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Stranded Sailors

If you are like us you are probably sick and tired of hearing about Covid so we are going to do our best to keep that beast out of our posts moving forward. That said, we have had several followers ask how this is affecting us as nomadic seagoing adventurers. Well the old sea hag, Covid, certainly has put a damper on our 2020 cruising season. Right now instead of wearing long sleeves, sweatpants and wool slippers we should be dangling on the hook at some tropical island in Fiji or Vanuatu doing some snorkeling or hanging out in our hammocks in the cockpit. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We, as well as several hundred other yachties are stuck here in New Zealand due to border closings.

The fact is that Fiji did open their borders to the yachting community several weeks ago with their “blue lane” process. Prior to leaving New Zealand crews must have a negative Covid test that is taken less than 48 hours prior to departure. It also requires crews to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Fiji but they do count the time at sea as part of that quarantine. They are allowing yachties to do their quarantine on their own boats at anchor. It’s our understanding that a few additional forms need to be filled out and they have people come to your boat twice a day to ensure you are not violating the quarantine. They also have their medical people check everyone’s temperature once a day. At the end of the quarantine you are required to get a Covid test and if all goes well you are granted permission to sail the magnificent and magical islands of Fiji. The fact is, it’s not a a bad process and seems very reasonable. Obviously the entrance fees are a bit more with having to pay for your testing but as we always say, “Nothing is free or cheap in Water World.”

Some boats have already taken off from New Zealand to enjoy the winter in paradise while others, such as ourselves, have decided this year we will just stay put. Why? Why would we want to spend our days living in cold and wet conditions if we could be sipping little fruity drinks with colorful umbrellas on some sandy beach overlooking crystal clear waters? Well, I’ll tell ya Shoutie….

Getting to Fiji and enjoying it’s beauty is only part of the equation. The other part of it is that you need someplace to go when cyclone season starts on 1 November. You see, Fiji is in the cyclone belt whereas New Zealand and Australia are not. If you are not a Kiwi you will not be allowed to return to New Zealand and just this week Australia has relocked down their borders. So if you don’t have a safe harbor to sail to for the season then you are left with keeping your boat in Fiji and taking your chances that a major cyclone doesn’t come and destroy your home. Given that Fiji experienced not just one but two major cyclones last year we’re perfectly content to stay here and continue exploring this amazing country for another ten months.

There are options for putting your boat on the hard in Fiji. One option is at Vuda Marina where they actually put yachts in pits to protect them from toppling over in high winds. Of course if there’s a major storm surge then the pit just puts the boat in a position to be flooded and possibly floated out to sea. Also, if you choose to put your boat in a pit at Vuda you are required to leave it there for the entire six months of cyclone season. That certainly limited your options. And, there’s the issue of where you stay while your boat is on the hard or in the pit. Sure, you can live on the boat on the hard but having done this I can tell you it’s no picnic. You can’t use the head for starters so you have to use the marina facilities each time you have to answer Nature’s call. And even if you can deal with all of these things there is the really big issue which is that most boat insurance companies require your boat to be out of the cyclone belt which is south of 27° S, so if you stay there you have to know that you will not be covered in the event of any damage. For those of us whose boat is our only home, this simply is not an option so many, if not most of the yachties here in New Zealand have decided to stay until next year.

Of course it’s not as easy as just saying, “Oh yeah, we’ll stay here.” For those who are not accustomed to dealing with visas and immigration let me explain. You see, when you come to New Zealand on your boat you are granted a 90 day tourist visa allowing you to stay and visit. There is a book’s worth of paperwork that has to get done for the boat but the immigration part is quite simple as this visa is automatically granted. If you leave the country for at least 30 days before that visa expires you get another 90 days when you return. This is when we plan our trips back to the states. We leave just a few days before the visa expires and when we return we get another 90 days. That gets us through cyclone season and into the beginning of the Summer cruising season when we take off for other lands.

