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Get My Boat 2021 LEADERBOARD

On hold under lockdown in New Zealand

by Lisa Benckhuysen 27 Apr 2020 19:24 UTC

Please wait here...this sign appeared weeks ago at the local grocery store and it sums up our time in a New Zealand marina under Covid-19 lockdown measures. All voyages, passages and plans are off.

This is a test of community cooperation on every level and Kiwis and visitors alike are showing good sense and kindness. In contrast to the somber newscasts, to which I am firmly addicted, the marina still feels like international expat Sesame Street. At midmorning I step off our boat, and head down the dock for my daily walk around the community.

Across the dock, Dave is sanding the woodwork on the beamy fifty-footer, Whizzbang, and in the next berth Mike enjoys a cup of coffee in the cockpit of Tamure ll, attended by his faithful cat.

After climbing the ramp to the boatyard I find Rose, whose 1904 restored wooden cutter, Rosemary, is anchored in the river. There is still work to be done to make Rosemary seaworthy and the pandemic has put it on hold. A skilled artist, Rose is apprenticed to a local boatbuilder. She and her friend are having a distanced chat with Jack, who is on the lookout for a boat of his own. Jack seems to have stepped out of a Steinbeck novel: he moves easily, laughs often, and is always ready with a tall tale. If he ever writes a novel, it will be an interesting read...

I make my way between the boats in the yard. Martin and Ellen are working together to paint the underside of their Bavaria 45, ACAPELLA. They cut short their visit to the Netherlands, flew back to New Zealand in early March, and had to isolate onboard for 14 days here in the yard. To prepare for their return, Pelle, off LOUPAN, drove their van all the way to Aukland and parked it in the airport so Martin and Ellen could drive to the marina in isolation. Pelle took a bus back and, with his wife Ulla, stocked ACAPELLA with groceries.

Nearby a young French couple works on the rudder of their custom steel boat, ATOLL. They had planned to be at home getting married... Time and tide, and now viruses, wait for no one. On the way out of the yard, I pass the washhouse where Pat is bleaching and scrubbing the shared facilities. This is our biggest vulnerability as regards illness: we are 28 people in this marina bubble. Pat, who sailed here from England with her husband Glenn on their homebuilt, steel boat NORTHERN ROSE, is our essential services heroine.

Walking along the riverside loop I come across Patricia and Isabella who are wearing colorful face masks as they bike the trail. "I have a sewing machine and lots of leftover fabric," explains Patricia, "so I made masks for my family and everyone I see from day to day." This mother and daughter have somehow made the facemasks fun. "We are just making the most of it, any way we can."

Farther along I meet a very elderly liveaboard, seated on a bench beneath a spreading Pohutukawa tree. From his captain's cap and white beard to his soft cardigan, faded jeans and sturdy shoes, he is gently worn but well kept. We have spoken before but I do not know his name or much about him except that he is always alone.

Bent low to the ground, with a few crumbs of bread in his outstretched palm, he communes with a sparrow. "It often climbs right up on my fingers," he tells me with a smile. We chat briefly about the weather and before moving on I ask how he is managing the lockdown. "I am well," he answers. "Have a happy day." Maybe I've walked off Sesame Street and into Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Crossing the canopied bridge and passing the closed cafes and restaurants, it feels like Sunday fifty years ago, when everything was closed on Sundays. The carpark next to the restaurants has become a gathering place for homes on wheels and their inhabitants. One is a converted silver bus, another a utility truck, painted bright purple with planets and stars, and a third is a gypsy style caravan with a fluttery line of prayer flags and a cheery orange umbrella. Tunes are cranked here and the lawn chairs are appropriately distanced. These folks live in their unique, mobile, tiny homes all year round. It's a thing here, a quirky yet practical reinvention of community that echoes that of the marina.

The next point of interest is the theatre. It is of course closed and the colorful posters advertising Opera in the Garden and Ladies in Black, A Humorous Musical Comedy, (What other kind of comedy is there?) are a reminder of cancelled events. There is a shaded bench between the theatre and the river and on it is a tall thirty something fellow in shorts, t-shirt, red trainers and a sheepskin aviator's cap.

He alternates between writing on a thick pad of paper and staring at the river. A tall glass filled with amber liquid is placed in front of him. He is here most days and the glass is always full. No, he's not writing a novel and he's not a drinking beer either. He has been coming to this spot for eight years to write in his journal. He prefers not to chat or greet people and is just part of the scenery.

Most people on the walking loop do say "Hello,"" Gedday," or "Good Morning" to everybody else, especially since lockdown began. Because it's a loop, one often sees the same people twice and there's a conspiratorial smile of recognition at the second passing. In the one narrow spot along the loop its sometimes necessary to leap up into the shrubbery in order to maintain distance from one another.

Other yachties from the larger marina upriver often stop for a chat but, lately, there's not much to say... Recrossing the Hatea River on the lifting bridge, I come to the sports park- acres of green turf- completely deserted except for the ungainly marsh hens with their chunky red bills and outsize feet. The parking lot is dotted with campervans occupied by international tourists isolating in place. The municipality has wisely provided a blue plastic portaloo for every van: kiwi kindness and practicality in action indeed.

At the water fountain I have to walk big in order to ward off the attack duck. On several occasions this male has pursued me and tried to nip my ankles, odd behavior as it isn't mating or nesting season. The duck appears to be guarding the water fountain although it has free run of the whole river and the foreshore. He approaches me squawking, with bill outstretched, so I jump and wave my arms to frighten him off. I hope he doesn't chase any children. Clearly he hasn't heard about cooperation and Kiwi kindness. I guess every neighborhood has its Oscar the Grouch. I'm glad it's just a duck.

Turning through the gates to reenter the boatyard, I pass the empty party shelter. Decorated with flags from around the world and strings of Christmas lights, the shelter is new this year and has hardly been used. Mo, a former British army medic and circus acrobat who works in the boatyard, is a puckish character with an artistic bent and he painted the picnic tables and benches in psycheadelic colors during his spare time. He was starting to paint the tractor when the lockdown began.

Everything is at a standstill for now but some work can begin next week when we move to Level Three and there will be gatherings again when this pandemic is over. In anticipation of that, I head back to my boat to practise my keyboard skills for few hours. I am using this time to improve my piano blues while my band buddies, Martin on Acapella, Barry on White Shadow, and Pelle on Loupan, practise bass, percussion and guitar. I think today, just for fun, I will learn the theme song to Sesame Street.

I am grateful to those in government, health and essential services who are steering New Zealand through this pandemic with science, good sense and kindness. Of all the many places we might be in the world, we are lucky to be waiting here.

A big thank you to the owners and staff of Riverside Drive Marina who made this a safe haven for us.

Lisa Benckhuysen is a Canadian educator and freelance writer sailing around the world slowly with her husband, Henk, on their modified Express 37, Harlequin.

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