4 Mar 2022

International sailors await boat reunions after border rules relax

10:06 am on 4 March 2022

Marina managers hope border restrictions being eased will bring hundreds of private yachts back from overseas.

Opua, in the Bay of Islands.

Opua in the Bay of Islands. Photo: 123RF

Although quarantine-free air travel is returning, the Ministry of Health is yet to loosen the maritime border.

Pre-Covid-19, about 600 private international yachts docked in Aotearoa annually, spending tens of millions of dollars.

Three-quarters came to Bay of Islands Marina first, but just over 60 were allowed in last year. Te Tai Tokerau Border Control was strongly opposed to their arrival but there were no Covid-19 incursions.

Marina manager Chris Galbraith told RNZ the international voyages could take years to plan.

"The return will be progressive and start probably within 18 months and then slowly ramp back up. But I don't think we will see those numbers back until at least 2026."

Covid-19 has marooned 20 international vessels and crew at the marina for the past two years. Some sailors' visas were extended.

"Kids have ended up going to schools - they're just part of our furniture. So they're most welcome and probably feeling a little bit homesick."

Other crews got international flights home but had to leave their boats stranded in Opua, he said.

In the past two years, Gulf Group yacht broker Jason Brosnahan has been involved in at least a dozen boat sales for overseas owners who have not been able to return to maintain their "home away from home".

It had been "stressful for owners having to sell pretty much against their will".

"Or their boats have just laid fallow. They're just sitting on hardstands and getting grubby and going downhill."

International vessels that arrived in New Zealand between August and December were usually in transit months earlier, he said.

"We have what's called the 'puddle jump' which is out of the United States, and they genuinely set sail earlier in the year, by at least by March, and just work their way through the Pacific."

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