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Following the Rules, Until You Don’t

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.

The marina at Whitianga, New Zealand, shortly before the country went on lockdown.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

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


  1. Susan Flieder 3 years ago

    My husband was aboard our sailboat, Andiamo, in Whangarei, New Zealand, arriving the day that their quarantine requirements began in mid-March. Other crew (they’d all gathered for a long-planned delivery to French Polynesia) had been in New Zealand for awhile at that point, so they rented an Air BnB nearby and did not come aboard Andiamo until the day they were to shove off. In order to provision for their trip, Paul had to order groceries online and have them delivered. Originally, they were delivered to the office and he would walk up to pick them up, but others in the marina complained that he was not abiding by the quarantine restrictions. As a result, they began to deliver the provisions to the dock and he’d get them from there. In addition, the other crew members brought provisions and supplies and left them on the dock for Paul to bring on board, but no one came aboard. It made things a little more difficult, but he tried his best to comply with the quarantine requirements. Same thing when they arrived in French Polynesia. They’re now almost to Hawaii as they were not able to stay in French Polynesia as initially planned. It’s been quite a unique experience . . . sailing in the time of coronavirus.
    As an aside, we live in San Diego and we went out to experience the amazing brilliant blue bioluminescence in the surf on Friday night, along with friends we’d only seen from afar for the past 5 weeks. We got a little closer to each other than 6 feet, but never touched. We weren’t totally in compliance, but it felt so great to be with humans other than your own family for a couple of hours.

  2. John Tebbetts 3 years ago

    It seems to me that you’ve answered your own question by saying that cruisers should be exceptionally respectful when visiting a foreign country. I’d say that if you’re unwilling to comply fully with the rules in the country you’re visiting then you should go home. There are a number of cruisers here in NZ who are almost certainly going to make it more difficult for those of us who want to visit in the future. If you’ve entered someone’s home as a guest and they tell you to remove your shoes, remove them. Or leave. Don’t stomp around telling them how stupid their rules are. It is their home, not yours.

  3. Robert Cleveland 3 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more with Mr Tebbetts comments
    I’m a dual citizen American/Australian and have travelled been a nomad all of my 64 years sailing and surfing and am sorry to say that the bad manners I normally see come from mainly some from the U.S.🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🙈🙈🙈

  4. Dennis Bailey 3 years ago

    There has been an extreme psychological/philosophical shift in the global psyche since the 1969 Hong Kong flu. Ironically it has gone an acceptance or resignation to the loss of liberties, income, et al in an attempt to assure that fewer people die, all in a time when the US population has grown 50% and many have recognized that it is the human factor and its overpopulation and consumption that are contributing to the destruction of the planet and its other species as well as or own. If you haven’t seen this 3 minute video, here it is at : , A Letter From Covid19

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