Monday, November 28, 2011

Where the Hell is the Floor?

“I can’t get it,” I irritably inform my husband.

He retorts with some heat, “It’s right in front you!”

“Yes,” I agree with just the right amount of sarcasm, “I can see that it is right in front of me. And between me and the tool you want are 15 boxes, 5 pieces of plywood, a bag of cat litter, a large pile of dirty laundry, a snarl of rope, three fenders, and an unknown number of unmatched shoes.”

Yesterday, we retrieved the trailer from our friend’s house in Pukekohe and unloaded all the precious gear on to the boat. We’ve decided not to keep the trailer. For the cost of a rental space, we could buy the trailer and everything in it twice year. If it doesn’t fit on the boat, we have to get rid of it. Until then, the girls and DrC dumped all the gear into the cockpit for sorting, analysis, storage, and purging.

I question where my head was last February. Did I really think we were going to have any use for a radiant oil heater? Where the hell did I plan on storing not one but two electric whisks? And all these appliances with New Zealand plugs… what moron saves them for 8 months in a trailer to be used on an American boat?

Like a gopher with ADHD, DrC’s head pops up out of the transom and he points, “There. Walk there. You can get it from that angle.”

What is called for here is a yard sale. Challenging at best given that we have no yard, I think I can get rid of the vast majority of this crap by simply leaving it on the dock. There is a bench, in fact, at the gated entrance to our dock which is used as a sort of freecycle repository. Some of the items can no doubt be sold for cash on trademe. Others should just be taken directly to the trash.

“Can I throw away your old shirts?” I ask my husband, apropos of nothing apparently.

His head bounces up. “The needlenose pliers,” he reminds me.

We are combining two households: our accumulation of land-based goods from our year in Chicken House with the remnants of supplies purchased in Mexico to take us across the Pacific. It occurs to me as I pick past the rough ends of the plywood that we may never again need to buy soap, hand lotion, or bug repellent. I am not sure why the hell I ever thought we would wash our hands while sailing across the Pacific. “Big ones or little ones?” I ask, having finally reached the tool box.

“Both.” Smart man. He may not need it, but he knows there is no chance in hell I’m going to go back to the tool box after the first run.

As I retrace my path back to the 1 foot square clear space in the cockpit, I come to a decision, “Dean, we’re going to sell the children to make room for your tools.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bayswater -- Our New Home

Bayswater Marina
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.
Bayswater Marina is located across the Waitemata Harbour from Auckland proper. For those familiar with the great bays of the western United States, this is equivalent to living in Sausilito, Berkeley or West Seattle. The view of the city skyline to the south is stunning, the air is crisp and clean, the bay is full ferries, small fishermen, and yachts at nearly all times of day.

The marina itself is a big half circle dredged into the surrounding tidal low. It is stuck out on the end of the thumb of the Bayswater peninsula. There is no protection from prevailing wind and very little from large wakes generated by passing ferries. This would prove problematic in a more aggressively nasty climate, but in Auckland it is reasonably comfortable. The marina hosts 7 docks and nearly 1200 boats ranging in size from the enormous fishing trawler Tom to a swarm of small power boats.

Our marina hosts quite a few liveaboards, including at least two other families with children. Most of us are on docks F and G as these docks support larger craft with attached water and power. They tell us we are extremely fortunate to have a liveaboard slip in Bayswater. Unlike Seattle and San Francisco where increasing NIMBY legal pressure is restricting liveaboards, the problem here at Bayswater is simply one of infrastructure. The shore facilities – laundry, showers, and toilets – can only support so many liveaboards. The staff here feels that we are more than a little over capacity, so they are strictly restricting new boats and families and in fact have a very long waiting list. We’re allowed only because I put our name on the list over a year ago.

However tight we might have slid under the deadline, the folks here have made us feel incredibly welcome. While we are only beginning the process of getting to know our fellow liveaboards, our relationships with the office staff, dock crew, and harbour master are already strong and positive. The whole lot of them are incredibly helpful, friendly, and supportive. Problems disappear when I walk in the office and start chatting with Ed or Magdelena or Kezia. I really like these people.

