29 August 2008 | Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
I ordered a new roller furler (rolls the sails up when they are not in use) from the USA. FedEx got it as far as Madrid, then it stopped there. After a week, and many phone calls to FedEx and the shipper, I was not getting anywhere. I kept getting told I needed to pay about 30% tax and provide a DNI number (an identity number---proof that I was a legal resident in the Canary Islands) to receive the shipment. Really not being fond of the idea of staying long enough in the Canary Islands to become a resident just so I could receive a FedEx package, I was starting to consider the idea of doing without the roller furler.
I talked with neighbours on the dock, and they told me that a package that has gone to Madrid meant at least two weeks to get to the Canaries. I wanted to leave in less than two weeks, with the furler installed, so had a problem.
As can be the case with otherwise-insolvable problems, a visit to the bar sometimes helps. There I talked to Hugh, a delivery skipper neighbor on the dock had run a charter boat operation in Gran Canaria for a few years, and understood the art of getting parts shipped in. He explained that the strategy was to get the package to the local customs people, who are easier to deal with, as you can talk to them directly. Also that "if anyone in the government speaks English, it is the customs people". Apparently a big concern of Spanish customs with regards to Boats In Transit (boats from other countries, which are not required to pay taxes on items that will leave the country with the boat) is local people pretending to be boats in transit to avoid tax. No one who hears me attempt to speak Spanish would ever mistake me for a local.
We went to the nearby Customs first, they told us to go to Customs at the airport, as it was an air shipment. Customs at the airport directed us to the Air Iberia cargo terminal, where we were further directed to the company that handles FedEx shipments (Transistos Castillanos). Senor Jesus, the very helpful agent, asked his neighbor to translate, and we described the problem. After about an hour of phone calls, Senor Jesus on one phone in Spanish, me on another phone in English, Customs in Madrid apologized for the delay, and explained it was due to the shipment not saying Boat In Transit on it. Two days later, the new furler was in Las Palmas. I rented a truck, drove to the courier company, paid some taxes (the EU charges 2.5% for whatever) and fees, and finally picked up the new furler. Now we just have to install it :)