We left Victoria this past Saturday, in the wee hours (that’s 8:00 a.m. in Del Viento-speak) and headed to Friday Harbor, a U.S. port in the San Juan Islands. We tied up to the customs dock and I grabbed our folder of documentation and passports. Nobody was in the small office on the dock. I picked up the yellow courtesy phone.
“U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.”
“Hi there, this is Del Viento. We just arrived here in Friday Harbor.”
There was a long pause. “What role does the person in the red pants play?”
“Aboard your vessel, who is the person in the red pants?”
I turned around and glanced back at the boat, Windy was sitting on the coaming in her red foul weather bottoms. “Oh, that’s my wife, Windy—I guess she’s the skipper on this leg, she helmed the boat over from Victoria; I slept much of the way.”
“Why did she run up and down the docks when you arrived?”
Run up and down the docks? I thought back: she drove us in, I hopped off with the stern line, she jumped off after she stopped the boat and then we both adjusted the lines… “I’m not sure what you mean; she didn’t run up and down the docks when we arrived.”
“We have cameras that cover the dock from one end to another. Your crew member in the red pants left the vessel and walked outside our camera range—I want to know what she was doing.”
“Uh, respectfully, she did nothing more than walk between the bow and stern lines, securing the boat.”
“Do you have any fruit or vegetables aboard?”
“Yeah, we have garlic, a couple apples, a few bananas, some mangoes…” I was mid-sentence when he interrupted me.
“Please get back aboard your vessel and wait for me to come down there.”
I told Windy about my phone call and the camera surveillance--our voices hushed in case there were hidden mikes too. After about 10 minutes, Mr. Officious came walking toward us. We tried to crack his demeanor with our smiles and hellos as he approached, but he was having none of it.
"Passports please." He focused sternly on our happy family sitting on the rail. “Frances, please raise your hand.” She complied. “Where’s your mom?” he continued.
Now Frances is a sharp little boat schooler, but a bit shy around strangers, and feeling pressured. I took a deep breath before she finally smiled and pointed at Windy.
Mr. Officious barely nodded before training his glare at my wife. “You left the boat and walked this way,” he said, sweeping his arm dramatically towards the bow, “outside of our camera range.”
“You mean to that bow cleat? I was securing the boat…” Windy said, and she wasn’t amused.
“Do you have any weapons or explosives aboard?”
“No, nothing.” I said.
“Did you allow anyone aboard your vessel in Canada?"
“Of course, several times, we were there for quite a while, made a lot of friends.”
“Did you buy anything in Canada?”
“Uh, yeah, lots of stuff, mostly food and sundries.”
“But you’re telling me that everything aboard this vessel—everything—belongs to you and you know what’s aboard.”
“Yep.” I thought for sure this was the question before the search. In San Diego last year, coming into the U.S. from Mexico, we were all four made to sit on the cabin top under the watchful eye of two customs officials while a third spent 15 minutes looking through our stuff down below.
“You have nothing aboard you plan to sell?”
I wanted to explain to him that everything’s more expensive in Victoria, even Canadian maple syrup. I’d be a fool to try and import anything. “We have nothing to sell.”
“You’re checked in. Here’s your clearance number.” He handed me a slip of paper, turned, and began to walk away and stopped. “Oh, the mangoes you have aboard—please get them for me.”
Windy brought up three glorious, perfect mangoes. We’d already enjoyed a couple and were foolish not to have eaten these before we arrived. Windy dumped them into the plastic bag he held at the end of his outstretched arms.*
And without a word, he turned again and walked away.
Now, I know the drill. Years ago I sat through a grueling three-hour CIA polygraph exam. Mr. Officious is trained to unsettle us, rattle us, and intimidate us. Like a polygraph examiner, his job is to induce stress and ferret out inconsistencies and otherwise make us feel like criminals when we’ve committed no crime. It’s a game and I’m happy to play.
But the game was over, he’d cleared us back in. He’d cleared us right out of his narrow jurisdiction and we were now as free and innocent as my grandma sitting in her Nebraska living room.
I called after him, just 20 feet away, heading down the 350-foot long empty Customs dock, not another boat in sight. “Is it okay if we stay here for just 10 minutes, to make a phone call, before we untie?”
He stopped and turned and paused, “No, you can’t.”
- Can you imagine how great it would be if there had really been five mangoes aboard, if Windy had mistakenly grabbed and surrendered only the three she first saw, if Frances happened to discover two more later at the bottom of the hammock and we enjoyed them immensely? Can you imagine?
We did a bit of provisioning in Friday Harbor. Eleanor (sporting her new short doo) is finally strong enough to lug beer, bless her heart.
Windy's always been our mast ascender, this was my first time up on this boat. I did a final rigging check, fixed our ProFurl halyard wrap stop, and installed two dozen stand-offs I made to attach our SSB antennae to the back stay.
I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at http://www.logofdelviento.blogspot.com/