Which is good, because without a happy dock crew, I fear Don Quixote would not be an easy boat to slide into this marina. For one thing, we don’t fit. We never quite fit, but here we really don’t fit. First, they put us in an 18 meter catamaran slip way out at the end of the dock. Fantastically private and with enough wind to keep us going 24/7 with all the lights on, the computers plugged in and both fridges chugging away, it just wouldn’t suit for the long haul. For one thing, the 10 minute walk from deck to shore is fine in the mild spring and summer weather, but I fear it would have been a heinous slog in winter sleet. More importantly, they were charging us an 18 m price for that slip. We’re an 11 m boat. We were almost paying double for the privilege of privacy and a freezing walk.

So they kindly moved us all the way from the outermost slip to the innermost slip. This is what happens to catamarans. We get the outside or the inside. Now we are practically under the dock ramp. This puts us directly under everyone’s eye, including all the dock crew. Good and bad, right? If we have to stretch, bend, or even break a few dock rules, we’re going to get caught instantly. For example, technically we are not supposed to dry our clothes on the boat. But, we want to hang the towels for an hour or to dry after we use them. On F74, no one would see. On F3, well it’s rather obvious, isn’t it. We look like Po' White Boat Trash. Luckily, the staff is all Kiwi attitude all the time. At least with drying, it’s hard to imagine why the “no dry” rule was ever set up in the first place. This is a country where drier ownership is considerably less than really big, fancy BBQ ownership. But the best bit on this inner slip is the very short walk, and did I mention ½ the cost? Dogz knows that if DQ breaks free or starts to smoke, the entire marina will be on her in a second to help.

The only real problem is that we are wedged in so tight into this slip that we literally can not get in and out on our own. We also shouldn’t – potentially even can’t – get out on a low tide. I feel like a dumpy lady trying to fit into a bridesmaid’s outfit two sizes two small. Maybe once I slide my fat ass into the satin, I’ll look super good… or maybe I’ll just look like mutton masquerading as lamb. To make matters more absurd, the slip next to us has been converted from two slim slips into one monster wide for the beauteous, brand new, blindingly clean, 14 meter catamaran P’zazz. She’s the bride, and she is dazzling.

If you’re thinking of spending a few days or a week here, the facilities are pretty good for mariners. Nice lounge, ferry to Auckland on the same dock as your boat, strong (though moderately pricey) broadband wifi to your boat, super well kept shower ($1/5 min) and laundry ($4/load wash, $4/20 min dry), 24/7 security and gated parking. The downside is that there are absolutely no services within walking distance to Bayswater. We’re at the end of a suburban desert. You can ferry into town or you can take a bus, but there is no walking to get groceries. I can drive you around, if you’d like, but not for too much longer. I really need to get a job.

Speaking of jobs, Jaime immediately found gainful employment with the marina. She is working every day scrubbing decks and docks, cleaning the parking lot, and doing other man-about-the-marina labour. Her boss and co-workers appear quite happy with her work, and she is delighted to finally earn enough pocket money to keep herself in the electronic and clothing style to which she would like to become accustomed. It’s all good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rough Weather Off the North Island

Auckland - The City of Sails
Auckland - The City of Sails
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Oddly enough to us, practically the first question of every Kiwi on learning that we recently sailed across the Pacific from North America is: “Did you have any really bad weather?” Generally, this isn’t the first question asked by Americans. Americans ask us about pirates, sometimes about banditos and avian bird flu, and memorably once about the availability of Starbucks coffee in Puerto Vallarta.* Experienced cruisers don’t ask either type of question since the answers are well known. Instead, they ask which islands we visited on the crossing and have we yet found a cheap place to do laundry.