When the old hag Covid came along hundred of yachties were just about to begin preparations to set sail to the tropics for six months but then borders starting closing and we were essentially stranded. Sure, most of us could have flown to our home countries but we’d be leaving our one and only home with no idea whatsoever when we would be able to return. For obvious reasons that simply isn’t an option for most of us. And, at the time, plane fare back to the states was running in the neighborhood of $4000-$6000 per person! OUCH!!!!

Much to the delight of us “stranded sailors” New Zealand in her typical welcoming fashion gave all of us an extension to our visas until 25 September 2020. That was much appreciated news as we learned that borders were slamming shut in early March and we all started to frantically get documents together to apply for extended visas. This automatic extension gave us all a little breathing room and allowed us to wait to see what would happen.

Fast forward to August. Here we still sit knowing that there really is no place to go and there’s been no official word as to what will happen with our visas. Many cruisers are taking the “wait and see” approach just hoping New Zealand will automatically grant another extension. That’s not really the way we do things on Dazzler. After all, it’s not New Zealand’s problem, this is our problem so we decided we would do as we do with everything and take preventative measures.

As the secretary aboard Dazzler I went online and began to fill out the forms to extend our visas until next June. The forms process is not really that big of a deal. They require updated passport photos, bank statements, explanation letters etc.. And, since we are trying to extend our visa longer than 12 months we were required to get bloodwork to be sure we don’t have HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis, etc.., chest x-rays to be sure we don’t have Tuberculosis and a full medical exam. The cost for the application fee and all this other fun stuff, aside from a couple of days of our time, came to around $450 USD per person. No, it wasn’t cheap but it also certainly didn’t seem unreasonable either. After all, the Kiwis have a right to ensure that visitors here are not going to be an undue burden on their social systems. Hmmm…what a novel concept eh???

We got our application and medicals done and submitted last week just to be certain our application was there in plenty of time. This week we’ve learned that due to the efforts of NZ Marine Association and others within the country who understand the value of having yachties stay, that there is talk of granting yachties a 12 month extension on a case by case basis. You see, the yachting and tourism industries here obviously want us to stay. I just read an article that states yachties who come here for cyclone season spend on average of $20,000 NZD and many spend much, much more as they take advantage of the world class marine industry in making repairs and refits to our yachts. This doesn’t include the money we spend on food, clothing, marina fees, travel etc… We definitely do help to support their country and at a time when international tourism here has come to a halt it only makes sense to keep those people here who are self sufficient and spending lots of money.

So yes, this news was certainly welcome and while some may see this as something that will come free, we feel like it means they are going to require that each person go through the extension process. We’re very happy to know that all of our information is in the hands of immigration already. As it sits now we are fully expecting that our applications will be approved and we will stay until June 2021. If it is not, well, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

And, while this is not an issue for Dazzler, there are many yachties out here facing another complicating factor and that is that here in New Zealand if your boat remains in the country for 24 continuous months you are required to import it into the country. This means a yacht could incur tens of thousands of dollars in import and duty fees. Not many of us are just sitting on that type of cash so for those who are in this situation it’s an even bigger worry. Today we received excellent news for our friends and fellow sailors awaiting updates on their Temporary Import Permits. The government has offered them a one time blanket extension until July 2021. We know many who are breathing a huge sigh of relief and are probably celebrating with gusto right now. As for the visas, we expect to hear an official announcement on that in the coming days.

So as you can see the evil Covid wench has definitely created a stir in more ways than just how the virus is affects the health of people, economies and the never ending mask debates. It has many side effects for the stranded sailors, not just in New Zealand, but all over the world. As for us, we intend to make the most of our time here in New Zealand by getting out and exploring as much of the country as possible. After all, you know what they say, “When the world hands you Kiwis, blend them up with a little ice and vodka and enjoy the ride.”

