Tales from a floating, self-isolating, escape bubble

A splash is heard from the heads (toilet). Minutes later Paul storms through the saloon with a dripping wet toilet roll in his hand. Without a word I pick up the stock list. Next to ‘Toilet roll’ I solemnly cross out ‘12’ and write ‘11’.We had provisioned the boat for living at anchor. Being a toilet roll down was mission critical. Would we survive?

Since the last blog ….

The sun sets on our final days at Riverside Drive Marina

Life in February was easy and breezy. Still living at Riverside Drive Marina in Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand we enjoyed the tail end of the great New Zealand summer weather; ran PBs at the local park run; finished boat refit jobs and preparations for our 18 months sail home.

Birthday Best Fishes

We dived the Poor Knights Islands on my birthday … and (drum roll) stayed in a hotel.

We even sat in a bath … but couldn’t put water in it because there was a water shortage.

Leaving Auckland on the Waiheke ferry

We also spent 10 days on beautiful vineyard clad Waiheke island, a half hour ferry ride from Auckland.

Milo: our new best friend

House sitting for our lovely friend Linda we enjoyed ‘playing house’.

We watched films on a big TV screen, luxuriated on sofas, cooked in a big kitchen, got stuck into gardening, toured the island and walked and swam with Milo, Linda’s adorable dog.

Full of homeliness, we returned to Baggy with plans and dreams. Covid-19 was picking up a pace, but here in New Zealand cases were low.

However, Covid-19 Level 3 lock down was soon in place. The marina imposed boat self-isolation on people flying in from abroad and strict rules were put in place around shared laundry, shower and toilet facilities.

Sunday’s marina BBQ was cancelled.
Like many, we thought the whole horrid business would sort itself out. We were still waiting for the cyclone season to pass; Australia’s borders were still open and our plans to complete the circumnavigation hadn’t changed.
Final farewells before passing under the Hatea River Bridge and leaving Whangarei – our home for the last four months

So, with no more reason to stay on the mainland we stocked up with supplies and water, said our goodbyes and left.

Our grand plan was to explore Great Barrier Island and the Bay of Islands, and then sail to either Vanuatu or Australia April/May.

Great Barrier Island, known as ‘Island of the White Cloud’ is 50 nautical miles from Auckland on the eastern edge of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

It’s mountainous, rugged, remote, wild and isolated. Home to around 1000 residents there is no electricity supply, mains drainage, banks or street lights. Food supplies are brought by boat to the handful of small shops.

Giant Kuari trees: Great Barrier Island has forests full of them

It’s famed for being a dark sky sanctuary, is covered in regenerating, native kauri forests and many of the reptiles, amphibians and birds are now rare or extinct on the mainland.

It’s paradise.

For one glorious, blissfully ignorant week we watched shooting stars and meteor showers at night.

During the day we tramped the network of backcountry tracks, seeing no-one except North Island Kaka’s (parrots), Tui’s (which have two voice boxes), Fantails and North Island Robins.

No-one in sight: we climbed steep mountains for staggering views.
Cove isolation: there were a few other cruising boats, but there was plenty of bubble space for everyone

Then our cosy bubble burst …

On Wednesday 25 March we went ashore at Port FitzRoy in search of water and to top up fresh food.

We immediately sensed an odd atmosphere. Someone I spoke to dramatically backed away from me when I spoke to them. The shop assistant was wary of us and dressed in a mask and rubber gloves. There was no fresh food.

We had had no phone or internet connection for a week. We hadn’t watched television, listened to an FM radio or spoken to anyone.

On a whim, we bought a copy of the New Zealand Herald; filled our jerry cans with the only available water (labelled ‘boil before drinking’) and swiftly left.

Then we read the paper and received an emergency text message on our phones (from a Vodafone signal we weren’t subscribed to).

From midnight that night New Zealand was on Level 4 lockdown. We had to stay exactly where we were for four weeks from that time.

Though impressed and fully supportive of New Zealand’s strong positive response we were woefully unprepared for this very sudden turn of events.

We calculated we had 1) enough food to get by for a couple more weeks and 2) enough drinking water for 10 days, provided we didn’t use it for the dishes, washing or laundry.

And then unrolled an ever changing catalogue of tragic, bizarre events.

