First thing first. Soon after dropping the anchor in Arctic bay, I make sure everything is safe on board with the boat ready for the next blow. Now, I have to return to my immigration clearance.
Have you ever seen a boat with a yellow flag on its starboard spreader ?
It’s a quarantine flag. A very old and traditional maritime requirement for any vessel the world over entering a new country.
Under strict international order, no one disembark except the captain to “clear” his boat and crew. That was done in part to intercept boats with sick people on board to avoid the spreading of diseases from abroad. Nowadays, it’s just the same old and traditional procedure. Quarantine flag and no one on land before getting your official clearance. With the advance of new technologies, in some countries, you can ease this process by contacting by phone the custom office. After answering some basic questions, you then go ahead to immigration with a pre-clearance number. It shows your good will and your first preliminary contact with the local jurisdiction.
As a diligent captain, 10 minutes before entering Arctic Bay, we contacted the Canadian custom authorities somewhere in this huge country, by satellite phone on their official number. An enlightening experience. Let me share it with you.
“Canada custom authority here…”
-Sir, I plan to make my clearance for entering Canada?
“By boat, by plane…”
“Name of the boat?”
“Brisket you said”
-No Breskell. it’s a Brittany name sir.
“Coming from Great Brittany, Brisquet?”
-Breskell. No, from the USA, sir.
“A British name, on an US flagged boat is that right Brisquel?”
“Last port of call Briskel”
-Upernavik, Greenland. It’s Breskell, sir.
“Your destination Brexit”
-Arctic bay. But Breskell, the name of my boat sir.
“Arctic bay… where is Arctic bay Briskell?”
-Breskell my boat. It’s a bay in the Arctic, sir.
“Yes, I understand that Bresket . But is this bay in Canada?”
-Excuse me sir?
“Brisket, is Arctic bay in Canada? “
-If I consult my charts, they say Arctic bay is in Nunavut. If Nunavut is still part of Canada so… It’s Breskell, B.. as Bravo, R .. as Romeo, E… as Echo.. Breskell the name of my boat sir.
“Let me consult my official list of possible clearance locations for your area Breskit”
-….Bresk…. never mind!
“Brisket, sorry for the delay. You cannot make your official clearance in Arctic bay.”
-I cannot enter Canada sir?
“Sure you can enter Canada, Brisquet. And we are really happy to welcome you in our country . You have two possibilities”
If the first part of this communication gives you an approximate idea of our exchanges, the content of the last surreal part of this interaction is word for word the choice offered:
“The first possibility to clear custom in your area is Goose bay.”
-Goose bay, you said….. Have you, by any chance, any closer location sir?
“Sure. Personally, Breskill, I recommend St John, in Newfoundland.“
-Brisket here, I mean Breskell here. I thank you very much. I will think about those two options. Have a great day and thank again for you great help, sir.
Goose bay is in Labrador, on the east end of this continent and the last landing-place in North America before flying over the Atlantic to Europe. St John, Newfoundland? Last year, I cleared my boat there before sailing many miles north to Greenland. A nice place and a friendly custom office. It’s just thousand nautical miles south of us.
Listening to this exchange, my incredulous crew advanced different hypothesis:
- Under severe budget restrictions, the custom office in Canada, sub-contracts the boring preliminary non official clearance procedures to an Indian internet company working from New Delhi ..
- Under strict application of an equal opportunity law in the workplace in socialist Canada, this job went to an unemployed certified moron ..
- To relieve the intense stress of this job, experimenting in advance the soon to become law about legalization of marijuana in Canada, my interlocutor had a good smoke before taking the call.
Unexpected in Canada, I was often confronted elsewhere with this kind of bureaucratic ineptitudes . My sailor recommendation: like with an iceberg, never confront it directly. Much better to slalom around and let it melt by itself. I have also learn to “cover my ass” as they say in the army.
Just in case, I write down all the important details of this conversation, date and phone-numbers in the official memory of Breskell her log book. Not far away from a more cheerful entry: my well-remembered buttered tenderloin recipe.
At anchor now and to try to get my official clearance, I unleash my dinghy and row toward the beach.
A lot of kids welcome me. They all want to take a ride and board Breskell. Happily, a woman saves my day first by chasing them away, then asking if I needed some help.
-Yes, I am looking for the custom or police headquarters?
“Well, this late, I am pretty sure there is nobody there. It’s already 5:30 pm. It’s summer time. Come with me, it’s not far away, we can check quickly”.
The office is closed: no clearance today in Canada.
Don’t worry said my new acquaintance and return to your boat. I will call them and phone you back with their instructions. In confronting bureaucracy , nothing more that a diligent captain can do today. I row back to Breskell for a well deserved drink and we had a wonderful diner together. After getting in touch with the police, our friendly lady confirms that they are waiting for us at 9:00am tomorrow and please, not to worry. At least, they don’t intend to direct me back to Newfoundland. In my clearance process, progresses have already being made. Even if for now, we are still not officially in Canada.
With Eric and Shannon, a little before 9:00 am the next morning, I row again my dinghy on shore. We went straight to the police station a little apprehensive about our next clearance step.
I push the door. In full Canadian police regalia, with a sparkling uniform and a serious gun, a short guy with an heavy-set body is standing there. With a large smile, he gives us a warm welcome. As soon as I saw him, I know my clearance problems were over. In fact, it was even better than anything you can imagine.
- Hi sir, we are on the yellow sailboat at anchor in the bay. We are coming to do our clearance in Canada…
“Welcome to Canada”.
I was prepared for some suspicious inspections of our passports followed by a lot of papers to fill.
Nothing at all. Not even a look inside my passport.
- I insisted. My passport here….
“I don’t need it. You are Americans, you are now officially in Canada. And welcome again. “
We all wanted a souvenir of this memorable crossing. Not every traveler is endowed with a border stamp registering his entrance in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, Canada.
- Could you be kind enough to stamp our passport?
“Sure, no problem”.
And we get our legitimate Arctic entrance recognition stamped for all to see on our official documents. Everyone is happy. That could have been the end of this courteous clearance formality.
“By the way, my name is Yves and « je suis québécois », I am from Quebec he said with the distinctive French accent from this province. “This is Jessy, my partner”.
Jessy was on the phone and came to greet us as soon as he hangs up.
“Nice to meet you guys”.
Normally, those official formalities done, you expect to return to your boat and start your daily routine.
That was just the beginning of our clearance story.
Very kindly, they propose to visit the town. We all jump in their four-wheel drive pick-up and only a few minutes after our formal entrance into this welcoming outpost, we are visiting the village in the police truck. They take us everywhere and explain everything: grocery store , hotel, wood-shop house, community building, internet access. We went to the airport. Could you believe that they even drive me to meet some of my cherished husky sled dogs. Jessy was a great guide. And we could not find any better and kinder persons that these two officials. They represent the best about what this friendly country, our appreciated neighbor of the north, has to offer.
I just hope that a little of this sense of hospitality and courteousness trickles down toward our own custom officers when they receive newcomers in our beautiful USA. .
Back to the police station. After our long visit, we let them get back to work not after some well deserved thanks. We will meet again these officials with genuine pleasure.
Returning to our boat, we know that we would spent a great time in this friendly village waiting for the other boats to join us…
Our next leg is starting from here. Not an easy one. We need the ice to clear out the North West Passage for us. A more difficult undertaking that clearing in our boat in Canada.