Kiwis focus on the weather. This is smart. New Zealand coastal weather is challenging at best. At her worst, New Zealand’s coasts kill boats, boaters, and fishermen with a dreary regularity which provides a steady trickle of articles for page three of the New Zealand Herald. I believe it might even provide enough work to qualify as a journalistic beat. Of course, by far the majority of vessels and individuals lost are very small motor craft and weekend fishers. A well-founded cruising yacht which has already proven herself transiting the world’s oceans with a crew that is alert and on their game is unlikely to come to too much grief. Listen to the regularly broadcast weather reports, pay very close attention to your charts at their most detailed setting as most of the coastline is distressingly shallow and littered with obstacles, and do not get cocky.

Because New Zealand is likely to offer a global sailor some of the worst weather seen since leaving the Pacific Northwest or the Caribbean on the front end of the hurricane season. She certainly served Don Quixote a quick smack in the face translated as roughly, “Wake up you idiots! You’re not in the tropics anymore.” While it is difficult to say with precision since our wind instrument head unit abruptly died in Tonga, we estimate that we saw the highest wind speeds of our entire journey while making the passage from Whangarei to Auckland.

Not surprisingly, we were out in the rough weather because of a calendar. It really can not be said enough times: The most dangerous piece of equipment on a cruising sail boat is the calendar. We were under direct orders from BioSecurity AND Customs to get ourselves down to Auckland by Friday. BioSecurity wanted us to get Dulcinea into quarantine; Customs needed us to import the boat since we were not applying for the temporary import permit used by most vessels entering the country. As a side note, if you are planning to import your yacht into New Zealand and you are going to try to do so under the Work visa personal goods exemption, you must do this in Opua or Auckland. Details details.

It was leave Thursday or not leave until Monday which clearly would not suit New Zealand officialdom, so off we went in spite of rather nasty weather reports. We knew going into it that Thursday would entail very brisk winds from the north sweeping us south at high speed while Friday would clock the wind around 180 degrees and hit us on the nose for the last 20 miles into Auckland. Unlike the vast middle of the planet, the weather reports from Whangarei to Auckland are frequent, broadcast on VHF radio every three hours, and quite accurate out to 3 or 4 days. Trusting the reports, we knew that the trip was going to be unpleasant but completely within our wheelhouse.

The trip was precisely as predicted. On Thursday, we put up our downwind sails wing on wing and sped south roughly 60 NM. We were chased by a truly ominous black cloud virtually the entire time. At one point, we were clocking a steady 10 NM speed over ground. With no swell, virtually no wind waves, pointed downwind with probably 35 knots gusting to 40 behind us, I’m not even certain we could have slowed down if we wanted to. We made the trip in record time. For those keeping score, 10 NM is ridiculously fast for Don Quixote, and we haven’t seen 40 knots since we left the Oregon coast in 2008.

Friday was much much worse. We got up early to make the last bit into Auckland in time to get all our paperwork complete by mid-afternoon. As we rounded the corner into the Whangaparoa Passage, it was clear that the forecast had been depressingly specific and accurate. It was blowing 30, gusts to 35 but now straight on the nose. Rounding the point, it might have been worse as spray was blowing off the tiny wind caps and straight at us. We attempted to tack back and forth for awhile. I stopped looking at the knot meter. Why bother. We suck going upwind. We were making 7 to 8 over ground but our speed towards our destination was virtually negative. Eventually, we gave up, pulled down the sails, and motored into the teeth of gale. Unlike the prior day, the channel in this area caused a seriously nasty tidal current vs. wind wave action so the entire 20 miles was spent in a banging, bashing, smashing slog. We arrived in sunny, breezy Auckland beaten to a pulp and exhausted.

This is normal weather at this time of year off the west coast of New Zealand. It isn’t even particularly exciting to the locals. Yachtsmen here, like in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon have a wary and respectful relationship with their coastline. High tide swings, shallow seas, and thousands of islands, islets and rocks require experience and caution. I am not at all surprised that New Zealand sailors are some of the best in the world. Just navigating their home waters is an incredible proving ground.

