Help for sailing high seas

Published 9:29 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2020

By Tracy Agnew

Regional Editor


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A Smithfield woman recently received a certificate of commendation for her “extraordinary effort” to assist folks cruising the high seas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The honor came from the Ocean Cruising Club, one of several organizations Joan Conover belongs to that help people who travel the world on their own vessels.

“We have cruisers around the world, and if something happens, we help them,” Conover said.

The organizations have been important resources for oceangoing travelers for years, helping them navigate weather, mechanical challenges and more in hundreds of countries and territories around the globe.

But the pandemic presented a whole new challenge to many sailors, as many places they could dock and take on supplies closed their borders at once.

“You’d have boats between Point A and Point B, and where they’re going to go closes,” Conover said. “We’ve been guiding boats. We’re giving them information and telling them where they couldn’t go.”

As an example, Conover said, there were four private vessels near the Pitcairn Islands, a remote British territory in the southern Pacific Ocean, when they suddenly had nowhere to go.

Conover also said boats piled up in the Caribbean, unsure if they would be able to get back to the United States or if they might find refuge in one of the region’s many countries and territories. But she also noted it’s not generally advised to be in the Caribbean during hurricane season, which has been fast approaching during the pandemic and arrived on Monday, with two named storms already in the books.

“We had to get information on boats,” she said. “When they ran out of fuel, we tell them where to go. It just really became something.”

Conover is still doing her work, but it seems to be winding down as some countries reopen and fewer boats are still seeking refuge.

She and her husband, Greg, also belong to the Seven Seas Cruising Association as well as the Salty Dawgs.

They have been sailing since the 1980s and have logged 35,000 cruising miles, and two trans-Atlantic trips. They sail on SV Growltiger, a 51-foot ketch rigged sailboat, with their three Havanese dogs, Ace, Trixie and Sassy.