Our Ever-Changing Backyard

11 June 2022 | New Zealand to Italy
19 May 2022 | Kensington, Whangarei, NZ
07 June 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
26 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
24 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
27 April 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
22 March 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
16 December 2019 | Opua, New Zealand
25 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
21 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
19 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
14 October 2019 | Savusavu, Fiji
27 July 2019 | Tavoro Waterfalls, Taveuni Island, Fiji
15 July 2019 | Viani Bay
23 June 2019 | En route to Savusavu, Fiji, from N. Minerva Reef

Finding our cat

11 June 2022 | New Zealand to Italy
Vandy Shrader
While Eric and I enjoyed our life in Whangarei, we kept a weather eye on Yachtworld.com, watching for our Leopard 48 catamaran to show up. We wanted one "somewhere upwind" (that would be upwind of New Zealand), preferably in the Mediterranean, but we'd also consider boats in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Ten Leopard 48s were for sale "somewhere upwind" when we listed SCOOTS for sale in March of 2021, so we expected to have our choice of L48s when the time came to buy one. But when SCOOTS sold in June, there were only three L48s left, all in the British Virgin Islands, all having sustained some non insignificant degree of hurricane damage. Over the next few months, the few European Leopard 48s that trickled onto Yachtworld were already "sale pending." Clearly, the boat market was still extremely hot. We kept looking, trusting that we would eventually find our boat.

In October 2021, knowing that we'd be purchasing an ex-charter boat, we contacted a broker with the Moorings/Sunsail charter company, and got him looking for L48s along with us.

In early November, our broker emailed us about an ex-charter L48 in the BVIs whose deal was falling through that was about to come up for sale. Since I get up earlier than Eric, I saw the broker's email first. I went onto Yachtworld and saw the boat.

But sometimes things happen in funny ways...

When Eric woke up, I told him about the boat. He looked on Yachtworld, and said, "Yeah, that boat is OK, but what about the boat in Italy?"

"What boat in Italy?"

In the hour between the time that I'd looked, and when Eric looked, a 2015 Leopard 48 in Italy had come onto Yachtworld. It was an ex-charter boat, in our price range, in the place we wanted, and NOT sale pending. The boat's name was Musa, Italian for "muse." We called our broker and told him to make an offer on Musa. Right now.

You want to know how hot the boat market is? By the time we made our offer, the boat had been on Yachtworld for maybe two hours, and we were already competing with other potential buyers.
After a couple rounds of negotiations, our offer was accepted. We had found our cat!

The contract specified that we had to remove all contingencies by December 11. This meant that within the next three weeks, we'd have to arrange to have a marine survey (inspection) of the boat, review the survey report, wrap up our life in New Zealand, arrange to have our household belongings (which were already boxed up in a small storage unit) shipped to Italy, and fly to Italy to look at the boat. OK, ready, set, go!

We called our Italian cruising friends in Whangarei, Max and Alex on the boat Y2K, and asked if they knew any surveyors in Italy who would be willing to survey Musa. They knew two; one was available to do the job. He visited Musa, and spent a couple days looking her over very carefully, and testing her equipment. At the end, he pronounced her in fine shape. In other words, everything was still good to go.

So, after six quiet months, things began to ramp up. We began the process of disengaging ourselves from the happy, content, and comfortable life we'd made in New Zealand: we said goodbye to our many friends, to the birds and the people at the Bird Centre,

Rosie the rosella

With the newly-hatched kiwi chick

Maggie the magpie chick

A blue penguin chick

and to the birds I fed every morning;

Mum and bubs

With my friend Annie, who feeds the birds with me

we sold our car in one day; we began packing, selling or giving away the items we had with us at Jeannie and Merv's; we arranged to have our household belongings collected from our storage container and readied for shipment to Italy;

All our stuff

Ready for shipping

I went for one last ramble in the New Zealand woods that had been my special place for the past few years, whenever I needed a touch of forest.

Our friends threw us several going-away parties;

some of our musical friends even wrote us a song, which they sang to us. We'd made some really special friends during our time in New Zealand; it was very hard to say goodbye.

At the same time, we also made plans for moving ahead: we booked flights to Naples, Italy, and lodging on the island of Procida, and in Naples; we booked our pre-flight Covid tests; we bought lots of disposable masks; I started learning Italian on Duolingo; we made appointments for medical checkups in the States; and we warned our kids - who are living in the Seattle area - that we'd be coming to see them for Christmas and oh, by the way we were hoping to stay with them until the end of February.

