Life On A Boat During COVID-19

What is it like to be living on our boat, in New Zealand, during COVID-19 lockdown?

life on Banyan: making apple pie for our neighbor

Good questions! Thanks to Taylor and Scott for encouraging me to write it all down. You may have heard in the news that New Zealand is doing a great job taking COVID-19 very seriously. Given the scary global numbers that keep coming out, we are feeling very fortunate to be here.  We are in the Northland district, which has had particularly low numbers –  25 total as of today.  

In mid-March, when New Zealand had only one imported case, they began to encourage people to come home from abroad as borders were starting to close.  Within a week, there were 18 imported cases, but no community transmission.  But, things progressed quickly, and within days, the Prime Minister announced a level system, indicating criteria associated with the status of the virus, which would then correlate to what the community needed to do to respond. Level 1 meant the virus is here but contained. The community is encouraged to social distance, and gatherings over 500 people are canceled, etc. Level 4 indicates widespread outbreaks and correlates with shelter-in-place orders, school closures, and non-essential businesses being closed. It was a very logical, compassionate, and informative announcement – giving people clear expectations.  

There were a few days at Level 2, and then, on March 23rd, we were informed that in two days, we were going to Level 4 for four weeks. Shelter-in-place orders were issued, and only non-essential businesses were allowed to stay open. Here, essential businesses are grocery stores, the supply chain for essential businesses, essential government services, health care, and financial services. No liquor stores are open, and no restaurants are allowed to provide take-out services. No one is allowed to work outside their house unless they are deemed essential. We are out of rum, and there is NOTHING we can do… although we have heard that if we know a guy who knows a guy…. 

The communication and planning from the Government have been really quite good. The government website shows each case, where it is, when it was reported, what flights the people were on, and which countries they visited before coming into NZ.  A stimulus package was announced and executed quite early in the process. People had checks in-hand in what seemed like no time.

Even with this help, it will be a lean winter. The economy here in Northland was already depressed before COVID. Many businesses along the coast rely on cruise ships and tourism to sustain them. With the ships out of commission until next season, it really is going to have an enormous impact on the economy. 

There was a wedding in the South Island, which took place a few days before the shelter-in-place orders were given.  It was a small wedding, less than 100 people, and they took precautions like encouraging guests to bump elbows as a greeting, among other things.  They provided hand sanitizer, and the staff took extra care. Three days after the wedding, one guest tested positive for COVID.  Within 19 days, eighty-nine people have been infected who were associated with that event.   This illustrates just how transmittable COVID-19 is, and New Zealanders have taken note.  People here are taking it very seriously. There is a lot of public shaming and finger-pointing if anyone is not following the rules. 

From a practical standpoint for us, there are really only a few ways in which we are affected.

Police State

Today is Easter, and we are in the middle of week three of the lockdown. It is essentially a police state, all-be-it a benevolent one. Roads are blocked by police, communities are literally closed to non-essential through traffic. There is no fishing, no sailing, no kayaking, no tramping (hiking), or mountain biking allowed. You can go for a walk or run in your neighborhood, but that is it.  Initially, there was some confusion over what is allowed and not allowed, but in the end, they’ve made it quite clear. 

On our dock, there is one other live-aboard yachtie. We’ve made fast friends.…from a 3-meter distance of-course. He would run out for a fish most mornings and regularly supply us with something to put in the frying pan. We send over dinner now and again and bake him apple pies. Yesterday, while out for his fish, he was stopped by police and issued a warning. Next time, if he is caught, he will be fined $4,000.  

According to the marina, about 100 people are living aboard. The management has sent several emails asking non-live-aboard boat owners to stay away from the marina to respect the safety of the live-aboard people. There is a smattering of families on a dock quite a distance from us, but we haven’t connected with them much, given the situation. 

baked Kahawai (Arripis trutta) – Opua, New Zealand (we love baked whole fish but it was too large to fit in the oven so it lost its head)


There is really no way for us to plan. Where can we go? When can we go?  As US citizens, we are allowed nine months within any eighteen-month period.   The boat’s temporary import license expires in November, after which time we have to pay tax on the value of our boat if it stays here. We have already begun inquiries about getting an extension and are hopeful they will work with us.   We were planning on heading back to the States in September after arriving in Indonesia. At this stage, we may be exploring New Zealand through the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and then heading toward the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.  What?  We are supposed to be chasing the sun! 

guess we will just hang out here for a while.


Our little marina grocery store has all the essentials at cute-little-marina-store prices. For a pound of butter, you can expect to pay $11.00 NZ. Thankfully, the US dollar isn’t doing too badly against the NZ dollar. When this all started, we were getting a bit low on food. We still had a smattering of items from 2015, so we were trying to eat down to the bottom of the barrel and clear it all out. 

When the PM announced the big lockdown, the cupboards were getting a little bare. Of course, EVERYONE was rushing to the stores, so we decided to just rush to the marine and hardware store instead and eat out of cans. I think Cameron made 6 separate trips in those days before the lockdown started.  

With no car and no local network built up, we were a bit stuck. With two growing girls onboard, we do a significant grocery run every week. They eat a shocking amount of fruit. There was a rumor about online grocery shopping and delivery, but all the delivery times were full when we tried – even staying up till midnight to try and catch the new slots opening up. Finally, Cameron decided to bite the bullet and take the dinghy.  It has become a weekly ritual. It is 8 miles round trip. The dinghy can do about 18 knots but averages out about 9 on these runs. He and Adelaide zoom off to Whaitangi were they have to do a beach landing and walk about 5 minutes to the nearest big grocery store. Adelaide has to wait outside while Cameron goes in and shops. Between the two of them, they heroically carry our weekly grocery haul back to the dingy and then fly home to Banyan, where we all create a human chain to get the groceries from the dinghy to the galley. 


