Tampa Bay novelist trapped on cruise ship during COVID-19 outbreak publishes new book

Citrus County

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (WFLA) – A bestselling novelist from Tampa Bay had quite the story to tell after surviving a coronavirus outbreak on a cruise ship overseas early in the pandemic.

“It was like we landed in a disaster movie,” Gay Courter told 8 On Your Side in an exclusive interview before Tuesday’s release of “Quarantine! How I Survived the Diamond Princes Coronavirus Crisis.”

The new book documents Gay and her husband Phil Courter’s experience on the cruise ship in Japan during the virus outbreak followed by a U.S. Department of State-led evacuation and quarantine at a Texas Air Force base before finally returning home to Citrus County.

“The reason I wrote the book is to show how little we knew in January, how the sequence really developed because now there’s all kinds of myths and stories about it, how dangerous the virus is and also the value of speaking up when you’re in trouble because people will listen,” Mrs. Courter said.

While confined to their cruise ship cabin, she said she knew they had to get off the Diamond Princess.

“I think the scariest thing for us was not just getting sick,” Courter explained, “but not be able to have each other to help through it.”

Courter said she remembers the ship’s captain announcing the first positive test just before they were about to disembark.

“Eventually over 700 people got it,” she said. “Fourteen people died.”

Courter has dedicated her book to those lives lost, the passengers who became ill, the captain and his crew, her husband, and their children.

Courter sounded the alarm about the unsafe conditions in a series of interviews with News Channel 8 and other national news outlets.

“I want to thank you, Justin, particularly for following us through the whole thing because we really felt like you had our backs,” Courter said.

Twelve days into a two-week quarantine on the ship, the U.S. government sent cargo planes to evacuate the Americans.

The Courters traveled from Tokyo to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio where they kept testing negative for the virus while having to quarantine again.

“It was unpleasant, it was difficult,” Courter said of the living conditions on the base. “We felt putting up with the quarantine, we were keeping America safe.”

Courter recalled the phone conversation with her son that inspired her to start writing the book.

“You have the best deal any writer ever had he said, you’re locked up for two weeks with nothing to do and you have a great story to tell,” Courter said.

Nearly 50 days after departing for what they hoped would be another dream vacation during their 53 years of marriage, the Courters finally returned home in early March.

“We get here on the beautiful Crystal River, look out and our hearts were full and said why would we go anywhere else,” Courter said.

Courter said she and her husband are not ready to get back on a cruise ship until there’s widespread distribution of an effective vaccine and more access to therapeutics.

“Quarantine! How I Survived the Diamond Princess Coronavirus Crisis” is being released on Tuesday.

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