December 1, 2009
Jacksonville Florida Reeducation Camp for Foreign Sailors
This is a personal account. For independent verification see the cruisers' resource site www.noonsite.com.
After Cuba, the USA has the most repressive treatment of foreign cruisers in all of North and Central America. Maybe all of the Americas but I have not checked South America yet.
This fact was driven home with prejudice aboard Meredith yesterday. We were boarded by agents of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). We were not properly documented.
Under the Homeland Security Rules once a boat enters the USA from a foreign country the master must report to CBP every change of location or place.
Every time you move your boat the rules say you must call and inform the government. Without delay. Meredith did not do this.
Most Canadian boats do not comply with this rule. This is not out of willing ignorance of the rules but out of genuine confusion as to what the rules are. We know from experience that if you try to report you often cannot find a phone number to call. If you do reach a number the telephone head answering same often has no idea why you are calling and can even grow angry at your wasting of their valuable time.
Confusion amongst Homeland Security Border staff is so bad many boats enter the US without proper papers because the border guys, most of whom are friendly and trying to be helpful, don't know what to issue. One couple we travel with does not even have a Cruising Permit. When they crossed the border they were told they did not need one. This couple, one a bank auditor and the other a school principal, do not violate any law ever. Truly I hope they are not boarded.
Until now the USA has not enforced the reporting rules.
Well, there has been a change in the sea state baby. This country we are in just got unfriendly in a big way.
How big is the change? Well there are now convictions for failing to report in Maine and Florida. I In a case before the Florida courts at present a boat was charged with failure to report because they moved from one marina to another in the same city but failed to immediately call CBP.
Penalties are $5,000 for the first offence, $10,000 for each additional. I am sure that if they can prove you stopped 4 times enroute that constitutes 4 separate offences although no such case has come to my attention.
CBP Patrol boats are prowling the major inlets full time stopping every foreign flagged boat, vetting papers and making sure each boat has been reporting to the local SS, I mean USS detachment.
Yesterday was Meredith's turn. As I said like most Canadian boats we have not been reporting.
As we approached the junction of the ICW and the St. John's River a powerboat containing 4 agents of the CBP approached from our stern in the middle of the river. They may be government agents but forgive us for thinking of them as little better than armed thugs: four men dressed in flak jackets all wearing full wrap MIB sunglasses, hands resting on gleaming sidearms.
Boarding us they spent 30 minutes copying down every bit of information from every piece of paper on the boat. Polite but humourless (use of a "u" in this post may expose me to additional penalties for unamerican activity) when these guys finished with the paperwork they elected to grill us personally. Polite but firm.
It was insulting and unpleasant. And damned well unnecessary.
Their country, their rules.
There is no recourse. If we don't like their rules we can leave.
Meredith will remain here over the holiday. Flights are booked and mooring contracted. On our return we will leave this country. The rules are unacceptable to us and we choose not to live under them.
You might think it a loss to the US economy if large numbers of Canadians fail to populate their waterways. I mean Meredith has spent over $40K this year alone and we make no demand on any services.
US sailors are decent people and we have made many friends amongst them. Sadly the sailors do not make or enforce the rules.
Since I began writing this the Customs and Border Patrol boat which rousted us has cruised slowly past Meredith three times. It sickens me. If you are a foreigner in this country it is a hostile place.
Last night on arriving in Jacksonville Meredith called to report our arrival. There is no number listed for Jacksonville so we called Fernandina Beach CBP. When a machine answered we left our details and phone number. No return call. We called Cape Canaveral CBP. A machine answered, we left message and phone number; no return call. Called West Palm Beach CBP. Got a machine and a recorded message. Machine did not take messages.
The guys that boarded us cruised by late last evening and we hailed them. Informing them of our unsuccessful attempts to report we asked them what the hell we were supposed to do. They, all four, looked at the deck of their boat. Nothing was offered up. I asked what the Jacksonville phone number was. One said that they had about 20 numbers and you could not find it anyway. I again asked what the number was and after an extended delay one guy offered up what he thought was the local information number.
The gun toting drug smuggling terrorists aboard Meredith have now fully informed the USA of our intentions. The phone call, when we were able to find someone to take the information, was another 20 minutes repeating all of the information the CBP boat copied down earlier: Boat registration number, passport numbers, cruising permit number, how long would we be in Jacksonville, where had we come from, where were we going.
We now have this to look forward to every day we remain here.