Clearing Customs

The Bahamas has figured out how to make clearing customs easy. Just hand over a lot of money. In cash.

When we arrived at the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End on Grand Bahama Island after an overnight sail from Miami, the captain and crew were tired, and tempers frayed. We timed our arrival for just after sunrise, so that we would have good visibility entering a new harbor, and just before the Customs office opened, so we could breeze through without much wait. But we didn’t think about the fact that it would be Saturday … of Presidents’ Day weekend ….

As our three sailboats slowly made our slow and dignified approach into the harbor, planning to tie up at the Customs Dock, a sudden hoard of small and agile go-fast fishing boats zoomed around us and claimed all the spots at the dock. They promptly started blaring dance music, stripping down to bikinis, and popping the top of beer cans. Oh. And jumped ahead of us in the Customs line. It was a bit of a shock to realize that the trip from Miami that had taken us about 15 hours, was also achievable on a small boat with 2 or 4 powerful motors in just a couple of hours. And that the huge Gulf Stream crossing that we had been thinking about for months could be performed as part of a one-day fishing / drinking party. Oh well. It puts things in perspective, and reminds us that sail people and motor people are different breeds! Capt Mike got his revenge in the Customs line when the kids from the fishing boats were talking about the cost of diesel, and when they asked how long Mike was staying in The Bahamas and he answered, “oh, at least three months.” 😎

We carry a waterproof document bag that contains all important paperwork: passports, ship’s registration with the US Coast Guard, insurance, etc. Mike learned some good lessons about how the clear Customs smoothly from our previous charters:

  • Dress neatly
  • Bring your own pen (really!)
  • Have all documents in order (one of the fishing boats forgot their registration)
  • Be polite
  • Know the fees and have money ready in cash

In The Bahamas, a cruising permit authorizing Sanitas to sail in the water of the Commonwealth for three months costs $300. We intend to get our money’s worth! Each member of the ship’s crew also gets approved by immigration to stay in the country for a certain period of time. I think they gave us six months. Probably hoping for another $300 cruising permit! While Capt Mike was standing in line, I took advantage of being tied to the dock to make coffee, empty trash and even take a quick shower, cheating just a little bit on our Customs quarantine status. Finally we were all cleared in and officially and could lower the yellow Q flag, and raise the Bahamas courtesy flag, and continue sailing east across the Little Bahama Bank!

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