It is always busy with anchored boats at sea in front of the downtown Vancouver. However, one new powerboat is unusually close to us.
“We seem to be too close!”
“I often anchor here and this is fine.”
Onboard was a middle-aged guy with a wild beard, long hair cascading down his back, and a giant gut covered in tattoos. His appearance made me think “this person too?” But upon seeing the clean state of the boat and the careful installation of the snubber on the anchor chain, he didn’t seem like a homeless person. If someone who knows the waters around here says it’s okay, it must be okay, I thought.
There were moments when the collision between two boats was precarious as the wind direction changed and the boats turned around their anchors. However the boats managed to avoid colliding with each other, as he had said, until the evening before the departure when I saw the same guy struggling to push off our boat with his hook.
“The wind in this area is always strange. I suspect it’s because my boat is too tall and it’s blocking the wind is from reaching yours.”
It’s odd that only our boat has its bow pointing in a different direction. Furthermore, I’ve never experienced the wind blowing from the side like this on an anchored boat. The bow of an anchored boat is supposed to point in the direction of the wind.
I trustingly and innocently believed the words of this local expert and nodded my head in understanding, saying
“I see, so this kind of thing can happen too…”
But when I saw another sailing boat nearby, a bolt of lightning struck my head. That sailing boat was also heading in the same direction as us. So what does this mean? Yes, it meant that only sailing boats with deep keels that extended far below the surface of the water were sitting on the seabed! So when the wind turns, sailing boats on seabed can’t turn and are exposed to the risk of collision with other boats.
Our boat was resting awkwardly on the anchor chain, as if the anchor was somehow beneath the keel. Despite this, it appeared to be stable. When I looked around, I saw that the water had receded, leaving stones on the shore wet to a height of several meters. I had seen the full moon while walking last night, so I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the current situation. It is said that the tide is at its highest during the full moon and the new moon. Feeling overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge on so many subjects and the fact that this voyage may not be straightforward, I waited for the boat of the guy to return as the wind had shifted to the opposite direction.
A Ray of Hope in the Darkness: Officer Wilson
After spending a week in Vancouver, we finally set a date for departure and only then did our body and mind become tense. The idea of getting something like a cruising license before the immigration inspection arises. We inquire at the US embassy about any additional documents needed for our sailing plan, and receive a shocking answer:
“You will need a valid US visa, not ESTA.”
(ESTA is an electronic travel authorization that can be easily obtained online)
We have already reviewed the documents required for immigration in advance as this voyage will pass through Canada, the US, and Mexico. The detail we overlooked was “private yacht”. This case requires an official tourist visa. It takes more than a year to get the visa these days, so what can we do now? We brainstorm options such as delivering the boat to the US border and taking a ferry, the Canadian-resident captain crossing the US border on our boat and me joining him later, or even going offshore and skipping the US and entering Mexico(What the..?). Clearly, our brainstorming session is going nowhere fast. The captain confidently picks up his phone and makes a call. It is the Port Angeles Border Patrol.
A woman with a dry voice answers the phone.
“I have something to do now. I will call you back in about 30 minutes.”
We were taken aback by her bold and assertive notification that she would call us back after finishing what she was doing, as we had grown accustomed to the friendly Canadians. The US border police seemed to be bossy.
However, in the call that resumes 30 minutes later, the cold-voiced woman gives us a glimmer of hope. She told us that as Koreans, we do not need a visa with an ESTA, but instead, we need to register our boat and crew information on an app called ROAM and purchase a one-year valid cruising license at DTOPS(Decal and Transponder Online Procurement System).
“May I know the name of the kind officer who is receiving this call?”
We finished preparing to set off, taking Officer Wilson’s word as gospel, but there was this nagging feeling that she might have given us the wrong info. Everywhere except the Port Angeles border patrol had told us we needed a visa, and even the ROAM app seemed to only apply to Canadian citizens. Nevertheless, we pushed these doubts to the back of our minds and decided to set sail.
The Active Pass And The Easy-sailors
The first gate to pass through to reach Port Angeles is the Active Pass, which separates Galiano Island from Mayne Island, south of Vancouver Island. It has a narrow sea width and strong currents caused by tidal rips. This means we can only pass through at slack tide, when the water is still. Today we have a window of time around 5:40 pm to safely navigate before sunset. It’s about 35 nautical miles from here, or about a 7-hour voyage at a comfortable speed of 5 knots.
It seems that we have been overly excited about the grand departure at dawn. When we learned that we could leave later in the morning, our motivation seemed to wane. The plan to arrive early and pass through at exactly 5:40 pm became uncertain as the departure time kept getting pushed back. As we finally finish the final preparations and climb up to the cockpit, we notice that the bow is pointing towards a strange direction again. Last night the water rose and we thought the boat would float from then on. However we see that the water has receded again as the time got late. Fortunately, Mr. Tattoo’s powerboat has already set off earlier.