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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Dazzler, The Medical Ship

Dazzler, The Medical Ship

Posted 31.5.2021

Okay, okay…we know. It’s been a while since our last post. We’ve received comments from several people wondering where we are and what is happening. We certainly appreciate the concern from our followers. Thank you! For all of you who are worried or just want to know what’s going on with the Dazzler crew, here’s a little update.

We’re still here in New Zealand and like the rest of the world we entered lockdown the first of April. You know they could have picked either the day before or day after…. seriously, April Fool’s Day? Guess the NZ government has a pretty good sense of humor. 

Lockdown level 4 for us meant that only grocery stores, gas stations and medical facilities were open for the most part. Everyone was to shelter in place just like the rest of the world. We were fortunate here at the marina in Town Basin in that they still allowed us to use the communal showers and laundry facilities. Of course there were strict rules with only one person or family bubble allowed in the building at a time.

The grocery stores allowed only one family member in at a time and quite interestingly, the Kiwis followed the rules to the letter and no one complained. In fact, everyone was in pretty good spirits about it. They just did as asked. This was quite different from what we saw happening in the U.S. so we were very happy to be here rather than at home.

The first accident scene!

As for the lockdown itself, well, Dazzler became a top-notch medical treatment facility complete with one of the finest Medical Officers around, Captain Dan. Let me explain. The day after lockdown started I was walking up the ramp at the dock to go do laundry and literally tore an inch long tear in my right calf muscle. Sunny beach that hurt! Off to the White Cross Emergency Clinic and a couple of hours later I returned with a lovely set of crutches, some non-addictive pain meds and instructions to lay low and rest for a couple of weeks. Of course Dan’s comment was, “That’s a pretty extreme way to get out of doing laundry.” Well what can I say? It worked! Got me out of cleaning and cooking duty too!

Ten days later I was doing really well and decided I could go without crutches. We took a nice walk around the marina that day and I was thrilled to be somewhat back to normal. That evening Dan decided I could shower at the marina facilities rather than on Dazzler. Not that there’s anything wrong with showering on board but we do use our shower for storage so each time I showered Dan would have to take everything out and then wipe it down after I showered and put it all back. Yes, it’s sort of a hassle. Anyway, off to the showers we went.

In the marina showers you pay $1 NZD for 6 minutes of hot water. You can have all the freezing cold water you want or can stand but it’s pretty darn cold so a buck is pretty reasonable. I usually take two coins with me just in case I need them but most of the time 6 minutes does the trick. Just before the hot water shuts off you hear a clicking sound. That lets you know the cold stuff is on its way. On this particular evening I didn’t hear said clicking sound. Maybe it was the street noise outside or maybe I was just not paying attention. Either way, with face into the water stream I was suddenly blasted with what felt like tiny ice crystals pelting my face and shoulders. Oddly I didn’t “jump” back, rather I slowly stepped back onto my right leg. I guess I was still trying to baby it and didn’t step real solidly on it and before I knew what was happening I was crashing onto the top of the 5” x 5” raised step between the shower and concrete floor outside. Son of a biscuit eater and holy Mother of God did that hurt like hell! 

I came down hard on my left side and back. Everything was going black and I started screaming for Dan who was in the other shower.  Of course the door was locked so I crawled over to unlock it. The entire time I’m writhing in pain and screaming for him to get in there before I passed out. He’s in the middle of his shower so he had to dry off and get clothes on. It seemed like it took him forever but I’m sure it was just a couple of minutes.

Add to it that I didn’t get the door completely unlocked so he had to break into the shower room. Fortunately for me he knew the trick to open these type of community doors. That’s my McGiver man! Once again we see there’s nothing he can’t do.

I believe I must have blacked out for a moment or two because I opened my eyes just in time to see Dan come blazing through the doorway with his Captain Save-A-Hoe cape flying behind him. I’m lying on my back on the cold, metal shower floor and everything God gave me was just flapping in the breeze. Things start going black again and I’m hyperventilating as I laid there on the icy floor. 

