Trip Reports

The Master (02-Nov-2002-21-30):
9:30 PM local time, Saturday, November 02, (2130 Nov. 2 UTC) 28 28 N 016 14 W. Temp. 77, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 0%. At a slip at the Marina del Atlantico, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Islas Canarias (Canary Islands), Spain (Espana)

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We sailed down the coast of North Africa from El-Jadida on October 24, and called at Essaouira, another Moroccan coastal city. This was our favorite city in that country, with a very busy fishing harbor where we could observe traditional boatbuilding as well as the activities of the fishermen. I say "traditional" but it's not as though there's some kind of school here of interest to the nautical historian. It's how they still do it, using a template or two but mainly just fastening planks by eye to the frames. Tourists and locals are encouraged to come into the port and deal directly with the boatmen for the huge variety of their catch, and there are a dozen or so booths that will cook the fish to order on the spot. I wish I didn't have to bring this up, but people here were friendly to the crew of Maverick, as they have been throughout the Muslim world. We flew the flag just like we do in every port we come to, in accordance with the traditions of flag etiquette.

As we did in El-Jadida, we visited a local hammam in Essaouira, a public bath based on the tradition of public bathing going back at least to ancient Greek and Roman times. The ones we went to were a bit dingy and dimly lit, with heated walls of ceramic tile. You change into a bathing suit at the entry and are given a bucket or two. You go through a door and then into a series of rooms, each one hotter than the one before. Taking water in your bucket from the very hot and cold taps, you mix to your preference, and sit on the tile floor and bathe. For an extra fee someone will bathe and massage you. I passed on that. It was more pleasant than it sounds.

From Essaouira we made the two-day crossing to the Canaries, making landfall on the small island of Graciosa on the northeast corner of Lanzarote. The Canaries are volcanic islands at about the latitude of Baja California and have the dramatically barren look of, say, Death Valley, with an ocean view. Once you leave the sandy lanes in the town of La Sociedad near our anchorage, the rest of the island of Graciosa is unencumbered by fences or any other sign of land ownership, so you can wander to your heart's content. Although the island has a remote look and feel, it has sophisticated markets and restaurants, and a fast internet café.

After Graciosa we had a 150-mile sail to Tenerife, another one of the Canary Islands. We left in a hurry to beat some big seas and strong winds that were forecast, and the whole way we had 15-25 knots slightly aft of the beam with three to eight foot seas. It was the best sail we've had since leaving the Red Sea. We'll stay here for a few weeks and the Captain looks forward to a visit from Theresa who will fly across the Atlantic, looking down at the two or three boats already attempting the passage.

Some of our readers, particularly those whose plans include a cruise of their own in the future, may be interested in the formalities with which a voyager must comply as he or she travels from port to port. You've heard about Byzantine regulations, bribes, and dishonest officials who have absolute authority over the yachtsman. In most countries, in addition to being held accountable for any damage the boat itself may cause in the harbor as a result of dragging anchor or a mistake at the helm, the captain of a boat is responsible for the behavior of his crew when ashore. In New Guinea, a yacht was seized when a new crew member whom the captain barely knew tried to buy pot from an undercover agent at a bar in town. The crew was arrested, and the captain ended up shelling out about $5000 in legal fees to obtain the release of his boat.

In general, here's what happens: As you approach the new port, you try to raise the authorities on VHF 16 or another channel specified in the pilot. If they answer, which happens about 25% of the time, you follow their instructions. If they don't, you head into the harbor and start looking for the customs dock or simply anchor until you get some more info, often from fellow cruisers already there. Sometimes, as in Sri Lanka, where there are security concerns at the port, the yacht's movements are controlled until you've checked in, usually by armed personnel who come alongside in a launch and then come aboard for the preliminary paperwork before you're allowed to proceed into the harbor. In Australia, they patrol their waters with overflights and the customs officials aboard the plane contact you on VHF radio while you're under sail and ask for some details. Usually precautions are a little less uptight, and you come alongside where instructed or anchor and wait for the authorities to come to you, or go into their office.

You've hoisted your "Q" flag, which is solid yellow, on the flag halyard beneath the starboard spreaders prior to entering the port. (The American flag is flown from a flagstaff at the stern or from the backstay.) The Q stands for quarantine, and technically the yacht is quarantined until customs, immigration, the port captain, and sometimes other authorities are satisfied, so either you can't go ashore or can't go any further than the officials' offices. When formalities are completed, you replace the Q flag on the flag halyard with a courtesy flag, which is a miniature flag of the country you're visiting, and leave it there for the duration of your visit. In most places you can get away without this (they're expensive, about $15-$30 US), but we carry them for every country and the vast majority of yachts do, particularly world cruisers. It's a traditional sign of respect for the host country, and in some places they demand it.