“It’s a long-keel boat. It shouldn’t be a big problem.”
We advance slowly. Our mighty Tayan 37 proceeds forward slowly, cutting through fear, suspicion, and mud.
Setting off, we attempted to fill up on fuel and water at the gas station, but it was occupied by another boat. The captain, who is now in a hurry, said
“there is one more place where we can fuel up on the way,”
but we stuck to our principle of fueling up before setting off, and the departure time was further delayed.
For reasons that are unclear (either due to the current or the engine itself), our boat’s speed is barely reaching 5 knots. The plan has changed from “let’s go and anchor and wait to pass through” to “if we don’t make it, let’s drop anchor and pass through tomorrow.”
Fortunately, we were able to make up some time thanks to the wind, and we were able to pass through the Active Pass at 6:30 pm. The movements of the water were quite alarming both before and after the pass. It felt as if we were being tossed about by massive clumps of water that couldn’t seem to decide where to go.
Due to the delay, we decided to drop anchor at Otter Bay, which was closer than our intended destination of Sydney Spit. And we spent the evening having dinner and celebrating our passage through the Active Pass.
The evening sun setting over the dense foliage, the cool air, and the clear water… now I feel like we’re sailing in Canada. The boat would occasionally be rocked by passing passenger ships, but we had a peaceful night at Otter Bay.
Fantozzi At Otter Bay
At the gala launch of the new ship attended by notable figures such as the mayor, the minister of marine affairs, and the baroness: The countess, trying to baptize the ship by smashing champagne against it, ends up smashing the bottle against Fantozzi’s head.
“Capovaro, can I go again?”
Emerging from the water, Fantozzi is hit by the bottle again and decides to observe the launch from the water.
“Capovaro, can I go again and again?”
In turn, the mayor, the minister of marine affairs, and the baroness all suffer their own mishaps with the champagne bottle.
This is my favorite episode in the Fantozzi series, the Italian comedy masterpiece of the 1970s. Even 50 years later, Fantozzi’s memorable foolishness is still invoked with the expression ‘scena da Fantozzi’ (a Fantozzi scene), meaning ‘stupidity’. Now, here in Otter Bay, a Fantozzi scene is about to unfold, so stay tuned:
The captain told me that he always opens the engine room and checks the engine before setting off. Today, instead of opening the whole engine room, he only opened the top door and looked inside, then opened a cap.
“We need to fill more coolant.” he declares.
The sight of him wearing black nitrile gloves and personally inspecting the engine looks very impressive.
I followed his instructions and retrieved a jug of coolant from the cockpit locker. He carefully and steadily poured the bright green fluorescent liquid into the inlet, making a glug, glug sound as it flowed.
”Whoa, that’s a lot of fluid going in. I didn’t realize it was empty.” he remarks.
”Is it normal to use a whole jug in one go?” I asked.
Suddenly a sharp scream. He accidentally poured the coolant into the engine oil inlet! Gripping his face in panic, he quickly made a phone call to his Korean friend, who is an expert on engines and was just about to go to bed.
Even after removing the accidentally added coolant as instructed, the captain is still worried and decides to flush the engine with oil twice. However, he ends up making the mistake of adding too much engine oil this time. The gauge indicates that the level has doubled the maximum limit. Unfortunately, at this crucial moment, the engine oil extractor pump breaks down and we have no way to remove the excess oil. We have to set off, but it’s now too late in Korea and he can’t call the Korean friend again. So I call my expert sailor friend in Italy, who is in a different time zone.
“You must drain the oil until it reaches the maximum mark. Never run the engine before you do that job!”
Following these instructions, we opened the oil drain plug and attempted to remove the tube connecting the broken pump, but it was a struggle. While trying to twist and shake the tube around, we notice that oil is slowly dripping out from somewhere. Finally, the oil level reached the maximum mark. Upon starting the engine, it roared to life as if nothing had ever gone wrong.
If we had started the engine when we first made the mistake of adding coolant to the engine oil, the water and oil would have mixed and turned into a white cream, potentially damaging the engine. If we had started the engine when the oil level was above the maximum mark, the excess oil could have burned and produced debris, causing knocking. Fortunately, we managed to solve the problems without waking up the engine, even though we had to wake up our friends.
After dealing with this chain of mistakes, we realized that it was quite late. We gave up on our original destination of Port Angeles and set a course for Sydney Spit, about 10 miles away.
Crowded Sydney Spit
The wind forecast indicated that the wind would start to pick up in the evening, but when we left Otter Bay, the wind was already much stronger than anticipated. We decided to use the staysail and reefed main sail instead of the large genoa and began sailing upwind. As expected, it was challenging to easily and quickly trim the sails. The deck layout seems to be configured in a way that makes it difficult to adjust sails frequently, which is likely a feature on an offshore yacht. This type of yacht is designed for long-distance sailing, and as such, it may not require frequent sail adjustments.
