Every time you visit a new country on your sailboat you have to check in with that country before you can do anything there. Every country is a little bit different. Some have multiple departments to check-in with, such as Rodrigues that put us through a gauntlet of check-ins; Coast Guard, Port Authority, Customs, etc. At least there, all of the departments had offices next to each other about 400 meters from where we tied off the boat. Other countries have similar check-in requirements but you have to walk for miles to visit all of their departments. And of course there is a similar process for checking out, almost identical, typically, but in reverse. The most important piece of paper you’ll receive when you check out is the clearance paper which says you’re clear to check-in at the next port of entry or next country. This document is sometimes called a zarpe.
Reunion had maybe the easiest check-in process of any of the islands we have visited in months. They came to the boat and had us fill out some forms and then they were done. No running about from place to place, just sitting in the comfort of our cockpit while they visited us. I’m assuming the checkout process would have gone just as flawlessly if we had not created a set of perfect storm circumstances mentioned in my last post.
We had earlier notified the Marina we would be checking out on Monday and asked them to arrange for Customs to visit our boat. Then that afternoon we were told by a neighbor that Monday was a bad day to leave because of the waves increasing to 4 meters. We had looked at the wind and storm windows but hadn’t noticed the swell/wave reports.
So at 4:30 pm on a Friday we decided we were leaving the next day and went about wreaking as much havoc as possible for the Marina and Customs departments. On the phone, Customs promised us they would be at our boat at 8 am on Saturday morning and get us checked out. Unfortunately we emailed the Marina but never got in touch with them by phone because they had already left for the day. It was further complicated by the fact that I needed to return the rental car to St. Denis, a city 25 kilometers away and return by bus to Le Port (I’m actually typing this post from the bus en-route). Another complication was the language barrier. I speak semi-fluent French, but sometimes not enough to communicate, exactly what we need and sometimes I struggle understanding everything the other person says.
So we were waiting at the boat at 8 am, but nobody showed up. We waited until 9 am and called the Customs number and they seemed to not know about the prior conversation from the night before. We asked them to hurry and they promised but by 10 am we decided to get going on the rental car return, but first go to the Marina to see if they had any clue what was going on.
When we got to the Marina they said Customs had been there but since they (Marina) were unaware of our need to leave today and we had not yet turned in our bathroom keys, they sent Customs packing. Of course we then realized our faux pas, turned our keys in and they called Customs. But wait it’s not over yet.
I dropped Brian off at the boat and started driving the 30 minutes to return the car as they closed at noon. We assumed (that word looks so obvious there doesn’t it?) that since I wasn’t needed (other than my passport) at the check-in, I also wouldn’t be needed at the checkout. Halfway to St Denis I got a call from Brian telling me I did indeed need to be there and Customs would be returning at 2 pm.
I hurried to the car rental agency, dropped off the car, and asked where to catch the bus back to Le Port. Five bus stops and 45 minutes later, I finally got the right one, boarded the bus, and headed back to Le Port with plenty of time to spare.
We learned a few lessons about this process. It’s always better to stick with your original plans for checking in or out unless it’s an emergency. And in those emergency times you need to expect problems to arise and you need to be flexible. We are finally at sea. I can see Reunion behind me now. This is one country I will never forget.