This area is also tremendously beautiful and extremely fun to navigate. There are pocket anchorages all over everywhere. The holding for anchors is mud, mud, and more mud putting us back into gunkholing mode. Little towns dot the coastline complete with parks where a cruiser can land a dinghy and go for a walk-about. Small volcanoes dot the seas and spear up on the horizon, wildlife is abundant, and they tell us that the fish leap on to the hooks. We’ll stick to crabbing and mussels since the only thing we do worse than sailing up wind is catching fish.

But it will all have to wait. The family is united on precisely one thing right now. We do not want to go sailing. We absolutely do NOT want to go to some pristine, quiet anchorage and enjoy each other’s company. Stick a fork in us. We are done.

* Yes, there is a Starbucks in Neuvo Vallarta at the mall outside the marina. However, no… they do not sell whole bean coffee. I am not proud I know this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Exploring: Whangarei and Marsden Cove Marina, NZ

The quarantine dock in Whangarei where you can check into New Zealand is located at Marsden Cove Marina. This is found at Marsden Point, near the mouth of the Hatea River. It’s just past the oil refinery and enormous timber yard. The channel both into Hatea River (S35 52.880 E174 32.550) and then into the marina (S35 49.707 E174 28.585) is well marked and well lit allowing for a night approach if you feel compelled to do so, though as usual I would prefer to avoid it if possible.

Before arrival, give Whangarei Maritime Radio a call on VHF 17. If you call them on 16, they’ll make you change to 17 anyway. Just for manners, it helps to pronounce Whangarei at least close to the way the locals do: fon’-gar-eh. Swallow the ‘n’ if you can and give that ‘r’ the tiniest bit of a roll. If you speak with a Texan or New York accent, prepare in advance to spell your boat name several times. “Two countries separated by the same language…” (probably Bernard Shaw)

If checking into New Zealand, make your way directly to the quarantine dock in Marsden Cove Marina. It is clearly marked to the left of the entrance as you come into the marina basin. You do not need to leave your boat. If you’ve called into Maritime Radio, Customs and BioSecurity will arrive in short order. Cruisers including ourselves report the check in process as quick, friendly, and relatively easy, particularly if you are prepared in advance with your paperwork, an inventory of your items, etc. I wrote this up in detail if you’d like more about our own experience. After you check in, you can either head up river to the Town Basin or spend the night in Marsden Cove Marina. The marina graciously offers the first night free, so there really is no point in moving after a long passage from Fiji or Tonga.

The marina has all basic amenities but is well nigh impossible to live in for the long haul unless you have a vehicle. In the small, adjacent retail mall, you will find a nice little café, a liquor store, a tiny chandlery, and a place to get your hair cut but you will not find any place to buy food stuffs to replace your Biosecurity depleted stocks. Make sure that before making the passage, you squirrel away some canned goods that will pass Biosecurity so you’ll have a bite to eat your first night. Showers are $1/min, laundry $4/load, and wireless Internet at the boat with a very strong signal but prices that make Tonga look cheap. A very nice service offered by the marina is a $20/day plus gas rental vehicle. Make arrangements at the office in advance as the vehicle is understandably in high demand. The fuel dock has both diesel and gas and is self-serve requiring an EFTPOS or Visa with pin to use.

Marsden Cove Marina is quite a distance from Whangarei itself. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to town from the marina and one to one and a half hours to make your way by sailboat up the river to the Town Basin. Even so, it is a good place to stop for a few days, maybe even to settle in for the duration if you are more inclined towards quiet and privacy than convenience and boat services. Increasingly, cruisers planning an extended stay in New Zealand move into this marina, buy a car, and live comfortably in the new, well kept, and very peaceful facility.