Eventually, it was time for us to go. On December 9, 2021, we headed for Auckland Airport, armed with our negative pre-flight Covid tests, our proof of vaccination, our airline tickets, our luggage (one big duffel and one carry-on apiece to carry us for the next few months), and lots of masks and sanitizing wipes for the trip. Jeannie had offered to drive us to the airport; she also had to have proof of a negative Covid test, in order to be allowed through the roadblocks that at that time isolated Auckland from the rest of New Zealand.

Our flights from Auckland to Singapore, to Munich, and eventually to Naples, lasted 33 hours. From New Zealand, every place except for Australia and the South Pacific islands are a long, long way away. We arrived in Naples, and after collecting our luggage, took a bus to the ferry terminal, where, after realizing that we were at the wrong ferry terminal and taking a short bus ride to the correct ferry terminal, we caught a ferry to the island of Procida, about 45 minutes away, where Musa was berthed at Marina di Procida.

We took a cab to the top of the stone stairs that led down to the quaint and colorful little village of Corricella. After paying the driver, we shouldered our luggage, walked down the steps to Corricella, and then up three flights to our room, where we collapsed into bed, absolutely exhausted.

Pretty Corricella

The next morning, we walked over the hill to the marina to see Musa in person for the first time. We were both very excited to see the boat that might be our next partner in our cruising adventures.

Eric, Van, and Musa

The Benevolent Overlords

19 May 2022 | Kensington, Whangarei, NZ
Vandy Shrader
When SCOOTS sailed away with her new owners in June 2021, Eric and I were officially boatless. Boatless, yes, but not homeless, thanks to the generosity of our dear Kiwi friends, Jeannie and Merv Dobbs.

We'd met Jeannie and Merv in 2016 in La Cruz, Mexico, when they dinghied over to SCOOTS to see whether Skip Sims, SCOOTS' original owner, was still at the helm. Eighteen years earlier, when they'd left New Zealand on their boat, Meridian Passage, they'd sailed north in the company of SCOOTS. They introduced themselves, we invited them aboard, and we've been good friends ever since.

All of us were in Mexico to prepare for the Pacific Puddle Jump, a loose rally of boats that would sail to French Polynesia, keeping in touch through an SSB radio net. In 2016, Eric and I were still relative newbies, only two years into our cruising life. For Eric and me, the PPJ was the beginning of our South Pacific adventures; for Jeannie and Merv, it was their trip home to Whangarei, and the end of their cruising.

Fast forward to 2018. By now, Eric and I were spending our winters (June-December) in Fiji and our summers (December-June) in New Zealand. Jeannie and Merv had sold Meridian Passage and bought a house in Whangarei. Merv, who'd spent his pre-cruising life as a builder, and can't sit still for more than a couple of minutes in a row, was having a great time doing an extensive renovation of their house. Jeannie, who also likes to keep active, had resumed her job as a nurse part-time, as well as helping Merv or planning their gardens.

Sometimes, when Merv needed an extra pair of hands, and it was the half of the year when we were in town, he'd call Eric. During smokos (Kiwi "coffee breaks"), Merv told Eric that he and Jeannie planned to add a room on to their house, to provide a place for cruisers or other people who might need it short-term, as a way to repay some of the kindnesses they'd received from people during their cruising days. From then on, Merv began calling it "your room," and Eric would laugh. Haha, little did we know. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Fast forward again to 2021. Eric and I were still in Whangarei, our cruising having been put on hiatus by the pandemic. Jeannie and Merv's house and gardens were finished and they were gorgeous. They had added on that extra bedroom, with its own fridge, sink, microwave, bathroom (with a bidet, this will be important in later blogs, trust me), and its own entry from the outside. At this point, the pandemic was having its way with the rest of the world, but in New Zealand, things were under control, and actually pretty normal. The boat market was really hot. In March, Eric and I decided to list SCOOTS for sale.

But before we did, we asked Jeannie and Merv if they were serious about allowing us to live in the extra room in their house. They said they were. "Even if we don't know how long we'll be there?" we asked. "No worries, mate," was their reply.

In June, SCOOTS was about to sail away with her new owners, we called Jeannie and Merv again and asked if they were serious. They said yes and we said how about on Tuesday? So we moved into Jeannie and Merv's extra room, beginning our next adventure: full-on Kiwi immersion.

At the beginning, none of us knew how things would play out: Would we all get along? How would we divvy up groceries? How would it be, living with housemates after all this time? But also, at the beginning, we decided to try things and see how they went, changing them up if necessary.

