Saturday, February 12, 2022

Making Sea Rover Legal and Putting Her to Bed

We are currently sitting by the pool at an airport hotel in Santiago waiting for our flight back to Canada after a short season in Tierra del Fuego. The boat was in better condition than we could have hoped after sitting for 2 years without being properly winterized. The engine drips salt water out of the heat exchanger, but this seems to be a manageable issue. A few of the electonic tools packed it in, but all the truly important stuff like radar, AIS, chart plotter, GPS worked as expected. We managed to rescue the lithium batteries, but the start batteries didn't survive. The zincs on the props were even still reasonably intact. And most importantly, everthing inside the boat was dry and there was very little mold. Because she fared so well, we didn't feel the urgency to "get her out of Patagonia" that we were feeling before we left Canada. Plus, our boat visa was expiring in February 2022 and we knew it would be difficult to renew it if we went to Puerto Montt. So we opted to stay in the far south for another season with the hopes that the port of Puerto Williams would miraculously open.
Sea Rover on the inside of the Micalvi

After enjoying a few weeks in the Beagle Channel, we returned to Puerto Williams and learned that one of the French boats, with a similar boat visa issue to ours, had been granted permission to sail over to Ushuaia and return even though the port was still closed. This would effectively renew their visa for another 2 years. They arrived back in port the same day we did and so we interrogated them as to what they had to do. Basically, the Port Captain was willing to let foreign boats from Puerto Williams leave and return as long as they got permission from the Health authorities. Thankfully the French couple had done all the legwork to figure out how to arrange all the necessary testing and paperwork with Health, so we followed their instructions. A big thank you to Natalia, in Puerto Williams who arranged everything for us on the Puerto Williams side, and Roxana who made it all happen in Ushuaia.

The process started with an antigen test in Puerto Williams that would allow us to enter Argentina. We then visited Immigration, Customs and the Port Captain to clear out of the country. We sent our results, vaccine passport and proof of insurance information to Roxana in Ushuaia ahead of time so that she could clear us in with their local health authorities. She met us at the marina in Ushuaia when we arrived, gave us copies of all the clear in forms, and then made an appointment with the Immigration office. Steps 1 and 2 complete. After clearing in with Immigration, we went to the Customs office and got our temporary import visa. So far so good. Then we went to the Prefectura (the equivalent of the Port Captain in Argentina) and everything went horribly wrong. We handed them stack of completed paperwork and told them we had just arrived from Puerto Williams. Several of the officials conferred for a few minutes, said a bunch of things to us in unintelligible (at least to us) Spansish, then gave us 5 more forms to fill out. The forms were things like an affidavit saying we wouldn't go to the Malvinas (Falklands) which didn't make any sense for people clearing in. When we tried to question it, they just kept pointing to the forms and saying 'fill them in'. So we did. Then they looked at the forms we'd received from Immigration and Customs and realized one of the forms was missing a stamp. So we tromped back to the Customs office to get a stamp. After handing the newly stamped forms to the Prefectura, they then announced that we'd filled in our entry paper wrong. I had put our port of origin as Puerto Williams and port of destination as Ushuaia. Seemed pretty clear to me (the form was in Spanish and English so there was no possible way I could get it wrong). They guy kept arguing that we weren't clearing in, we were leaving. No, we said, we are arriving from Puerto Williams today and returning to Puerto Williams tomorrow. No, he said, you are leaving for Puerto Williams. And on it went. He finally took our papers, crossed out what I'd written in the origin/destination box and re-wrote the information. He was so adamant that we finally thought that maybe they had decided to do our clear in and check out at the same time (as we had originally told them we were returning to Puerto Williams the next day). Although we were skeptical, we couldn't seem to make him listen to us, so we took the papers and left.

Next on the list was getting a PCR test so that we could return to Chile. We walked to the other end of town and went to the address the French boat had provided. Thankfully the woman at the desk spoke English so it was easy to book an immediate appointment. She gave us the address of the clinic and some directions, and off we went. After a bit of wandering in the direction she'd sent us, we realized the address was for the loading dock behind the hospital! We were met by 2 friendly people dressed in multiple protective gowns, face masks and face shields, and we completed our test sitting on chairs in the loading bay. A bit surreal, but at least it was outside. 

We then returned exhausted to the boat, only to be told by another sailor that the Prefectura had been trying to reach us on the radio. No kidding.... I had to work, so Gary tromped back over to the Prefectura's office. They told him he'd made a mistake on the form and that he was clearing in, not out.... They gave Gary new forms and told him he had to get new stamps from Immigration and Customs. By the time all of this was completed both offices were closed. Grrrr. 

The next morning we met up with our friend Rene from Ata Ata, who is fluent in 9 different languages. He was clearing in as well, so he offered to translate for us as we went through the process of clearing in - again. Our first stop was the Customs office. We told the Customs official that we needed new papers as the Prefectura had a problem with the first set. He refused saying he had already filed the paperwork to clear us in and he couldn't do it twice. Rene managed to get him to give us copies of the papers he'd signed and stamped the day before. We then tromped back to the Prefectura's office and gave them the copy. At first the guy we'd been dealing with said that the copies weren't good enough. I told him that was all we were going to get so he could decide what to do with it. He went away for a while, then came back and said we were now cleared in!! 

We then told him we wanted to clear out. He gave us the forms and off we went, back to Immigration and Customs to clear OUT of the country. I'm sure the Customs guy thought we were insane... Anyway, by 11:30 we had officially cleared out of the country again. The Prefectura then informed us that we'd have to leave the country by 1pm as that was the time we'd told them we'd leave the day before when we were in the midst of the clear in/out debacle. Usually you have 24 hours to leave the country once a zarpe has been issues. While what they were asking was completely unreasonable, we didn't argue. We were gone by 12:15. What an ordeal. 

We sailed back to Puerto Williams and were directed by the Navy to anchor just off the Micalvi to wait out our quarantine over the weekend. On Monday morning we met Natalia at the dock where she administered another antigen test under the watchful eye of the Navy. After receiving the all clear, we checked back into the country and obtained our new boat visa. We are good for another 2 years. Getting the visa sorted out was a hassle, but we are very glad we did it. The irony of the whole thing was that they opened the port in Puerto Williams 2 weeks later, not that it would have necessarily made the whole process any easier. From what we could tell it just made the quarantine period go away. 

We spent the last few weeks doing some boat projects (installing an antenna mast, running antenna wires, installing new solar panels) and putting the boat to bed for the season. We managed to score a spot on the inside of the Micalvi this year. As the inner bay is narrow and shallow only 2 boats can raft. We are still tied up directly to the Micalvi, but we only have 1 boat attached to us versus 7. Plus the prevailing wind will push us off the Micalvi instead of onto it.

That's if for us for the next few months while we return home to make our house habitable again...