If we were still in cruising mode, I think I might be more inclined after a few days to move from Marsden Cove into the densely packed urban Whangarei Town Basin. There are several marinas, but if you plan an extended stay it makes good sense to make reservations well in advance. From the Town Basin, all the services of a very active, prosperous community of nearly 50,000 people are within walking distance. Grocery stores, dentist and doctor offices, boat services, every possible type of restaurant and shop, hair cutteries, Internet cafes with cheap broadband… after over six months at anchor, it’s like landing in a little slice of retail heaven. The downtown area of Whangarei displays what I feel are the best characteristics of New Zealand commercial areas. While on the edge you’ll find a few big box stores and large super markets, the inner town is eminently walkable with many small retail outlets, dollar stores, banks, and places to grab a quick bite or a long sit. It is also very Kiwi, very New Zealand. While a bit larger than most, you’ll find precisely this style of town center in nearly every town and village throughout the country. We love spending a day drifting along the streets, poking into toy shops and shoe stores. It is so much better than visiting a mall.

In addition to the advantages of being in town for all the services and shops, the Town Basin is also chock-o-block full of companies catering to the boat trade. I can’t even begin to do just to the long list of services and goods available there, so just go to their web site. We plan to go back in January to get a bunch of work done ourselves. If you’re going to be there, please let us know. Any excuse to get off the boat while it’s on the hard. Really. Any excuse. You could pull my teeth even.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

But What About the Cat?

Nautical Kitty
Nautical Kitty
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Getting Dulcinea into New Zealand has proven at least as frustratingly difficult as hysterical reports in the cruising blogosphere made it out to be. Despite (or maybe because of) a recent major overhaul of the process to import a cat or dog into the country, the amount of work we have undertaken to bring our pet on this journey has almost made me wish we had left her in Seattle with our friend Greg permanently.

Disclaimer: I am not an import/export specialist. I am not an employee for New Zealand MAF BioSecurity. Do not take anything I write here as The Word on importing your pet. Go to the web site yourself.

The timeline and requirements provided by MAF BioSecurity are pretty confusing, but you can parse them out if you are very careful. The bottom line is that the animal needs a microchip, rabies and rabies titre test, and all sorts of either less serious shots and tests which owners generally administer in any case. All this work needs to be done before you leave North America. The following are the gotchas that got us:

Microchip Type – New Zealand insists that you use an ISO standard microchip. Unfortunately, this standard is relatively new and still not standard, if you know what I mean. Particularly in the United States, many vets administer microchips that do not follow this precise standard. Wiki has a great article if you want to read about how this nonsense all came about and why many American cats and dogs are now running around with multiple chips in their ass. In short, make sure your pet has a 15-digit microchip number and that the chip is scanned and appears on absolutely every scrape of paper relating to your animal.

USDA Stamp - An American animal needs to be USDA approved… sort of like a chunk of beef. You can have your local vet (or any vet for that matter) actually complete all the work. However, you need to then send your paperwork to the nearest USDA veterinary to get a USDA stamp for the application. This stamps isn’t actually a stamp but more like a notary embossment. If you plan to send your paperwork to MAF via PDF or fax, use a soft pencil to darken the stamp so it appears on copies.

Timing is Everything -- Mexico and probably every Central and South American country are decidedly not on the “good country” list. These countries are either uncontrolled for rabies or New Zealand has no idea and is taking it for granted that rabies is in every dog, cat, squirrel, and toddler. You do not want any of those countries on your itinerary within 6 months of your arrival in New Zealand. If it’s a question of sitting off the coastline in the teeth of a 40 knot gale and 5 metre seas for that critical extra day to make it 6 months, I would suck it up and stay off shore. Do not worry about any of the South Pacific islands as apparently they are all on the “good country” list. Actually, this one didn’t get us, but it could have. We were in Mexico 6 months and 2 days prior to our arrival. As it was, it has still been an issue we have had to explain over and over and over again.

Ship Log -- Even though there is no requirement written ANYWHERE that you must do so, BioSecurity is requesting a ship log for every vessel we have spoken to which includes a record of “every berth since leaving the USA.” Now there are several problems with this request.

1) Did I mention that this is not a requirement? It falls into some vague elastic clause which translates as ‘whatever BioSecurity feels like asking for’.

2) Most ship logs are effectively illegible to anyone but intimate family members since folks write in them at all hours, all sea conditions, and in their own cryptic familial short hand.