We soon settled into an easy routine: during the day everybody did their own thing. Each evening, we'd watch "The Chase," a British game show, and then the 6pm news on TVNZ1. It was a lot of fun, and it also gave us all insight into how Kiwis and Americans view the world and their places in it.

We usually ate dinner together. If Jeannie had worked that day, Eric and I would make dinner; if not, then Jeannie would usually cook. At dinner, all sorts of light-spirited cross-cultural education and shenanigans would happen; after dinner, Eric and I would retire to our room, leaving the "Big House" to Jeannie and Merv, whom we'd begun calling our "benevolent overlords."

Merv liked to amuse us from time to time by putting on an "American" accent to say something funny or to make a point. Whatever he said in his "American" voice, it always began with "God damn," in a slow, thick Southern accent. Apparently everyone outside of the US associates a Southern accent - and profanity - with Americans. Oh well. Maybe they're not wrong.

Sharing so much time with Jeannie and Merv really indoctrinated us into the Kiwi culture and vernacular. We learned all sorts of things we never knew, even after several years of living in Whangarei aboard SCOOTS. We even learned some new Kiwi phrases, such as "chuck the cat a goldfish," which means "pay a bit extra." We all kept an open mind about the way other people do things, and we laughed a lot.

Here is one of our typical dinner conversations. One night Merv grilled some snags ("sausages" for you Yanks) for dinner. We brought our bottle of mustard to the table. Jeannie and Merv stared at us, here they go, the Yanks being nutty again.
"Mustard?!" Merv asked. "What's that for?"
"For our sausages," Eric told him. "
"Yuck," said Merv.
"What do you put on sausage?" Eric asked.
"Plum sauce," Jeannie said.
"Plum sauce?!" Eric said. "On sausage?!"
After a good amount of razzing each other about our weird eating habits, we tried each other's sauces on our sausages and decided that in fact both were good.

