Flying back to Whangarei in mid March, after a delightful 10 day jaunt spent touring South Island, the Corona storm clouds continued to gather. Repeated airport announcements advised travellers from overseas that they were obliged to self-isolate for two weeks and quite a few passengers were wearing face masks. I had already decided not to risk the trip I had booked to South Africa at the end of March.
We arrived back on Moondust that evening amidst chaotic evidence of earlier uncompleted tasks and the next morning commenced frenzied activity to get ready for re-launch in 10 days’ time. Days coalesced as we made slow but steady progress, focusing on the most important tasks first.
These included stripping and cleaning the freshwater heat exchangers on both engines and work on the undersides of Moondust – including sanding the hulls, painting on two coats of antifoul and removing the rudders to check the bearings. There were also many other smaller jobs concurrently in progress which saw the days slip by rapidly, with scant attention being paid by us to the world at large.
With three days to go to our launch date, by chance I phoned a local paint supplier and was informed of the lockdown starting the next day. Dropping everything, Karin and I caught the bus and headed into town, doing our best in the remaining few business hours to buy food and all the technical materials that we would need over the next four weeks. The boatyard was buzzing as everyone attempted to complete tasks and to re-launch a few yachts. Fortunately we had already procured many of the more complex technical spares we needed.
With lockdown the pace of life slowed and we revised our job list, finding plenty of maintenance to keep us busy and get Moondust ship shape.
On reflection we were happy to be stuck ‘on the hard’. We had around us an eclectic collection of sailors from Norway, Germany, America, the UK, France, Romania, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, New Zealand and Switzerland, all of whom we could interact with at a distance.
A British cruiser started a Whatsapp group which enabled us to donate an unwanted hosepipe to a needy yachtie and to acquire some screws to replace a hatch that we had stripped and re-sealed. For us the Norsand Boatyard was a great place and a good way to spend the lockdown. Everybody chatted in passing and we could even enjoy sundowners with our Swiss neighbours, they on their boat and we on ours, a few feet apart.
Any spare energy went into the odd walk or run as, unlike South Africa, we were allowed to exercise. We also made a few trips to the supermarket to re-stock items that our more mobile fellow yachties weren’t able to find for us.
Supermarket stocks were generally excellent, with only whole-wheat bread flour and brown rice difficult to obtain and, when available, being rationed to one pack per customer. Many customers wore face masks and we had to queue at two meter intervals outside the store; no one wanting to say much, even at a distance, as if a smile or a word could prove contagious.
For us there were several definite upsides to being on the hard. Firstly, as we were a good thirty minute walk out of town, the bus service still ran on the Saturday schedule and as the drivers had to remain at a distance from the passengers, the rides were free. Secondly, for a dollar, we could have a ‘Hollywood’ shower – with as much hot water as we needed in the allotted five minutes. We could easily dispose of our garbage at the boatyard; it is quite difficult to find public garbage disposal bins in NZ. It was also nice to have access to washing machines!
Compared to the complete solitude, lack of exercise and broken sleep of an ocean crossing we didn’t find the lockdown difficult, apart from 50 days of pretty much non stop work.
Environmental pollution standards in New Zealand are strict, so all dust generating work has to be done with a vacuum cleaner attached. Similarly ground sheets have to be put down to collect all debris (we are fortunate to have a hardy little Bosch vacuum cleaner which could do the job) and no spray painting may be done by boat owners.
The spread of Covid 19 in New Zealand is well controlled and after four weeks the Level 4 lockdown was eased to Level 3, which for us, meant Moondust could be launched again! Even though we splashed back into the water on 30th April, our movement is still restricted, so we anchored just upstream of the boatyard in the Hatea River.
For the time being yachts are not allowed to sail at all, not even in local waters. Looking further ahead our itinerary is uncertain. Fiji, our intended next stop after the end of the hurricane season in May, is still closed to all foreigners.
Right now the best we can hope for is that stores will re-open so we can buy some warm clothes and most important warm boots, to permit us to perhaps spend a chilly winter afloat in the Land of the Long White Cloud! Life is indeed uncertain – but that is what an adventure is all about.
(Read about our trip to South Island in our next blog.)