Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Welcome Home
By Michael

Windy's always been our mast ascender,
this was my first time up on this boat.
I did a final rigging check, fixed our
ProFurl halyard wrap stop, and
installed two dozen stand-offs I
made to attach our SSB antennae
to the back stay.
We left Victoria this past Saturday, in the wee hours (that’s 8:00 a.m. in Del Viento-speak) and headed to Friday Harbor, a U.S. port in the San Juan Islands. We tied up to the customs dock and I grabbed our folder of documentation and passports. Nobody was in the small office on the dock. I picked up the yellow courtesy phone.
“U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.”

“Hi there, this is Del Viento. We just arrived here in Friday Harbor.”
There was a long pause. “What role does the person in the red pants play?”

“I’m sorry?”
“Aboard your vessel, who is the person in the red pants?”

I turned around and glanced back at the boat, Windy was sitting on the coaming in her red foul weather bottoms. “Oh, that’s my wife, Windy—I guess she’s the skipper on this leg, she helmed the boat over from Victoria; I slept much of the way.”
“Why did she run up and down the docks when you arrived?”

Run up and down the docks? I thought back: she drove us in, I hopped off with the stern line, she jumped off after she stopped the boat and then we both adjusted the lines… “I’m not sure what you mean; she didn’t run up and down the docks when we arrived.”
“We have cameras that cover the dock from one end to another. Your crew member in the red pants left the vessel and walked outside our camera range—I want to know what she was doing.”

“Uh, respectfully, she did nothing more than walk between the bow and stern lines, securing the boat.”
“Do you have any fruit or vegetables aboard?”

“Yeah, we have garlic, a couple apples, a few bananas, some mangoes…” I was mid-sentence when he interrupted me.
“Please get back aboard your vessel and wait for me to come down there.”

I told Windy about my phone call and the camera survelliance--our voices hushed in case there were hidden mikes too. After about ten minutes, Mr. Officious came walking towards us. We tried to crack his demeanor with our smiles and hellos as he approached, but he was having none of it.
"Passports please." He focused sternly on our happy family sitting on the rail. “Frances, please raise your hand.” She complied. “Where’s your mom?” he continued.

Now Frances is a sharp little boat schooler, but a bit shy around strangers, and feeling pressured. I took a deep breath before she finally smiled and pointed at Windy.
Mr. Officious barely nodded before training his glare at my wife. “You left the boat and walked this way,” he said, sweeping his arm dramatically towards the bow, “outside of our camera range.”

“You mean to that bow cleat? I was securing the boat…” Windy and she wasn’t amused.
“Do you have any weapons or explosives aboard?”

We did a bit of provisioning in Friday Harbor.
Eleanor (sporting her new short doo) is finally
strong enough to lug beer, bless her heart.
“No, nothing.” I said.
“Did you allow anyone aboard your vessel in Canada?’

“Of course, several times, we were there for quite a while, made a lot of friends.”
“Did you buy anything in Canada?”

“Uh, yeah, lots of stuff, mostly food and sundries.”
“But you’re telling me that everything aboard this vessel—everything—belongs to you and you know what’s aboard.”

“Yep.” I thought for sure this was the question before the search. In San Diego last year, coming into the U.S. from Mexico, we were all four made to sit on the cabin top under the watchful eye of two customs officials while a third spent fifteen minutes looking through our stuff down below.
“You have nothing aboard you plan to sell?”

I wanted to explain to him that everything’s more expensive in Victoria, even Canadian maple syrup. I’d be a fool to try and import anything. “We have nothing to sell.”
“You’re checked in. Here’s your clearance number.” He handed me a slip of paper, turned, and began to walk away and stopped. “Oh, the mangoes you have aboard—please get them for me.”

Windy brought up three glorious, perfect mangoes. We’d already enjoyed a couple and were foolish not to have eaten these before we arrived. Windy dumped them into the plastic bag he held at the end of his outstretched arms.*
And without a word, he turned again and walked away.

Now, I know the drill. Years ago I sat through a grueling three-hour CIA polygraph exam. Mr. Officious is trained to unsettle us, rattle us, and intimidate us. Like a polygraph examiner, his job is to induce stress and ferret out inconsistencies and otherwise make us feel like criminals when we’ve committed no crime. It’s a game and I’m happy to play.
But the game was over, he’d cleared us back in. He’d cleared us right out of his narrow jurisdiction and we were now as free and innocent as my grandma sitting in her Nebraska living room.

I called after him, just 20 feet away, heading down the 350-foot long empty Customs dock, not another boat in sight. “Is it okay if we stay here for just 10 minutes, to make a phone call, before we untie?”
He stopped and turned and paused, “No, you can’t.”

* Can you imagine how great it would be if there had really been five mangoes aboard, if Windy had mistakenly grabbed and surrendered only the three she first saw, if Frances happened to discover two more later at the bottom of the hammock and we enjoyed them immensely? Can you imagine?

Del Viento on the transient dock in Friday Harbor. The weather was beautiful and
we untied and headed over to a quiet cove for the night, on Shaw Island,
visible across the water on the left side of the picture.


  1. Mr. Customs in FH has no sense of humor, been there done that. Welcome back.

  2. I am with Mr. Customs. You just can not trust anyone in red pants. ;)

  3. I don't know about that Windy person . . .

  4. What!? You want service WITH a smile too? Looks like you spent too much time in Canada.

  5. Are you guys still planning on heading up to Alaska or around Vancouver island?

    1. Hi Stacey,

      Both. We are on Pender Island today (part of the Canadian Gulf Islands) headed slowly north. We have a July 27 reservation to bring Del Viento into Glacier Bay, so we do plan to spend time in Southeast Alaska. But when we turn south again (early fall), we plan to head outside Vancouver Island and see as much as we can--we hear that is awesome. We plan to be back in Mexico for Thanksgiving, which blows my mind considering we are still headed north.

  6. Welcome back to the land of the free.

    Under the Bush Doctrine, (which of course continues under Bushobama) the US Government can seize any boat on any ocean that it believes might be capable of conducting trade with the Cuban Enemy. So you are fortunate that the Homeland Security Agent didn't suspect that the mangoes might have been grown in Cuba and imported into Canada. In which case you would have lost your boat without recourse to any appeal to law.

    Think I exaggerate? Ask Will Eicholm (sp), the president of the company that sold the FD 12 boats a couple of decades ago.

    Or just listen to my personal experience:
    When I was in university I traveled to Mexico on a spur of the moment deal. The guy I went with had a little store that sold sandals, blankets and clothing made in Mexico. So in the course of our travels we accumulated a number of samples from potential suppliers. When we attempted to re-enter the US we were directed to a commercial port of entry. Upon arriving we were told to get out of the vehicle and wait in an office. The owner of the car was handed a customs form and told to list everything in the car. After doing so he handed it to the customs agent with the comment: "I think that is everything". He forgot to list one $30.00 item. The penalty? Customs seized the car, all its contents including my cameras, gave us back our wallets and passports, and directed us to walk north across a rocky field toward San Diego. Our only recourse was to hire a customs attorney and post a $10,000 retainer, then wait for two years for the case to come before a judge.

    1. Thanks for your comment Horizonstar. And what a difference a decade and a half make. In 1997, Windy and I checked into Key West from Cuba. Customs only wanted to know if we'd spent any money. I said no, they said great. Never even went below. This was during the Clinton administration when it seemed relations between the countries was on the verge of being normalized. Michael

  7. Wow, we talk often of heading up to Canada in our boat (we live in Seattle, we've been boat owners about six weeks now), but this story makes it feel a bit more intimidating! And here I thought the sailing was all we'd have to worry about.


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