Here is a small sampling of the things that we learned about during our stay with Jeannie and Merv:
~~~Mixing savory and sweet items on the same plate is anathema in New Zealand. Merv was
absolutely appalled by our habit of putting fruit on the same plate as our scrambled eggs. Not mixed in, not touching. Just occupying the same plate. He even made a point of telling our friends in common about it, who were also appalled, and looked at us as if we were cave people.
~~~Things we learned about toast. Vegemite (a paste made from yeast extract) is popular in New
Zealand, although its appeal is lost on Eric and me. Merv put it on his toast every day, which we thought was gross. To be fair, we each tried it again, and nope, it's still not for us. Also, we learned that Kiwis prefer their toast cold and hard. They even have little racks to hold the toast while it cools (and loses its appeal, from our point of view). They eat their cold, hard toast with butter (which of course doesn't melt), or Vegemite, jam, or tahini. "Why would you want the butter to melt?" Jeannie would ask. "Why wouldn't you?" Eric would reply. Whenever Jeannie made toast for Eric, she would tease him about having "warm bread."
~~~Kiwis (and Australians, too) store their dishes and glassware in drawers, rather than in
cupboards. As a person of limited stature, I think it's brilliant! You're standing there at the kitchen bench ("counter" in American), you want a plate or a glass, you open a drawer, and everything is within easy reach. No finding the step stool, or stretching up on tiptoe, to get them from a cupboard. If I get the opportunity to design a kitchen for myself, I'm going to do that. Of course, they have cupboards, too; they just store other things there.
~~~Most Kiwis don't use a dryer, preferring to dry their laundry on the line, even if it takes all day.
Or sometimes overnight. With New Zealand's sporadic showers, or daily deluges, this can make things tricky. So most Kiwis also have some alternative, covered area in which to hang their laundry.
~~~New Zealand meat pie etiquette. One day, Eric and I were in the kitchen, eating meat pies for
breakfast. (This would just be "pies" in Kiwi; "meat pies" would be redundant, as sweet pies are a rarity.) On his way to the garage, Merv saw us and stopped. "You can't eat pie for breakfast!" he said. "You can eat them at morning smoko, or for lunch, or any time after that. But never, ever, for breakfast." He finished with a drawling, "God damn."
"What about bacon and egg pies?" Eric asked. "Aren't they for breakfast."
"No," Merv said.
"Then why make them with bacon and eggs?" Eric asked.
"It doesn't matter," Merv said. "You don't eat pie for breakfast."

In addition to sharing cultural tidbits, we also participated in a free exchange of skills: Merv gave Eric free use of his garage workshop, and Eric gave Merv free use of his technological skills. I helped Merv arrange his photos on his computer and make a slide show with them, he taught me how to make perfect poached eggs. Jeannie showed me how to make a yummy spinach pie, I attracted the first tui to her tui feeder.

When the Delta variant of Covid finally came to New Zealand in August 2021, Eric and I happened to be vacationing in the small town where the first known case had visited a few days before testing positive. When it was announced that the area was going into lock down in 48 hours, we phoned Jeannie and Merv, to see if they would prefer that we not come home. They said, "No, come home. You can isolate in your room until we're sure you're not infected." Which is what we did. Every day for the next week, Jeannie would make dinner, and bring some for us on a tray. She'd leave it just outside our patio door so we could take it after she was safely back inside. We would smile and wave at each other through our respective glass patio doors. A week later, when no Covid cases had turned up in the town where we'd been, Jeannie and Merv decided that we could come out of our room and join them in the Big House again.

We had a lot of fun being Jeannie and Merv's "chase team," when they'd ride long distances on their e-bikes. We would drive their SUV after dropping them off with their bikes. Sometimes we would pick them up later in the day; other times we would make an entire weekend out of it, staying overnight at a campground or hotel so they could enjoy two long rides. They got a nice bike ride, and Eric and I got to do some sightseeing in some beautiful, out of the way places.

Jeannie and Merv became part of our family, and they treated us as if we were part of theirs, including us in their family gatherings, introducing us to their friends, sharing details and photos of their time in Whangarei before cruising, and all around the Pacific while cruising. We felt as if we were a family, not just two pairs of people living in the same house.

For six months we enjoyed the hospitality, humor, and friendship of our "benevolent overlords." It was a new type of adventure for all of us, an experiment that worked out better than any of us could have imagined. Through their kindness and generosity, in an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie, Jeannie and Merv provided us with the opportunity, the time, and the space to live our lives fully while the details of our next cruising adventure sorted themselves out. The time that we lived with Jeannie and Merv wasn't "the time between boats." It was its own worthwhile adventure, one we wouldn't trade for anything.

One adventure ends, another begins

07 June 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
Vandy Shrader
On March 5, while anchored at a beautiful bay where Whangarei Harbour meets the South Pacific Ocean, as we were about to begin a sailing exploration of the islands and coastline of New Zealand's North Island, Eric and I made the decision to turn around instead, to take SCOOTS back up the harbor to her berth at the Town Basin Marina, and offer her for sale.

