Runaround with Border Protection
12 June 2008 | Beaufort, NC
Beth/ sunny, hot
This picture of the muddy water kind of fits the day.
We paid a visit to the Customs and Border Protection Office in Morehead City for the purpose of obtaining a replacement for our expired cruising license. After much discussion, argument, and condescension, the officer handed us a folder and told us, "Now you have all the information you need. You can help other cruisers understand the rules too." So, since I still don't understand their rules, here is my advice: If you can possibly avoid the Morehead City Customs and Border Protection office, do so.
This was the most irritating experience we've had with any kind of officialdom on this trip. What made it so difficult was her unwillingness to listen to our point of view, to explain the reasons for the rules she cited, and to consider exercising any discretion. At one point, when Jim asked the reason for a rule she was telling us we had to follow, she replied, "You don't need to know the reason. You just have to follow the rule." Interesting...
It would take far too long to give all the details of this experience so here is the short version. Our yearlong US cruising permit had expired and we wanted to renew it. We had discovered while in the Bahamas that a foreign vessel (built outside the US) cannot apply for a renewal until 15 days after the expiry of the old one and must be entering from a foreign port. This didn't work for us because we didn't want to stay in the Bahamas that late, and we were hoping for a little discretion in applying the rules - the same discretion that our fellow cruiser had been the recipient of. No such luck.
No cruising permit for us - just a local permit and a requirement to obtain permission to both enter and leave each region and pay the accompanying fee all the way from here to the Canadian border. That's a lot of regions. If we had only known this when we got the permit originally, we might have been able to time things better, but in our experience, when one permit expires, you just apply for a new one. The issuing officer told us nothing to contradict that impression and there was nothing on the permit itself or in any accompanying literature to indicate these conditions for renewal. When we produced our permit to show the Morehead City officer that the renewal information was not on it after she told us we just hadn't read it, she took it away from us and refused to make a copy for our records.
She also raised the issue of requiring Canadian vessels to report in to each US region even with a cruising permit. We attempted to explain that two seasoned officers, the one who issued the permit and the one who cleared us into the United States in Maine had assured us that with the permit, there was no requirement to report to each region. She kept saying they were wrong. It was hard for us to understand why we should take her word for it, and not theirs. We also do not understand why one can enter by land or air, travel all over the country and never have to report in again, while it seems to be different for mariners.
Eventually, she called her supervisor out to deal with these difficult Canadians. He at least listened to us, agreed that Customs and Border Protection Officers have wide powers of discretion, but he too refrained from exercising them other than getting us a copy of the expired permit.
A couple of other events made our Beaufort experience less than ideal. It all started on Tuesday when we tried to make a phone call. Jim's T-Mobile phone is not working here for some reason so we went ashore in search of a payphone. After looking in all the likely places without spotting one, a fellow at a tour boat office told us there was one beside Finz. Well, there might have been at one time, but not now; we found nothing the length of Front Street. Finally, the man at the Post Office told us the only one he knew of was at the library, four blocks back the way we had just come and two blocks to the right. Keep in mind that it was 33 C that day.
On Wednesday morning, we waited 20 minutes for a cab to arrive, climbed in and headed off. The driver was pleasant and chatty until he got a phone call from his dispatcher. Apparently someone was complaining about a long wait, and he launched into a frightening diatribe that went something like this: "You tell him we don't want his f...... business. He can stick it up ... ... sideways. He's not going to get a pickup. I'll give him some lead, that's what I'll give him." He then continued on in his friendly tone to Jim, turning to me and saying, "Excuse my language ma'am." It was a relief to get out of his cab.
After returning to Beaufort - in a different cab - we walked to the coffee shop and because we were hungry, thought we'd get some sandwiches. The time was 10:50. The sign on the wall said they started serving lunch at 11 but things seemed to be pretty much ready - bread on the counter, tubs of sandwich fillings made up. The cashier asked the woman if we could get sandwiches 10 minutes early but she shook her head. "No"
We ordered our coffees but didn't bother to order food when the magic hour of 11 arrived. A lost sale didn't seem to matter.
One positive event here was a pleasant conversation with Terry (Marigold) in the Backstreet Pub on Tuesday. He is single handing, has crossed the Atlantic once already and is making plans to return to Europe via the Azores. We love meeting these adventurous types who follow the "Just go do it" maxim.