The Water Crisis

1 We found a spring water tap near to us at Smokehouse Bay, but were told the water might have giardia.

Giardia causes ‘ … a lot of sulphurous gas emerging as foul-smelling belches and odiferous farts … abdominal distension and floating stools’

2 The giardia water was apparently safe if we boiled it – but we didn’t have enough gas and methylated spirits to last boiling for a month.

3 Water taps got turned off, or were tampered with by some of the fiercely independent locals. They didn’t want boaties going ashore and using their precious water.

4 We developed a small leak and were losing several litres of water a day from our water tank.

But … eventually ….

Communication at its best: A personal police visit and guidance notes passed to us in a fishing net

  • Auckland Maritime Police arrived
  • A tap with deep spring water became available … a one and a half hour, round trip, dinghy ride away.
  • Paul fixed the leak
  • We set up strict water and fuel rationing measures.

The Food Crisis

1 We had just enough tinned and dried food to keep us going for a month at a push, but didn’t have enough fresh food.

2 There were a few food shops on the island but news ‘on the water’ came in that 1) the Auckland food barge had stopped visiting the shop nearest to us and 2) the island residents didn’t want the boating community coming ashore and buying their stocks.

3. To make matters worse, a few days after the lock down announcement there was a sudden influx of Auckland cruisers.

Instead of staying home they were coming out to the island for a months ‘self-isolation holiday’ … putting extra demand on already strained supplies and upsetting the locals even more.

The situation was tense for days …

  • police helicopters started flying overhead

  • marine coastguard police started patrolling and monitoring boat movements

  • a wealthy cruiser upset the locals by going into the shop and buying up ALL the fresh produce

  • there were stories of ‘boatie vs local’ confrontations and one cruiser was threatened with a gun and told to get off the island

  • we went for a walk to find a 3G signal and were apprehended by a local patrolling their land on a quad bike … told we shouldn’t have left the boat and shouldn’t be on the island

But … eventually …

A Great Barrier Boaties radio net and Facebook page was set up. We suddenly felt less alone!

News came in that food supplies were available and water taps were fixed up and turned on.

We had permission to go ashore for exercise and essentials. And we settled into a new rhythm of life routine.

We go on long dinghy trips to fill our jerrycans with water.

We do cold water hand washing in a trug. The hi-tec basins and mangles at Smokehouse Bay are out of action as water levels are too low.

Swing bridge crossing to the corner shop

We tramp a twelve mile round trip to the nearest shop. Cauliflowers are $13 (£6.50) and fresh food has to be pre-ordered days in advance, guessing what they might have.

Though we are highly motivated knowing they have good stocks of beer, wine and gin!

Dogs are being taken ashore on paddle boards .. and then there is lone yachtie, Kiwi Kenny.

Setting off to have our lunch at a viewpoint (home-made, wholemeal, vegan, lentil pasties with chutney), we saw him emerge from the bush, bare foot, with a cross-bow in his hand.

Us: “What have you been doing Kenny?”

Kenny: “I salivate just thinking about it. There are pigs in the bush. I only want a small one – I’d take the legs off and that good bit of meat off the backbone. Should last me several days without a fridge.” 😵

Paul has become good friends with Kenny. Paul may be moving in with Kenny if Kenny kills a pig!

Then the worst thing imaginable happened

My dearly loved 92 year old mum passed away.

She was frail and had died from a fall in her living room on a Tuesday. Despite my brothers attempts to contact me via satellite phone, I didn’t find out till Saturday.

Communication with family has been difficult. As well as the 12 hour time difference, the satellite phone keeps cutting out and internet and phone signal is a long hike away.

As I couldn’t return home for the funeral (and numbers were restricted anyway) I held an early hours candle lit vigil instead.

And to cut a tragic and sad story short my brother and I will have a memorial service for her when we eventually return home.

But … there are brighter sides to life …

A duck – an endangered, endemic Brown Teal – appeared on deck the day my mum died. Tame and inquisitive we fed it oats and everyday it paddled round the decks, hoovering them up like a pneumatic drill.

It woke us up drinking dew off the hatch over our heads and snoozed on deck during the afternoons.

We drew the line at letting it sit in the saloon with us; so it just looked at us through the windows.