As mentioned in the previous post, we'd been considering moving to a catamaran for quite awhile, and had in early 2020 begun the first steps toward selling SCOOTS. When the pandemic hit, we changed our minds, deciding instead to enjoy living on our beautiful yacht, right where we were. It was a decision that we've been happy with, and it was the right thing to do.

Our decision to sell SCOOTS now was also the right thing to do. The time was right, the market was right, and Eric and I felt that we were ready to begin the process of moving toward our next adventure, which required us to hand SCOOTS over to another couple who would love her and appreciate her as much as we have.

On June 5, that couple steered SCOOTS out of the Town Basin Marina, and back down Whangarei Harbour, beginning the voyage to her new home, near Auckland, New Zealand. Eric and I couldn't bear to untie SCOOTS' lines when she left, so after we'd helped the new owners move their gear aboard, and answered their questions, we enlisted the help of several of our yachtie friends to toss off SCOOTS' lines and get her off to a good start. Which she did.

From the transom of our friends' catamaran, further along the dock, we waved goodbye to SCOOTS, to her new owners, and to a chapter in our lives, as they passed by. It was kind of surreal: This was the first time we'd ever seen SCOOTS underway when neither of us was aboard.

It was hard to say goodbye. Really hard. SCOOTS has been our partner in adventures for nearly nine years, an equal member of our sailing team. She took us to amazing places; gave us experiences that we'll never forget; introduced us to so many people, some of whom are now part of our family; allowed us to live our dreams. She was there when we began our nomadic life, and, quite literally, enabled it.

The past three months have been very busy and very emotional. Busy because we had to make sure SCOOTS looked her best, which, in addition to making sure she was spotless and shiny, included removing most of our belongings, so that she didn't look like anyone lived aboard. This necessitated our renting a storage unit, which required us to decide what things we thought we'd need in the next six months or so (which would stay with us), what we thought we'd want when we got to our next boat (which got boxed up), and what we didn't want at all (which were donated or tossed).

We'd expected that since we'd only kept a small fraction of our belongings when we moved aboard SCOOTS, there wouldn't be that many to deal with now. But we were wrong. Every time we opened another cubby or hidey-hole, we found more items to decide about. SCOOTS can hold a lot! Her waterline is noticeably higher now, and our storage unit is noticeably crowded.

Emotional because, well, duh. To help me (Vandy) process all my feelings, I looked through our photos from the past nine years, collecting some that captured good times, stunning seascapes, occasional animal visitors, or the comforting sight of SCOOTS anchored just offshore, waiting, as she always did, for us to return - all reminders of the time we spent together.

I've created a movie from these photos, which you can find here: SCOOTS Movie. (If you've spent time on SCOOTS, or with Eric and me during our cruising life, you just might see yourself in the movie.)

With SCOOTS on to new adventures, it's time that Eric and I did the same. We're excited about what the future holds. For now, during this phase that for lack of a better term I'm calling our "Transition" period, we're living just up the hill from the marina, in a granny unit generously offered by a couple of our friends (former cruisers whom we met in Mexico shortly before we all crossed the Pacific in 2016). From this home base, I can easily drive to the grassy lawn near the marina where I feed the birds every morning, and we'll continue to enjoy living in New Zealand. In six months, when our current visas are due to expire, we'll know our next move.

In the meantime, we'll keep a weather eye on listings for the type of catamaran we're looking to buy (a Leopard 48), in places we'd like to buy it (upwind from here: the Med, the East Coast of the US, the Caribbean...). And when we do find our next ride, and begin our new adventures, you can bet that I'll be sharing it all with you, writing about our new, ever-changing backyard.

A Sea Change

26 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
Hello again!

I'm back to share some bittersweet and exciting news with you: our beloved SCOOTS is for sale.

SCOOTS holding up the rainbow

If you've followed our blog at all, you'll know how much we've enjoyed living and sailing on SCOOTS. The three of us have had some amazing adventures together, and she's taken us to some truly unforgettable places, always in a safe, speedy, and seakindly fashion. As I looked through the dozens of photos I have of SCOOTS, to choose some to include here, I relived some of our voyages again. What a wonderful experience we've had, traveling with her.

For more than a year, Eric and I have been considering making the move to a catamaran, to experience life on two hulls. Sadly, this necessitates finding a new owner for SCOOTS. Though we love everything about SCOOTS, and have been absolutely satisfied with her during the eight years we've owned her, we can't have two boats.

So if you - or someone you know - have been waiting for the opportunity to be a part of SCOOTS' continuing sailing journey, now's your chance. She's currently the only Able Apogee (of nine built) for sale, and the only one in the South Pacific. She's ready to take her next owner anywhere they want to go. As her previous owner said to us, "She'll be your magic carpet." And so she has been.

Here are her sale listings:
Yachtworld SCOOTS at Yachtworld
Yachthub SCOOTS at Yachthub

International potential buyers don't necessarily need to come to New Zealand to inspect her. Our broker has successfully completed the sale of yachts to overseas buyers. If you purchase SCOOTS, she'll be waiting for you here in New Zealand, ready to be your magic carpet as you explore the world's oceans.

