I don’t think it matters if you’re clearing customs in Australia via plane or yacht there is always that gnawing in the pit of your stomach that you’ll be picked out and something won’t be right and then all hell will break loose.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve cleared customs in many different countries with the same number of variations on how to do so. Without doubt the French in the Caribbean have the most laid-back approach with an attitude that they don’t really want to know that you’re there. When you arrive you simply track down where the immigration computer is which can be at the local chandlery or tourist gift shop, you fill in the relevant details of when you arrived and when you might leave, print out the details and, as they say, voila your job is done go and have fun.
On the other hand, if you clear into one of the ex-pat British colonies then be prepared to stand in line with your handful of papers and wait for a large-handed coloured gentleman to give you the eye and consider you acceptable and stamp your passport. Unlike Australia where they seem to thrive on stealing all your good food upon arrival, it’s rare for anyone in the island locations to give you a second look so biosecurity is virtually nonexistent. Aitutaki in the northern Cook island group was the only time we had a visit from biosecurity and the gentleman insisted on spraying our starboard hull with that wonderful anti-bug spray even though all our hatches were open, no problem as long as he could spray, he was happy. I guess he didn’t like our port hull as he ignored that one.
So, we have been out of the cruising scene for some two and half years and the thought of customs and bio brought back old feelings. How was clearing going to be in PNG? We arrived in Rabaul harbour on a Tuesday morning and as it turned out ít was a public holiday for Remembrance Day which is our Anzac Day. Harbour authority advised that we must anchor and could clear on the following day, no problem we needed the sleep anyway. A short while later the radio went off and harbour advised that they had tracked down Biosecurity and they would come out to the boat. This way we could leave the boat if we wished. Now in normal circumstances Bio is going to check for food etc. and Di is now busily moving food and wood carvings that we picked up in the Louisiades (shhh, we weren’t suppose to stop anywhere before clearing in). As it turns out Johnson the Bio guy is more interested in the cup of tea and biscuits that Di has offered than checking for food. A good start to the clearing process. As it turns out Johnson knows one of the customs guys and so after a couple of phone calls customs is also on the way.
Now, prior to arrival in Rabaul, Di has spent considerable time repacking (hiding) many of our stores that customs and excise may not like, additional wine, spirits and our newly acquired still just to name a few, so we were feeling mildly confident that unless there’s a complete boat search we should be fine. As it turns out the customs guy is at the yacht club where we’re anchored so just a short stumble down the lawn to the dock and our customs guy with full glass of whiskey in hand sways his way on to the dinghy. Turns out the Remembrance Day celebrations continued on to the yacht club. Now this was something new, customs coming aboard with a drink in his hand this can only bode well for Toucan’s hidden stores. Our customs guy was far too into his whiskey and much jabbering about our trip and his great day and he was more than happy to stamp our passports for immigration and give us a clean bill of clearance from customs. Well that wasn’t too hard! Before leaving he happened to mention that he wouldn’t mind some more whiskey, in fact a bottle would be better, kind of a public holiday payment. Happy to oblige when possible I dragged out a half bottle of Toucan Distillery’s Hooch – our home made equivalent of Jameson Irish Whiskey. Happy in his new found wealth we dropped him back to the yacht club where he was last seen stumbling around and quietly filling his empty glass from the half bottle of Toucan Hooch. God help his head in the morning.
Argh……good to be back in the harness – Customs Clearance!