2020 A Strangely Wonderful Year

I guess it goes without saying that 2020 has been an odd year at best with Covid, lockdowns and all that came along with the pandemic. Of course if you’re from the US as we are there’s the rioting and election issues that only added to the chaos of 2020. Here on Dazzler, however, we’ve chosen to reflect upon the positive things that happened because we believe there truly is a silver lining to every cloud. Here’s a review of how 2020 treated us and the blessing we found in each moment.

January 5th started the strange events of 2020 when at 1500 in the afternoon we looked outside and saw the most bizarre sight. In the span of twenty minutes or so the sky changed from a brilliant blue with puffs of white to the most extraordinary shades of orange and red. It felt eerie and surreal and even somewhat apocalyptic. The air was thick with tiny bits of ash falling from the sky landing on the deck of Dazzler. We closed her up to keep the smoke and ash from coming inside. I put a t-shirt over my nose and mouth when outside so as not to breathe in the particulates as I knew they would not play well with my asthma.

The source you ask? A giant plume of smoke traveled the 4000 km (2485 miles) from Australia to New Zealand. Australia had been suffering calamitous wildfires since September and the smoke was so thick that it finally drifted across the Tasman sea to the our shores. A reminder of the devastation happening in Australia, it did create a beautiful, even if a bit ominous, sky that day.

At the end of January we put Dazzler on the hard at Harbourside Boat Works so that we could go back to the States to see our family for five weeks. We spent three fabulous weeks in Florida visiting Jilly’s family and friends. Then it was back to California for a couple of weeks to see Dan’s terrific crew. As always there were too many people to see and not enough time to see them all but we had a wonderful time and enjoyed every second.

We arrived back in New Zealand at the end of February and promptly began working on getting Dazzler’s bottom painted. We also picked up Sparkle after she had new tubes put on by Seafarers Inflatables. Our plan….spend the next two months preparing to head back to the islands. We’d finish up the bottom paint, do a few other maintenance items, sell the car and sail back to Fiji where we’d spend a month visiting small villages and handing out some of the 2000+ books we amassed for the children. After that we’d take some time to do a little more sailing in the Yasawas, head on to New Caledonia and Vanuatu and then end the cruising season in Australia where we’d spend New Year’s Eve watching the fireworks in Sydney Harbor. Oh yes, we had a banner year planned. But, as they say, “If you want to see God laugh, just tell him your plans.”

Less than two weeks after putting Dazzler back in the water and getting set up at the Whangerie Town Basin Marina New Zealand went into stage four lockdown. We now look back and remember how all us cruisers were talking about what would happen if we went into lockdown but no one really thought it would happen. Oh how wrong we were about that.

One day into the lockdown and I tore my calf muscle simply walking up the gangway to do laundry. Of course there is a bonus here….I did get out of doing laundry that day and for several weeks afterward! Just ten days later on my first day off of crutches I slipped in the marina shower and fractured several vertebrae. And while most people would look at this and think it’s awful, I choose to look at it completely differently. These two things could have happened to me anywhere, especially out at sea. Instead, they happened in a first world country where I have access to excellent doctors and facilities to help me. I learned through the process that I have Osteopororis and need to be on medication for it. And, since these issues were accidents that happened in New Zealand the vast majority of my treatment was covered under their ACC plan even though I am not a citizen. I literally received thousands of dollars in care for a few hundred US dollars. Now there’s definitely something good to be found in that.

New Zealand graciously extended all the visitor visas so we weren’t required to fly back to the states and leave our home behind. They were extended until the end of September. Not knowing if they’d do another blanket extension, in July we set about making a formal application to be sure we would be allowed to stay here until the end of cyclone season which ends on 30 April each year. 

This required that we both get complete physicals, chest X-rays and bloodwork. It’s not a cheap process to be sure but one that ended up being well worth it. We learned that Dan’s blood pressure is a tad high and he is in need of maintenance medication. Once again being  here and learning this while on land, not after he suffered a major medical event at sea, is a blessing. Just one more thing to be thankful for this year.

And there are more wonderful things that came in 2020. Once the lockdowns were over we took advantage of the extra time to explore the North Island of New Zealand by car. We took dozens of day trips from Whangerie to Opua over to Dargaville and down to Auckland. We visited some of the most beautiful parks and waterfalls we’ve ever seen and along the way we found some great restaurants and met some really wonderful people. (Be sure to check back as we upload photo galleries of our day trips. New Zealand is a truly beautiful place.)

