Customs the Inside Passage

Getting Back to the Life We Know

Wednesday, May 21, 2014S.V. CAMBRIA

“I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think  . . .  it's because we all came from the sea. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."

[Remarks at the Dinner for the America's Cup Crews, September 14 1962

 John F. Kennedy

A photo of Friday Harbor taken in 2009. 
Letting go of the docklines was harder this year than it’s been in the past, especially after seven months.  Maybe it was because Sally’s health isn’t the best and we were both worried about how she would do or maybe it was because we felt so much at home in Kingston.  Either way, saying good-bye to all of the wonderful people we met over the winter was more difficult than usual.  But it had to be done so we finally dropped our lines on Thursday and are back at anchor where we plan to spend the next six months exploring British Columbia to our hearts’ content and the best of Sally’s ability. 

The first day of the season didn’t go particularly well.  We got off to a late start and weren’t able to make the speed over ground we needed in order to take full advantage of the outgoing tide.  By the time it was clear we should have pulled into Port Ludlow for the night, it was too late to turn around so we slogged it out – at times only making 2.9 knots.  Sally, on the other hand, handled the passage like a champ and only came out to show her disapproval when we were being pushed around by the wake of a passing freighter.  And 54 nautical miles later, we arrived at our destination – Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Most people rave about Friday Harbor and can’t seem to get enough of its “quaint” charm.  But for us, it’s just a means to an end – a way to get out of the country.  Cambria’s a British flagged boat and because of that, we check in and out of the US.  There is another way to do it, by cruising permit, but we choose to fill out a vessel clearance statement because it allows us more flexibility in entering and exiting the country.  It also presents its fair share of problems.

Over the past seven years, we’ve dealt with US Customs a total of 12 times by sea and it’s no exaggeration to say most of those interactions were negative.  No matter what, we always seem to do something “wrong” during the process and have to stand around quietly pretending to care while the agent on duty takes great pleasure in pointing out our mistakes.  But we do take their advice, make the appropriate changes and, for the last several years, things have gone well. Unfortunately, Officer Holmes was bound and determined to change that, so he did. 

For whatever reason, he was confrontational from the minute we walked through the door and did his best to make the process painful to the point that, once again, I’m embarrassed to call myself an American and kept apologizing to David (who’s British) after all was said and done for his behaviour – as if it were somehow my fault. 

It’s now days later and we’re still not able to articulate exactly what happened – me especially because I had to excuse myself early on before I said something to worsen the situation – but it boils down to a mediocre man with a 50-pound badge mentality and something to prove.  It’s sad, really, and I’d take the time to feel sorry for him if I wasn’t so tired of being treated like a criminal in my own country.  But I am.  So, I don’t. 

After 30 minutes of asking the same questions over and over again, Officer Holmes decided he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, so he consulted with a colleague behind closed doors.  We have no idea what happened then, but he returned with a different attitude and happily checked us out of the country . . . we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. 

So that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing this week, putting some distance between ourselves and the US, and the last few days have taken us from Kingston to Nanaimo to Pender Harbour – not a great distance, with only 140 nautical miles separating the two, but world’s apart nonetheless.  It’s been a good run so far.  Sally’s doing well, better than we could have hoped for.  We were really worried about talking her with us this year, but she stepped right back into the cruising life without a hitch and every so often I can hear David sweetly mumble, “this is the life she knows.”  

Fireworks in Nanaimo to celebrate Victoria Day.
Fireworks in Nanaimo to celebrate Victoria Day.
Fireworks in Nanaimo to celebrate Victoria Day.
Fireworks in Nanaimo to celebrate Victoria Day.

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