Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 15-20 knots

We had put off going to have our passports stamped since Monday, half hoping Nappy would show up and partly knowing that immigration isn’t allowed to renew our cruising permit until the day of. Immigration is always a hairy endeavor, even when I know we’re doing nothing wrong--we have a full six months on our cruising permit, leaving one more full month, and we’re planning to leave the country before our six months are up. Still, I’ve done enough traveling in my life to know how much power the people of immigration hold, and how widely they vary in kindness. Since I was eleven, I’ve been running the gauntlet. When I would travel from the Philippines to Thailand we were carefully instructed by our handlers to never write “student” in the Occupation category of our immigration papers. We were always supposed to write “dependent,” because Americans weren’t technically allowed to study in the Philippines without student visas, even at an American school.

Later, while traveling with my father after college, we realized we didn’t have transit visas for our return trip through Bangladesh. My father doctored up some papers to allow us to leave the airport and visit the guesthouse where we had left some rugs we had bought, but not without surrendering our passports to the airport officials. Aside from nightmares about spending the rest of our lives in Bengali immigration jail, everything went fine and we were allowed safely out of the country. So the knot in my stomach returned this morning when I realized we were going to have to head to the commissioner’s office without Nappy, our Crooked Island guardian angel, and in the giant flat-tired muffler-less GMC truck Nappy had left for us to use.

Even that we put off, rowing across in leisure after spending the morning rocked to and fro while eating conch fried rice for breakfast. We lounged around the house until well past one, still hoping Nappy would show up after the morning flight to whisk us away to renewed-passport heaven. Instead, I heard a call up to the house just as we were steeling ourselves to leave. It was Lin. “Hey,” she said. “Did you hear there’s a hurricane headed this way?”

I hadn’t. I had slept through the weather this morning, something I very rarely do, and we had rowed across before the noon forecast. I had heard inklings of a tropical wave poking around the Eastern Caribbean, but when I had last got the report, it hadn’t been headed our way. She told us that one of the models was forecasting 45 knots by Friday morning, and that the satellites showed the system tracking directly over Crooked.

Bad, bad news. We still needed to get to the commissioner’s office, but now we had to move the boat, too, and fast. Forty-five knots isn’t exactly hurricane strength--it’s not even tropical storm force--but it’s enough to make things miserable and downright dangerous for Secret off a lee shore, even with three well-set anchors out. Besides, we had been planning to take Secret down there for days. Can chronic procrastinators never learn?

Lin hauled us over to to call the commissioner’s office from her phone, to see if we could postpone our renewal for a day to move the boat, and there we got the worse news. The commissioner was on vacation for a week, and she was the only person on the island who could stamp our passports. Karl called the office in Acklins, and the beauracrat there told him that if we didn’t come in today, we “risked deportation.” There was no way to get to Acklins today: the only ferry leaves at seven in the morning, and even if we tried to pay someone with another boat, we’d be hard-pressed to get there before the office closed.

So we did what we always do. We zapped Nappy an email (Lin drove us over to another house with a working internet connection) and pleaded for help. It’s a small island, Nappy’s a bigwig, and Karl had just fixed the commissioner’s secretary’s refrigerator the day before. Her husband was also Nappy’s brother. Nappy called Frenchie’s house, where we were drowning our sorrow with Cajun leftovers and American television, and told us to call the commissioner’s office the next day. We would be taken care of--the commissioner knew us and our situation, knew we had to move the boat, and we wouldn’t have to risk the alien gaze of the Acklins officials. Whew. Now, the only wrinkle is the tropical depression easing north. But as Scarlett O’Hara says, I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own.

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