20-01-14 (Jan 20, 2014) FYI - This is how they do the date down here in the Caribbean
FYI - This has turned out to be written in real time...ie....a bit wordy. Sorry but you will just need to deal
We are finding that checking in and out of the various countries is different each time. I don’t mean different for each country but different for each person that is checking in or out. We knew this somewhat before we started sailing south but it’s interesting….and confusing.
For instance –
When we checked back into the United States Virgin Islands (yes, you do have to do that even though you are a US citizen - think about it, you have to when you fly to a foreign country and then back) the guy wanted to know where we were going next. He knew we were on a sailboat and more than likely sailing somewhere else at some point in the future. We told him Sint Maarten and he said “you will need to check out of here first.” If we were only going to back to the British Virgin Islands, then no need to check out.
As it was, we did go back to the BVI’s. There you can check in and out at the same time if your visit is going to be short (it is somewhat fuzzy on what they mean by “short”). When Tom went to check us in and out we thought we would be leaving later that day or even the next. He wasn’t sure what to put on the paperwork. He was honest with the lady behind the desk. She was ever so helpful and said “why don’t we just give you three additional days in case.” Kewl! We ended up using those extra days waiting on just the right weather window. Fellow cruising friends went to check out the day before at that same office. They were told they needed to leave that day. “Can I have 24 hours just in case?” “NO.” Can I have 12 hours?” “NO. You can have until 5am tomorrow morning.” Hum? The next cruiser in line got the same so I guess there was a little consistency there. The costs associated with checking in and out also seem to vary slightly as well but that might be related to boat size. It seems the only cash drawer is the pockets of whoever is checking you in. They take your cash and put it in their right hand pocket and then give you change out of the left hand pocket. Tom and a fellow cruiser were laughing at how comical that aspect is.
Checking into the island of St Marten is really confusing. The island is home to two countries. A French side, which is Saint Martin or St Martin and a Dutch side which, is Sint Maarten. They have lived in relative peace side by side since 1648. Travel inland from side to side is no issue. Checking in by boat is a little more challenging. It was suggested by other cruisers to check into the French side. It costs less and cruisers are ALL ABOUT costs less!!! Supposedly once you check in on the French side you can go wherever you want around the island – French side or Dutch side. But wait there is more…
Other cruisers have found that if the female of the crew checks your vessel in, sometimes it can go a little better. So today I checked us into St Martin – French side. The office was completely closed for lunch when I first arrived at 13:30. That is correct, closed for lunch. I forgot we are in a country/countries where entire offices and shops close down for at least one hour and often two hours for lunch. Some cruisers find this frustrating and it can be. However, after years of eating Subway sandwiches on my lap in the car as I drove to my next sales call, I find it very civilized. When I arrived back at 14:00 (2pm), a group of four German yachties were waiting to check out. They were in the frustrated camp in terms of the office being closed for lunch. I don’t speak German but it was obvious from their tones and expressions that they were irritated that the office was not open at exactly 2pm. Hey, maybe the guy went to lunch late so he is coming back late. Plus – things do seem to run on island time ie…a different pace. I don’t think the guy was amused when he arrived around 2:08 to find them banging on his office door. He helped the Germans first. I had to wait outside and then he came for me. He was very nice. I presented all our ships documents and passports. He entered it all into a computer as I sat quietly next to him (YES I DID – I know some of you think I can’t sit quietly). Then he said “$8.” I only had a twenty. He checked his pockets for change (see above about cash in pockets) but I didn’t have any. He went around the corner into a fellow office and got change for me. He made the German’s go and get change – I think it was their attitude and the fact that they were banging on his glass door. After giving me the change he said I was good to go. I was surprised and taken back – wow…easypeasy I thought. “That’s it? How long can we stay?” *In the BVI’s we only had 30 days unless we filed for extra days. “Yes, you are checked in. But if you add anyone to your boat, you have to come back here and pay me for them. AND if you come around to this side of the island and anchor in Marigot Bay… out there, you have to come pay me some more money. But basically you have 90 days and then you have to go away from the island.” Then he quickly escorted me out the door before I could ask more questions.