This routine went on until Saturday morning when some wasps drove us off the boat for a walk. I found out my mum had passed away that Saturday afternoon and we didn’t see the little duck again.

My mum loved ducks and our last conversation was about them. I know she’s at peace now.

Baloo 2’s Appraisal

You may remember we bought a new dinghy and outboard engine. Three months into their duties we can report an excellent performance from both.

Baloo 2 in particular has show great inflated enthusiasm, made friends with local seabirds, and hasn’t been shy to get stuck in and muddy. And he no longer looks like a brand new trainer!

Baggy and Baloo 2: at our current self isolation destination – Kiwiriki Bay, near Port FitzRoy, Great Barrier Island

The Lockdown is Working

The latest news is that the number of new Covid-19 cases is going down daily and there have only been two deaths here in New Zealand. We’re hopeful the lockdown will be lifted at the end of the four weeks. Then we’re sailing to the Bay of Islands, a 100 nautical mile overnight sail. And if not, well, we’ll be OK. From the snippets of news we’ve gleaned it sounds like the impact of Covid-19 in the UK is unfolding like a surreal horror movie. We’re thinking of you all and sending our love.

So … what next?

Vanuatu and Australia’s borders are closed. If they open before end June/early July, the circumnavigation is back on. We won’t stop as much and we’ll need to pack in a lot of sailing miles, but we’ll aim to be home for summer 2021.

If not, we’re considering all our options.

Thankfully our New Zealand visa has been automatically extended until end September …. but by then we will have missed our weather windows to get back to the UK.

Like everyone else, our lives, and our circumnavigation plans, have turned upside down.

But more importantly, at time of posting, we now only have 10 toilet rolls left in the stores.

If anyone can air drop an emergency parcel Yellow Brick is accurately showing our exact location and we’ll keep sending new location pings when we move. We’re also picking up online messages every few days and love hearing from you.

3 thoughts on “Tales from a floating, self-isolating, escape bubble

  1. Now thats taking liberties. I told you that GBI was worth a visit but I didn’t expect you to stay a month. Stay safe and away from the dreaded covid119. I got the symptoms initially on 22nd march. Now day18 aand have had full works, fotunately I have my own CPAP machine and this probably saved me. Vicky has been great, tending me through the trauma, medics decided to keep me at home with regular phone checkups. Now through the worse and gardening again. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I envy you both being marooned on your paradise haven. Lovely read and Keep Safe.

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  2. Hi Paul and Sally, it is really, REALLY good to hear from you both! When we heard your news via Mandip last week during our office Zoom group call, it all sounded extremely worrying (as indeed it was for you!), but now much more reassuring, and long may it remain so. As you say, Covid 19 in the UK definitely feels surreal, and life is on hold for an indefinite period. There are still plenty of idiots who think it’s OK to hold parties and BBQs in open spaces, as if the virus does not affect them, and this takes up valuable police time and energy dispersing them, but the overwhelming majority of the population are self-isolating. Panic-buying for loo roll (!) and pasta has thankfully calmed down somewhat, but that has been replaced by panic-buying beer/wine/gin as, of course, the pubs are shut!! Sally, we were all so very sad to hear about your mum’s death, and in such upsetting circumstances given the current situation. Our thoughts are very much with you and your family. Your story about the teal was extraordinary: you hear of experiences like this, and whatever your beliefs or lack of, you can’t help feeling at such times that there is something bigger going on out there, and it brought you comfort and peace. Stay safe, both of you, and keep the blogs coming. Amanda xx

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  3. Hello sweetheart,

    So sorry to hear about your mum but glad that you’re both safe and sound. We’ve been thinking about you a lot and wondering so good to know what’s happening with you.

    We are locked down in Port Grimaud – much more strict that the UK but we feel fairly safe as it’s generally very quiet though having said that a load of Parisians have just flocked down. Mike is pissed off that sailing isn’t allowed but he’s done quite a few odd jobs on board.

    We have lost a close friend already and no doubt there will be more. I think you are lucky that this coincided with your time in NZ. I am well impressed with Jacinda.

    Mike was wondering you’d seen the catamaran Zantara – see attached video. They seem to be in ‘your’ bay – they also seem to be quite loud which could be tedious I guess.

    Stay safe, hope you get back on schedule soon.

    J xx

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