Laundry Room and Bathroom?

The marina facilities are almost all shut. They have kept one bathroom open, but the laundry facilities are closed. We’ve been doing laundry by hand, which really isn’t that strange for us. 

We have to use the bathrooms at the marina, of course. Thankfully our dock is very close. Some people have quite a hike… We only use our head for #1. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the head pump from “packing it in” today as they say here. Cameron has been elbow-deep in the holding tank all day, cleaning out 5 years of tartrate build up on the sides of the tank. A flake broke free and got caught in the valve of the pump. He is a hero…. The girls and I went on a long walk during the worst of the smell.

head pump obstruction (can you smell it from there?)

We feel a little guilty – we are enjoying this time quite a bit. We are used to spending long periods on our little boat. Often in the past, when we’ve finished a passage, we are content to just stay aboard and not even go to land for a few days as we recover. We have everything we need and sometimes have to force ourselves to go out for a walk. 

There are no demands on our time except the ones we place on ourselves. The girls do school through the week. Cameron is always working on a boat project. Every project seems to open a can of worms, so there is no end to the jobs that need doing. I’ve been working on business stuff: quarterly sales, marketing, and production reports while also trying to produce marketing materials for Red Mare Wines. We go about our little lives, and aside from the fact that our social circle includes only one other person, life is quite similar to how it would be whether or not a Global Pandemic was affecting us.  We’ve loved doing tons more ZOOM/FaceTime/WhatsApp with family and friends as everyone has time on their hands.  

Of course, if this had never happened, we would be traveling on the South Island right now, just beginning to head back to the boat. We would be planning our jump to Tonga and getting geared up for that passage.  We would probably be fully stressing out about all the boat jobs that needed doing before leaving New Zealand.  

As it is, we are enjoying the lovely fall weather and quiet time with the family.  It has been beautiful with the first significant wind and rain storm coming through last night.  It helped us notice another job that needs doing.  You know that area of the coach roof that looked like it got a little damp while we were in the States last year?  Well…  it’s more than a little damp…  happily, we have lots of time to tackle the job!   

Until next time, we wish you all well and pray that you will stay safe.



  1. Douglas Vawter says:

    Thanks Anne. Yes, we could smell the repair project!! Can not believe the three of you left Cameron alone to handle the job. Loved our Easter Zoom time!

  2. LibbeyMcKendry says:

    It is good to hear you are coping well, have everything you need, and are staying safe and well. We have loved our Zoom time, too.
    Love You all

  3. Laura & Dick, sv Maia says:

    Hi Banyan, love, love, love reading your posts! We can identify with most of what you are saying… feeling a little guilty because life aboard Maia is life aboard Maia; spending time together, communicating with loved ones back home, working on boat projects and trying to get out to enjoy the beautiful weather here in Australia. Since we spent a majority of our NZed time in Opua, it is fun to be able to relate to you in the marina. We too were going to be land traveling during this time in Oz, but projects that have been on the list forever are getting taken care of. Sending love and hugs!

  4. Lucy says:

    Hi to the entire Vawter family. I look forward to reading all of your updates but this one was especially nice. So glad to hear you are all safe and well. Take care, stay healthy and may God be with all of us as we face what’s ahead.
    Lucy Riley from Oliver, BC

  5. Barbara Vawter says:

    You are All amazing, We love your blogs, zoom time and the great videos of the girls. The Easter photo of the four of you is great, you all look so good, like not a care in the world, ha! Anne, you write so well and descriptive, I think the girls are following very well In your footsteps. The girls are learning many valuable life lessons, you are indeed an awesome family. God Bless you and keep you well and safe!

  6. MS JANIS H BLUE says:

    Hi Loved Ones, Love reading of your life on the Banyan. Can you not leave the dock to fish or is the fishing poor or would you lose your dock spot?? The fact that you could all smell the repair job confirms you all do not have the Even this is an adventure on top of your usual adventure. We are all fine so far, staying in. Mark & Brian still working, but not alot of contact w/others.
    Your Easter dinner w/decorations and looked delicious. Blessings and stay safe, A Janis & U Fred

  7. Liz says:

    Thanks for sharing the realities. Love you guys! Hang in there. Praying for all this to calm down and ease us back into a more “normal”. Be safe!

  8. Kathleen McLoughlin says:

    Hello Annie, Cameron & girls
    It’s been ages since I got on your blog- I’m so glad to hear the latest and that you all are healthy. You all look great! I think Erin & AJ are getting a glimmer of your lifestyle- being cozy together, homeschooling, etc., even with all their space!
    Take care & God bless!
    Kathy McLoughlin

  9. Debi says:

    What a great family picture! I love reading about your adventures. And I agree with Doug, how could you leave poor Cameron do do the crappy job! Lol. Can’t say I blame you.
    Stay safe, we are all good. I’m not working, but Steve has to… He wears bandannas and looks like an outlaw! Love you all Aunt Debi

  10. Taylor Miller says:

    Wonderful summary Anne! Thanks for writing such a long one. When the time is right I’d be interested in learning about the tactics involved with a sail back north. In the meantime I will have to do some reading on my own too. Could you let us know what is the closest town so we can arm chair travel a bit?

  11. Ruth ESTHER Vawter says:

    I really enjoyed your blog with your perspective from across the ocean under the equator. I continue to pray for protection for your family. Psalm 91. Yes, I could smell the dirty job Cameron sacrificially performed for his precious family. Cameron is the hero of the month. I praise God you are finding good and productive things to do during this time. Sad about so many people getting sick from the wedding reception. I pray no one died. That shows how quickly the virus spreads. Love and blessings. We are all good here.

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