I am writing this incredibly exhausted and upset. At this moment, Scott is in the customs office here in Antigua trying desperately to get us cleared in to this country after sailing all night. Why is he having difficulty, you ask? Because this moron (Brittany) accidentally threw out our customs papers from Guadeloupe and the Antiguan port authorities will not clear us in without them. This, my friends, is a major snafu. A first for us and it's all my fault. Pretty embarrassing. Antiguan customs are currently withholding our passports until we get a copy of the forms from Guadeloupe which is much easier said than done, I'm afraid.
Dealing with customs and immigration offices is part and parcel for this lifestyle. Each time you enter a new country you must "clear in" and then, subsequently, "clear out" before you reach another. Procedures are different from island to island. Some customs offices are pretty painless and easy (all the French islands come to mind) others are more...er...bureaucratic. Every cruiser has tales of woe centered around immigration procedures and dealing with unpleasant customs officials in some place or another. Today is a day I would love to simply bemoan a rude customs agent. I wish that was our problem. Sigh. But no, today I bemoan my silly little mistake that is really throwing a monkey wrench - one who's effect has yet to be determined, mind you - into things. Perspective.
Scott does all the clearing in and out of customs for us. We keep all our boat papers (registration, documentation, customs forms) and all our passports in a small pelican case so that everything is right where it should be when we need it. When we arrive to a new country, Scott grabs the case, hops into the dinghy and heads to shore to clear us in or out (some places you can do this simultaneously, omitting a step). Here in Antigua, though, we did a few things wrong:
First mistake: Isla and I went ashore with Scott to clear us in. We had just sailed all night long and I thought a little running around would do Isla good before her early afternoon nap. This was very poor thinking on our part. Many islands state that when clearing in with customs, only one person from each vessel can go ashore (usually the captain). While many places do not really enforce this, Antigua is clearly one of them that do and when they saw Isla and I in the office (why did we go in there?!?!) they made sure to tell us so immediately upon arrival. No bueno. That first exchange sort of set the tone for this whole deal...
Second mistake: When Scott cleared us in to Guadeloupe (an utterly painless process, mind you) he folded up the form and put it in his pocket. It then rained and the form got wet. When he came back to the boat he took the paper out of his pocket to dry it out which leads us to mistake number three...
Third mistake: Scott gave the paper to me. There are a couple fundamental problems with this as a) I am pregnant with twins and am currently suffering a very major case of "pregnancy brain" (it's real, people) and b) I am a total neat freak so when I see a crumpled up piece of water-logged paper laying around (yes, even after Scott says: "Keep this safe" [see 'a'] it is a natural instinct for me to throw it away. Who needs a water-logged crumpled piece of paper anyway?
They say bad things happen in threes, right? Well, we effectively struck a trifecta of customs and immigration "no no's" here in the 'Tiga.
So now I am back on the boat, feeling utterly helpless and anxious while Scott tries to track down a copy of our clearance papers. From customs officials. On a Saturday. With a French island (I love the French, but do I need to tell you how many breaks they take in a day?). So I do the only thing I can do when I feel like this, which is to write. it. out.
The best case scenario? We will get ahold of the customs folks in Guadeloupe and they will fax us our papers after which this will be a cautionary tale that we will have learned a big lesson from while letting out a sigh of epic proportions because it could have been so much worse.
The worst case scenario? We cannot obtain a copy and have to sail back to Guadeloupe to get a new one. We will have learned a HUGE lesson that costs us a significant amount of time that we will not get back.
Either way, I guess we learn a lesson. And, of course, I know it could always be worse. We're healthy. Our boat is fine. We are safe...yadda, yadda, yadda... But you better believe the only paper I will be throwing away on the boat from this day forward will be toilet paper.
Stay tuned, I will let you know how this plays out...keep your fingers crossed for us.