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Friday, December 12, 2008

In and out

We've had a busy and not very relaxing couple of days doing necessities of life. After dropping Yan and Karla at the airport, we were in a convenient and OK but not wonderful place called Trellis Bay. It was blowing hard and the bay is too packed with boats for swimming, so we missed our usual relaxation. We wanted to leave the BVI's and return to St John for a while, so that we can come back into the BVI's just before Christmas and make the standard 30 days they give us last until we leave again in January.

We find ourselves trying to carefully work out the requirements of immigration and customs here, only to be confounded when the next official we meet has a different interpretation of things, to say the least. Generally, each time you enter or leave a country, you visit customs to get clearance for the boat, and immigration to get us as individuals allowed in or out. Sometimes you visit the cashier too, if that country is one that wants money to let you enter, or leave, or stay, or just because there's a 'y' in the day.

Only, the USA doesn't want to bother clearing you out, so when we left for the BVI's we asked how to do it and were told to do nothing, just go. So we did. The paper slip that the US stapled into my passport in Boston back in June remains there, snoozing happily.

Arriving in Jost Van Dyke, we say we're staying for maybe ten days, but perhaps we could have entry for fourteen just in case. 'Why do you want fourteen?' she asks, as if our extra few days might be for some less legal purpose than allowing her countrymen to extract more cash from us. 'Well, we like these islands a lot and might stay a few days longer'. She stamps our passports and I don't look at the stamp. We get charged seventeen dollars to let us, or maybe the boat, I'm not sure, into the BVI's. We also have to fill out a little form each for immigration, so I ask the lady for six. She interrupts her cellphone conversation to find them and asks me for ten cents (yes, cents) for each one. I owe them sixty cents, but have only a dollar bill. She says she has no change. Neither do I. We look at each other for a few seconds. I can't be bothered making a fuss. I give her the dollar bill. I guess the BVI administration won that one, but it leaves a bad taste for the sake of a dollar. If they'd charged us five dollars 'immigration admin fee' I'd have paid it without blinking. Strange.

I'm filling out the forms when I hear the official talking to the french people ahead of us. 'No, you have to fill out the forms in black ink, you've done it in blue. Get new forms and do it again'. 'Where does it say that?' 'It doesn't, but it's the rule.' I look at my forms, I've completed three and a half of them. In blue ink. Urg. My inner voice of caribbean customs experience says ignore it, keep writing, which is what I do.

The french crew have a few things against them. They have turned up en masse (I am keeping the crew out of the way and doing the paperwork as 'master of the vessel') They are in bathing suits and bare feet (I am in a fresh shirt, khaki shorts and sandals). They are French. (I am not).

So as the french mutter under their breaths about third world countries, I present my blue inked forms and am accepted without question. I'd like to bet my fees were less too.

As it happens, we decide to retire to St John in the US after just six days so I go to clear out in Road Town, the capital of the BVI's. Leaving the crew (Gesa and kids) aboard the boat, I walk a few blocks to the offices. Customs first. She looks at my inward clearance forms, we note that two crew have left (I have to write 'NOB' for 'not on board' against their names) and she stamps the papers. She writes '$0.75' on them and sends me to the cashier.

I go downstairs, eventually find the cashier, have a jovial conversation about the weather and dig three quarters out of my pocket. Then it's on to immigration, next office across the hallway. Here's where I expect the real cash hit, probably a five dollar departure tax for each of us. I present our paperwork and passports and mention that we're coming back for Christmas.

'Oh, you're stamped in until the twenty fifth'. What? So after that conversation about ten days, why do we want fourteen, the lady in Jost stamped us in for twenty. And that means that we can't be stamped out and back in again before that expires. Why not? I still don't know the answer to that. So it seems that Ty Dewi can leave but we can't. Well, we can, physically, but bureaucratically we are still there. After a little chat, it seems that we can re-enter before Christmas, then go up to the main office and ask for an extension to our stay. It won't be a problem, as long as we pay ten dollars each for the privilege. Ho hum. I'm pretty sure it won't be the same immigration official when we return, so the story may well be different then.

We sail over to St John, making it to Cruz Bay about half an hour before customs close for the day. This is the easy bit, US customs might be officious and pedantic, but they are usually polite and always by the book. There's no 'local variation' from day to day, and there's no charges to go into the wrong pockets. There's a bit of stress getting the dinghy launched and the kids into lifejackets with the minutes ticking away but we get there just in time.

Only it's not as easy as anticipated. The Canadians (meaning Gesa, Issie and Max) are waved through without questions. Come and go as you please, just keep giving us your lumber and oil and we don't care. I get a bit more grief. It turns out I left the USVI's just a few days before my six months was up since arriving in Boston. That paper slip has woken up, got out the wrong side of my passport and is grumping about my time in the USA. Now here I am, five days later, asking to be let in again for another six months. 'Where do you live, Sir?' Well, the UK but yes, officer, I've not been there in fourteen months but we are UK residents but we do live on our boat but we are emigrating to Canada arriving in April but we will be in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida on and off till then but I haven't been working and there's no way I want to live in the USA even if you've now got a decent president (OK, I didn't actually say that). There are a lot of questions about all this until, being the end of the day and there's clearly a bar to be got to soon, he stamps my passport and I watch nervously as he completes the 'admitted until' line. June 2009. Phew.

So today, after all that, we need a quiet calm day but actually go to do laundry and make some calls and move anchorage and try to find someone to fix the outboard for our dinghy and it's not until four thirty that we are happily moored and dive in for a quick snorkel around a lovely headland with nice coral and lots of fish. Ahhhh, that's better. And a beer. And another. And a cocktail. Much better. Ahhh. And remembering that back home four thirty was not the end of the work day so a bad day on the water still beats a good day at the office.

current favourite cocktails:
a: Bluegherita: Tequila, blue curaco, lime juice, salt
b: Painkiller: Rum, pineapple, orange, coconut, nutmeg
c: Reef juice: Rum, pineapple, banana
d: Beer: Beer

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Blogger Julia said...

Sounds like you and Peter could share over stays of visits to the US stories. You got the better end of the deal, for sure. He got to sit in a 'tank' awaiting the yes or no of one of his visits of past.

1:49 am  

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