I'm Matt, a software engineer and boating enthusiast based in Washington State (but on the move). I started Hermit Cove Boats, offering cool skin and frame boat plans and kits. Check it out!
Last night we pulled in to Charleston Marina in Coos Bay. It is one of only a few customs clearance sites on the west coast. We had rough weather on the distant horizon, and I didn’t want to be stuck choosing between seeking safety in port and running afoul of customs. As it turned out, by the time we pulled into Coos Bay, bad weather had also stirred up the waters around Cape Blanco, and we would have been unhappy out there.
We had a harrowing experience coming into Coos Bay in the fog. The jetties are close together, with shallows and breakers making the space closer still. The fog hid them both from us anyway, never mind how close they are. Looking for a green buoy we found a red, not the sort of mistake that gives one confidence in one’s abilities.
And all of this under the gun of an approaching dredge - the Essayons - blowing it’s fog horn all the time. At sea we used an AIS alarm, and it’s precise information about far off ships was a godsend. Normally lights on the horizon would create stress which could escalate for an hour. Are they coming this way? But with AIS you know that they are going that way, and if you both keep going, you will never get closer than 5 miles. Wonderful. But that was useless to us in these narrow conditions. Every time a wave sloshed us sideways or the ship turned to dredge some new place we’d be on a collision course for a second or two. Beep beep beep. So we turned it off. As luck would have it, just when we committed to going through the bar the Essayons was coming out. Where is it? Where is it? Its .04 miles away! How far is that? Hail them! Hail them! The VHF just buzzed when I tried to hail on 16. I should probably know why. Then they appeared out of the fog right next to us. It was good news like cancer in remission: though they were close we were not going to collide.
After we passed the Essayons, the pressure was off. The buoys were closer together and we were inside the jetty. We picked our way through the fog to Charleston. US Customs uses the Charleston Marina transient dock, so you must pull in there. But that is where you’d want to be anyway. After we called customs, we sat down to a meal of beans and rice and popped open some overpriced bubbly we’d bought in BC. All around the boat on the public dock people dropped crab traps in the water. The customs activity came as a shock to them. “You mean you aren’t allowed in the United States yet?“
We were midway through the meal when customs knocked on the hull. A polite man decked out in uniform, mustang inflatable PFD and handgun came down below to join us at dinner. Anything to declare? This bottle of wine we are drinking. Any handguns on board? Just yours. We had a wood fire going. I was a little nevous he’d think we were burning secret documents. It was by far the most civilized boarder crossing I have ever experienced. We were back in the US legally. Before dinner was even off the table.
And it went better than it should have because I have a secret to tell you: In a serious oversight on my part, I failed to renew my passport. Back in April. When it expired. That means I showed an expired passport to countless agents of border patrol in both countries and it was never valid. Kristin noticed this in Canada, and at that point there wasn’t much to be done.
It feels really good to be back in the US, and I couldn’t tell you why. Its a gestalt, and part of it could be the slow coastal charm of Coos Bay. But the US has a vital, lived in, tumbledown air. The food tastes better and the people are meaner. The roads are a mess but the sidewalks are brand new and ADA compliant. Or missing entirely.
Oh yeah, and this cafe has Deschutes Beer on tap for 5$. Thats probably a little high, but I am about to pay it gladly.