Friday, 6 September 2013

Controlled !

Some sailors go their whole sailing careers without ever having their papers controlled or inspected by Customs officials.  It happened to us yesterday … AT SEA !

We were several miles offshore sailing south towards the shipping lanes of the Loire estuary when we saw what we took to be a fishing boat barreling down on us.  We stood up and stared at them, letting the fishermen know we didn’t appreciate their little game.  Luckily I held Patrick back from flipping them the bird as he was intent on doing.

As they pulled up closer, I saw a discreet “DF” on the side of the boat:  Douanes Francaises (French Customs).  They pulled right up behind us and noted the name on the boat and undoubtedly looked in the cockpit to see if we had the now-mandatory license number posted in the cockpit.  We had just glued on our plaque that morning.

The boat pulled up beside us and two men came out of the pilot house, one with a huge fender and another with a big fishing net.  I started preparing fenders for them to come aboard.  All of this happened at 5 knots with us entirely under sail and I kept waiting for a loud-speaker to boom out “pull over please” or the nautical equivalent.  They signaled that they weren’t coming aboard and simply wanted me to place the ship’s documents into the fishing net that one of the officers held out to me.  

Preparing to be "pulled over"

My documents are, I must say, SCRUPULOUSLY organized in a water-resistant folder that includes everything from our ships registration, navigation taxes paid, insurance, home port contract, radio station license, our radio permits, our coastal and high-seas permits, and the life raft and fire extinguisher inspection documents.   Patrick, for once, did not make fun of me for my organization of our official documents and my “respect for authority a-la-Anglo-Saxon”.  I put my folder in a plastic bag and handed it over to the officials.

As they inspected the documents, Patrick and I reviewed everything mentally to try to imagine what fault they might find.  After a few minutes, they came out and I asked meekly, “is everything okay?”  The officer, with a funny little smile, said everything was fine (which I also took to be a silent commentary on my obsessive-compulsive organizational prowess).   I also think they were amused that I was taking pictures of them !  (Not sure that’s really allowed, but they didn’t say anything.)  

A smug Patrick prepares to recuperate the ship's documents (in the big fishing net of the officer on the right.)