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Date: 02 Mar 2015 13:30:00
Title: Ponce PR

17:57:8N 066:37:2W

Ponce (Pon-say), Puerto Rico
Saturday 28th February 2015

US Customs and Boarder Protection
We returned to Charlotte Amalie to clear out, only to be informed by Officer Smith of the US Customs and Boarder Control, that we didn't need to clear out as we were going to another US island, Puerto Rico. We sailed through the night with 20 - 30 knot winds, arriving at 1000. We anchored at Ponce Yacht Club and phoned the customs office and were not to leave the boat, as they wanted to inspect us. I was also to call another number for private vessels, which I did, giving the same information. Both calls on my UK mobile lasting about an hour in total.

It didn't get better!
At 1300 I phoned again and was instructed to moor on the inspection dock. This was twelve feet high and hung with huge lorry of tractor tyres. We rigged our fenders with mooring plank on the outside, I knew we would get covered in black rubber (mmm nice) if we touched. As we approached there was a sign directing us to the far side of the dock. This had poles sticking from the sea bed in a random fashion and with twenty plus I didn't fancy trying to manoeuvre WD in the very confined space.  So we moored the nearest and non-inspection side. Denis scaled the tyres nimbly and moored fore and aft. I climbed the tyres getting black hands and knees and decided we had made the right decision mooring this side. We moved fenders and planks so that they didn't disappear under or into the tyres. Ten minutes later Customs Officers Rodriguez and Gonzalez turned up in their smart uniforms. I could tell by the look on the faces, there was no way they would be boarding us down the tyres. We were asked the usual questions and taken to a small pink building so our papers didn't blow away. They asked repeatedly whether we had stopped anywhere on route from St Thomas. We hadn't I offered to show them the track on the chart plotter and explained AIS as we were recorded leaving and arriving. They accepted our word, then came why didn't you clear out from Charlotte Amalie, I explained that Customs Officer Smith had told me we didn't need to as they were both US islands.  Rodriguez repeatedly sighed and rolled his eyes. As WD was being blown on to the tyres, Denis repeatedly went to check she was ok. After a Spanish phone call they accepted no clearance. Then we discovered my passport had not been stamped when we had cleared in. More sighing and shaking of head, but finally stamped. Thank goodness on the US Customs database we were both recorded. They then wanted US $27.50 exactly or they would keep our papers. We scrabbled about on WD and found the precise amount. Oh, but it should be thirty seven dollars he smiled. Luckily, we had the extra cash. We were warned not to leave any of our foreign trash on the island and then welcomed to PR, with a shake of hands we prepared to and they watched and smoked their cigarettes, flipping our lines from the huge cleats to help us off. With a good push with the boat hook we were away and back to our anchorage. Ten minutes later a police/customs launch was circling us and a radio message insisted we both stand on deck to be seem. They presumably wanted to confirm we were the two bearded señores. Identified, they told us they had given us they wrong copy of our clearance papers and would we swap. We did as they passed by, but we gave them the wrong paper copy, so we radioed for them to return and change. Luckily, we all were laughing by this stage. They had been circling us for ten minutes or so and I was convinced they thought we were doing something wrong.

Ponce or 1970s Brighton?
I set to with bucket and polish, cleaning WDs side and fenders to remove the dreaded black rubber. Fortunately, not a trace remains, well apart from one leg of my shorts. We launched the dinghy and were visited by a friendly Dutch couple who have been living on their yacht for twenty seven years. They explained were the free dinghy pontoon was, and warned us not to use the yacht club as we could be charged $10 each. They explained it was like 1970s Brighton here, sure enough, we found cafes and bars all selling fried food, last night's meal has to rank as the lowest yet. Tourist tat on sale, a fake light house. Families feeding the very tame birds...but they were pelicans, hundreds of huge fish being fed, so big I'd be worried swimming with them.

After an early dinner as we were both tired, returning to the dinghy dock we found it locked, luckily we had anticipated this and had positioned our painter so we could reach it around the gate. The wind had dropped as we gratefully slipped into our bunks for a peaceful night's sleep.

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