A Clean Bottom and a Tsunami

24 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
Vandy Shrader
Hello everyone,

It's been a long time since I posted an entry to our blog. Eric and I have basically been living our lives here in New Zealand, enjoying the unexpected adventure of living in one place for more than a year.

During the first week of March, we took SCOOTS out the marina for the first time since she arrived in December 2019. Our plan was to have her hauled at Marsden Cove Marina, for a hull cleaning, and then continue south to explore the Hauraki Gulf. The hull cleaning was necessary because the water of the Hatea River, on which SCOOTS floats in the marina, is a rich ecosystem, some of which tends to attach itself to the bottom of boats. This not only looks ugly, but slows the boats down, sometimes considerably.

The haulout went well. On March 2, SCOOTS was hauled out on Marsden's high tech trailer and relieved of a coating of barnacles, and then we motored across Whangarei Harbour to beautiful Urquharts Bay, where we dropped the anchor and enjoyed a few days away from the dock.

March 5 was an interesting day for the crew of SCOOTS. Anchored in beautiful Urquharts Bay, a pastoral inlet on Whangarei Harbour, near its rendezvous with the Pacific Ocean, we were enjoying our morning coffee to the sounds of the dawn chorus on shore when our phones pinged. A new email had arrived, and I had a look.

When our phones pinged, we'd been discussing the news of the day so far, which was largely geological - a M7.3 quake had shaken the coast off the North Island around 2 am, and a M7.5 had recently jolted the Kermadecs, a sparsely-inhabited archipelago about 500 miles northeast of New Zealand, a few hours later. Emails had been generated by the UNESCO International Tsunami Warning and Advisory System, and sent to our inboxes, describing the location, magnitude, and depth of the earthquakes, and their potential to generate a tsunami. If a tsunami were predicted to occur, further details such as a forecast of the height and time of arrival at various places would be provided. Though both of these quakes had in fact generated tsunamis, they'd been small and hadn't impacted us.

The new email had a different tone than the others; it said this:


1928 UTC was 8:28am local time, or, in other words, about twenty minutes ago.

It went on to list estimated arrival times of the tsunami at selected cities in the South Pacific. Whangarei was specifically mentioned, with an estimated arrival time of 10:34 am.

"Let's go," Eric said, but I was already heading up the companionway to start Yanmar the Magnificent, the first stop on my way to the bow to raise the anchor. We were taking SCOOTS out to sea, into deep water, where the tsunami would have minimal impact. This had always been our tsunami plan, just as it is for sailors everywhere.

Several years ago, while relaxing in a quiet, secluded bay somewhere in Mexico, the thought had occurred to me that this would be a very bad place to be, if there were a tsunami. And if there were a tsunami, I thought, how would I know with enough lead time to take evasive action? I started looking online, and discovered that the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization - maintains an International Tsunami Warning Center that provides a free subscription service for tsunami bulletins via email. Perfect! I signed us up for the service - with forwarding to our at-sea email in case we were out of Internet range. If you're interested, here's a link to the site: Tsunami Alerts

Over the years, we've received probably a hundred advisory emails through this system. Every time a sizable earthquake happens at sea, regardless of whether a tsunami is expected to be generated, we get an email, informing or alerting us of the situation. It's inexpensive peace of mind.

The March 5 email was the first one that required us to take action.

It was a real threat, being taken seriously by local authorities. As SCOOTS' windlass was raising her anchor, our phones gave strident alarm sounds: New Zealand Civil Defence (that's how they spell it here) had sent out a warning text. It was direct, and to the point: "TSUNAMI: Leave evacuation zones NOW to high ground or inland." You know things are serious, when words coming from the government are in all caps. It was the first of many such texts over the next few hours.

Then the tsunami sirens on shore began to wail. First in Urquharts Bay, and then across the harbour in Marsden Cove, they sang the ululating song of air raid sirens, making the hair on my arms stand up as I managed the windlass. The anchor was soon up and tucked on deck, and we were off, into the channel, out the harbour, and on the ocean, heading for deep water.

I was chuffed that Eric keeps SCOOTS' systems in such good nick, so we can depend on them working perfectly when we need them. (A translation for my North American friends: I was happy that Eric keeps SCOOTS' systems working well.)

The weather was beautiful, the first sunny day after several stormy ones, a perfect day for an unplanned day sail. The wind was light, the water sparkling. Rafts of seabirds floated on the water, and some dolphins splashed in the distance. After awhile, we unfurled the jib and enjoyed some "lazy sailing," SCOOTS moving effortlessly and aimlessly in the deep water out by the Hen and Chickens Islands.

Meanwhile, in the background, the radio chatter kept us informed of the situation on shore, When the tsunami arrived at the coastline of the North Island, it was smaller than anticipated, less than a foot high in most places. Though it caused no damage, it did play with the tidal and river flows, resulting in unusual eddies and surges.

Finally, about four hours into our unexpected day sail, NZ Civil Defence texted us the ALL CLEAR. We headed back into Urquharts Bay, dropped the anchor again, and talked about the morning's events.

