Spoiler Alert: don’t read the title of this Blog Post if you want to be surprised on what happened after Subic Bay. Oops, too late! Before I forget (again), the answer to the puzzle in Blog Post 79 from 14th March is: cashew. The nut can be glimpsed at the top of the fruit, looking a little like something the cat leaves behind when she eats her prey (for those of you with female cats). They are toxic when raw (cashews, not female cats).
You were expecting me probably to fly home on my own on 17th March, to see the fleet arrive in Seattle after they had sailed on 19th. However, soon after I had posted the previous Blog Post (on 16th), we were told that there would be a crew briefing at 10.30 am on 17th. Prior to the briefing, we woke to the news that Canada was in lock down and that no flights would be leaving Luzon Island (where Subic Bay is situated) after 19th March. All public transport was stopped from midnight and there would be a curfew until April 12th. This had only applied to Manila and we thought we were safe. At the crew brief, the fleet were told that everyone had to leave Luzon Island by 19th as there would be no international flights after that. The boats will be left in Subic Bay and the Race will restart in eleven months or so. Anyone remaining on the island would be quarantined until (at least) April 12th. In view of all these developments, all of the crew would be out of quarantine and off the pontoon by midnight at the latest. They had to book their own flights home but Clipper would organise buses to get everyone to the airports, and issue health certificates to allow them to travel. (This included me and Becca).
This meant that the odds on catching the Qatar flight I’d booked for us all was at risk (we would need to leave by three pm), so I re-booked a flight leaving from Manila a day later. This proved to be sensible when JD and George turned up to the hotel room just after 11 pm. We got all of their kit into the room, caught up with our news and managed to sleep from about 1 am to 5 am, when we had set an alarm. The buses were leaving the hotel at 7 am and there was no way we wanted to miss our transport.
The hotel provided us with a takeaway “American” breakfast (cold sausage, cold fried egg and bread with some sort of jam). The buses turned up half an hour late: they were minibuses and we were allowed five per bus, sitting as far apart from each other as possible. As Becca and her husband were on the same flight as us we shared. Once all the fifteen or so buses were loaded up we set off in convoy with hazard lights flashing and an escort. First stop: the local filling station for fuel!
The highway was closed so we spent the next hour or so slowly driving around the back streets of Olongapo. At about 10 am we stopped at a 711 store and managed to grab a coffee or snack and visit the restrooms. Part of our convoy had gone missing and the lead bus with the necessary paperwork was with the other part. There were a couple of check points where a masked police or army officer carefully leaned into the bus and took our temperatures.
We arrived at Manila Airport around lunchtime to long queues trying to get inside, although they did move fairly swiftly. As our flight was not until late evening we could not drop our bags off: it didn’t actually matter as the shops were boarded up and there was nowhere to go. There were a few free seats so we managed to sit together. Once the next flight left and lots of seats become free, the police came along and told us we had to sit on alternate seats for social distancing.
Eventually we managed to check in our bags and go through to the lounge area. There was no sparkling wine so we had G&T in tankards instead. Better than nothing, although (I hate to say this, Barry) there was no ice and instead of lemon we had orange slices from the fruit salad. Further intrigue when we got to the gate. The three of us were pulled aside and our tickets and passports minutely examined before we were allowed to board the plane. This delay was explained when we arrived in Doha, shortly after midnight, to be greeted by a very friendly chap who told us our flight was full and would we mind catching one 65 minutes later? We were each offered 300 Euros compensation so said fine. (Note to self, do not forget to claim this!).
After repairing to the Doha lounge (champagne available) and having breakfast we boarded the plane and were on our way to London. Huge sigh of relief. I’d arranged a car to pick us up. The driver very kindly asked if he could buy anything for us as there were shortages. He went to three different shops to find milk, bread and pasta. A driver I’ll continue to use and recommend! (He’s based in Chiswick if anyone near there needs a car).
FINALLY, we made it back to the London flat. The streets are deserted, our local tube station Pimlico is closed and whilst I was writing this, all restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs etc etc have to close. I think Subic Bay and the heat is looking more attractive every hour! (Ignoring the food and lack of good wine and the fact that they too have closed all eating establishments).
Next time, the Race results to date. Then I may go dark and maintain radio silence until the Race recommences, or I may continue with “Life in the Time of Coronavirus”. I’m not sure how much there is to write about deserted streets and the inability to socialise but we’ll see.