All Day Clear In
13 October 2008 | Tonga
We got up this morning and prepared to clear into Tonga. While I always try to respect a country's official requirements, I have also learned to go with the flow. If the guy running things doesn't want to deal with you until Monday morning, should you arrive on the weekend, I find it best to oblige. It seems all officials will have a go at you if you set yourself up, but in the end most would rather you anchor out and fly the Q than take them away from their Sunday BBQ. You need to read the tea leaves carefully here however, because countries like French Polynesia and Fiji (from what I here), can get maniacal about the rules.
We took the dinghy in to the customs dock and tied up. Hideko waited aboard and I went to find the customs shed. There were no cruisers around as of yet and I asked to clear in. The official (whom I now believe to be the head honcho) asked where my boat was, so I told him. He did not like the, "on a mooring" answer one bit and demanded I immediately bring the boat to the customs dock. So off I went.
Now the customs dock in Neiafu is not like the Newport Marina. It is more like a third world container quay. In fact, it is a third world container quay. By the time we returned with the yacht it was Monday morning rush hour. Three yachts were rafted up on the protected side of the customs quay, two were rafted up at the fisheries dock, and another was tied up behind those two. The concrete walls of the main quay were towering over our toe rail, all the more so because the tide was still out. We made a pass at the long exposed side of the quay but the big black bumpers would have crushed our stanchions as we slammed underneath the overhang to the rhythm of the chop in the bay.
So we circled, waiting for someone to take off. Before long there were three yachts making the rounds like buzzards. Of course if I had come at this point the customs officer would have just cleared me in from the mooring, as he began to do with other yachts. Too late for that though, he would lose face if we were allowed to not tie up.
Margarita, a Farrier catamaran we had first met in Palmerston, and her raftee finally were released and the Fisheries dock opened up. This is the best of the three faces to choose from but the Fisheries folks charge you 13.50 Tongan for the privilege. Once on the dock our friends on Ino asked if they could raft on, so we helped them get secure and went in to the customs house as a pack.
We took care of agriculture (a copy of the vet certificate for Roq, forms and 23 Tongan) and then waited for the Customs guy. He wrapped up with the yacht he was working on and then put up the "out to lunch" sign. So we hit the ATM just up the street and waited for an hour until 13:30. We finally completed customs (forms, no fee) at around 14:30 and then headed to Immigration. Immigration is a ways down the street above the Development Bank and was more forms but no fee.
There is a nice farmers market right past customs with a good selection of fruits and vegetables and great prices. Hideko made good use of this on the way in and on the way out.
I finally returned to the boat at 3:30 PM and no one had even looked at her through binoculars. We certainly could have done all of this with the yacht on the mooring, saved a lot of time, some fuel, and avoided the dangers inherent in docking a plastic boat on a fairly rough concrete quay. Then a guy showed up from Health and asked to come aboard. Ah, so this is why they needed the boat here.
He gave me a form. I filled it out. He asked me to pay 30 Tongan. I did. He asked for a drink. I don't like it when officials do this kind of thing when on duty. I asked if he wanted a Coke or a Sprite. He said, "do you have beer?" On duty? Whatever, I gave him a beer hoping to get rid of him. I suppose you could always say no, but depending on how petty they are they could really create a lot of hassle if they wanted to. As it was he probably couldn't even tell you what color our boat was, much less whether there were any health issues.
Beer in hand the so called "Health Inspector" crossed over to Ino and gave them the same shtick. I always knew beer was healthy.
By the time we wrapped up it was pushing 4:30 in the afternoon. The Fisheries folks didn't care if we stayed the night since we had already paid the vig. The moorings are hotly contested here and it is not likely you'd find a free one at this hour. So we stayed.
I'm glad we did. We met a really cool fisherman named Albert who runs the Mahi Mahi. He gave us a lot of good pointers for fishing in the area.
As night feel Hideko and I made up a batch of chili and invited the Ino crew over for dinner. I whipped up some desert crepes and we did a bit of single malt tasting as well. It was a wonderful evening on the Tonga Fisheries dock.