3) “every berth” What is a berth in this context? Anchorages? Mooring balls? Docks? I’m not clear that they understand that most boats don’t actually touch land for the 6 months between North America and New Zealand. We were in precisely zero “berths” as I think of them – a dock in a marina.

4) “since leaving the USA” Really? Some boats are arriving here after kicking around the Caribbean for a few years, passing through the Canal, and then heading off. Some of have been up in the South Pacific for years. And the law actually specifies the aforementioned 6 month interest in the pet’s location.

I think that the new rules are causing MAF BioSecurity to develop new policy and procedures for private yachts. That is not a bad thing, obviously, and it will surely settle down and be documented in future years. This year, however, it’s a little awkward. Georgia J actually copied their ship log. I pushed back a bit and delivered a summary of all our country entry and exits as well as the brief times tied up to check in to Tonga or take on fuel. I think all vessels arriving with an animal should just pre-emptively supply this information in as easy to use a format as possible. It makes complete sense that they’ll want to know where the animal could have been exposed to diseases since leaving the vets in North America. It makes no sense for them to be wasting time pouring over our insanely detailed descriptions of location, weather conditions, whale sightings and sail changes.

Worms and Fleas -- First, let me state unequivocally that New Zealand hosts some of the most aggressive fleas on the planet. We have friends whose own pets are testimony to the power of Kiwi fleas. To protect this uniquely nasty and pernicious local population, your own animal must be absolutely flea free on arrival in New Zealand. If it is not, the vet at the quarantine facility will make sure it is by bathing it in a toxic soup. If evidence of fleas are found, the process is repeated 14 days later. Same goes for worms. The 14 days is the kicker. If your animal arrived completely parasite free, there would be only a single treatment and the pet released in 10 days. Since every day in a quarantine facility is buckets of money. It behoves you to try to deworm and de-flea your pet before making landfall… perhaps in your copious free time as you sit at Minerva Reef waiting for a good weather window.

* * *
We still do not have Dulcinea, though we are currently scheduled to pick her up on Saturday.* I’ll believe that we are clear of this process when I can hear her scratching her table post in the middle of the night. On an up side, at appears our marina has a firm “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on liveaboards with pets. We’ll keep her boat-bound for the first two weeks, after which we’ll start letting her out at night to prowl a bit. We hope to train her to stay on the boat during the day, out in the evenings.

We have friends to thank – Greg and Deb – for helping us through this incredibly challenging process. Had it not been for Greg in particular, I think we would have had to shave her and pretend I had borne a mutant baby somewhere along the trip. He assures me that it will all be worth it when she’s settled back on Don Quixote. The girls and DrC agree. Next time we import a pet, however, I’m going to make them do the paperwork.

Next Post: Exploring: Whangarei and Marsden Cove, NZ
* We picked Dulci up. She's settling into her marina life, purring a lot, spending most of her time curled up on the bed in our room, and has only managed to fall off the dock once. Literally stretched and rolled herself off the dock... backwards.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Yes, We Really Are Married

Banana Grin by toastfloats
Banana Grin, a photo by toastfloats on Flickr.

Strange as it may seems, New Zealand does not accept a marriage certificate as proof of partnership. Instead, we must prove our relationship in other, sometimes odd and convoluted ways. One of the requests is for:

"Letters of support from family, friends, employers, or others who can confirm your relationship. The writer should include name and contact number."

They also want:

"Photos of you together, especially with other family/friends or at significant events."

I thought this might actually be kind of fun. If you want to play, please send me a Facebook message, blog link, email or even *gasp* hard copy with your letter of support. By all means, include photos. The more detail you provide about the "genuine, stable and ongoing relationship" between DrC and myself the more potentially entertaining and useful your contribution. If you want to share your support with more than just NZ Immigration, go ahead and put it somewhere public but please send me your contact information for the authorities.

Thanks everyone!

