Clearing French Polynesia Customs

Thursday, June 5, 1997

We hoisted our quarantine flag and prepared the form that the customs staff gave to us and waited for their return visit. As it turned out, they did not return until the next day, June 5. We welcomed them aboard and crossed our fingers that we had filled out their form properly. All of the data regarding Mouse Pad and her crew were in proper order. We, unfortunately, assumed that customs was not interested in every detail that we had in our cupboards so we summarized the inventory of provisions on board (booze, beer, wine, tobacco, etc.). When the customs staff reviewed the form they advised us that we needed to complete the provision section in detail, no summarization allowed.

They asked us if they could see our liquor supply. We gulped and said yes. We like to have nice fancy cocktails periodically and also suspected that we would have difficulty getting liquor while in the South Pacific so we stocked up before we left the states. We pointed to the liquor cabinet. They proceeded to pull out the various bottles and sorted them into two separate piles; those that they felt necessary to declare and those that they were not interested in. Being the honest and conscientious persons that we are, we scrounged in all of our cubbyholes and pulled out all of our supplies that we knew must last for the next year. When you see it all stacked in one pile, it appears that we are true alcoholics. We later compared notes with other cruisers, we were really on the light side and would envy them their creativity. Once the liquor was sorted, the customs staff asked why we didn't just drink those bottles that had small quantities in them (Kailua, brandy, Irish crème, etc.). It didn't seem logical to them that these bottles were allowed to take up space in a liquor cabinet when they were nearly empty. What they didn't know was that these were my treats that I was protecting, no matter how little each bottle contained. A good cup of coffee with a small amount of prized liquor could do wonders while sitting at anchor watching the sunset. Boy was I bummed when I learned that my Bailey's Irish Crème had gone bad and I had to pour it down the drain. Hope it didn't make the fish sick. As we proceeded through the itemization of our liquor supply, we learned that they were only interested in those bottles that had not yet been opened. We suspected that they wanted to make sure that we were not bringing in large quantities of alcohol for the purposes of supplying it to their residents. Little did they know that we had no intention of giving or selling anything from our liquor cabinet. We were also not planning to offer liquid refreshments to our fellow cruisers. It is standard practice for fellow cruisers to bring their own liquid refreshments when they visit another vessel. We do, however, provide ice cubes upon request and share loud and happy evenings enjoying Phill's music collection and movie collection.

Once the liquor inspection was completed they moved on to other items of concern. Did we have any beer or wine on board? We found it interesting that they considered beer and wine in a different category. We had brought along several cans of Budweiser to use for bartering. Neither of us are beer drinkers with one small exception. The skipper is a Guinness lover. We had 12 cans of Guinness that were considered sacred, reserved for the skipper. The customs staff asked to look into various storage areas. Most of the time they merely asked what each storage area contained. They did lift the mattresses in the V-berth and inspect what was stored underneath. Boy were they in for a treat. Only I can cram five pounds of stuff into a one pound area. They had fun checking out this area. I could have told them that there was nothing that they needed to be concerned about but it was better to let them find out for themselves. They asked about the quarter berth and under the nav station. They did not push to have these areas unpacked. They were satisfied with our explanation of their contents. They asked us if we had guns on board. Our reply was that the only weapons we had on board were the flare guns and the scuba spear gun. They were not interested in either of these items.

They asked us if we had any videos on board. We thought this was a strange question. Little did they know but Phill had spent the last six months converting his VHS library to 8mm so we could get more tapes on board. We knew that we would not be able to watch television so we were prepared to be able watch a wide variety of movies. When Phill opened the video cupboard doors I think that the customs people thought we misunderstood their request. They said that they wanted to see our videos, not audiotapes. As 8mm is nearly the same size as cassette tape cartridges for music, they thought the library was music, not movies. Phill tried several times to explain that the cartridges were indeed movies, not music. After all, he is very proud of his movies. While Phill was working out the confusion regarding the tapes, I asked the other customs officer why they were interested in videotapes. He said that they did not want pornography brought into their country. This seemed logical to us. I think Phill finally agreed with the customs officer that he was talking with. It was easier to agree that these tape cartridges were music than to continue to explain that they were not music. We suspect that they didn't want to have to pull out all of them and read the labels on each to ensure they were acceptable movies. We now refer to our video library as our other music library. Little did they know that Phill has about 100 movies and three times that much music CDs on board. Anybody have any idea why our waterline is forever giving us trouble?

Well, we came through our first inspection with flying colors. They advised us that we had nothing to declare. Our supply of unopened bottles of booze did not appear to be excessive, our 'other music' library met their standards and we had no firearms to declare. Now that we look back on this inspection we realize that we forgot to tell them about the boxed wine that we had stored in the bilge. We mentioned it but did not realize that each one was a 5-liter container. Oh well, if we are back, we'll advise them of this error.

Before they departed, we asked them to sign our guest book. This request took them by surprise. They thought that it was some form of formal procedure for Americans or Brits. We had to explain that it was not a formal procedure but just something that we took pride in. All of our guests on board were asked to sign the guest register. They still felt obligated to state in the guest register that we had nothing to declare and signed their names, followed by their official titles.


NOTE: Comments and suggestions should be sent to Jerry Reese, Council Bluffs, IZ.


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Revised: 19 September, 2005 .