We'd been pleased at the effectiveness of the UNESCO tsunami texts, the NZ Civil Defence texts, and the tsunami sirens, for alerting us to the possible tsunami. Each alert system alone would have gotten the point across, but together they reinforced the possible danger of the situation, and the need to act quickly.

Though we'd expected SCOOTS to be part of a parade of boats heading to safety, we were surprised that she had been one of only three boats - out of the couple dozen anchored in Urquharts Bay, and probably hundreds anchored in the harbour's other bays - that had left for deep water. Had the tsunami been as large as - or larger than - predicted, it could have caused considerable damage to the boats in the harbour. Heading to deep water is the tried and true sailor's response to a tsunami; even a cargo ship that had been heading into Whangarei Harbour turned around and headed to deep water when they received the tsunami alert.

We felt lucky to have had SCOOTS anchored near the ocean when the tsunami alert came. This had been her first trip out of the marina in over a year. Our friends whose boats were tied up in the harbor's marinas, some several miles up the harbor, had to leave their boats to their fate and evacuate to high ground.

Saying "Thank You!" to Whangarei with a Sailstice Party

06 August 2020
Vandy Shrader
Hello again from New Zealand.

I haven't written lately, because it felt kind of frivolous, with all the serious stuff going on in the world, for me to blather on about what we've been doing. But then, recently, I thought, "Why not? Maybe somebody wants to know." So here goes.

Eric and I are still living aboard SCOOTS, who is still tied up snugly in the Hatea River at the Town Basin Marina, in Whangarei. Along with New Zealand's resident "Team of Five Million," we lived through nearly two months of a complete lockdown (we called it Level 4), during which we reduced and then squashed the virus's transmission in New Zealand. This allowed us to progress, cautiously, over the next few weeks, through Level 3 lockdown ("Level 4 with takeout"), Level 2, and now Level 1, where we've been holding since mid-June. As of this writing, New Zealand has no community transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

The Bubble Buddies celebrating the end of lockdown

Level 1 feels very much like what I would call "normal" life, with the notable exception of the continued closure of New Zealand's border. All businesses are open, large group events are allowed, we can hug friends again, and no one wears a mask to go grocery shopping. Though domestic travel is allowed again (it was banned during Levels 4 and 3), and even encouraged, international travel is barely a trickle, consisting almost entirely of Kiwis returning home from overseas. These returnees go straight into two weeks of supervised isolation in hotels, with a minimum of two mandatory Covid-19 tests during their stay, including a negative one before they're allowed to leave the hotel, all paid for by the NZ government. All of NZ's current Covid-19 cases have been brought in by returning Kiwis, detected and contained during quarantine.

The border is still closed to everyone who isn't a New Zealand citizen, with no indication of when it might be opened. And with the state of the virus in the rest of the world, there's not a lot of pressure to let potentially germy foreigners in, anyway. If we left New Zealand, we couldn't come back, so our plans are the same as they've been since March: stay here as long as we're allowed to, until next May or June, if possible, when the 2020-21 cyclone season has passed and we'd have our next chance to sail north to the tropics for the winter.

Like many foreign yachties, our visitor visas are good through September 25. When I wrote the first draft of this blog post, a few days ago, we didn't know what would happen after that, but we expected that NZ Immigration would come up with a reasonable policy. Breaking news: they did! Yesterday, NZ Immigration announced that they'll allow yachties who are already here on visitor visas to apply for another visa which will be good for up to a year. Woohoo!

Enough about the pandemic. Let me fill you in on some of what Eric and I have been up to.

Once we'd stepped down to Level 1, and were allowed gather in large groups again, of course we cruisers threw a party. Not just a party for ourselves, but a multi-faceted, multi-venue, "thank you!" kind of party, open to everyone, to thank the people and council of Whangarei for making us feel welcome and safe here, during the pandemic.

So many of us foreign yachties had said, "We love it here!", so often, that we thought it appropriate to share this sentiment with the people of our neighborhood. It also happens to be the motto of Whangarei, so quite fitting.

We held our party on the winter solstice, which as you know coincides with the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, on which auspicious astronomical date many boating-related events (including parties) are traditionally held. We decorated our boats with lots of brightly-colored flags, creating a sea of color in the marinas.

A sea of color

We planned to have a live band on the covered bridge at the head of the marina; a blessing by a Maori elder; a cannon salute with real (small but loud) cannons;

Small but loud

a presentation to the mayor of Whangarei of a banner signed by all of us cruisers;

The banner signed by the yachties

a big dinner with a DJ and dancing; a putting tournament on a small green constructed on the marina's dinghy dock;

Putting for bragging rights

and slideshows displaying videos and photos shared by cruisers, shown on several video screens.

One of the aspects that felt really special to me, was how each person contributed to making the party happen in whichever way that he or she enjoyed, so none of it felt like work. Those who liked to plan events did so; those who liked to cook for the big dinner did so;

The fabulous home made fajita spread

those who liked to set up and decorate did that;

Decorating the putting green