However, the wind that tensed us up died down and at one point the boat was barely making one knot. We weren’t sure if we were even making progress or just drifting. Luckily we only had to sail 10 nautical miles today, so we didn’t have much to worry about. But what was supposed to be a leisurely journey turned into excess leisure again, and in the end we barely made it to Sydney Spit just before sunset.
Sydney Spit is a popular place for boats traveling from Canada to the United States to anchor. Despite being a long, stretched out bay, it was full of boats. The underwater terrain was a little complex, with a mixture of deep and shallow areas and generally shallow depths. Among the many boats, we were able to find a spot to drop our anchor in about 3-4 meters of water. After having a late dinner, we stayed inside for a while before returning to the cockpit, where we discovered that our bow was again…
It appears that the water has receded again as the night falls. The problem was that the boats resting on the seabed and those floating on the water were mixed together nearby. The floating boats were turning in the direction of the wind, while the others are all pointing in different directions. In front of us is a sailing boat that is approximately the same size as ours. It is facing into the wind, while our boat is not. There is a risk of our boat colliding with the other boat by accident. The people on the front boat had their headlights on and seemed rushed as they went out of the cockpit. We were both so exhausted that we simply reassured ourselves saying
“the other boat has noticed, they’ll take some kind of action somehow…”
and went inside and fell asleep.
Early the next morning, we needed to hurry to reach Port Angeles in time for our appointment with the border patrol. Seeing that we slept peacefully without any shouting outside, it seems that we didn’t have a collision with the front boat all night. We felt sorry for those two people onboard who could had been moving around all night with their headlights. Our boat is still sitting on the seabed. We set off, having already tried clearing the mud once, now without any doubts. Shortly after the sun rises, we also encounter a beautiful rainbow. In the humid and cool climate, a dense forest fills our vision, and above it, a rainbow. It’s a good morning. Will we be able to pass the border today?
As it seemed that there was a light breeze, we hoisted the sail. But the sails hung lifeless, failing to generate any thrust. Instead, the current propelled us forward, allowing us to reach a speed of 8 knots. We encountered a boat passing near us, which we later met up in Port Angeles. They told us that the boat had never set sails and had reached as much as 11 knots. What a scary current! This current brought us to the Port Angeles fuel dock around 1:00 pm.
As soon as we arrived, we submitted the ROAM app entry form and notified of our arrival by phone. Soon, four officers in uniform appear at the terminal. When we present our passports and the printed ESTA, an Asian police officer gives us the answer we were fearing:
“No, you need a valid US visa, not ESTA.”
We tried to explain the cruising license and the ROAM app, pretending to be surprised.
“NO, ESTA IS NO GOOD. You need Visa.”
The police officer, who was Asian, seemed to be very firm and straightforward, which made us feel deflated. We believed it was time to reveal our trump card and bring out the name of our secret weapon: officer Wilson.
“We received instructions from officer Wilson.”
All eyes were on the blond bun-haired officer’s backhead, who had been gazing out at the distant sea since she arrived. She turned and walked towards our boat.
“Looks like there’s been a little miscommunication.”
Now that Officer Wilson is also telling us we need a visa, we are starting to feel afraid. We are at risk of being sent back to Canada, having to sail back the way we came.
The officers hold a meeting away from our boat. The Asian officer approaches and explains about the Waiver Visa. It’s a single entry permit that can be obtained on the spot if we didn’t know we needed a visa and have already arrived. But it costs $585 per person, which is a total of $1,170 for the two of us.
“If we came here by ferry, would we be able to pass with just an ESTA?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
It is unfair to charge us a fee for arriving by an unregistered transportation while others of the same nationality are not. This seems to be due to a lazy administrative system. As someone who has lived in Italy for a long time, I have learned how avoid these bureaucratic traps.
“Then can we take the ferry back to Canada and return on the same ferry? If only we can leave the boat here for a couple of days..”
The resolute officer bursts into laughter. In my experience, this is a good sign.
Eventually, the four officers hold a meeting away from the boat again, return to the office, and after some time, give us a free visa. That will be ‘Waived waiver visa’.
I couldn’t believe that the visa problem, which could have stopped our voyage, was solved so easily. Now we will go tying up at the marina and tomorrow we will finally be able to do the grocery shopping that we’ve been putting off due to the customs inspection. The day after that, we’ll set out on our journey and start our real exploration of the United States.
We celebrate with a high five and try to move to the transit dock, but.. the engine won’t start. We are at the marina entrance fuel dock for the border inspection and the transit dock is only 100 meter away. Despite trying multiple times, the engine still won’t start.
Will this be the end of our sailing adventure only after having suffered so much to cross the US border like this?