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Seasick

Richard Quinn  |  March 24, 2020

I ATTEMPTED to check the markets the other day and everything was the same as the day before and the day before that. Had the world really stopped? No, it was Sunday. The fact is, I have no idea where I am or what day it is. I’m still in the Pacific on a ship full of senior citizens who outwardly have few concerns, except when the restaurants will open. But we are famous, because no South American port will let us dock out of concern some passengers may have the coronavirus.

A few days ago, we completed sailing the Straits of Magellan in such a fog we couldn’t see past the deck railing. Being in a fog pretty much describes my mindset, too. The mournful sound of the ship’s horn didn’t help. Our journey continued after sitting off the coast two days and then being refused entry into Punta Arenas, Chile.

Since starting this relaxing cruise, which cost me hundreds of thousands of frequent-flier miles, I’ve given up tracking my net worth after the losses hit $500,000. That includes major drops in municipal bond funds, a vehicle I thought would deliver gains to offset my stock market losses. Since January, my conservative dividend-paying utility stock has gone from $65 to $37. Where did I go wrong? For me, the real pandemic isn’t a virus, but rather some excruciating form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We got to see penguins. They just stood there, looking at us. We were there for the penguins’ amusement. They seemed unconcerned with the world, while perhaps thinking about their next fish. I’m thinking whether or not I can afford my next fish.

For days, we cruised north in the Pacific, seeking fuel and supplies. No port in South America will let us dock. Could it be the markets will start recovering before we find land? I feel like Charlie on the MTA, the song made famous by the Kingston Trio. Will we ever return?

Finally, we were allowed to refuel and take on supplies while at anchor off the coast of Valparaiso, Chile. That meant more than a two-day delay. The captain announced we would head through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, or perhaps go to Mexico, or head to San Diego. Sort of like the markets. Where are they going?

There’s a lot to do on the ship: mahjong, checkers, puzzles, scrabble, playing cards with your spouse or listening to the history of colored diamonds as told by people trying to sell them. All things I had managed to avoid until now, age 76.

Some days, when we aren’t in a port begging for food, we can go to the casino. There, my luck shines bright, $900 net on a 10-cent slot machine over three days. But alas, if we’re anchored off the coast, they can’t open the casino, or the sundry or gift shop, or thankfully the jewelry store. The word bracelet was being floated in our stateroom.

Should I have anticipated this mess, cancelled the trip and lost my money? My stress level would be lower. But in the end, we are going to get most of our money back. Let’s face it, if I were good at anticipating bad events, I would’ve made an early January switch in my 401(k) into the stable value fund. Instead, I moved money into stocks upon the dip, but I may have selected the wrong dip. What are my chances of getting that money back compared to, say, getting the trip money back? Within my lifetime, that is.

There are bright spots in the world. Back in the continental U.S., tattoo parlors are closed, so lots of extra money to invest. On the other hand, beauty salons are also closed, so I may get to see my wife of 51 years—whom I love dearly—with gray hair for the first time.

“Keep calm and carry on.” Sounds like sarcasm. Friends are on a ship off Brazil. They’re quarantined in their cabins for two weeks. Imagine solitary confinement with your spouse. Imagine if you had an inside cabin.

Hold everything. Breaking news.

Just as I finished that last sentence, it was announced we’re now confined to our cabins indefinitely. At least we have a balcony, plus I have my newfound South American friend, Mate. I’ve got all the official supplies—and, it seems, plenty of time to give it a try.

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include At SeaKnow Your Demons and Brain Meets Money. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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