FYI – we entered into Simpson Bay Lagoon through the Dutch side of the island through a lift bridge. The lagoon is huge but more later on that. Then we proceeded through the new Simpson Bay Lagoon Causeway Bridge, which is basically the dividing line between the Dutch side of the lagoon and the French. We anchored on the French side of the lagoon. So I really don’t understand why we have to go back to Mr Customs and pay him again if we end up anchoring in Marigot Bay for some reason. We are already anchored on the French side. We won’t pay for every bay we anchor in on the French side – weird. Additionally, apparently there is also a Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority and you are supposed to pay them and the office is located on the Dutch side. They want payment whether you are in the actual Lagoon or anchored outside on the Dutch side in what is called Simpson Bay. Maybe it’s a bay thing on both sides. We were also told that the Dutch record your ships name when you enter through their bridge and if you present on that side at any time, they charge you for the bridge opening when you came in. What? Hum?
Later, back on the boat we realized that he didn’t stamp our passports. D-Oh! So basically the boat is checking in and we aren’t. In my defense, it was my first time checking us in, I forgot to ask. And he never said a word about immigration. Usually, they tell you to go to the next office or in most case over to the next desk and that one is immigration. My bad. We are going back tomorrow morning to clear ourselves in so we will be official. I will let you know if we get any further clarification.
So you see, clear as mud. But are we upset or frustrated? NO. This is all part of the adventures of traveling abroad. Each country has its own rules and regs and ways of applying them or not. We are guests and just need to deal as best we can with those quirks. Will there be times in the future when we are trying to check out so we can catch a weather window and have challenges in checking out? Oh yeah! But I will try to remember to come back and read this as a reminder to myself to just go with it. If I don’t and start bitching, you can remind me about this blog posting.
And for the record, the USA is no picnic in terms of clearing in and out. We have heard from plenty of Auzzies, Kiwi’s and even a few Canadians on that. As a person with hip replacements, I can tell you that TSA screening at US airports varies widely! So each country has it quirks and ticks as well as different pace.
UPDATE 21-01-14 (Jan 21 2014) – Today we took the dinghy back to Marigot and walked back to the customs office at the ferry dock where I checked our boat in yesterday so we could get our passports stamped and be official. Along the way we ran into fellow Salty Dawg Archie off s/v Janey. We asked him about his experience checking in. He got his passport stamped when he checked in at immigration and had to pay $40. He also cleared the boat in and had to pay $8 – same as I paid yesterday. Anyway, I knocked on the customs door and Mr Customs answered and escorted me in. I reminded him that he checked me in yesterday but that I didn’t get our passports stamped. I asked him where do I get the passports stamped, immigration? “Do you really want your passports stamped? You don’t really have to have them stamped.” "Um….well….I….?' “Come with me” he said. ”I will take you to get them stamped.” We exited the office and then went a short distance to the immigration window at the ferry dock. Two policemen were inside. Mr Customs rattled off a bunch of French – of which I caught 4 words I know (darn it! why didn’t I hit the Rosetta Stone sooner!) – then he turned to me and said something like "they cannot stamp it yesterday but they can two days. You understand?” “Um….No, I don’t.” Mr Customs said “They cannot stamp it with yesterday’s date but they can stamp it with today’s. Is that ok?” To which I said “Does that matter?” He shrugged and asked them. They said no. I gave them our passports. One guy took them away and came back with them stamped. No official signature, just a stamp. No $40 due. Hum? I politely said “We sailed here on our own boat. We plan to sail to Anguilla. We of course will check in there (it’s British) and then back out. Then we will probably sail back to this island to Grande Case (French side). Do I have to check back in?” The nice policeman said “No. You can come and go as you like for the length of your stay. You do not have to check back in.” Okay. So there we have it.
We will just see what info we can find out about the Dutch side tomorrow.
One additional note. Tom had the occasion to visit with a crew member from the mega yacht M/V Rising Sun (and I do mean MEGA yacht – google it if you are bored). They chatted about various topics but this guy did suggest we take care to fly the host country’s courtesy flag for whatever side we are on. In other words – French flag for the French side and ……oh crap is it the Dutch flag or Dutch Netherlands Antilles Federation flag or what the heck is this St Maarten flag I saw for the first time today? Hum? More research to do.