AUCKLAND, 06 JULY 2020 (NZ HERALD)—An American sailing family who left New Zealand last week to winter in warmer South Pacific climes have been barred from entering Tonga by a navy vessel.
Despite earlier being officially denied entry to their chosen destination in March when borders closed with the onset of Covid-19, the globetrotting Whitakers decided they would leave anyway to escape a chilly southern hemisphere winter.
Documenting their journey on YouTube channel Sailing Zatara, the catamaran left Whangarei on Tuesday headed for the Minerva Reef.
However, the adventurers have been stopped 500km shy of the Pacific kingdom by a naval patrol vessel patrolling the submerged double atolls.
Under a post “Nasty squally weather” which was updated today, the family who describe themselves as a “Texas family of six sailing around the world while producing family-friendly redneck adventures”, wrote about the naval encounter.
“We decided to stop in Minerva before continuing on to our next destination to wait out some weather. We checked in 12 miles outside with the Tongan Navy and got permission to stay over until the next weather window which is looking like Thursday. They were super nice and professional and we had a very good chat over the radio.”
A Tongan naval chief told the English language news site Matangi Tonga the patrol boat VOEA Neiafu was currently at the reef to defend Tonga’s maritime areas.
He said Tonga offered a safe haven for yachts at Minerva when weather turned bad but was initially not aware Zatara was headed their way.
In his latest vlog, skipper Keith Whitaker, 50, said he did not intend to log where the vessel was going because he was unsure where they were headed.
But they were positive they needed to get out of New Zealand.
“We are sitting here in New Zealand. We have no idea where we are going to go,” he told a New Zealand Customs official on a phone call. “Our boat is stocked up with six months worth of provisions and two or three months worth of fuel so we can stay at sea for a long time.”
Added Mum Renee, 46: “I’m trying to figure out what to do and where to go. All the borders are closed. If we get out on the water and nobody lets us in then we may just have to keep sailing until we get to some place that’s open, like Guam.”
Asked why they shouldn’t stay longer in New Zealand Renee replied: “Eww, it’s cold, it’s winter. There’s not going to be a lot of adventure. We’re not travelling, we’re just living on a boat.”
“If we stay in New Zealand we probably won’t put videos out because there’s really nothing to film and who wants to watch a family living on a boat doing nothing but school and living life like normal? Maybe we could get the kids involved in a New Zealand soccer team or something.”
In a brief post on sailingzatara.com, a satellite map showed the vessel currently stalled at the reef waiting for the conditions to improve. As American nationals under the sweeping restrictions to keep the Pacific Covid-free, they can only enter American territories such as Guam and American Samoa.
Earlier Keith Whitaker told his nearly 300,000 subscribers on YouTube he intended to go up to Minerva Reef and camp out there for a week or two. While there was a possibility the family might end up in Guam, Fiji, Tonga or American Samoa, they really didn’t know don’t know where they would end up.
He added, “We are on the ocean and at least we are going to warmer weather.” …PACNEWS