someone who enjoyed putting slideshows together collected the videos and images and created a stunning presentation; those who liked to publicize events did that; those who were artists painted the banner and signs;

one cruiser who is a talented photographer (Michelle Marshall) documented the events of the day, and in fact most of the photos in this blog post were taken by her; those who liked to sew created seat covers and banners; those who liked to play golf constructed the putting green and held putting tournaments on the day of the party; those who liked to play music played with the band.

The RDM Band and Friends

That last was how Eric and I contributed.

Eric playing bass

Having reunited with the other half of our musical buddies - we'd been separated during the lockdown, since their boats are at a nearby, but different, marina from us - we practiced every day for the week prior to the party and then had a great time playing several gigs during the party weekend.

I felt inspired to splurge, adding a bongo stand and a guiro to my percussion stash.

Van playing bongos

We even got the mayor to dance!

A few of my friends who jokingly call me the "weather goddess," put me in charge of the weather for the day of the party, since many of the events would be held outside. I don't know how much you know about Northland New Zealand winter weather, but to call it "changeable" would just about begin to cover it. Anyway, after reminding my friends that it's much easier to plan an event based on a forecast, than to plan an event and then change the forecast (which was not looking good in this case) to a better one, I promised to do what I could. I even burned my sage bundle on a couple of occasions, in case the fragrant smoke might please the weather gods, thereby enticing them to dispel the rainy day that was predicted.

It was pouring as we set up under the cover of the canopy bridge in the morning. I walked the docks one more time with my smoking sage bundle, protected under my umbrella. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the rain began to let up, until, just as the Maori elder completed his blessing at noon, the official starting time of our party, the clouds broke, the sun shone through, and the rest of the day was sunny. Thank you, weather gods!

It was fun to mingle with people from Whangarei, who came by to see what the "crazy foreign yachties" were up to this time, to enjoy the music, the slideshow, and the putting green, with the colorful backdrop of hundreds of flags flapping in the breeze on our decorated boats. The dinner party that evening, with its dancing and merriment, was a great release, after weeks of strict separation.

The idea of being in one location for such a long time is strange to many of us yachties, who've spent years traveling from place to place. Strange, but not necessarily bad. In some ways, I find it a refreshing change, a different sort of adventure. As we yachties tend to be an adaptable bunch (a useful quality for our way of life), many of us have embraced our unexpected "bonus time" in New Zealand as an opportunity to do more exploring here, and help the local economy in the meantime. This year, instead of having a tropical adventure, we'll have a sub-tropical, temperate, or an alpine adventure - maybe even all three! - as we set off to get to know this land that has taken us in during the pandemic. Eric and I, for example, recently returned from a fun two-week driving trip with a couple of our friends, around the central part of the North Island. More on that in another blog post. This week, about a dozen cruisers are embarking on a ski trip to the South Island. Others are currently scattered all around New Zealand, exploring by camper van, motor home, or car. There's plenty to see and do, right here in New Zealand.

Another positive aspect of knowing that we'll be here for awhile, is that many of us have begun longer-term activities, that we really couldn't commit to, when we knew we'd be here for only a short time. Cruisers have begun volunteering at the local SPCA, second-hand shops, and other places that can use extra hands, or enrolled in multi-month classes and workshops. Besides feeding the sparrows, ducks and gulls at the marina each day, I've begun volunteering at the Native Bird Recovery Centre, a place where sick or injured birds can find medical help and a safe place to get back on their feet - or wings.


Robert with a kiwi

Wendy with a big gull

The visitor center

I love working there, and look forward to "being with the birds" each week.

This year, we're settling into our lives here in a more substantial way, putting down some semi-permanent roots, extending our energies more widely into our community, than we would in a "normal" year, when we knew we'd be leaving in a few months. This year, maybe as a result of weathering the lockdown alongside the "Team of Five Million," it almost feels as though we're residents of New Zealand, rather than just visiting. We may even start saying things like, "Sweet as!" or "I reckon," or Yeah, nah." Oh, wait...we already do.

But though things are going well, at this moment, here in New Zealand, we all know that it only takes one or two slip-ups to allow community transmission to take off again, and throw us back into lockdown. We're all very cognizant of how things are going in the rest of the world. The news - especially that coming out of the States - regularly dismays or perplexes us, as it does everyone who's paying attention. All of us cruisers have families elsewhere; we miss you, and we worry about you. We can't be with you, and you can't be with us, for awhile. And it weighs on us. Take care of yourselves and each other, stay safe, and Be Kind.

Vessel Name: Awildian, previously on board SCOOTS
Vessel Make/Model: Leopard 48
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed our Able Apogee 50, SCOOTS, from 2012-2021, and are now aboard Leopard 48, Awildian, since March 2022.
Awildian, previously on board SCOOTS's Photos - Paradise Taveuni
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