A week ago, heavily pregnant Marie-Michelle Larouche and her family were breathing a sigh of relief after they were given permission to dock their 31-foot sailboat at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club.
This week, the family of four – Larouche, her husband Philip Kelly, son Alexis, 8, and daughter Rosie, 2, find themselves in a comfortable three-bedroom condo on Seven Mile Beach after a Cayman Compass reader offered them a home on land where they could welcome their new baby girl.
The family, who had intended to fly back to their home in Canada when Larouche was 31 weeks pregnant, became stranded in Cayman after the borders to their next ports of call were closed and they did not want to risk being stuck at sea if they were refused entry at other destinations. They had only intended to be in Cayman for a day or two when they arrived in their sailboat, Ohana, in March.
The boat, on which the family has lived for a total of 13 months in two stints since September 2018, had been moored offshore in Governors Harbour for several weeks before being given special permission to tie up to one of the docks at the yacht club.
Condo owner Karin Scherfenberg read their story and decided to reach out to help.
She usually rents out the condo at Crescent Point, but because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the property had not been leased and was empty, so she invited the family to stay there free of charge.
“We decided to help this family out in these hard times,” she told the Compass. “Everyone needs a helping hand at some point. We are happy to accommodate this family and they have reached out to us with thank you pictures from their children.”
Larouche said she could barely believe the offer and the generosity behind it.
“Our very generous donor had an empty apartment and knowing she wouldn’t be able to rent it in the next few weeks because of the coronavirus situation, she thought we could enjoy the place for the delivery of the baby with no charge,” she said.
While she says they were “very comfortable in our boat and we are used to living in it”, they had never planned to be residing on it when she delivered the baby and certainly had not intended to have a newborn on board.
“The new place is absolutely amazing. We are now closer to the hospital. The place is fully furnished. We have air conditioning, which is in my opinion, because I’m eight months’ pregnant, the best feature,” she said.
The family didn’t have a lot to move, as there’s not much room on the Ohana for many possessions, plus Larouche described them as “very minimalist”.
The four are also now more mobile after they were lent a car by Patricia Johnson, who had read about their situation and wanted to help out.
For Alexis and Rosie, the move to the condo means they have more room to play.
“The kids are over-excited about the new place. Our 2 year old keeps on asking when she will be able to go in the pool, that she can see from the balcony, and our 8 year old cannot believe the size of the TV. We let him watch it for the whole day on Sunday. He already knows more about the TV features and channels than we do,” Larouche said.
Having a bigger place to live, when you’ve become accustomed to the intimate quarters of a sailboat, can have its downside.
“The first night, our oldest said he was feeling weird about sleeping so far from us so he asked if he could move his mattress into the room with us,” Larouche said.
But the comforts that landlubbers take for granted are being enjoyed wholeheartedly by the family.
“Again, we are very comfortable on our boat,” Larouche said, “however, being here and enjoying the air conditioning, the hot showers and the fresh unlimited tap water is definitely a plus. It will also make life much easier with the care of the newborn, like bathing and sleeping.”
Being on land with the baby due in just a few short weeks is helping with her stress levels, she admits. “I am more than ready to have this baby now,” she said.
Larouche also thanked her OB/GYN, Dr. Howard Deosaran at TrinCay Health Clinic, “who has generously accepted to help us with the delivery of the baby. Dr. Deosaran and his wonderful team have accepted to help us with the financial side of the delivery. I will be delivering at the HSA hospital.”
Following last week’s article, the family also received a supermarket voucher from another reader to help them with the cost of groceries. Earlier, they had also been gifted baby clothes and other supplies by members of the Real Women of Cayman Facebook group.
Larouche said any extra items that they were unable to use had been donated to Cayman Acts of Random Kindness (ARK) for another family in need.
The family set sail from Montreal, Canada, in 2018, and travelled down the east coast of the US and on to the Bahamas, where they stayed for three months before sailing to the Dominican Republic. They left the boat there from May until November 2019, while they went back to Canada for six months, but then they returned to their sailing adventure, retrieving the Ohana on 1 Dec.
Their plan was to visit Cuba, Cayman, Belize and Guatemala. They made it to Cuba and Cayman and had booked flights back to Montreal from Guatemala in mid-April, but with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to border closures around the region, their plans changed practically overnight and they found themselves stuck in Cayman.