3 months in NZ, and still no Southern Star…
It was three months ago today that we exited our two week quarantine (MIQ) in Christchurch after arriving back from the US.
We stayed on a few days in Christchurch with Jenny’s mum, and spent our first day of freedom running around organizing NZ mobile phones, bank cards and other administrative tasks.
On our second day of freedom Ted received an email from Sevenstar Shipping, the company transporting Southern Star to NZ. They advised us that on arrival in Ensenada, Mexico, a catamaran had been offloaded from Happy Dover, and was found to have 200 kilos of cocaine on board. As a result, the ship, crew and cargo were all impounded pending further investigation. We conferred with our own broker in Auckland, and our lawyer in Nelson. It seemed there was little we could do at this stage. Sevenstar were assuring us they were doing everything possible to address the situation and to continue the voyage of Happy Dover on to NZ, with a new projected arrival date in Auckland of 22 December.
That was three months ago, and Southern Star still remains on board Happy Dover (which we have affectionately renamed Unhappy Dover, or Ben Dover), which is at anchor under guard in Mexico. We have since heard that the captain is likely to be charged and imprisoned in Mexico, and the ship Happy Dover is likely to be confiscated by the Mexicans. Sevenstar is negotiating with the Mexicans to have the cargo (i.e. our boat) released, and we have been offered the option to offload in Mexico and leave Southern Star there, to offload and be shipped back to Florida, or to offload and continue the voyage to NZ on another ship.
We took counsel from Gordon who as always offered valuable and pragmatic advice. He said that nothing had changed with regard to the reasons for our original decision to ship Southern Star to NZ, and if anything the situation in the US and internationally had got worse. We separately saw posts on the cruising website noonsite.com which suggested that French Polynesia had essentially closed its borders to pleasure craft, and this was one of our major concerns when considering whether to attempt the passage across the Pacific ourselves. And other Pacific islands remain closed to visiting yachts. Plus the idea of leaving the safety of the NZ country bubble, and venturing back to the US and Mexico with worsening Covid rates was not appealing. Our NZ vaccinations are still several months away.
So we advised Sevenstar that we want to continue as planned, and have Southern Star brought back to NZ. Ted had in the meantime been contacting others on social media, with boats also on Happy Dover, and we in fact met with a couple of others to commiserate and confirm our intentions to get our boats back.
People have asked us if this is stressful for us, and of course we have had some sleepless nights. But the reality is there is nothing we can do right now. There are owners of superyachts on board Happy Dover who, together with their lawyers, will be screaming much louder than we can, and while the communication from Sevenstar could be a lot better and more frequent, we are sure they are doing everything they can to mitigate the situation which will be costing them millions.
The bigger concern for us is what condition Southern Star will be in when she finally arrives. We have been told that she was not searched by the Mexicans, as she had been sealed up after her fumigation in Florida. We have had photos sent to us, taken by the crew, apparently showing her safely sitting in the hold of the boat. While this protects her from sun and salt to some degree, her solar panels will be inactive, and her batteries will likely be dead. We worry about the water maker, as we did not bother pickling it for what should have been a six week voyage, so may be facing a major refit. And we worry about the humidity, and what impact that will be having on furnishings, carpets, etc.
But all this is fixable, once we get the boat here. It was always our intention to return to NZ, return to work for a couple of years, while living aboard and preparing the boat for Pacific cruising. While replacing batteries and water maker parts will be more expensive here, we are at least going to be earning money, and living at a marina is not as costly here as most marinas on the US east coast.
When we left Christchurch in November, we were welcomed back to Auckland by Gordon and Donna, who had together visited us in the Bahamas. Gordon had also joined us in Nova Scotia, and in the Chesapeake. Gordon had generously offered accommodation in his luxurious Herne Bay apartment, for as long as we needed it. At this point we were still hoping Southern Star would be in Auckland by Christmas, but it soon became apparent that wouldn’t happen. Gordon’s generosity extended beyond Christmas and into the New Year.
In the meantime, we had made another trip to Christchurch, to attend the wedding of Jenny’s nephew, Ethan, who with his fiancée Penny had also visited us in the Bahamas and shared the amazing dolphin experience. The wedding was held on Penny’s family farm, with vows being exchanged high on a hillside overlooking magnificent north Canterbury countryside. The reception was held in a barn, which had been converted into a unique venue, complete with fairy lights, stage, bar and buffet, and even a hidden speakeasy for late night whiskey tasting.
