02 April 2014

Have You Ever Felt Like A Social Pariah?

Have you ever felt like a social pariah? Have you ever been told you have an infection and then suddenly everyone starts to avoid you and you get put into quarantine? That's what happened to us up in Whangarei when we were told that we had fanworm. Let me tell you, it isn't any fun being a carrier of fanworm. People look at you with barely disguised horror and disgust in their eyes and whisper to each other, "The must be from Auckland. How else would they get such a horrible disease? We really shouldn't let their kind up in Northland." Don't know what fanworm is? Neither did we. Here is how it went down. {If you are a boatie from Auckland planning on heading up to Northland, you may want to pay particularly close attention.}
It all started when I went to fill out a berth request form online for the Whangarei Town Basin Marina. One of the questions they ask is, "Are you aware of fanworm?" I didn't have a clue, so I ticked the box that said "No". They accepted our booking request so I didn't think much more about it. When we got to the marina, they asked me again if I was aware of fanworm. I was starting to feel like I was back in school again being given a pop quiz on worms. When I said I didn't have a clue, I got shown all sorts of pictures of the creature in question and told about what a horrible menace it is to New Zealand waters. Then more questions and a risk assessment: 
1.  "When was the last time you were anti-fouled?" - The correct answer is six months ago or less and you need to provide proof.  My answer was a year ago. That was the wrong answer. Then I said that we had hauled the boat out two months previously and cleaned her off. Partial credit was given for being a conscientious boat owner, but I still didn't pass.

2.  "Where do you normally keep your boat and where have you been?" The correct answer is Northland. My answer was that we kept the boat in Auckland and that we had been cruising around the Hauraki Gulf. Another wrong answer.

After failing the pop quiz, I was told that we would be referred to the Northland Council and that they might come by the next day to look at our hull using an underwater camera to see if we were infected. 

The next morning we made the mistake of leaving the boat in the morning to do some grocery shopping. When we came back we found this attached to our lifeline:

When we opened up the plastic pouch, we found this card inside:

It was official - we were infected, quarantined and under watch. We had become the social pariah of the marina. Instead of going on a lovely hike that we had planned, we ended up spending the rest of the day speaking to the council, speaking to the marina staff and organizing to get our boat hauled out so that it could be inspected again and treated with some sort of magical solution that they spray on your boat. {Buy us a beer sometime and we'll tell you the full story about having to be hauled out and inspected again despite what we were told originally by the Council. It is the type of story that turns into a bit of a rant - beer is definitely required.}

We made arrangements to get our boat hauled at Dockland 5. The guy who runs the place was very flexible in fitting us in the schedule and he also has a great sense of humor. And when you're feeling like a social pariah and your plans are disrupted, then a sense of humor is very much appreciated! The only catch about Dockland 5 is that you have to make your way through the very shallow channel and under the drawbridge. This means you have to time things just right for the tides, as well as the bridge opening hours. If you mess up these two things, you could find yourself grounded and/or stuck on the wrong side of the bridge for a couple of hours. 

Fortunately, we timed things just right and made it to Dockland 5, tied up to their floating dock and waited until they could pull us out. After we were hauled out, the Dockland 5 guy called the Council inspector to tell him that he really should come see our boat because it was pretty much spotless and that we were a good case study which demonstrates how a well maintained, clean hull can still be infected with fanworm on the keel plate. And here is what fanworm looks like - pretty isn't it?

The dreaded Mediterranean fanworm
It turns out there was only one fanworm on the bottom and the boat didn't need to be treated after all. The fanworm was scraped off and since we were there anyway, they water blasted the hull.

While we were there, the Council inspector handed us an official "Notice of Direction Under Section 122 of the Bio-security Act of 1993" which made our status as social pariahs official. It is a very serious looking document and it made me wonder if we needed to consult a lawyer. It seemed odd to hand us a document ordering us to haul out our boat by 5pm the next day after we already had hauled our boat out and were standing right next to it. I think the irony of the whole situation was a bit lost on the inspector. My favorite part, however, was where it describes us as having "no fixed address". I guess our boat doesn't count as an address. I'm pretty sure only social pariahs don't have fixed addresses. They have to constantly be on the run from the landlubbers who want to chase them out of town.

After our fun and games with the Council inspector, we were running out of time to make the cut-off before the drawbridge closed for the rush hour period. So the Dockland 5 folks told us to just come back the next day to pay. Things like that remind me of why I like New Zealand so much - thank you Dockland 5! Fortunately, we just squeaked through the bridge before it shut down. 

If you want to know more about fanworm, you can check out the New Zealand Bio-security website here. It is some pretty nasty stuff and running rampant in Auckland. While Northland Council takes it seriously, we've been told by folks in Northland that Auckland Council has put the whole issue in the "too hard basket" and isn't doing anything about it. So if you keep your boat in the water in Auckland, you probably have it on your hull. And if you want to go to Northland, make sure you have proof that you are not a social pariah.

On a side note, we cannot say enough about the marina staff. Despite fanworm being a Council issue and nothing to do with the marina, the staff went out of their way to help us find a place to haul out our boat at short notice. They even offered to give us a free night at the marina given the impact of fanworm on our time in Whangarei. {For the record, while we appreciated the offer, they didn't need to do this so we said thanks, but no thanks.} 


  1. I really enjoyed this post about fanworm which is something I had never heard of and for you it is probably not very aptly named.
    Well written in a style that makes me want to read more.
    It seems in some places they will think of anything to make you spend money on boat maintainance and New Zealand, one of the places we want to sail to seems very strict.
    Thanks for posting. I really like your writing style.

    1. Thanks for the nice feedback! New Zealand does have a number of regulations but I think some areas (like Northland) are stricter than others. However, there are some amazing cruising grounds here - it is well worth dealing with the red tape and regulations to experience it. Cheers - Ellen

  2. I once had to ship a used boat to a buyer in New Zealand. The list of do's, don'ts and don't even think about its was overwhelming. The buyer forwarded us the list and we complied with all of the instructions and the boat was allowed into the country. He was very happy and we were told that quite frankly that its unusual for a boat to get in without some quarantine or additional prepping at the buyers expense. New Zealand really seems to take the sanctity of their home water seriously....

    1. They do indeed take bio-security very, very seriously here. I'm surprised it was so easy for them to import their boat as well!


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