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Traveling with Bill and Tracie Through the Start of a Pandemic

Grey Whale Spy-hopping

For some years now my husband Brian and I have explored remote places in Alaska and Baja on board Bill’s wonderful vintage ships – the Catalyst and the Westward. Brian is gone now, but I have continued to travel with Bill and Tracie both with my daughter-in-law (a previously confirmed big boat enthusiast) and solo. And I was on board the Westward in Baja in March when Covid-19 hit the world with a vengeance, while we were all happy and healthy and unaware of the new threat in our lives.

I have found the real test of any relationship or trip is what happens when things don’t go as planned – and that certainly was what happened on this trip… But what a wonderful adventure it was, with the memories of it keeping me good company now, as I cope with all that is changing daily in our lives.

Cemetery near Mulege, Baja California Sur, MexicoOur first change of plans came the second day, when our van was headed to the whale birthing lagoon in Laguna San Ignacio to pet some whales and spend the night. We were well on our way, when we were notified that the road had washed out during the night, stranding the folks who were already at the lagoon, and that there was no way we could get there. So we turned back to have lunch in Mulege and visit the Mission Santa Rosalia, before continuing back to Loreto with a stop to see some usually overlooked petroglyphs and a roadside cemetery of colorful little houses.

We spent the night back at a beach front hotel, where we were treated to an interesting, albeit very tardy, dinner prepared and served by a brand-new staff that seemed a bit lost. But the drinks were good and the companionship even better with lots of laughs.

Petting a Grey WhaleThe next morning we got an early start for the drive to Puerto Lopez Mateos, Bahia Magdalena, where we took two panga rides to see the grey whales that come right up to the boats to be petted. Really! It was a treat to see so many whales spy-hopping and some even breaching. All of it more than made up for missing out the day before.

The next day, when we boarded the Westward, we were treated to wonderful meals prepared by Tracie with her incredible talent in the galley. I’m sure the Westward is the only boat in the ocean that features fresh greens growing in the life boats on the top deck. I was assured that the greens could be removed in seconds, should we ever have to abandon ship…

The next few days went as planned, with kayaking, exploring remote beaches, visiting El Pardito, the little island where the folks come to our ship for their water supply, and snorkeling among creatures that are bigger than I am.

Pot StickersAnd then… Bill called a meeting. He had been in cell phone range and we had a decision to make: did we want to continue the trip as planned, or did we want to catch the first available flights home, as the Corona Virus was spreading and the US had issued a level 4 travel advisory. It was a unanimous vote to head home asap, which we did. Bill and Tracie did, ever so generously, offer to let me stay on board, knowing I had extra challenges being newly widowed; however I was anxious to get back, not knowing if I would be able to get home if I stayed.

En route to the airport we did a small detour to visit the home Bill and Tracie are building in Todos Santos. It looks wonderful – and hopefully they’ll get to move in before long, but not too permanently… I’m hoping they get to return to Alaska in the coming months and I’m booked to be on board come Labor Day.

And an addendum of more things that went wrong, but were righted with grace and good humor: I was truly appreciative of Gertrud (who handles Bill’s web site): she sent me a zip drive with photos of the trip not once, but twice, after the first one, that she heroically defied isolation and took to the post office, was stolen. I have, and still do enjoy watching the pictures on the zip drive, taking me back to a much happier time!

Author: Nancy Cochran, Guest