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By Dave and Jaja Martin


Leaving the boat

The most interesting thing about leaving our boat for extended periods, whether it's for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, is noticing its distinct smell when we return. I don't mean the odor of rampant mold or that potato we forgot to throw out. I mean the boat's natural essence. The essence you stop noticing after a few days. The first time we ever went aboard DRIVER we noticed it--a kind of fragrant woody smell, mixed with the normal dose of mildew. This woody smell might seem unusual when you consider DRIVER is a steel boat, but the hull is insulated with one inch styrofoam and the foam is covered by quarter inch plywood. African plywood. I'm not sure what type of wood it is, but it has a great, long-lasting smell like red cedar.

Our 25 footer DIRECTION also had a particular odor. Unlike DRIVER, the smell morphed over the years. At first DIRECTION smelled like fiberglass and fresh enamel. After while it was replaced by the odor of moldy Legos and dirty diapers. Home.

The best part of about cruising is going to new places. Once there, we like to get away from the boat and see something other than the strip of land that disappears into the harbor. In many ways, a boat represents absolute freedom because it can take you to any coastline in the world. The price for that freedom is tallied, however, when you leave the boat and travel away from it. Worrying about the boat is part of owning one, I guess. If we are going to be gone for more than a couple of days we like to find a mooring, or a dock. If we plan to be gone for months, we try to wait until the boat needs hauling for a bottom job. That way the boat is safe, and we can put off having to work on it right away. We've never hired a caretaker, but we have asked friends to keep an eye on things.

The most critical thing to research before leaving your boat behind in a foreign country is to make darn sure you will be "allowed" back across the border. The problem with traveling out of a foreign country arises on your return; the immigration guy at the airport (or wherever) is going to wonder why you don't have a return ticket. Never mind that your flight originated in his country. He or she will want to know how you are departing again. Before leaving your boat contact immigration, and try to obtain some sort of form that proves you have a boat and that it will be your means of departure. This will save a lot of hassles because airport officials are very inflexible. We learned this lesson, and many others, the hard way. It seems that we are always having issues with immigration officers.

Issue number one:
Jaja and I left DIRECTION on a mooring in Australia, back in 1990, and flew to Seattle courtesy of my parents. Our 6 month visa was going to expire during our visit, but we glibly assumed we could reapply for another one before our return flight. Uh, yeah. The consulate general in San Francisco said that because we had already been in Australia for six months we were not allowed to return until another six months transpired. Apparently we'd used up our allotment of time. Bummer. In the end we had to fax a copy of our boat papers (ALWAYS BRING YOUR BOAT PAPERS WITH YOU!!!), with an explanation of how we'd sailed to Australia, left the boat on a mooring, and that we were sorry...etc. Our visit to the States lasted 3 weeks. We got our passports back the night before we were due to go to the airport. I recall being a little bit stressed out.

Issue number two:
A year later, Jaja (who was 5 months pregnant with Holly) and 18 month old Chris flew to the States from New Zealand without me. Jaja and Chris had new visas with months and months left on them so that this time, returning would not be an issue. Uh, yeah. Jaja contacted the New Zealand consulate with a trivial question and inadvertently opened up a can of worms. When they learned she was a woman traveling alone with a baby on what was essentially a one way ticket to New Zealand they flipped out. They wanted to know why she going, who was she staying with, and how she was getting back to the States. I got a desperate call from Jaja. She needed me to write a letter saying she was my wife, Chris was my child, and that they lived with me on the boat. I wrote the letter. Next I had to go to a notary to have photocopies of our marriage certificate, boat papers, and my passport notarized to prove they were copies of original documents. I express mailed the envelope to the New Zealand consulate in New York.

(Footnote. When I got back to the boat after visiting a the notary, who was actually a sleazy lawyer, I unloaded my backpack: Passport, marriage boat papers. Gone. Frantic, I got on my bike and rode back to the lawyer. I knocked on his door and said that I had forgotten my vessel documentation certificate in his office. His desk was a friggin' mess. Papers everywhere. He lifted the corners of a couple stacks and said he didn't have it. To this day I wonder what ever happened to that certificate. Gone into thin air. Anyway, it cost 30 bucks to express mail the stuff to Jaja and 75 bucks to get a new documentation certificate.)

Issue number three:
When I sailed DIRECTION solo across the Atlantic 1988, I made a stop in the Azores then carried on to Falmouth, England. The British customs official came to the boat, filled in a form, then scooted off. A month later I put DIRECTION on the hard in Southampton then went to the airport for a flight to the States. At Heathrow the immigration agent thumbed through my passport. She accused me being in England for two years! My jaw dropped. What? I explained that I had arrived by boat only a month ago. She nodded patiently, smiled, said she believed me (due to the exit stamp from the Azores), then explained the situation.

Seen from her point of view, it made sense. I had flown to England two summers earlier to deliver a boat back to the States. (see A Passage From Dante). I had received an entrance stamp in my passport from airport immigration, but we had left by sea and I did not get an exit stamp. This time, the customs officer who cleared me in at Falmouth did not stamp my passport for entry. So, seen from the perspective of the Heathrow officer it looked as if I had arrived in 1986 and never left. The woman said I needed to take personal responsibility for my own passport and make sure I got all the correct entry and exit stamps. I wonder how that scenario would play out today in our "modern" era of airport paranoia!

One final note:
Customs officials are only interested in how many days or months your boat is in their country. Immigration officials are only interesting in how long YOU are in their country. Never ask a Customs official about immigration rules, and vice versa. You'll get bad advice that will lead to problems down the road.

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