Forgotten Citizens

My small family spent two years of our lives essentially stateless, stranded at sea, 18,000km from home, floating on 40ft of fiberglass. 'Freedom to transact' literally became a matter of life or death. This is our story.

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Australia locked its citizens out from returning during the pandemic. My family (wife and three kids 3, 5 and 6 months old) were sailing on a catamaran in the eastern Caribbean at the time. We ended up there for two years waiting out the pandemic.

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When the pandemic hit, we essentially became stateless. For a time, all countries within sailing distance closed their borders to Australian-flagged vessels. No flights or cruise ships. My son couldn't renew his passport, and we had to get him temporary (refugee) papers.

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Initially, we got locked down for 91 days on our boat in an overseas territory of France. The gendarme nautique (water police) prohibited us from leaving the boat. We technically weren't even allowed to swim off the boat at anchor.

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Early on, desperate to get the kids some exercise, we took the dinghy to an isolated beach. The gendarme came with guns and megaphones to enforce our isolation. The next day, a mini aircraft carrier arrived, and military control was implemented on the island.

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Hurricane season arrived while we were still in lockdown, ramping up the stress. We provisioned to head to sea if a hurricane approached; stateless, the last resort plan was to drift at sea, waiting out the season. I studied the weather manically.

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Months passed, hurricanes became imminent, the outlook dire; then Grenada saved us. They let 1,200 stranded boats in, despite their borders being completely shut. A tiny poor country was saving us when my own affluent country was blocking its citizens. This hit home hard.

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We sailed 3 days non-stop to Grenada. Too late in the season, we faced terrible weather, experiencing multiple frontal systems, winds of 30-40+ knots, and at one point, three tornadic waterspouts closed in around us while the gooseneck bolt on the boom vibrated loose.

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Two more weeks of quarantine, then freedom after 4 months restricted to the boat. NOAA then issued a hurricane warning with a track map directly over us. We scrambled to prepare and tie to the mangroves. Thankfully, it fizzled out and passed just south of us (blue dot).

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As time went by, we became forgotten citizens. 'Freedom to Transact' issues began to arise. We had been living in Canada for the 3 years prior on global expert visas. Canada had also locked us out (it remained open to citizens & PR but not to work visa holders).

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Our Canadian bank cards expired, and we needed to physically be in Canada to activate new ones. Subsequently, our online banking account was suspended for suspicious activity. Again, we were required to go into a branch to remedy, which was impossible.

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Our Australian bank access also became restricted. After roaming overseas for too long, our Australian phone SIMs expired and we lost access to our 2FA numbers needed for access to our bank accounts there.

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To obtain a new SIM, we needed to provide government-approved ID and activate from within Australia. Again, the familiar response was 'come into the bank and we can sort this out'. Loss of freedom of movement essentially led to a loss of freedom to transact.

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Fortunately, we had access to family who could help us out, and the bank agreed, after much pleading over the phone, to accept a phone number of a family member for 2FA. But the lesson was clear: without Freedom to Transact, you have very limited options to sustain life.

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The Australian government had also placed a Level 4 travel ban on the entire world for its citizens, previously reserved only for war zones. This immediately rendered both our travel and health insurance policies void due to exemption clauses for travel to Level 4 areas.

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The Panama Canal then shut to vessels under 80ft. And so began two, often stressful, years at sea, 18,000km from home, reliant on the benevolence of small foreign countries to provide the very shelter that our own country refused to render.

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In this crazy chapter of our lives, we faced numerous challenges, yet savoured incredible family experiences. Chiseled by the stress, we entered a heightened state of existence, ultimately transforming it into the most extraordinary time of our lives.

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Navigating through immense technical and geopolitical intricacies, we journeyed using little more than wind across 15 countries & territories during the pandemic. With the absence of cruise ships/flights, the Caribbean's remote tranquility echoed the serenity of the 1950s.

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Sailing into endless sunsets, dolphins playfully surfed our bow's wake, as the stars emerged in the evening sky. We saw numerous volcanic islands materialise on the horizon, and explored untouched jungles and secluded waterfalls.

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We spent time with the kids wildlife spotting for monkeys, iguanas, bird colonies. Exploring volcanic landscapes, relaxing in hot springs. Swimming and diving over the reef with turtles and schools of fish. Just enjoying the sea and each other as we watch the kids grow up.

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Endless hours at the beach meeting other stranded families from all over the world with vastly different backgrounds but ultimately a shared story. A common experience to bond us together.

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We ran our own renewable power systems; solar and wind into a lithium bank. We made our own water via a small desalination unit, caught our own fish. Drank rum punch and watched the green flash from more remote beaches than one could expect to see in tens of lifetimes.

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Not all roses obviously. The flip side was the challenges of raising a baby girl and two boys including doing home school in a confined space. Coming up to speed under duress as landlubbers with the realities of sailing, navigation, weather routing, and all boat systems.

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Constantly working on the seemingly infinite list of boat maintenance jobs. Endless time spent provisioning and looking for parts. Fitting in the time to work remotely to keep us alive financially. Dragging anchor in midnight squalls, having other boats drag around you.

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Enduring sleep deprivation from anchor alarms and a breastfeeding infant, we somehow persevered on multi-day sails without access to additional crew, testing our limits. We then faced extended lockdowns and quarantines everywhere upon arrival.

