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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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Hallelujah! Land Ho!

First off we’d like to offer our apologies. You see we’ve been in New Zealand for several days and unfortunately didn’t get back to filling you in on the rest of our trip. We’ve received several emails from friends and followers asking how we are and we’re very sorry for not staying on top of this knowing you are all out there worrying about us. Please forgive us. This trip really took it out of us. Anyway, here’s our final entry from this year’s passage to New Zealand.

The last couple of days on the water have been pretty nice all things considered. The winds and swell died to next to nothing although the temps dropped a bit so it’s been a might chilly once the sun goes down. There were times the sea was as flat as glass. You honestly couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began. It was so beautiful. Of course with these conditions we had to motor but thanks to Dan’s exhaust fix and our new friend Minute Mend motoring was not a problem.

The sea was so flat you couldn’t tell when it ended and the sky began!

As I sat on watch on our last night of this crazy passage I reflected back on all that had transpired.

Day one was filled with 30 knot winds and 3-4 meter short frequency seas. We had water come down into the companionway not once, but three times. I had a meltdown but soon recovered. 

On Day three we had to heave to for six and a half hours to wait out some wind and swell and then we ended up having a problem with our exhaust lift silencer and also had to replace our impeller. Both of which had to be taken care of in the middle of the night because, you know, that’s the time that everything decides to breakdown. With those two items repaired we got underway and then had to deal with a leaking 50 liter jug of diesel fuel. Yes, THAT was a fun evening. Can’t imagine anything we’d have rather been doing that night…you know, like sleeping or the like.

The slick we made when we were hove to.

By Day 5 our Engels freezer stopped working for a time but fortunately that was just due to something getting shifted in the locker and shutting off the timer. At least some of the challenges we faced were simple ones.

When Day 6 came around we got to deal with water ingress in two of our lockers. We assumed these leaks were coming from a leaking chain plate, which is something we simply could not fix at sea so we emptied the lockers and delighted in having clothes strewn hither and yon across the salon for the rest of the trip. Not really but hey…got to find some humor here. 

If you don’t have this or something like it on your boat…run, don’t walk to the nearest supply store and get it!

And by Day 7 we were again dealing with the water lift silencer leaks and had to heave to for the second time and on Day 8 we were finally able to get a semi-permanent fix to it after heaving to for the third time.

Fortunately Days 9-11 proved to be much better both in terms of weather and challenges aboard Dazzler. Oh yes, the morale improved exponentially as well.  

Among the more humorous things that happened was that I was literally catapulted off the thrown in the head with the toilet seat attached to my bum. (Sorry, no pics or video of the acrobatic show.) That’s not something you land dwellers will ever have the joy of experiencing I am quite certain! It is something, however, that brought a great deal of laughter to both Captain and Mate. I think Grape Ape even spit his juice out when he heard mama telling them what happened.

We did run into something that is quite rare and rather interesting which is that we got to see a bit of the pumice raft that was generated from the underwater volcano that erupted near Tonga earlier this year. While we only saw very small pieces of it, it was still pretty cool given that this is something so rare that most people in the world will never get a chance to see anything like it.

We survived it all just as Dan said we would. Intellectually I knew it too but there were moments when I just needed his calm reassurance. After all, if Dan couldn’t get us here safely, who could?

We arrived at Marsden Cove Marina early on the morning of Day 11 far ahead of the low pressure system we’d been racing. It was cold and overcast as we made the turn into the Hatea River. There were several ships at the port loading and unloading their wares. As we passed the port one ship was preparing to leave. It was at this very moment we were taking down our mainsail. Of course I was a bit on edge as I felt we were in the way of the tugs but Dan said we were fine so we finished our job and moved on.

As we entered the narrow and shallow channel into the marina the sun came out and it warmed up beautifully. In fact, by the time we docked at the Customs dock we were both peeling clothes off like we had landed on the sun.

It was a popular day to arrive here in New Zealand. We were boat number four to arrive at the dock. Everyone was tied up and waiting their turn for the officials to check them in. Two more boats arrived while we waited. Everyone was on the dock talking about their passage challenges and the weather. We, of course, had our celebratory anchor down beer. Never has a cold beer tasted so amazing! It was truly the taste of success!

It took a couple of hours to get completely checked in with Customs and BioSecurity. We didn’t even mind the time it took. It was sunny and warm and we were in New Zealand! Maybe knowing that a wonderful hot meal with beers and a great night’s sleep was ahead is what made us so patient. It certainly didn’t hurt anyway.

As always the officials with Customs and Immigration as well as BioSecurity were truly terrific. Many cruisers complain about the process but we actually find it to be rather easy. It’s all in what you make of it. They have a job to do and we respect that. We do everything we can to make their job easier by having the forms filled out, printed and ready to go when they step on board. We, all too often, see cruisers who don’t have the first form prepared which means they are taking up the valuable time of these officials. These are the very cruisers that invariably complain about the process.

We go so far as to have a spreadsheet listing every single food item we have on board, how much of it is there and exactly what locker it is located in. We hand that over to BioSecurity and let them tell us what they want. This year we did have a bit more meat on board which they took. She did tell us that if the meat had been in its original packaging so she could have seen where it was processed we may have been able to keep it. Unfortunately the butcher we purchased from in Fiji prepackaged the meat in vacuum sealed pouches. Oh well. It wasn’t much and we knew it was coming. She also took our frozen mangos (very sad face) that we use to make Mango Margaritas. And they took our eggs, some dried beans, Kava root (not the powdered stuff), popcorn and honey. None of this was really a surprise and it didn’t bother us a bit. As always, we received apologies for the fact that they had to take anything at all. The way we look at it is we over provision on some things to be sure that in the unlikely event we were to get stuck at sea we still have food. If we get here and have stuff they need to take it means we made it here safely and weren’t stuck at sea! BONUS!

After checking in we made the two hour trip north up the river to the Whangerie Town Basin Marina. Cruising under the Hatea River Bridge and up to the marina felt almost like coming home. As we passed the marina office Nadine was there waving and giving us a big welcome. We docked Dazzler and as we sat in the cockpit enjoying our final anchor down beer of the season we smiled and toasted each other on another safe passage.

Later we got our Guinness Stew and a few cold brews at McMorrisey’s pub and then it was back to Dazzler for some relaxation and an early bedtime. 

Needless to say we are happy to be “home” again in New Zealand. We’re looking forward to spending some time cruising the islands around here this year but before that can happen we’ve about thirty boat projects we need to get completed. Not the least of which is replacing the water lift silencer unit. Boat work is a neverending process for the cruiser…that’s for sure!

For now, however, we are going to take a week break from writing as we get settled in and begin to amass the supplies and tools we need to get working. Don’t worry though there will be plenty of upcoming articles from Captain Dan as he does everything from replacing the water lift silencer to varnishing to repairing and re-teaking the hatch to our lazerette. Of course these are just a few of the projects he’ll be talking about.

Thanks for following our passage and most importantly thank you for all your prayers and well wishes along the way. Hearing from our family and friends made the bad days so much better.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. Having hove to eight times in this 1200 mile journey we are pretty certain we do now hold the record for the most times a boat has heaved to in a journey such as this. Of course we’re still waiting for the officials to provide us with our trophy.

Here’s a video of the passage. You know, just in case you couldn’t visualize the trip!