After a good night’s sleep, tied to the fuel dock at the Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club, we spent the next morning filling Sea Life’s fuel tanks, taking on 670 gallons of diesel. We then moved over to our assigned slip, and settled in.
With our week-long, “nautical” passage from Cartagena behind us, it was time to clear into Puerto Rico…a U.S. territory. Easy-peasy, right? Well, not so much. We hadn’t bothered to call in when we arrived, as it was 7pm on a Saturday. Once we had refueled and tied into our slip, Scott rang the Ponce Coast Guard office. They were not happy with us, upon finding out that we’d waited 16 hours before contacting them. Scott explained our late arrival the day before, and was informed that he was expected to call upon arrival, no matter the time, leaving a message if there was no answer. Hmm, not something we’d ever think of doing, or be expected to do….being U.S. citizens.
Scott was told that officers were on their way to the boat, to clear us in. After waiting, and waiting some more, and calling to check on their progress, three officers finally arrived at our slip. Only one came aboard; a friendly woman, who briefly checked the refrigerator and freezer stores, and asked about fresh stuff. I explained that we had no fresh things left, after our long passage from Cartagena. She asked if we had any trash from Cartagena, and I replied no; the only trash on board was from our passage. However, as far as customs was concerned, our passage trash was Colombia trash, and needed to be incinerated.
Sadly for us, there was no incinerator in Ponce….so she “quarantined” our garbage. The bag was sealed with yellow tape, marked “Quarantine.” The officer went on to explain that it could not be kept in the cockpit, and had to be stored inside….HUH?!? The woman was very apologetic, and explained that once we arrived in St. Thomas, we could inform officials there that we had trash to dispose of, and that they most likely had an incinerator. So we were to keep the stinky trash bag inside?….until we get to St. Thomas?…which will be weeks away?? HUH?!?!?
While I was dealing with the trash police, Scott was being berated by one of the officers who remained out on the pier. Here’s how the conversation roughly went:
Officer Unfriendly: How much does a boat like this go for??
Scott: We have her insured for $250,000.00
Officer Unfriendly: Really..what do you do for a living?
Scott: I’m a mechanical contractor.
Officer Unfriendly: So you have a job like that, and you can afford a boat like this?
Scott: I spent 4,000 hours, working on her myself.
Officer Unfriendly: So you know how to do all of that?
Scott: Would you like to come aboard? I’d be happy to show you?
Officer Unfriendly: I don’t want to come on your boat.
Scott was seething under the surface, getting the distinct impression the officer was insinuating that illegal money was involved in our refit/cruising budget. To be fair, we had just come from Cartagena, and Puerto Rico is not a routine destination for a boat coming from Colombia to the Eastern Caribbean. Still, Scott wanted to scream at the guy… Either get on my boat and inspect it, and do your job….or back off!
After managing to get through the Officer Unfriendly conversation without erupting, Scott came aboard to find out about our trash situation….not good. He told the woman we’d be happy to store the bag up on the flybridge, in the Aluminum Princess, but she refused. Since the boat wasn’t enclosed, it was not an option, and therefore the trash had to stay inside the boat.
Scott remained calm, long enough for us to get cleared back into our own country (welcome back to the U.S., and to ridiculous rules that make no sense). He then got straight to work, figuring a way around the trash issue. We were not going to lug this smelly bag around with us for weeks, so after some thought, Captain MacGyver hatched a plan.
The bag couldn’t be opened from the top, as that would break the quarantine tape. Instead, Scott decided to go at it from the bottom. He sliced the bag at the seal, and emptied the smelly contents into a new bag that we promptly dumped into the nearest trash can on the pier. The quarantine bag was then filled with “clean” trash that we collected over the next several days….paper, plastic, empty cans that were rinsed out, etc. When it was acceptably full with said clean trash, Scott sealed the bottom of the bag closed with super glue along the seam, and voila!…a full bag of quarantined trash.
Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to deal with customs when leaving Puerto Rico, as our next stop would be the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. boats aren’t required to clear in and out when moving between U.S. territories. Good thing, as we’d had enough “Welcome to the U.S.” to last us a while!
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”