The Current

After COVID-19 turned his voyage into months of floating lockdown, this Canadian is finally sailing for home

Canadian sailor Alan Mulholland has been stuck in Martinique for weeks because of lockdown, but is now starting his month-long journey back home.

P.E.I. man's round-the-world trip was struck first by a rogue wave, then the pandemic

Alan Mulholland has spent three and a half months in lockdown on his small boat in Martinique, after the pandemic interrupted his round-the-world-trip. (Alan Mulholland)

Alan Mulholland was six months into a round-the-world solo sailing trip in January when disaster struck in the middle of the Atlantic. 

"I was hit by a rogue wave that picked my little eight-metre boat up and crashed it on its side," said Mulholland, who left P.E.I. solo on his boat, Wave Rover, last July. 

The boat took on "quite a bit of damage, and [I] broke or cracked a couple of ribs," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Mulholland set course for the French Caribbean island of Martinique to get fixed up — but became trapped there when the pandemic struck.

He spoke with Galloway about his months in lockdown in the Caribbean port, and how he's finally able to make the voyage home. Here is part of their conversation.

Mulholland said he spent around a year fixing up his boat, the Wave Rover, before setting off last July. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

When did you realize that this pandemic was starting to sweep around the world?

I was talking to my wife almost every day, so I knew what was going on. And at first, I think like most folks, we thought it would be over fairly quickly, and I was really thankful that I was in such a nice place, you know, Martinique.

But at a certain point, the lockdown started happening and no boats could leave Martinique at all. They weren't allowed to travel to any of the other islands because they all have their own jurisdictions. And we weren't even allowed to travel from the ports that we were currently in to more open anchorages because the gendarme wanted to contain, potentially, the virus.

So I've been in the same spot, more or less now, for three and a half months.

Can you get onto the mainland and go into a town or something like that to buy supplies? How does that work?

We were allowed to do that. We had to have a written form with the date and the time that we would be going ashore. And it had to be filled out every single time you went ashore. But everything has changed this week now. Things are starting to open up.

Mulholland, pictured aboard the Wave Rover, had intended to sail the small boat around the world for a couple of years. (Wave Rover/Facebook)

You're there in paradise. I'm sure it's beautiful. You could ride this out, presumably. Why are you thinking that you need to try to get back home?

It is paradise for about six months of the year. But then in the other six months, more or less starting this month, the hurricanes start rolling through the Caribbean. And of course, you know how devastating they can be.

This is well within the hurricane belt. So people are a little anxious about their investments because they want to head south to the hurricane-free zone, down by Trinidad and Tobago. But they're not allowed to make any plans yet because those islands aren't open.

The other option was big freighters came here a few weeks ago for those who could afford it. They had their vessels lifted on the ships and sent home and then they were able to fly back to their countries of origin.

The people like myself, we have to wait until this time because the hurricanes are coming, yes, but the North Atlantic storms are still there. And there's a six-week window, statistically, that is the safest time, and it starts right in the middle of May and goes to the end of June. And that's the time I'll be transiting back to Canada.

There's no guarantee that there won't be heavy weather or storms or challenging conditions, but statistically, it's the safest period. 

Mulholland made this video of highlights of part of his trip. (Wave Rover/Facebook)

Tell me about the trip. How long will it take for you to get home?

It could take up to four weeks, and that's because my boat is so small — I don't have an engine.

So if the wind doesn't blow, I'm really stuck in one spot. In a funny way, it's likely to happen as I transit the Bermuda Triangle. It's an area of variables where the wind gets very light. I could be stuck there, but not for any nefarious reason, more because the wind's not blowing.

When you're out there in the middle of the ocean, what is it like?

Oh, it's great. I really enjoy it. It's peaceful for the most part. It's a great time to reflect on life. And at the same time, there's a few moments of terror every now and then, as the wind starts screaming. 

I had crossed the Pacific 25 years ago, solo in a boat the same size as this. So I've had the incredible good fortune to be able to cross the Pacific solo and now to have crossed the Atlantic solo twice.

This might be the end of my career when I get back to Canada, but I don't want to say that for sure.

Mulholland completed another solo voyage 25 years ago, that time across the Pacific Ocean. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Your wife is back on P.E.I.?

She's back on P.E.I. and she's very much looking forward to me getting home safely.

We're in this unprecedented moment where the world, in some ways, has changed, and you've been out bobbing in the ocean in Martinique, kind of unable to get home.... What is it like to be removed from friends and family while all this is happening?

It is uncomfortable. But one of the things that happens — and I don't wanna brag about this, but — having a Canadian flag helps so much. We're so approachable as Canadians. It's not as though I've been totally away from friends and family, I've made new friends.

You couldn't have predicted this when you set out.

Couldn't have predicted it. But of all the places to be stuck, the French territories here in the Caribbean are really well-run, and the essential services in the form of baguettes and cheese and wine are excellent. 

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Joana Draghici. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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