Today, New Zealand went from its “Level 4” lockdown — the highest, most strict tier — down to “Level 3.” More businesses will be allowed to open, and more activities, such as surfing, kiteboarding and windsurfing, will be allowed. Whether this means that transient cruisers — many of whom were obliged to stay at whatever port they were visiting when the lockdown began — will be able to relocate remains unclear. With autumn taking hold in the Southern Hemisphere, and many foreign-flagged vessels effectively stuck in New Zealand after numerous countries closed their borders, settling into a secure winter anchorage is paramount.
For sailors cruising in the time of COVID, there are endless gray areas scattered among clear directives, and many difficult choices to make. Those of us stuck on land face a similar quandary: We want to do our part to stop the spread of this terrible disease, but we also want to have our freedom and get back to our lives.
This magazine has had a lengthy discussion about whether we should sail. The majority of our readers support the collective effort, and want to make sure not to burden first responders, many of whom are working with reduced-size staff and resources, with an unnecessary rescue. But several readers have expressed concern with what feels like a loss of liberty.
This commentary aims to illustrate the variety of experiences that sailors are living through while in quarantine. No group is a monolith; one cruiser’s choices don’t speak for those of others. In these unprecedented times, everyone is figuring out the best course of action for themselves, their crew, their vessel and their community, wherever it might be.
COVID Happy Hours
Several weeks ago, there was a spirited thread on a New Zealand cruising group’s Facebook page. An American nurse, who is also a sailor, publicly expressed her concern that a group of foreign-national cruisers were congregating on a marina’s docks for “COVID happy hour” — where people were keeping two meters’ distance while enjoying their cocktails — which, according to the letter of the law, broke NZ’s strict lockdown protocol.
A Bay Area boat involved in the happy hour posted in response that they’d checked with marina authorities and the police, and felt that sailors and officials had come to an understanding, though the local cruising and liveaboard community may not concur.
At around the same time, another group of sailors at a New Zealand marina were adjusting to life under Level 4. From conversations we’ve had with several full-time liveaboards, the first few weeks of the lockdown at this North Island marina were taken seriously. Longtime friends kept their distance from each other, there were no happy hours or gatherings, and there were strict one-in, one-out rules about the use of common facilities.
A friend of Latitude was anchored out near the marina and running low on water. She contacted the harbormaster and asked if she could come alongside the fuel dock to fill her tanks. The harbormaster grilled her: Had she been back to the States recently? (No.) He asked again: Had she been back at all since her landfall in NZ in December? (Still no.) Had she been self-quarantining? (Yes.) After a lengthy exchange, the harbormaster permitted her entry, but insisted that she leave immediately after taking on water, and did not allow her to exit the fuel dock or do laundry. She anchored, or hooked a mooring, within eyeshot of the marina for the next two weeks.
The rules were followed to the letter . . . until they weren’t.
One week ago, after three and a half weeks of strict isolation, the liveaboards at the marina — mostly Kiwi natives, and long-term liveaboards — told her that a two-meters-apart dockside happy hour had occurred. New Zealand’s aggressive efforts have been seen as largely successful (“We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus,” said NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.)
Needing water again, our friend returned to the marina, but this time, the harbormaster asked, “Do you want to come in? Do you want to take a slip and stay?” Our friend wasn’t invited into the marina so much as ushered in insistently, and embraced, both figuratively and literally, by the local community. A new face was a welcome addition to the bubble.
That night on the docks — and with Level 3 only a few days away — there was a “proper blowout.” After two drinks, the two-meter distances were far too hard to obey. Our friend mentioned that it felt like balm for her self-quarantined soul. (But she declined a proffered handshake.)
Is there a contradiction here? One group are foreign cruisers, one group local liveaboards. Should they play by different rules? Of course not. But we think locals should have more agency over where they live, while foreign cruisers should be exceptionally respectful guests while in another country.
Is it all right for individuals to decide that they’ve followed the rules long enough, and that they’re ready to cut loose and have a drink with friends? Public health officials — and the hall of public shaming that is social media — would likely frown on these personal decisions, but at what point do we take a small break from the best practices and reclaim our lives? Please don’t hear Latitude advocating “breaking the rules.” We’re simply asking the question.
If you happen to disagree with the choices someone else makes, we hope you’ll consider a mantra that is also a hashtag going around in New Zealand: #BeKind