Deborah Bay near Port Chalmers has lots of different faces. Glorious when the sun is out, bright blue sky, no clouds, the green hills reflecting in the glassy sea. More dramatic, when the wind is up sweeping the clouds in fast motion across the sky, the sun still beaming through the clouds onto the hills where trees and grass bend sideways in the wind. Mysterious, when the wafts of mist are entering and hanging in the valley. And then there is the angry one: strong southerly winds bringing rain for days, and strong gusts funneling down the valley hitting SAGO on her side healing her over like on a wild ocean passage. “Shut the coxes!” the captain shouts, as water is coming through the bathroom sink, like when sailing. A strong gust flips the dinghy which we had tied on a short line behind SAGO, hoping to protect it from the wind – but no, it flipped including the dinghy motor which ended up swimming upside down in the salty sea. And the rope of the dinghy anchor (which was in the dinghy when it flipped) had managed to wrap itself around the rudder of SAGO. The water too cold to jump in. Great. No dinghy motor, and unable to start the SAGO motor. Are we being punished for having had a good time before? Hoping that mooring holds. Geoff starts operation “rescue the dinghy motor” as it is getting dark – takes it apart, cleans it with fresh water, puts it back together. In the mean-time some luck, the anchor rope freed itself while SAGO was swinging around. Hurra! The next day, the dinghy motor started the next day at the first pull. Well done, captain.
In the meantime, temperatures got cooler. 10 – 15 degrees inside the boat a normality. Only cold water coming out of the tabs. First, we were patiently waiting for the heater parts to arrive, which we had to order from the UK, as the NZ supplier would not ship them from Auckland as it was lockdown and retailers were shut. The parts arrived after 4 weeks – an exciting day! However, after a few days of hard work it turned out, the new spare parts did not solve the problem, the heater would still not work, it needed some professional care as there must be a problem with the computer, the closest located in Christchurch. Why does a diesel heater need a computer anyway? So, continue to be cold. Limited power supply also meant that we could not plug in our little electric heater. The only power supply we always had crossing the Pacific was solar. Which was fine in the tropics, but now challenging here 46 degrees south.
Port Chalmers itself was a ghost town. The “go early, go hard” approach of the government found overwhelming support by the NZ population, and most followed the “stay home – safe lifes” instruction. People were prepared to take sacrifices for the overall community, a good thing. The police also took it seriously, including patrolling beaches and waiting for surfers to come out of the water to reprimand them. We realized only later that there was a big amount of fear around too, and that we were not welcome by some people: The foreign boat which arrived in the bay 3 days into the actual lockdown – surely bringing the virus?! Little they knew that we practically had self-isolated ourselves the 2 months before in Fiordland/Stewart Island, with very little contact to other people. We did call the police and let them know about us when we arrived, in case somebody would complain about us, e.g. doing “boating”, one of the things on the must-not-do-list during lockdown. “Thanks” said the police officer, “as we will get phone calls about you”. We tried to stay low profile, using the dinghy as little as possible. People were obviously sitting at home in their warm living rooms watching us. Despite of this, some locals were super-friendly, looking for ways to help: Offering us their little nanny-flat in the garden to have long, hot showers, another invited us to pick fresh veggies out of his garden, yumm, and the only other live-abound in the bay came out to see us in his rowing dinghy after the strong southerly winds when we did not came ashore afterwards thanks to the flipped dinghy.
Isolation, being confined to a small space, and home-schooling is nothing new to us, we had chosen it before – on ocean passages, or when looking for secluded anchorages. This was different, being stuck at a place which turned out not to be appropriate for many reasons, and not being able to move. Unsettling in combination with the news from Europe, where COVID was much more prevalent. Not being able to go there, worrying. And the timing – we were just ready to go back to normal life, but there was no normal life anymore! On a lesser note, with all that time on hand – we also had to look at all the boat jobs to be done, without being able to do them as none of the shops were open to get spare parts, or anything else other than food, e.g. shoes to go for a jog.
We still had the 4 of us though, nice walks and bike tours in the neighbourhood, some sunny, glorious days on the boat, lots of skype calls with family and friends abroad, or staying in touch via messenger. And all healthy! Grateful.
After more than 4 weeks trying to do the right thing in Deborah Bay, the police gave us a call out of the blue. “I heard you were in Deborah Bay”, the police officer began. Yes, and we still were! We only had moved from our mooring to the public dock 200m away to get water, an essential service, and stayed there for the night. So why the call? Someone worked out we were not at our mooring anymore, did not see us at the dock among the other sailing boats, and dobbed us in? Which one of you was it, sitting in your warm living room? Thanks very much. What drives people to dob others in, without knowing the full story? The good thing about this call was that Geoff found out who to contact to get permission to move. The police officer rang back with an e-mail address from the National Crisis Management Center, located in the Prime Minister’s Office. After long 48 hours, we got the official permission to move to Christchurch a day later, when a slightly less strict alert level would apply in NZ. We checked the weather, and the only window was to leave as soon as possible, around midnight when the new alert level 3 entered in force. And there we went motoring out the channel in the dark, AIS turned off. Wondering if anybody would try to stop us. No, not yet.
Good bye, Port Chalmers, see you in better times! And what a good trip we had, 2 nights, 2 days, feeling a great sense of freedom. Some hours of motoring through the night but then sailing in glorious weather until the wind turned onto the nose and we started tacking into the wind.
Upon our arrival in the harbor we got a cautious reception. With the marina closed due to COVID-19, the official permission letter avoided us to be arrested, and we were finally welcomed. We made it. Thanks again to all the helpful, friendly people during these times!