Not so plain sailing....

Rob & Sarah Bell
Tue 15 May 2012 21:12

So we continued up the huge expanse of water that is the Hampton Roads, fairly deserted, doing all the right things and keeping in the correct channels and getting heftily rained on.   Serafina is radioed up by a US

Ship which turns up to be a jumped up coastguard who instructs us that we should observe regulations and pass him  port to port – we are already doing this, so this is a bit worrying….


Carry on until Gary radios us and gives us the final instructions of where to berth Serafina and he and Greta are both kindly waiting to take our lines.   After introductions Greta tells us that we must immediately telephone Customs, so we get out our US phone and I provide Rob with the telephone numbers, copy and pasted from the US Coastguard website six weeks ago – discontinued!   Small panic as we try to find alternative numbers but Greta goes back to their condo and phones for us.   We are instructed to go straight to the Customs office downtown, but after lunch (as Rob points out Homeland Security obviously waits for lunch).  


Swift showers – it is very important to look the part always when dealing with officials we have discovered.   And Rob fires off an email to the Mastervolt guy in Florida ref our Inverter.   Gary is back 30 minutes later and we drive to the office, not that far away but the cruise ship is creating traffic jams (but just not on the UK scale – they really aren’t trying!) so a somewhat circuitous route, apparently.   The town is beautiful just what those of us who have never visited the US (Rob never, me for a family wedding over a few days) would imagine with tall brick buildings, rocking chairs on porches, incredibly tidy and clean and floral smelling (in town!!).   Initially we are ignored, then a very smart female officer chases up Officer Tom Ellis who doesn’t really want to deal with us as we haven’t made an appointment (because of course we knew exactly what time and day we would be available?).   And then points out that if Agriculture and Immigration haven’t already visited us on the boat before we set foot on land we are in violation and liable for a $10,000 fine.   Who told us to come down?


The end result is we are sent back to the boat to await further officers who will do all the paperwork including issuing the precious Cruising Licence which allows us to sail around the US without, at every port or anchorage we stop at, having to go and do Customs and pay a fee every time.   Gary drives us back to Serafina and we go back on board and Rob rings up Immigration to come and visit us.   Two officers arrive remarkably quickly but meanwhile Rob has disabled the toilets so that they cannot be pumped straight overboard and I have put up the Decals – notices regarding pollution and garbage disposal that we are required to display – which are among some of the regulations we have to follow.   The female officer isn’t brave enough to step on board and it really is only a hop – she’s carrying a firearm for heaven’s sake!   So she sees to our passports standing on the pier.   Officer McGowan is incredibly welcoming and bending over backwards to help and apologise for the mix-up.   He takes down details of the boat and tells me I must dump all fresh produce into a bin liner, plus another with our rubbish for the Agriculture officers to inspect and dispose of.   Even onions which last forever have to be disposed of.   Well at least it gave me a chance to wipe out the fridge.


They leave having decided not to stamp our passports.  And the next two officers arrive – actually they don’t want to look at the food.   I only need to officially dispose of food that I will not be using and for that we need to call their operative who will collect it.   So I can restack the fridge, lockers etc.   But if we have a bee swarm on board they can deal with it…..


The other female officer is very clued up, somewhat surprised that the previous visitors have not stamped the passports (which is why she didn’t bring her official stamps with her) and what paperwork have they left us with – none?   Oh!   So we fill in some forms and they drive back to the office where Rob has to join them – no they aren’t offering lifts – to get the passports stamped and the Cruising Licence issued


So, so far no one has inspected the boat, disposed of rubbish/food, issued any paperwork or stamped us in on our passports.   But we  haven’t been fined and we are 5 officers along the line though!   This surely isn’t the way to deal with incoming aliens?   Gary confirms that this is completely different from the system used by the previous yacht that arrived.   It is remarkably difficult to every find out Customs and Immigration procedures the world over, but we had expected that the USA would have it off pat rather than making it up as they go along.  Perhaps this is a way to foil aliens overcoming the system, if there isn’t one?


Gary to the rescue again and he drives Rob back down to the Marine Customs and Border Protection Agency office. Rob is greeted warmly by Officer Evelyn Waite and she starts to process our paperwork again. After 20 mins it seems they have lost it all in the computer system, but after 30 mins all is well. They require more info again and Rob has to complete two forms for the second time as they omitted to deal with them properly earlier. Meanwhile Gary has to nip out to feed the parking meter and gets drenched in a massive downpour for his troubles. Finally all is completed and Rob tries to clear up a few of the details about the regulations and what exactly we need to do when our nice new cruising licence expires this time next year. They clearly have a lot less idea than us about this and so he gave up and returned to Serafina to deal with the Mastervolt Inverter/charger issue.


Gary and Greta have already contacted Mastervolt about our problem and they have sort of reacted in a positive way. We have to package up the unit (to avoid any transit damage) and UPS it to them in Florida and they will fix it and get it back as soon as possible… But not for several days at least. It is under warranty though.


We are at least now legal aliens and can relax – get some sleep and settle down to do some proper tourist stuff for a few days.


Thank you to all who have emailed us as we were on passage and we will try to get back to you all over the next week.