Paddy, Paul, Sparky, Jon, Jamie & Kate. Photo credit: Kate
Landfall in a new country can be exciting, frustrating and entertaining in (nearly) equal measure, particularly when it comes to the business of “clearing in”. Provided you’ve done your research, had your “keep calm” pills, and remember a few simple guidelines it will happen. In good time, in good time.
The process is in many ways remarkably similar given the diverse administrative DNA of the island nations one gets to visit on a yacht. Health: anyone with a communicable disease? Quarantine: no plants or animals, no fresh food, Customs: guns, drugs and grog, and Immigration: should we let you in?
We approached Apia early in the morning from the east, timing our arrival at the leading marks layline just as the sun popped over the horizon. Well done boys and girl. Nice gybe timing, spot on go-slow trim.
Flying the “Q” flag (quarantine) and our Samoa courtsey flag, a call to Apia Port control at 0700 and we are cleared to proceed to anchor in the harbour to “await further instructions”.
Fantastic. All going to plan.
Two hours later, we are tidy, K II’s awning is up and we are sweating profusely, hanging out for that first beer, still waiting for instructions. Damn its hot. We radio in: “Kialoa ready for inspection”.
“Captain, when did you get in?”
“Ah, so sorry, we will get the authorities to you, can you pick them up at the marina?”
And there’s one of the guidelines: don’t wait too quietly. Without being rude and overly time obsessed, remind them you’re there. The night duty officer perhaps forgot to write it in his hand over notes, the day officer perhaps missed it in the notes when he was getting his coffee.
Zipping over to the Marina, eventually a very friendly customs officer turns up. No other officers in sight. Demonstrating wonderful Samoan hospitality, he takes it upon himself to call the other departments and make sure they’re coming in. He looks quizzically at the dinghy: it’s a very small dinghy suitable for four persons. When the Health officers (two of them) turn up I see why. Health is always first aboard to give the all clear. The officers are Samoan men. Full sized, rugby playing Samoan men. Great credit to them and with much banter and laughter between the three of us (I’m 6’5″) we fit them into (actually onto) the dinghy, get them aboard Kialoa. And perhaps more remarkably, after we are given permission to drop the Q flag, back on-shore.
After visits from Customs and Quarantine, Immigration is missing. The officer had to head off to a “meeting” (it is a small dinghy…) the Customs man tells us. Not to worry, she has left him the immigration forms and agreed he will take our passports to her for stamping. Which he does. Before he goes we agree three different lines of communication to make sure we get them back: through the Port Operations office and VHF, I have his number, he has my number, and he shows me his office. There’s another guideline, have back-up comms plans and agree a time scale.
Bless him, spot on our agreed time, 7 hours after we dropped anchor, he rocks up with the passports all stamped, just as we settle in to our second beer.
Here’s the last one: give yourself time. Not much happens fast.
I reckon about 2 beers is what it takes to begin the process of slowing down to the right pace.