Jenny’s brother is in a wheelchair, and her mum at 89 is not as mobile as she was at 80! So we were there to lend practical assistance, as well as enjoy the day. Jenny’s family is very small – one brother, one niece, one nephew, and mother. So it was great that we could be there to support Ethan, although we had to leave before we could hear him give his speech, which apparently included a reference to Ted and Jenny’s drug boat.
From Christchurch we took a road trip north to Nelson, through more wonderful NZ scenery, to spend a few days with Jenny’s old boss and friend from Grant Thornton, Wayne and his wife Marion. Wayne has a two year contract at Nelson Institute of Technology, and we were there exploring possible work opportunities in Nelson. For our life to work there, we needed somewhere to keep Southern Star as we would be living on board. We visited Nelson Marina, which was dirty, run down and full. We would have been the biggest boat there, but were advised by very unfriendly staff that the marina had a four year waiting list for berths, which we were welcome to pay for, and join. This was a shock and made us concerned about finding long term berthage in Auckland.
On our way back from Nelson we visited Havelock Marina, about a 45 minute trip by car from Nelson. Here we met a very friendly dock master who said there would be a slip for us, were we arriving right then, and that he would expect he could accommodate us in the future. While not ideal in terms of location, it was at least an option, and in terms of boat location, offered much better access to the spectacular cruising around the Marlborough Sounds. As it later turned out, the opportunity for Ted in Nelson didn’t eventuate, which meant it didn’t make sense for us to relocate there.
However there was one great outcome from our Nelson trip. Wayne and Marion have a house in Herne Bay, 3 streets along from Gordon, which has been rented out while they’ve been living elsewhere, but which was becoming vacant and required some works to be done. Marion suggested we might like to house sit for them, and we absolutely jumped at the idea. We didn’t want to outstay our welcome at Gordon’s, and it was looking increasingly likely the boat wouldn’t arrive for at least another couple of months.
So mid-January we moved three streets over from Gordon’s luxury apartment, to Wayne’s executive townhouse, and set to work organizing various tradespeople and renovation activities on Wayne’s behalf. This will be our job while we are here, making sure we earn our keep in return for Wayne and Marion’s generous hospitality. Should they decide to sell, we will be responsible for keeping the property immaculate, and open home ready.
We are also working for Gordon in a way, helping him on various jobs at his storage yard including selling abandoned items on TradeMe, which is the NZ equivalent of ebay. Gordon owns a stable of vehicles, and offered us a great deal on his 2010 BMW 535, which we have bought this week, after driving it around since we arrived back in Auckland.
We do have a marina berth reserved at Gulf Harbour Marina which is north of Auckland, but serviced by a fast ferry into downtown Auckland each day. When we explored other options for Southern Star in Auckland, one of the marina staff at the Viaduct Marina asked, when we said our boat was delayed and we didn’t have an arrival date, if we were on “the drug boat”. We confirmed we were, which caused great hilarity with the marina staff. It is still the middle of Americas Cup racing here, and all city marinas are full for boats of our size, however we are told this will change after April, and if we can, we plan to find a berth downtown, which would save on commuting time and cost, particularly if we are both working in the city.
We have been really surprised at the way the marinas staff have made us feel, when we ask about space. There is a supply issue here, and Nelson Marina and Westhaven Marina, were in fact rude and condescending when we inquired about bringing Southern Star to either. Laughingly offering to place us on their 2-4 year wait list. I (Ted) and really set back by this; feeling very unwelcomed about bringing our boat back home. I just hope that by the time she gets here that the Americas Cup will be over and pressure on the marina facilities have lessened and allow us to find someplace to berth Southern Star.
And we are both now seriously job hunting. We have each had a few interviews, met with agents, and reconnected with our old Auckland and industry networks in the hope of both finding something which will help to restock the cruising fund over the next 2-3 years.
Yesterday, NZ announced a community outbreak of the more infectious new Covid strain, and Auckland has been put into a three day lockdown. It is a reminder that even in one of the safest countries in the world, the risk is still very real, and we continue to live in uncertain times.