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The mental angst of that initial 91 days of lockdown in the hurricane belt hoping that boarders would open somewhere for Australian flagged vessels before the hurricane season started will be with me for life. Certainly the hardest thing we have done as a family.

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The 18 months that followed was a sublimely beautiful yet at times crushingly difficult; in hindsight the most meaningful time in our lives. When we finally made it home to Australia after two years floating on 40ft of fiberglass, it felt like an alternate reality.

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People at home stressing about the smallest of issues and arguing over trivial things. The Australia I left, a nation of prolific travellers, was now scared of foreigners in a way I had never thought possible in my life. Something had been lost in the population here.

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They had their own lockdown trauma. In a bizarre way being stranded at sea liberated us from it. Forged by circumstance, intermeshed into the physical world around us, our preconceived boundaries of what was possible in life physically and emotionally had been removed.

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Yet in other ways it led to a kind of PTSD reintegrating into society. Everyone took for granted simple freedoms like freedom of movement, freedom to always be able to return to your home country, and freedom to transact. We knew first hand how fragile it all was.

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I held back releasing ocean work or even this story as I needed time to process the experience. After two years of being back on land I created the Intrepid Ocean series https://foundation.app/collection/intrepidocean) to attempt to work though these thoughts and emotions.
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The experience highlighted the fragility of the global norms and governance systems we take for granted. I strongly recommend everyone reads punk6529's thread on why freedom to transact underpins all other rights.

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Now after three years back in Australia we are heading back to our boat in the Caribbean to finish what we started. The kids are now 4,8,10. So here we are again on the precipice about to jump off. To find out who we truly are, as individuals, as a family.

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Thanks for reading to the end. I have had some issues on X/Twitter with this post being censored. Sad to see. At least we still have Hive as an immutable record of things.

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Conspiracy theorist that I am I feel that stories like yours seem to show what the panpanic was really about.

Glad you were able to get some great experiences out of it. And agree with Galen, sounds like it would make a great book :)

Hahaha I love it, panpanic is really what it was! I’m gonna steal that one thanks :D

Steal away, I stole it from @tarazkp I think, it is a great description XD

Yep was a crazy time.

Epic man, and a book waiting to happen I think, maybe in the form of a journal/diary format.

You've walked some paths, sailed oceans, faced adversity and...well, here you are still standing and on the brink of another epic adventure. I'm looking forward to seeing some more photos, as you know I've been a huge fan in the past and still am.

Thanks mate. Was a crazy time and glad to be back here on hive.

This tyranny is exactly what made the whole thing completely egregious and psychotic. Coming up to you, standing on a beach with nobody else around so your kids can play and burn energy with weapons and then a military boat? Fucked up dude, in so many ways.

It’s definitely given you a crash course in life outside the various systems so many people are accustomed to and soft towards. 90% of the people would buckle under that fucking insane pressure, kudos to you and your strong family. It’s definitely not easy but your family will remember this for the rest of their lives. It’s pretty close to what people had to go through in the early days of the civilizations, with the exception of having some good technology with you of course.

Thanks mate. Was crazy times for sure. Not sure how we got though it tbh but at the time you have no choice.

How amazing are these photographs!

It's heartbreaking to read what you and your family have been through, but on the other hand, as you say

in hindsight the most meaningful time in our lives.

These are the times when you learn a lot about yourself, your limits and the world in general. It comes at a high cost, unfortunately. I can also understand why you waited for so long to share your story, as it's never easy to talk about these things. Thank you! It's a lesson for all of us!

I'm looking forward to reading about your next adventure. Good luck and be safe!

Wow what a difficult story. Wonderful that you are about to go out again. Good on you. Your story emphasizes the perils of government overreach even in the name of an emergency. The civil libertarians have lost their way. Where is the outrage? A right is a right is a right.

Yep there was almost reverse outrage; like people were angry at us like we put them out for not coming back when having no idea how impossible the situation was and that coming back was not a possible option.

Such beautiful photos!🙀 And you have definitely enriched yourself with your experiences. In the “normal” environment of that time, I also spent the best time with my two daughters, without TV or radio.
Despite many difficulties, you came out better than most of the others who remained in the madness of back then.
I wish you all the best and hope that a movie about your adventures will be released one day.

Thanks. Certainly was a mad time for a lot of people. We at least had our independence and freedom (in an extreme kind of way)

What an experience and so glad you recorded it and those amazing pictures and shared them with us.

Thanks Sara. Appreciate you and good to see your still here ;-)

Book! Book! Book, now! Your journey is beyond unbelievable to me. I cannot start to imagine what you had to go through, let alone with the struggles of raising your children, the stress you had to go through without being able to let it out, the tranquil moments of being one with nature and free, yet being totally confined. The last few words make me feel like you felt like you had been on a time-travelling trip, only to return home to a society that was completely different. I have goosebumps. The journey, the struggles, the betrayal, the bonding, the family, it is all incredible. I know one thing, your kids are gonna excel in life. They have learnt, from you, the most unique lessons.

Freedom to transact is very apt. Bureaucracy is a hell hole. Over 600 days and I am still frozen out of my accounts. They want me to be present in person in Kharkiv. Unbelievable. It still is nothing compared to how destitute it must have felt being afloat and stuck.

Thanks for taking the time to read it ; it was a crazy time for a lot of people around the world.

Oh my God! That was a very long trip! Hopefully this time things will go more easy 😅

Unbelievable story. It can become a great movie. Gorgeous images.