We’ve wanted to travel across to the San Juan Islands in the United States (US) for a while now but have avoided it because we have been a bit nervous; mainly from reports and articles we’ve read that if a boater don’t follow the exact procedure set out by the US customs you might end up with a fine of up to $4000, or worse, your boat confiscated. You can imagine our surprise when we sailed over to Roche Harbor and leisurely went through customs without incident.
We left Tsehum Harbour after dropping Rob’s sister off at the airport and headed over to Roche Harbor, on the northern part of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of some 200 islands. In preparation for our trip, we phoned US Customs to inquire about the type of documents we would need and the allowable food items. We were told that we only needed our passports, valid boat registration, insurance documents, and proof of ownership to come into the United States. Further, no one except the designated skipper is allowed to leave the boat until the boat and crew have been cleared by the customs officer. Violation of this rule may result in substantial penalties and forfeiture of the boat. For food items that could not cross the border, we were informed that the only concern at the time was fresh chicken (we only had cooked chicken and ham); no other food type was mentioned.
As we approached Roche Harbor, we phoned Customs one more time to make sure we knew which dock to approach (the Customs dock office is moved during the off-season closer into shore) and again asked what else we needed for customs clearance (ok, we were being extra extra careful and nervous-nellies).
As soon as we were tied off at the customs dock, Sophia got back on the boat to wait and I went into the office to check us in. There were two officers and I was asked pretty normal travel questions and had to fill out some documents and show my documents. One officer then left me in the office and went out to speak with Sophia to ask questions; of course I forgot about some other food restrictions (citrus, avocado, ginger, garlic, and green onions, but peppers and tomatoes were ok only if they were not from BC??), which were turned over by Sophia.
Once the formalities were completed, and the one officer came back into the office, they asked about my occupation (being a conservation officer) and were very interested in our lives up in the arctic so we chatted for almost an hour. Unbeknownst to me, Sophia was getting very nervous on the boat (yes, she was still on the boat, waiting…) and thought that something serious was going on, like I was being strip-searched or something. I don’t know where she would get that idea?? Ok, I can get a bit cranky when I go through customs or security at airports (Canada or USA) but I’ve never been pulled to the side to that ‘special room’.
Finally, on my return to the boat one of the officers gave me one of their shoulder flashes (Homeland Security & Border Services) as a parting gift. The exchanging of shoulder flashes is common among law enforcement agencies, so I promised to send some along when I get back to Nunavut.
In the end our first crossing over to the United States and across a border with Blue Tale was very successful and a good experience. ~Rob & Sophia