Cruising: Checking in with Immigration & Customs in the Bahamas w/Teens

February 17, 2015

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We woke up for the first time in the Bahamas. This is SO surreal, and yet still has that weird vibe of total normalcy to it. Just like, “Of course we’re living on a boat and we’ve just crossed the ocean over to the Bahamas. That’s just what people do.” Like we just got in our car and went on a road trip to some other state. Maybe it just hasn’t hit me yet that we’re in a foreign country. I suppose nothing better to bring you to reality than checking in with immigration for a traveler’s visa.

Patrick had checked his Active Captain and maps to see that it would be a bit of a drive, but it looked as though we should be able to take the dinghy around the other side of the island and reach the dinghy dock to get us to the immigration offices.

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We all hopped in the dinghy with our passports, boat paperwork, the dogs (we thought we needed to take them in with their pet paperwork ~ nope), snacks and some water and we were off.

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After an hour of alternately driving the dinghy/having Jaedin get out and PULL the dinghy through varying shallows/deep spots trying to find this ever elusive channel, we finally decided that the map wasn’t accurate and turned around. The coolest part of this seemingly endless dinghy ride was how many sea critters we got to see. HUGE starfish were visible throughout the ride (because the water is as clear as a swimming pool here) We saw sea turtles (they move so freaking fast, I couldn’t even begin to catch them on video!), sharks, flying fish, several other varieties of fish, sting rays and what Jaedin thought was an eagle ray.

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Even stressful things were going better in the Bahamas! Its not every day that you take the wrong ‘road’ and get to see that much cool stuff when you’re basically lost for couple of hours!

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We finally made it back to the boat and hauled all of our belongings back aboard. By that time it was already 2:30. We needed to hustle it.

I was still feeling wrung out from motion sickness (the dramamine didn’t last as long as it should have or my stomach was truly just done with all the movement) so I went and laid in bed with my sleep mask on, sucking on ginger candies until my stomach settled. Patrick and the kids got the anchor up and the boat pointed in the right direction and we were off to the channel where the government dinghy dock was supposed to be for customs and immigration.

We had to anchor outside of the channel because we weren’t sure it was deep enough for our boat that draws 5 1/2 feet. The waves were pretty bad for anchoring, but Jaedin lowered the anchor and it caught pretty quickly. The boat was rocking like a galloping horse. Holy crap. Trying to get into the dinghy was like being at a bounce house or something. You had to time the rocking motion as the dinghy came up towards the boat so you could step on quickly before it crashed down again. It felt like some kind of weird ocean rodeo event. We were all feeling pretty damn nervous about leaving the boat in that state. As we drove away in the dinghy, we could see the front and back of the boat galloping up and down in the water. The waves were high enough that as soon as we were a little ways away, it looked like they were swallowing the ends of the boat. Talk about nerve wracking! I was feeling pretty anxious that we were going to come back to our boat just floating away on the ocean or sinking where it stood, but there we were, stuck in a situation without a whole hell of a lot of choice. We had to check in so we could leave the boat and actually experience the place!

The dinghy ride down the channel was fairly uneventful, there were signs everywhere that said, “$500.00 FINE ~ NO WAKE ZONE” and yet the locals appeared to be driving their boats at breakneck speed, but everyone else was pretty slow going. We toodled around down the channel, looking for the “Government Dock” signage to no avail. As we got near to what looked like the end of the channel, we stopped alongside another boat and asked if he knew where we were supposed to dock/go to customs and immigration. Although he said he’d been here before, he wasn’t sure if we were at the right spot, …”but that guy over there knows…”

So, we go ask ‘that guy’, who also wasn’t sure, but he thought we could just tie up ‘over there’.

I really wasn’t expecting this to be so hard to find. I almost expected that they’d come find US, I at least thought there would be big signs or something. I don’t know what I thought it would be like, but this wasn’t it.

So, we pulled up to this big cement wall with what looked like pool ladders off of the side, but no cleats/anything to tie off on. We finally decided to just tie up to the swim ladder and hope everything went all right. This indeed turned out to be the ‘Government Dock’, though you’d not know it by looking at it. There is a large power boat, about a 35 foot trawler, half sunk and tied against the wall. In addition, if you’re going to be pulling into this dock anywhere near low tide, be aware that there are two totally submerged wrecks AT the wall that your outboard WILL hit if you happen across a the right time. Here’s the Pram that’s sunk at the dock. Both outboard motors are still attached to the boat, and at low tide they’re only about a foot below the surface of the water. If the sun was in the wrong place for you to be able to see it, this could REALLY ruin your day:

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We left Jaedin with the dinghy, in case we weren’t supposed to tie it there and took off with the other kids and the dogs across the street (the street on which there appeared to be only a vague suggestion of rules/sides, etc) to the official looking sign:

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Once we were at the building, there was a “No pets past here”. Ooookay, apparently we didn’t need to bring the dogs. Oh well, ‘Abyni, take the dogs back to the dinghy.’

