Life has a way of dealing unexpected surprises. Out of the blue I received an email from Geoff Tapper (the Skipper who helped us get Great Escape from Adelaide to Lake Macquarie) asking if I would be interested in crewing on a yacht delivery from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand to Coffs Harbour in Australia. I needed to be ready to leave in a few days as the weather window for sailing from New Zealand to Australia was closing.
The yacht is a 45’ Beneteau named ‘Estelle’ and the family who owned her had sailed her from the Mediterranean to New Zealand prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. They wanted to get the boat to Australia but couldn’t do so themselves. The travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia had opened and I suspect this was an ideal opportunity to get a delivery Skipper to sail the boat to Australia. The next few days were a whirlwind trying to get ready for an ocean crossing at very short notice.
To complicate matters, the travel bubble only applies to air travel between New Zealand and Australia and we needed authorisation from New South Wales health department to sail back to Australia in the travel bubble. NSW health gave us authorisation on condition that we have a Covid-19 test on arrival in Coffs Harbour and that we isolate on the boat until the test results came in.
It was an ideal opportunity for me to see my daughter in Auckland. It has been almost 2 years since I last saw her. It is now Thursday 6 May and I am writing this first part of the blog post from a deserted Sydney airport. I have travelled through Sydney airport on many occasions and it is normally a bustling, vibrant and very busy airport. Prior to the pandemic, 1 000 international tourists arrived at Sydney airport every hour.
The airport is eerily quiet, all of the shops are closed and most have even removed their stock. There are a few restaurants open but even the McDonald’s is closed. This is when it hits home how bad the pandemic is. Australia relies heavily on international tourists and it is only because the Australian government (like so many other governments around the world) have simply thrown billions of dollars at the economy that it hasn’t collapsed. How long they can continue to do remains to be seen.
Sailing from New Zealand to Australia in the middle of May is far from ideal. The best time seems to be January to March when the weather is settled. There are many horror stories of trips that have gone really badly and the Tasman Sea is not be taken lightly.
As the crow flies, the distance between the Bay of Islands and Coffs Harbour is about 1 100 miles. Given that we are sailing across, we have no idea what distance we will cover or how long it will take. Geoff seems to think about 6 to 8 days but that seem optimistic to me. Fortunately there are three of us doing the trip which makes it easier. Eight days of 4 hours on and 4 hours off with only 2 on board would be quite challenging and if something happened to either of us it could get very difficult. That said, many couples do it every year.
The weather forecast (www.marineweather.co.nz) looks fairly good for next week. There is a high pressure system over New Zealand right now resulting in the weather being very settled. The forecast is for some rain and fair winds for next week. The night time temperatures will be very cold.
The plan was for Geoff and Dean (the other crew member who is flying in from Melbourne) to arrive in Auckland on Friday 7 May. We would then all take the bus from Auckland to the Bay of Islands on Friday evening. Saturday would be spent getting to know the boat and provisioning and we would leave on Sunday 9 May. That would give us enough time to get to Coffs Harbour before the end of May.
My flight left Sydney at 11H40 and was scheduled to arrive in Auckland at 16H30. I was flying with Air New Zealand which is an airline I try and avoid. True to form, Air New Zealand were late in departing, ran out of food and even managed to run out of passenger arrival cards. How hard can it be to get things right when there are only a few flights every day?
By the time we arrived in Auckland at 17H00 the New Zealand government had announced that they were closing the border with New South Wales from midnight on Thursday. There had been two cases of Covid-19 in New South Wales where the source was unknown and that was enough to cause the New Zealand health authorities to close the border. The border with New South Wales would be closed for at least 48 hours which meant that Geoff could not leave on Friday.
Everything is now up in the air and we will only be able to make decisions once the border between New Zealand and New South Wales re-opens.
Every time we make travel plans in the pandemic we are rolling the dice – we cannot complain if it goes against us.