Bureaucrats Force Mina2 to Cancel Falklands Cruise
15 November 2011: 0600
Position: 35:15.57S 057:03.66W
I have spent the best part of four years planning the Ultimate Cruise to Antarctica. I’ve sailed half way round the world to get to Buenos Aires, home town of the Downstairs Skipper. After six months of preparations at home, I have spent the last month fitting Mina2 out with the long list of modifications, fortifications, repairs and extra equipment required for the extreme conditions we will be meeting. My sister Linda, and John my brother-in-law were flying in from London to join me for the first 8-day leg to the Falkland Islands 1100 miles to the south which, in the view of the very few sailors who have been there, is the best undiscovered cruising ground in the world. Then the Argentine authorities told me that we couldn’t go.
The trouble started about a week ago. The DS had joined me to help with preparations and we were just climbing off the boat to go to the Aduana (customs) office to get some form or other signed, when a man with a gun turned up and issued me with a summons from the Prefectura (who are the maritime police force and coastguard). Although I had been meticulous in my paperwork ensuring that every tiny rule had been complied with, they had magic’ed up some alleged infraction and I was now forbidden to use the boat at all.
But first things first, we went to the Aduana who surprised us by telling us that the forms that they themselves had issued in March that had allowed me to leave the boat in Argentina for six months did not in fact allow me to do that, so I had committed an infraction and my boat would be impounded.
So Mina 2 had within one hour been impounded for alleged infractions, about which I could not possibly have known, by not just one but two separate bureaucratic agencies. Not a good day.
Thank God the DS had arrived as at least she was able to understand the words of the bureaucrats, if not their meaning. Eventually we managed to persuade both agencies that we were in infractionless, although one of the consequences was that what we had been told was our permit to keep the boat in Argentine waters for nearly three months had been randomly shortened to expire on 26 November. But not to worry, we were just about to set sail for the Falklands, and our route would take us 380 miles off the coast of Argentina – well outside their territorial limits.
Linda and John duly arrived and the day before our departure south we went along to the Aduana to get them to sign the ship’s exit papers. No problem the man said, but before they could do that, we would have to get Immigration to stamp our passports for leaving the country.
There is a little dispute with Argentina about the ownership of the Falklands. The Immigration officer looked at our papers which declared our next port of call as “Puerto Argentino, Islas Malvinas” (aka Port Stanley, Falkland Islands) and said that she could not stamp our passports because, as the Malvinas were clearly Argentine, we were not leaving Argentina. We called in the Aduana officer who argued with his colleague in the Immigration department that of course we were leaving the country, but Immigration resolutely refused to back down. They were almost at fisticuffs so furious was the debate whilst we looked on bemused. Actually we weren’t fussed about our passports being stamped as we would all have left Argentina in any event before our tourist visas expired. But without the passport stamp the Aduana officer could not sign the ship’s exit papers – and Mina 2 had to be out of the country within two weeks or it would again be impounded.
The only solution was to temporarily abandon our passage to the Falklands and instead sail across the River Plate to Uruguay, sign in and sign out and return to Buenos Aires where a new three month permit for the boat would be issued. This would delay our departure by two days but there was no option. This fascinating bureaucratic debate (which John described as Kafkaesque) had started at 9am and we eventually got back to the boat at 5pm to ready ourselves for our unexpected sail in the wrong direction.
Notwithstanding the delay, this enforced diversion to Uruguay turned out to be a real bonus. Colonia del Sacramento is a delightful, old, but well preserved colonial town and after the 7-hour crossing we enjoyed a wonderful evening before heading back to Buenos Aires the following morning.
By midday yesterday, with all our papers in order, Linda, John and I slipped our lines and headed out of the River Plate, leaving the DS in Buenos Aires to recover from the arduous physical work of the last couple of weeks. My back had gone out quite badly; I was in a lot of pain, incapable of bending let alone lifting, so transferring tons of supplies on and off the boat had fallen entirely on the DS’s pretty shoulders whilst I visited physiotherapists and chewed Ibuprofen. I’m not quite sure what Linda and John thought about having a completely useless cripple as a skipper.
The fair winds that had been forecast for our scheduled departure date had by now passed and been replaced with forecasts of light and variable winds barely capable of moving the boat, so we filled up a dozen jerry cans with additional fuel. Now, at dawn, after our first night on passage we have, with the exception of a blissful four hours in the middle of the night, been motoring continuously.