Final Foreign Check-In
10 November 2007 | Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico
We didn't realize this at the time because we were so intent on getting cleared in, but we just completed our last and final clearance into a foreign country. In the last three years we have endured 29 check-ins, into 24 different countries - some good, some bad, but always an experience.
This particular clearance was not bad but a little cumbersome. We first had to visit the Port Captain whose office was right in the harbor. He spoke very good English and even gave us a sheet with written instructions in English. - almost unheard of. Next was Immigration which we had been told was in the airport, but when we arrived the guys were way too busy watching a Nicholas Cage film in English (that they clearly could not understand) that they would not help us and directed us to the Immigration office in town which was 30km away. We hopped in a mini-bus and found our way to Immigration. As always, it was lunch hour and very crowded, but we were out of there in about an hour with our requisite stamps. Next was Bancomex where we had to pay a small fee and then we hopped into taxi then a truck/taxi to Port Authority to pay yet another small fee. We got back in the truck/taxi to go back to the Port Captain. By now it was about 2pm, and having not had lunch, enjoyed about 10 fresh, warm tortillas that we had picked up in town on our way back across town. We made it back just after 2 and just caught the Port Captain before we was off for the day. He gave us our zarpe and we were free to go. Of course, not before being visited by the Navy that evening and once again in the morning. All in all, the check-in took about six hours and cost about $50- not too bad in the overall scheme of things.
Each check-in has been the same in that it involves a Port Captain, Customs and Immigration, but some also include Quarantine which is always a downer because they take all of our fresh food. But anyway, from there we have had wildly different experiences. Our worst, by far, was trying to clear into Salvador, Brazil during Carnaval and not speaking Portuguese in a country where nobody speaks English. It took two full days, but on the upside it was free. On the opposite end of the spectrum, checking into Australia was quite easy. The very civilized officials visited our boat right when we arrived, were very efficient and even took away our trash, but it cost $260. Probably our best check-in was in Christmas Island. We arrived on a Sunday morning and expected a huge hassle and overtime fees, but the officials could not have been nicer. They came out to the boat, stayed for coffee and even ended up giving us a few rides around the island during our stay. Best of all it was free. We have found that in the Spanish speaking countries, the officials act very serious and stern, but actually become very nice and funny if you speak their language. In the French countries, it didn't seem like they cared to be bothered, so it was pretty easy unless you make the grave mistake of speaking to them first in English. Any attempt to speak a word of French we found is better than English. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, we could tell a different, usually unnecessarily long story from each check-in along the way. One last comment - you would not believe how many countries still use typewriters and carbon paper!
We now have only to clear out of Mexico, which shouldn't be a problem, after which we will check back into our home country. We expect that when we cross into US waters next month we will probably be boarded by the US Coast Guard, curious to see what we have on board after sailing around for three years. Not a problem, since we don't have much. I'm not actually sure how the whole process works (although I am certainly glad not to be a foreign vessel trying to check in!) but the one thing that I look forward to is going through Immigration and hearing "Welcome Home, Ms. Mays" which is always music to my ears.