So here I am half conscious, stark naked, cold and wet and he says… “Do you want me to call the ambulance?“ 

“Do you want me to shove a hot poker up your a**? HELL NO! What is the matter with you?” 

That’s a nightmare I’ve played out in my head for years. Just what I want is a couple of paramedics to come in to rescue me while my hoo-ha is sticking out there like the eye of Cyclops and my boobs are flopping from side to slide like I’m bull riding all the while screaming profanities like a sailor on a sinking ship. 

“No thank you. I’ll just die here! You can cover me with the shower curtain when I’m gone.”

After I screamed some sense into his foolish man brain we set about getting me dry and clothed. If I was going in an ambulance I was going to be properly dressed. It took about twenty minutes to get me up and dressed. By that time I’d decided nothing was broken and all I wanted was to get back on the boat. Walking was difficult at best so it took another ten or fifteen minutes to walk me back to Dazzler. Here I spent the next few weeks in complete misery being nursed back to health by the ever diligent and assertive Medical Officer who also happens to be the Captain on Dazzler. His tactics are, as he calls them, “firm but fair” and he doesn’t miss a thing but I’ve no doubt he has my best interest at heart.

The bruise itself was massive. It went from my spine around my left side and down my hip and thigh. Leg injury? What leg injury? I have a leg injury? Really…I can’t feel anything but the pain raging through back, my left side and my hip as my bum tingles and with a lovely numbing burning sensation that surely is the work of Satan himself.

I’ve seen the doctor multiple times throughout the lockdown for this injury and it turns out I fractured a vertebrae and compressed three disks. Yeah, I know. I’m a go big or go home kind of gal. The thing that bothers me most is I don’t even have some great story filled with pirates and rum to go along with it. I’m just simple a middle aged woman who walked up a ramp, tore a calf muscle and then fell in the shower injuring her back. 

I’m sitting here thinking that I’ve traveled over 15000 nautical miles in seas that most normal people would never dream of sailing. I’ve walked on decks that were pitching and rolling 30° from side to side with green water crashing over me. I’ve used sharp knives preparing meals in the same conditions and yet my worst injuries happen walking up a freaking dock and taking a shower. Where’s the adventure in that???

One quick note here about the New Zealand medical situation. Here in NZ if you are injured as a result of an accident it doesn’t matter if you are a citizen or not, your medical care is covered almost 100%. Throughout all of the doctor’s visits, vascular scans, x-rays, medications, specialists etc…we were only out of pocket around $200 USD! In the states we figure we’d already have been up close to $10K.  

And, last week the specialist decided they wanted me to have a battery of blood tests to be sure I don’t have osteoporosis or some other underlying condition that caused my bones to break so easily. They took blood for 19 tests! We paid the equivalent of around $220 USD. I did a little research. In the US these blood tests would have run between $5-8K! So for less than $500 USD I’ve received some of the best care I could ever imagine. And the doctors and staff at White Cross were absolutely fabulous. I’m very grateful for each of them. One things for sure the Kiwis could certainly teach the U.S. about medical care and costs. Of course we know nothing will ever change there because big pharma & hospitals etc…have their hands in the pockets of the politicians. OK…enough about that…this is not a political blog.

Anyway, as you can see we haven’t had much to report from the decks of Dazzler in the past six weeks and there was no way I could sit at the computer and type to even give you the info on the injuries. No, I spent the first month pretty much flat on my back. I do have to say that my love and the official Dazzler Medical Officer has done an absolutely amazing job taking care of me even if at times I felt like an unruly child being controlled  by a strict parent. He is truly one of God’s angels and do know I’m so very blessed to have him in my life. Thanks Dear!

We’re now in stage 2 lockdown, which means everything is pretty close to being back to normal. We have to check in and out of restaurants and stores, no groups larger than 100 people and there’s still a lot of social distancing going on but people are out and about again and that includes me. I’m still a long way from being completely healed, at least a couple of months more, but I’m doing much better and for that, I’m grateful. 