Speaking of people…being here for this long has allowed us to spend time really getting to know the locals. Traveling and meeting the locals is something we love but so often times we don’t get an opportunity to really know them. This year, however, we got our chance. We’ve actually made some very great friends here in New Zealand and for that we are truly grateful. One of our new friends, Jeff, a mate we met at our local watering hole, even shot three turkeys and delivered some wonderfully fresh turkey breasts to us. YUMMY! And, we even got to spend a more time with our Kiwi family. Being a part of their life which included a new baby, birthdays and a wonderful Thanksgiving there this year was such a treat. Had we left in May we would have missed all of these fabulous family moments. 

We took advantage of the great travel prices after lockdown and spent ten days in Queenstown with our dear friends from SV SuAn during the winter months. Even though we really don’t like the cold we did enjoy the chance to see snow and relax by some cozy, warm fires with a glass of mulled wine. 

Whangerie Falls

In July we were aboard Dazzler one evening as a terrible rainstorm went on outside. Low and behold it turned out to be what they called, “The 500 Year Flood of 2020. We received 220 mm of rain in a 24 hour period. Even as the storm began to dissipate there was 40-60 mm of rain coming down an hour! It was crazy and yet here we were down below and never thought it was anymore than just a bad rainstorm.

We woke in the morning to find debris covering the top of the water in the marina and began to learn of the destruction. All across Northland trees were down, roads were undermined, mountainsides had slipped onto roads, farms, houses and businesses were flooded. It was absolutely crazy! And to think we never realized what was happening. What good came from that? Well, we looked out that morning and saw yachties from all over the marina gathering together in their dinghies to help remove the debris from the water so it wasn’t banging up on other people’s boats. People across North Island were helping each other. Everyone came together to help each other. And….the waterfalls around North Island were simply spectacular after the storm so Mother Nature turned devastation into beauty.

A wonderful first happened for me this year. Dan took me to the Great Moscow Circus. Yes, I grew up in Bradenton, Florida just a hop, skip and a jump from Sarasota which is home to Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus yet I never ever went to the circus. Dan made sure that was rectified here in 2020 when the circus came to town. What a wonderful treat this was for me!

Being here longer also allowed us to do some upgrades to Dazzler including the new cushions in the saloon and a brand new mainsail. Dan went into maintenance mode varnishing down below including the galley and nav station. We got new intermediate shrouds made and Dan installed them. He also serviced the mast, boom and line clutches. He rebuilt the head, rerouted the foredeck halyards, built shelves for my locker and reworked all the scarf joints on the cap rails. My man even dug deep into a few sewing projects as well. He sewed dinghy chaps, made two purses from our old mainsail and replaced a large section of our awning. Oh yes, he had a chance to do some deck work too. Being here longer has definitely turned out to be a blessing for us and for Dazzler.

As for me, I’ve spent months reworking our DazzlersWatch website adding lots of great stuff for cruisers and travelers who come behind us. There’s maps, charts, cruising guides, business information and hundreds of new photos. Currently I’m working on Phase II where I’ll be adding information on car travel New Zealand and cruising Fiji as well language pages with the common phrases that will help you get by in any of the countries we’ve visited. Seems there’s always something to work on even though we’re retired.

One of the greatest things to happen in 2020 is that some cruisers who actually did head out to Fiji took boxes of books with them and close to 1000 books did actually make it into the hands of children there. When the first set of photos came in to us I was in tears for hours. Just seeing how happy something as seemingly insignificant as a book could be to a child is beyond humbling. The books, distributed by SV Pogeyan and SV Archer made it from the Lau Group to the Yasawas bringing smiles to the faces of the grateful children of Fiji.

Yes, we’ve so many things to be thankful for this year and while it could seem like 2020 was a bust because we didn’t get to go cruising the islands, it turns out it was exactly as it was meant to be and for us….it was a fabulously blessed year.

What’s on the schedule for 2021 you ask? We’re going to head out after the first of the year to do a little cruising around New Zealand. Right now we hope to go over the top of North Island and then head south all the way to Milford Sound and Invercargill before coming up the east side. Fully circumnavigating New Zealand can be tricky but we certainly hope to get it done.

And, we’re certainly hoping that we’ll get a chance to head back to Fiji and then on to Australia as cruising season approaches in at the end of April. Of course there’s no guarantees so as always, we will write our plans in the sand at low tide and wait to see what happens with the surf rolls in.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

Author: Dan & Jilly

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