May 14, 2010.
It was time for us to check back into the United States.
Our first attempt was to use our Local Boaters Option card and check in by telephone. I knew it was gonna be a long shot but I wanted to give it a try. The LBO card enables you to check back into the country by phone if you are making landfall in south Florida. I’ve asked at Customs & Immigration before and nobody is really sure what actually constitutes south Florida. I figured I’d give it a shot and see if Maryland fell into south Florida. I called the appropriate number and although the customs officer was mondo polite he was steadfast in his opinion that Maryland was not in fact ANY part of Florida. He did however give me a number to call.
After calling this new number I was able to confirm that Maryland is also NOT a part of Orlando, Florida. So it seems that the guy from south Florida referred me to Orlando, who had me call another office until finally on my 5th phone call they gave me a number that I had already previously dialed. I know a circle jerk when I see it so we decided to try something a little different.
The Annapolis port book has the Annapolis dockmasters office listed as a Customs & Immigration contact office. So we headed over to the dockmasters office where much to my chagrin we were handed another phone number to call. So we dialed this number which turned out to be the Customs & Border Patrol office at Baltimore-Washington Airport. They assured me that they were the right place but we’d have to come out to the airport to check in, in person. It’s not what I wanted but I was starting to get Carpal Tunnel from dialing the damn phone.
We had picked up a rental car for the weekend so it was off to the airport. After parking the car we wandered through the airport going from one unoccupied customs office to the next. Finally we found a staffed office and asked to be let back into the country.
The guy looked at us and said “Oh no, you have to go down to the Baltimore waterfront so they can board and inspect your vessel, you’re in the wrong place”. I countered with “Oh no, we just called on the phone and were directed to report here”. He was unsure and pretty soon every officer behind the bullet proof partition was involved.
It turned out that nobody there had ever checked in a private vessel before. There were questions about which forms to use, what papers we should have in our possession and if we still had to go down to Baltimore with the boat. After a good 20 minutes of filling out forms and a phone call to the Port of Baltimore we were welcomed back into the country. While on the phone with the woman from the Port of Baltimore I asked if the rumor I heard was true. That by next year we’ll be able to check back in online. She said to me “Haven’t you received our mailing yet?”. I looked at the phone for a moment and said to her “Remember me?, I’m the one who just got back to the US, we haven’t seen a mailbox yet”. She kinda laughed and said “Welcome back”.
It drives me a little bit nuts that in Florida you can just call in and whamo, you’re back. Yet 900 miles further north they’re still stuck in a paperwork quagmire. Incredibly, the list of questions never included anything about bringing in fruits or vegetables, Haitians, cocaine and or fissionable material. It was never brought up and the possibility that we might be smuggling a rare Yeti into the country didn’t seem to concern anyone. I just don’t get it.