Thursday, March 08, 2007

February 16, 2007 - Bequia (Send money, guns and lawyers)

At the crack of dawn we were up and, taking advantage of the high tide, picking our way out of the cut at Blue Lagoon. We had a very quick sail over from Blue Lagoon to Bequia. I had a 9 am appointment to meet with the sailmaker so that he could come out and do measurements and patterning for our canvas work, but first I wanted to stop by the customs broker to make sure he had my materials. In the meantime, Sten was working on removing our forward hatch so that he could take it to Fixman.

When I walked into RMS, the broker was at his desk. I asked about the status, and he said that the paperwork was with customs, but they are a bit backed up. We might not get our stuff until Monday. I said that was impossible, I had to be in Canouan at the beginning of the week. He revised his story and said that we might have it by late today. Frustrated with the whole thing, knowing that we are running out of time to have the work done before picking up Graham and Eryn on Wednesday, and not relishing a beat back up to Bequia after they leave, I made my way over to Alick's shop.

I told Alick's wife Selma, who runs the business side of their shop, what the situation was, and she told me to go to customs and tell that that I have to leave so I need my materials. Thinking, "She's right. I shouldn't just let these delays play out, I should get in front of this thing," I headed back to the customs building.

I explained to the customs agent that, at their recommendation, I had engaged a customs broker a few days ago to help me with the paperwork for some materials that they were holding. The broker told me that the paperwork is now on their desk but that there is some delay, and I was wondering if there was anything I could do to speed things up. The agent is looking at me like I have three heads, and probably trying to figure out if I'm trying to bribe him.

He wanders back to his desk, takes a look through the paperwork on it, rifles through some drawers, and, finding nothing, asks his colleagues some questions. A minute later, I notice that one of the agents is off to the side of the room on his cell phone. A few minutes later, the broker comes in, with a packet of paperwork in his hands. Now, it could be for another boat, but I'm thinking not. He won't meet my eye. And when I ask him directly if that is my paperwork, he won't answer me.

After he leaves, the customs agent turns to me and, with a straight face, says, "Your paperwork has arrived."

"I noticed."

"It will take us some time to review the documentation."

"When should I return?"

"Come back at 1 o'clock."

"What is your name?"


"Okay, Hutchins. I'm done with the customs broker. I will come directly to you and deal with you from now on. Okay?"


In the meantime, Sten has struggled mightily with the hatch cover. The machined screw that holds the hinge together was seized. He eventually got it out, and over to Mr. Fixman.

Over lunch we discussed the situation with customs. At this point, we had three business days, including a half day on Saturday, before we needed to make tracks for Canouan. Even if we got the materials later today, there wasn't much time left for Alick to do the work.

We had wanted to go to a Carnival while in the Caribbean, and there happened to be one on Carriacou, just a few islands south of Canouan, from Sunday to Tuesday. If we couldn't get the shade and rain awnings done in Bequia, we could take the materials south with us, and see about having them done somewhere down the chain.

Returning to customs, once again I was asked to report to the back room. Agent Hutchins interrogated me about each of the items in our shipment, as well as our relationship with Alick. When I explained that the palm was used for sail repair, and that I would be the one doing the repair work, his incredulous look told me all I needed to know about how much he believed me.

In the end, he let me go with my materials, without paying any duty, but with a stern warning that if he discovered that any of the materials are used for canvas work by a shop in Bequia, I would be facing a $1500 fine. The last bit didn't seem fair to me, but I didn't feel like I was in any position to argue.

I hightailed it out of there, feeling very lucky to have gotten away so lightly, and cheaply. I found Sten and he helped me bring the materials back to the boat. We decided that, even if we had the time to get the work done, it wasn't worth the risk. It is a shame that the local sailmaker lost business because the US based supplier messed up an invoice.

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