The rest of us head down the hallway, following the “Immigration Office” signs until we see a sign on the correct door that says, “CAPTAINS ONLY”. Ooookay, I guess NONE of us needed to come. We could have stayed with the boat after all. I go out to sit and start digging in my purse for my phone so I can take some video for our YouTube channel. I can’t find it.

SHIT. Shit shit shit. Where is my phone? We JUST got out of the… shit. I go back to where the dinghy is tied, and there at the bottom of the water sits my phone, clear as day. DAMN IT. “JAEDIN! Can you get my phone for me???” It fell out of my purse when I was getting out of the damn dinghy I have been fine carrying it in my purse until now because I always have plenty of room to zip it shut, but today everyone kept handing me things to hold, so it wasn’t zipping shut with that big plastic folder in the way… OMG DID I SERIOUSLY LOSE THE BOAT DOCUMENTATION PAPERS IN THE WATER??? OMG OMG OMG NO.

Talk about “shit”. Ugh. Jaedin goes BACK in the water and rescues our folder of boat documents (which you HAVE TO HAVE to check in anywhere and to show… basically the deed to our floating house, license and registration all in one folder full of papers, that were now sopping wet. DAMN IT. I should have taken the extra couple of minutes to put them in the dry bag, but I guess its too late now. Lesson #378 (I’m losing count).

Patrick comes out right away with immigration forms that we have to fill out (just like the ones you get at your destination for an international flight, except on ours, we check ‘Private Boat’). In the spot where it asks how many days you are planning to stay, Patrick tells us all to put 180 days. We check mark all of the islands that we plan to visit. We’re in a hurry because the side trip this morning cost us a lot of time and the offices close fairly soon. Patrick is terribly pleased that I’ve gotten the boat documents wet, I feel like crap, its an all over wonderful moment in time. But still. We’re in the BAHAMAS. How cool is that? I don’t think anything can really taint the vibe of excitement over this fact. Not even my colossal stupidity. We all take the papers over to the picnic table and spread them out to dry. Thank goodness, none of the ink is running.

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We have things to do. Move it along. As soon as we’re done filling out the forms, Patrick takes our filled out forms back into the office… and comes out AGAIN waving us in. Apparently the immigration woman wants to talk to the rest of us after all. We follow Patrick back to the office, where the woman at the desk tells him to leave the room so she can talk to us. Then after clarifying that Abyni is the youngest, Paris is 17 (18 next month) and Jazz is ‘the boyfriend’ and he is 18 (19 next month), she turns to Abyni and asks how she feels about being taken away on a boat for 6 months. Abyni is obviously glowing and excited from the arrival into Bimini, saying, “I’m really freaking excited! I think its awesome!”

The woman looks to Jazz and Paris and says, “So… you’re all good with this too? I need to be sure that you’re all here because you want to be. And [Jazz], your family knows where you are and they’re okay with this, too?”

To be clear, we weren’t expecting this At All. We haven’t heard of this kind of questioning happening before, but of course, we’re all being honest when we say, “YES, this is AWESOME!” It wasn’t a problem at all, as a matter of fact, I was reassured that she cared enough to ask!

She finally turns to me and asks about homeschooling, what the laws are in our state and just wants reassurances that we’re ‘allowed to do that’ as she puts it. Thankfully, having homeschooled the kids for nearly 20 years, I’m well versed in the legality of homeschooling in Oklahoma, and our rights, etc. She asked if we had enough income to stay away from home for 6 months, then clarified that we weren’t going to be trying to work on the islands. I answered all of the questions and then we were free to go so that Patrick could come back and complete our immigration paperwork.

And just like that, it was done, we had 180 day travel Visas and we were set to go into the Customs office and do that side of things.

See this tiny little sign? I didn’t either. This is the sign pointing to the customs office (just down the street from the Immigration office). If you’re having problems locating the Customs office like we were, be advised that it is INSIDE what appears to the the Big Game Marina, at the very head of their dock.

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Checking in at Customs was a breeze, just lots of paperwork and a fistfull of cash. $360, to be exact. The entry fee is $300, but that only covers the first three passengers aboard your vessel. After that it’s another $20 per person.  I got the impression while here that the Immigration and Customs offices don’t really play nicely together. The Customs person told me that we should have come there BEFORE going to Immigration, despite the fact that the Immigration person was pretty clear that we had to check in with them BEFORE we went down to Customs. All that said, I still don’t now what the ‘right’ order to do it in is, but in real word application it doesn’t seem to matter too terribly much.

And that was that. We were all rubber-stamped and signed and receipted and official. Look out Bahamas, here comes Eleven Purple Monkeys! (assuming that we actually GET our updated boat documentation and can actually change our boat name while we’re here.) Smile

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