Now that I’m up and about again we promise to get more posts up there for you. Hope everyone is doing well and handling the crisis as best as you can.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. As for how we feel about being in New Zealand throughout this whole Covid thing, we couldn’t be happier. They have handled this like true champions. As of this posting we’ve only had 22 deaths and just 1504 confirmed & probable cases. It’s been truly impressive to watch how the Kiwis and their government took this on. 

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What Happens Now?

There is no doubt the world is in crisis and our realities are changing by the second. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and difficult to even think of what is happening and what could happen down the road. Of course everyone is dealing with this whole Covid-19 thing in his or her own way. Here on Dazzler we’ve taken a pretty positive approach to the whole thing. I mean really, what else can you do in times like these?

You’re probably wondering how this type of crisis affects people like us who are nomads roaming the world and drifting from island to island at the whim of the wind and sea. Fortunately for us we are here in New Zealand right now and not on some remote island where food shortages are possible and medical care is mediocre at best. And, even more fortunate for us is that we got Dazzler back in the water and into a marina before the proverbial shit hit the fan.

So, here’s a little info on what life is like here on Dazzler in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

Let’s see, the first thing I’d say is that if we have to be somewhere during all this we’re very glad to be here in New Zealand. Based on what we see in the news and I mean news from a myriad of sources around the world, it looks and feels like the Kiwis really have a great handle on this. At a very early stage they enacted policies to prevent the hoarding and chaos we’ve see in the stores in the US and other countries. Even before the mandatory 28 day lockdown they were limiting the amount of food and paper products you could buy. They had a two maximum limit, which obviously prevented people from buying out entire stocks of things.

In the few days prior to the lockdown we did find quite a few bare shelves in the grocery store. Mostly it was meats, paper products and baking products like flower and sugar. But we went back to the same Countdown Market that we had been to the prior day and the shelves were fully stocked again so I think it was just the initial call that a lockdown was about to be in place that sent people out to buy up food. And even at that we never saw carts teeming over with groceries. It was people buying a week or two worth of food at most.

Honestly, I’m not even sure the average Kiwi would be the kind of person to go out hoarding food and toilet paper anyway. What we’ve found here is a country full of people who are more concerned about each other and doing for the whole of the community than they are for themselves. We’ve watched as people in long lines in the grocery stores stop to allow an elderly person in front of them so that person is exposed less to the crowds. People are orderly and everyone is friendly and smiling. Better yet, we’ve not heard a cross word from anyone as they stand in line and wait their turn to be helped. It’s really quite refreshing.

The Kiwis have even started a nationwide Bear Hunt for children. All over the country people are putting stuffed teddy bears in their windows for children to see when they go on walks with their parents. It’s helping to lighten the mood for the kids and gives them something to look forward to each day. We’ve even seen a few on our travels. 

As of last Wednesday evening we’ve been put on a minimum of a 28 day lockdown. What does that mean? Well, it means for the most part only grocery stores, gas stations, the post office and a few government offices are open. There’s no take out food here and you can’t just go hang out at the beach with your friends. Even us cruisers have been advised that we are not allowed to move about on our boats unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’re in a marina and here is where we will stay until the lockdown is over. 

We can take walks around town (it’s a ghost town now) to get exercise but the police are watching to be sure we are not “grouping up” and they can stop you at any time to ask for identification and determine what you are doing out and about. A fellow cruiser told us on the net yesterday morning that they were stopped and questioned by the police while on their walk a day earlier. One top NZ official made it clear that if you aren’t comfortable on your couch at home they have a nice hard bench in a cell for you. I’d say they are pretty serious about this lockdown stuff.

We took our first walk to get some exercise and it was rather surreal. It felt like we were in an end of the world movie as we walked down virtually empty streets going blocks on end without seeing a soul. The sound of the silence was peaceful yet a bit disturbing as our minds tried to grapple with the fact that what they were seeing and hearing was not how it should be. We saw police driving by and even in their cars they wore masks and gloves. The thought came that the masks and gloves could be a bit of a show to make people take this seriously but then maybe not. Either way it’s clear they aren’t messing around here.

