International boaties are keen to say their thanks to the Whangārei community who hosted and welcomed them during Covid lockdown with a meet-and-greet event tomorrow. As the whole world came to a standstill during the Covid crisis so did the roaming lives of around 100 boaties who are anchored in the Town Basin – most of whom are unable to leave with prolonging travel restrictions and an impending cyclone season.
One of the yacht owners, David Irvin from Maine, USA, said it was an unusual situation; however, the group down at the marina had hugely benefited from the hospitality of the Whangārei people.
"Whangārei is one of the safest places in the world right now. What better place to being stuck in?" Irvin said.
He said New Zealand had done a "superior job" navigating through the pandemic.
"Every second Covid-19 sign you see says 'Be kind'. We recognise the importance of that."
Irvin first came to New Zealand in 2014 with his yacht Rewa and loved it so much, that he has since spent every summer here cruising between Aotearoa and Fiji.
Irvin together with Whangārei Marina assistant manager Sharron Beck and other boaties wanted to organise an event to thank the community and give local landlubbers a chance to have a chat with their sea-bound visitors.
"There are so many people on the river walk who look at us and wonder what we do. It's a bit of a fishbowl situation. We wanted to create an interface with people to let them know who we are."
The Winter Sailstice will kick off this Saturday 11am-noon at the Canopy Bridge with cannon fire, live music, a blessing of the boats, and attendance by Whangārei Mayor, Sheryl Mai.
Yachties will show photographs and videos of their travels through the South Pacific on a large screen and chat with anyone who'd like to know more about their adventures.
There will also be golfing aboard the Barge Inn, the unofficial headquarters of the Black Ball Yacht Club that was set up by Irvin and a few yacht owners several years ago.
The club raises money for local youth to facilitate connections to the marine industry such as apprenticeships for boat-related trades or sea-based youth development projects.
Whangārei Marina manager Brian Caulton commended the efforts of the international visitors to give back to the community.
While the marina office was closed during lockdown, a few of the international crew volunteered to take over tasks to help run the marina, such as collecting coins from the washing machines and showers, accepting mail on behalf of the marina and doing minor repairs.
"We absolutely support the event on Saturday. Our international customers contribute a lot to the community," Caulton said.
On average, permanent berth holders in Whangārei spend $40,000 annually on boat repairs and maintenance.
Irvin said the boaties were in a "curious position now" with their visas extended until late September – which cuts into the start of the cyclone season.
It was unclear what the crews berthed at the marina will do when their visas run out.
Caulton said they hoped their international visitors would be allowed to stay.
"We don't want to lose them to Australia."