fourth crew member as for the three with the virus. One of the crew, Antony, had left from Dublin, so escaped the bug, while Peter F had only just joined there.
We are all in our 70s, and while in good health – we wouldn’t be on a small yacht in the Irish Sea otherwise – we are in a vulnerable category. So the first reaction was to put on masks and do our best to stay apart from the one crew member without the virus, which not unexpectedly is hard to do on an 11 meter boat. He ended up spending a lot of time alone in the cockpit.
We consulted the English and Northern Irish NHS web sites, and of course the Irish equivalent, and found slightly different advice in each.
NHS Northern Ireland said (on its website in late July 2022) that after a positive COVID-19 test result you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of the test, or from the day symptoms started (whichever was earlier). NHS England said 5 days from the day after the test rather than the day of symptoms. And Ireland said 7 days isolation.
They all said testing to end isolation is no longer advised. The benchmark is now the date of test or first symptoms, so we started counting days.
As a precaution, we also needed to avoid contact with people at higher risk from Covid-19 for 10 days, especially those with a weakened immune system. Neither should we visit anyone in hospital or social care for 10 days. We should continue regular hand washing and wear a face mask, particularly in crowded indoor places.
Luckily we had good supplies of food on board and our Covid-free friend Jean-Jacques volunteered to top up stores with a masked visit to the Carlingford mini-supermarket half a mile away. (We had already noticed that nobody in the packed holiday village wore a mask)
The debilitating Covid symptoms lasted little more than a day, though the snuffles and particularly the tiredness stretched out several more days and the cough for around a week. All of us had had multiple boosters, and it would have been a different story without them. I was probably the mildest case, because by the day after the test the only symptoms I had were a slight tiredness (much less than after an overnight sail) and occasional cough.
We decided that the two of us who were fittest would take charge and sail the boat 40 miles down the coast to Malahide, near Dublin airport.
Chris, Georgia, Peter C and baby Nora, on holiday for the month in Ireland, made a wonderfully welcome – but masked and distanced – visit to the quayside in Malahide. They took our shopping list to the nearby shops and stocked up for us, including a delicious and cheering supper bought in a deli. Meanwhile Rob, who was scheduled to join in Dublin, postponed to early the following week to allow a full 7 days from our positive tests. Soon after we arrived J-J, still fine and fit, decided to keep to his original schedule and left the boat to fly home.
Meanwhile, a backgammon board helped shorten the evenings until Peter F. felt strong enough to fly home as well, and we then moved the boat 15 miles to Dun Laoghaire to wait for Rob.
A week after the tests and with a third crew member we were ready to leave for Milford Haven, the first leg to Cowes, though strong southerlies ended up keeping us in Ireland a few more days.
…and thank you to Will for online advice to the crew