The formalities consist of presenting a clearance from your last port of call, the boat document, a crew list, passports, and very rarely, proof of insurance, and filling out long forms for various officials. About one time out of ten there is a search of the boat, usually cursory, but in Australia rather thorough. Rarely, this is an excuse to confiscate cigarettes or alcohol for the official's own use. In some countries, for example, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Egypt, you can't get away without having an agent do all the paperwork for you for a non-trivial fee, which includes bribes for officials although this is not stated. You may be able to do it yourself without the agent but it will be a major hassle that may take days. Though I've heard of it, I've never personally known anyone who attempted to get around the agents in countries where it's SOP. So there are now ledgers by the dozens gathering dust in the offices of port officials across the globe that contain Maverick's vital statistics, and those of her crew.

Yet the process is less odious than you might think and not a major issue, in my opinion. I wouldn't let it worry you, if you're heading out. It's your first contact in the new country and most officials are as pleasant and efficient as can be given their circumstances. In Europe the whole process has mostly been abandoned once you check into the first EU country. It is true that in some countries there have been major issues of compliance, like Australia, where we had to haul out because of a tiny bit of growth on the hull. And in some we have been hit up for bribes, like the time on the island of Batam, Indonesia when we ended up in a bathroom handing over $30 in US bills to an "agent." Egypt is a special case because every port has its own fiefdom controlled by authorities who not only do not comply with any written information, or even copies of laws that you may have, they change the regulations from day to day depending on what they think they can get away with. The problems we've had along these lines were all between Australia and the Med, and they were more of an annoyance than anything else. To put it in perspective, on the whole trip we've paid less for bribes, even including agents' fees, than it would cost to replace a small self-tailing winch, say $700. So as far as expenses are concerned, boat repairs are a much larger part of the budget. Some people just can't accept it, and every once in awhile it rubs you the wrong way. But it's a little easier to handle if you know what to expect in advance, as you will, since you'll be in touch with other cruisers. You could always stay home, you know.

In dealing with officials, you're called the captain, or sometimes, the master, of the vessel. The first time someone addressed me as the master, it was rather a pleasant surprise.

"And you are the master?" asked the customs agent.

Hmmm. "The Master," I thought. That has a damn fine ring to it. "The Master." I paused to contemplate it. Contemplating turned to meditating, and the meditating turned into a kind of mantra, as I repeated silently, "I am the MASTER. I am THE master. I AM the master."

The official was drumming his fingers on his desk.

"Sir? Are you the master?"

I stood up and bowed from the waist, dusting the floor with my cap.

"I am he, sir, the very same," I proclaimed grandly.

The official rolled his eyes, which I thought was quite unseemly, considering he was speaking with The Master.

I left the office in a reverie, contemplating my newfound self. I resolved to immediately email Theresa, informing her of my new title and advising her that hereafter, I was to be addressed as "Master," in a manner not unlike that seen in the old sitcom, "I Dream Of Jeannie."

From the salutation of her response, which was sent back quite promptly, I could tell that there was some feeling for the issue and that she was quite happy to negotiate. "Listen to me, you miserable, festering little wart," she began. You see! A counter-offer. The rest of the letter was admittedly somewhat less conciliatory, but one must take an opening when it's given. We're mature adults and we always can work things out reasonably. It was finally determined that she would excise the word "little" from her proposal, as she was persuaded by the powerful reasoning that I so often can bring to bear, that my stature was a given and that pointing it out was a needless redundancy. The poor dear. She is so enamored of me that I almost always prevail in disagreements of this sort. I have very little reason to doubt that down deep, when she's all alone, she always thinks of me as The Master. But I digress. Departure from a country is, as a rule, the reverse of arrival and is less difficult, although there are exceptions, particularly in Egypt, where officials may withhold your papers as a bargaining chip until you pony up various creative fees they feel like requesting, that differ from boat to boat depending on what their astrologer says or how expensive your haircut looks. They held up some people's departures on weird whims, until some boats missed a weather window to continue up the Red Sea. This meant, after the papers were finally complete, that the crew would have to extend their stay, which meant they would have to check back in, which meant they would have to pay the agent's fees and all other fees all over again-the alternative being, heading directly out into 35 knots on the nose. They took the 35 knots. Here in the Canaries, they don't give a groat about your papers. It's become so much a part of our rituals that now I almost miss it. Nobody even cares enough about our arrival to put us through a few hoops just to make sure we're the actual heroes of the legendary Maverick that they've heard so much about, and not some phonies. Perhaps I'll phone the US embassy, and demand to be hassled by some local bureaucrats, just to make sure I'm really me.

Next report form this location: "And Your Bird Can Sing"

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