Hardcopy should go to:
s/v Don Quixote
Bayswater Marina
Bayswater, Auckland, NZ 0622

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Clearing Customs and MAF BioSecurity

It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Waitemata, where all the women are working their buttocks off and all the children are more annoying than average. The long hiatus from blogging, jotting down notes, tweeting, and acting like a civilized creature of the social media age felt good. It felt necessary and proper. However, now I’m ready to get back to work.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Don Quixote was dodging shipping traffic off the coast of New Zealand inbound to Whangarei. We had been motoring for several days in an effort to zip ahead of a truly nasty looking weather system. I have since learned from experienced Kiwis that our experience was quite common. On the Tonga/Fiji to New Zealand passage, a sailor frequently must choose between converting the vessel into a slow inefficient motor yacht or getting smacked around by an ugly weather system. So my advice to sailors planning that passage is to load a lot of extra fuel. We burned 50 gallons of diesel between La Paz and Nuka’alofa over 6 months. We burned 70 gallons of diesel from Nuka’alofa and Whangarei in less than 10 days. By the time we made landfall, we were running on fumes and wishing we had loaded more of the jerry cans.

As it was, we barely landed before a storm rolled over us. In fact, the wind began to pick up while we were on the quarantine dock. We had to hustle to get shifted into a slip before the wind topped 30 in the marina. I do not want to think of what was happening out in the open seas. The Georgia J following in our wake reported one of their most miserable nights at sea as they headed into Opua about 36 hours after our landfall.

Clearing through Customs and MAF Biosecurity was considerably easier and more rapid than we had been lead to believe. New Zealand’s biosecurity process has a reputation as fiercely protective, an agency whose broad mandate and list of proscribed items reads as “everything including the kitchen sink”. Fair enough, but in practice, what our biosecurity official seemed most concerned about were meats, dairy, and anything that could sprout. Beans, for example, only needed to be thrown away if it were possible to grow more little baby beans. Same with rice, polenta, and flour.

Even in the case of dairy, the rules in the guides read as though anything with a scrape of lactose would be categorically ejected. In practice, dried and canned milk products must be clearly packaged, labelled, and commercial. We had to throw away a few scrapes of opened cheeses, and we emptied the boat of the last of the veggie and fruit bits, freezer burned meats, and skanky snapper before making landfall. BioSecurity took our alfalfa seeds but not the sesame seeds, left us with all our various flours and grains, and checked the oven to make sure we weren’t hiding a half-roasted chicken (something he said he’d found more than once). He only looked in the bilges and lockers we notified him either had held or currently held food products. He looked at all our local crafts, checked for bugs and egg sacs, and then passed them back without comment or concern.

Now, BioSecurity did make clear that they have the right to be considerably more thorough and conservative. In some cases, the team does bring a dog trained to sniff out contraband. What considerably aided our clearance was that I supplied BioSecurity with a complete inventory of all items on the boat – including their location on the vessel – that could remotely be construed as falling under their jurisdictions. Mind you, this list included all diving gear and fishing tackle, hiking boots, snorkels and masks, crab pot, an inventory of native crafts skimmed from the markets in Mexico, French Polynesia and Tonga, and an exhaustive list of every food item we kept. By declaring everything, our agent could quickly and easily determine what needed his attention. It’s a lot of work, but it seems to make the entire experience much less harrowing.

We even declared our “controlled drugs.” It used to be that travelling with a well-stocked medical kit was illegal in most countries. Codeine, morphine, epinephrine, many steroids, and even some antibiotics are controlled drugs virtually everywhere. A sailor would have to attempt to “smuggle drugs” from one country to another and hope that if the narcotics were found embedded as they were in a sea of bandages, salves, and other medical equipment, the local authorities would look the other way.

At least in New Zealand, this is no longer necessary. Declare your medical kit. Supply it for inspection if requested. Do not hide, in other words. While we were clearly importing controlled substances, Customs seemed very understanding of the needs of globe trotting sail boats and not even slightly interested in taking our medications from us, let alone hauling us off to the nearest jail.

Next Post: But What About the Cat?