We did our first post lockdown run to the grocery store yesterday, which was quite interesting. They are only allowing a certain number of people in the store at a time. People are lined up outside waiting their turn to get inside. When it’s your turn they have already sanitized the shopping cart handles as there is someone standing there doing it to each one before you grab it. We’ve noticed that the Kiwis are quite keen on following the rules. As we all know the rule is to be socially distanced by at least 2 meters. At gas stations and in the grocery store line we noticed that without having to be prompted they automatically are spacing themselves out. Of course it makes the line appear much longer than it really is but that’s okay. We’ve been asked by the government, that whenever possible, only one member of a family go into the store as to limit the number of people. Guess what? We didn’t see even one incident where people or families were trying to break this rule. It was incredible. I swear these people inspire me to be a better, kinder person each day. 

Dan went into the store while I sat in the car watching the show. He said all the shelves were fully stocked and only a few produce items were a bit light. He said the people were all moving about quickly and quietly and everyone kept their distance. At the cashier stand there were tapelines on the floor denoting where you should stand in line and you had to bag your own groceries. All in all it was a very good experience. 

For now we’ve been given permission to use the shower, head and laundry facilities here at the marina as long as only one person or “isolating family” is in the building at a time. That could change as we now have our first death in the country and there are two confirmed Covid-19 cases here in Whangerie. Each day we wake to check the news and FB pages that provide us with information as to what the next restriction will be. But, you know what? We are all, and I mean all (visitors and Kiwis alike), okay with this. We are working through it and doing what has been asked of us because it has to be done. It’s the right thing for ALL of us.

As for keeping busy on the boat, well, if you know boats you know that is never a problem. We’ve got more than enough boat projects, cleaning and blog stuff to keep us busy. Dan’s been working on sewing projects this week. He made new covers for our gas cans that sit on deck and now he’s deep into sewing new chaps for Sparkle…our dinghy. Me? Well, I’ve worked on my taxes, done some reading and writing, worked on some Fiji Book Fundraising stuff as well.

To keep connected with other cruisers there’s the morning radio net where we all share information as to what we’ve heard or know about things that are going on in the area. And, our neighbor on SV Evenstar set up at 5 pm Virtual Happy Hour where were all log into a video meeting and chat from our boats. Everyone has their cocktails and snacks and we just chat about our families, the world, boat projects and the like. You know, the normal sundowner topics. 

What’s going to happen this year as far as cruising goes? Well, we really don’t know. Honestly, it’s anyone’s guess at this point. With the borders closed in the islands and places we’d hoped to visit we are in a holding pattern. Fortunately New Zealand extended all visitor visas until 25 September 2020. That makes it a bit easier but the thing is we really can’t take off that late in the year as we’d be heading into cyclone season on November first. So, we are just taking it a day at a time. If the borders start opening up earlier than expected we will just do a short season and head on to Australia as planned. If not, we will apply for a longer extension and wait things out here in New Zealand until next year. Of course it gets pretty darn chilly here and we don’t have the clothes for that so we’re hoping the lockdown ends before it gets too cold. We’re going to need to pick up some clothes. We did pick up a small ceramic heater for the cabin a couple of weeks ago so at least we can stay cozy and warm on board. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take out one of my new bikinis and wear it INSIDE Dazzler. 

For now, just like everyone else, we are praying this ends soon so we can get back to our normal lives. Until then we will keep busy and continue to follow the rules because, well, we’re rule followers and that’s what we do!

Until next time…

Jilly

P.S. When you see our frontline workers like doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, EMTs, military, grocery workers, postal workers and other “essential personnel”… PLEASE take a moment to thank them for what they are doing. A little “thanks” can make a big difference in their stressful days away from their families.