Second only to the long list of unexpected and expensive boat repairs, the biggest drag on this trip has been the US Customs and Border procedures, or perhaps more accurately, the lack of good procedures. Since entering into the US at Cutler, Maine, where we received our US Cruising Permit, we have had to report in at almost every stop. There is no published list of reporting stations or toll-free numbers (or God forbid a centralized number) or the type of information they need. It varies from state to state. Some require us to report every time we move on, at every port, some in every CPB “catchment area” in the State, and some only once per state. There are few toll-free numbers. Each time we report we are asked for different information. One keener in South Carolina almost got so personal that I wondered if he was going to ask for a date. We have had to pay for the calls ourselves – initially on our Canadian cell phone, with expensive roaming charges, until we purchased a US pay-as-you-go phone which cost a flat fee of $2 a day.
Each time we call we request to know where we need to report next and what the number is for the next call-in. Sometimes the officers don’t know themselves. Skipper Steve dutifully records each call and the officer reference number in his logbook. Often we are in remote anchorages when our GPS coordinates don’t suffice for the officers – they need to know the nearest town they recognize. An imperfect system in these days of modern technology for sure. If it’s that important for Homeland Security, you’d think they could improve the system. This is the United States of America after all. If we were travelling through the US by motorhome for six months we would not need to account for ourselves other than entering or leaving the US. It has been an onerous task, but we have ensured we remained squeaky clean for the most part. The few nights we have forgotten after a long or difficult journey we have called afterwards and confessed that we forgot.
As it turns out, our efforts to be diligent in this regard paid off on the Hudson River. We had left early to try to get to Half Moon Marina in time for showers and laundry before catching a train to a Yankees Game. All of a sudden, a large police boat came speeding alongside, blue lights flashing. On the megaphone we were told to put the engine in neutral, drop our sails and prepare to be boarded. We were told to remain above deck. What a drag – to have to drop our mainsail in a hurry in the middle of the Hudson. Clearly these two beefy, uniformed, armed cops are not sailors.
Once aboard the cop was efficient but respectful. He inspected our papers (license, passports and boat registration), and asked where we last reported in – thankfully in the last port (79th Street Boat Basin). He inspected our head to ensure that our outside outlet was sealed and we were pumping only into the holding tank. He asked to see our flares and life jackets and explained that they (Westchester Police) were subcontracted by the Coast Guard to provide this border service, and that they are always in these waters and often board boats. Luckily we passed impection on all accounts and he became much friendlier. He ended up by providing us with tips for Yankee Stadium – where to get good garlic fries and imported beer!
So to all our cruising friends – BEWARE and be good! And at the risk of sounding precocious, to any US Customs and Border Patrol officials who happen to read this blog, I think you can come up with a much more efficient and reliable, and less onerous system for cruisers and your own officers. Why I could even help you do just that (for a discounted consulting rate of just $200 per hour)!