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Notice to Mariners that The World is Overpriced

I hate to be serious, even for a moment. However, occasionally I get intoxicated by all this printer's ink. I allow myself the delicious delusion that I can change the world. Such megalomania is – I'll be the first to admit – dumb. I'm a powerless sea gypsy whose sole trick is sailing away. No one is scared of me, nor should anyone be. Like my wife Carolyn says, "If you had the slightest hint of intelligence, would we be living on a broke-down 38 foot boat which nobody else in the Caribbean wanted?"

Good point.

But being thrown out of every port I've ever sailed into has some advantages. Many a sea mile has passed under my barnacle-encrusted keel, even if most weren't intentional. This gives me a certain wide perspective: from Bali and Madagascar and Chagos in geography, and from 1952 (my first offshore passage aboard the 36-foot sloop Friendship, before moving aboard the family schooner Elizabeth in '53) to the present day in terms of time-span.

Here's the bottom line: the 'administration costs' of world cruising are getting so expensive that, soon, only rich people will be able to afford it.

Landlubbers, of course, have always thought this is the case. But it was not. Rich people were so busy servicing their money and worrying about their posh retirement that they had no to time to actually enjoy life. Only we sea gypsies were truly 'far out' there in deep ocean, continuously world-sailing as a 24/7 life-style. Somehow, this changed. Perhaps greedy ink-slingers 'on the hustle' like me had something to do with it. In any event, more and more people with more and more money started sailing around the world.

Now, a wonderful thing happened. Because 99.9% of those folks were wonderful human beings, they formed a wonderful organization to represent themselves and to share cruising information through. Even better, there were no Indians in this organization, only Chiefs! And, since the world-wide marine community is a small one and we're all in this together, one of their first rules-to-sail-by was: LEAVE A CLEAN WAKE.

This rule was, and is, universally applauded. After all, we cruisers can't expect to be welcomed globally if the previous cruisers crapped-the-nest, can we? And, besides, most of us have a higher standard of living than most of the places we visit. So the bottom line: we all took a solemn pledge to 'pay our fair share'.

This is as it should be.

Fast forward to the present day: many countries are no longer viewing us as valued customers but rather as deep-pocketed victims who will pay-pay-pay regardless of outrageous cost or lack-of-services rendered.

On the island of Palmerston in the Pacific, you can't do anything ashore without the accompaniment and approval of your host/exploiter. (Even putting your dinghy in the water is frowned upon.)

True, some people have a wonderful stay here and some people don't – but all are completely controlled in body/mind/spirit virtually every second they are in the territorial waters.

When officials in the Seychelles felt their country was surrounded by Somali pirates, they took it as an opportunity for profit and demanded every yacht leaving have a $1,200 'naval escort' for the first 200 miles – or, ahem, remain detained in harbor for the next four or five months.

You used to be able to duck into Australia on whim – now you practically need a banker, lawyer, and immigration agent to assist you in the lengthily bureaucratic process. (Sadly, many vessels are skipping OZ as just too complicated and expensive to deal with during a no-frills circumnavigation. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that my own country – the good ole US of A – doesn't exactly make it easy or free for waterborne visitors.)

When I first sailed into the Caribbean in the late 1970s, very few countries in the Lesser Antilles charged more than a few bucks to clear a vessel in. You certainly weren't considered a 'profit center' to be exploited. Hell, Sint Maarten actively discouraged you from checking in (you could, if you insisted, scribble your vessel's name on a sheet of paper and thrust it through the grate at a disinterested person at the Polites station) but officials in St. Barts' just didn't want to get involved. (When I demanded a stamp in my passport in Gustavia, the exasperated gendarme angrily refused, saying, "If I do it for you, Fatty, I will have to do it for all of 'em!")

Now, almost every island in San Blas wants you to pay individual, escalating homage to its local chief, often a greedy drunkard surrounded by hard-muscled thugs.

The moment you step ashore in Panama, somebody thrusts a long, complicated price sheet in your face with how much you are going to pay your cab driver, your line handler, the fellow who rents you the transit ropes, the guy who wraps the tires in plastic bags …

If you, as a consumer, start to balk – everyone is absolutely amazed and shocked. They get downright nasty. Why, your job is to pay … not question why!

When I pulled into the Suez Canal, my agent (Heebi, Prince of the Red Sea) rowed out and demanded I gave him over $300 US. When I asked him "… what for?" he acted amazed at my unfriendly, bean-counting audacity. "… for everything!" he snapped.

I then asked if I'd get a receipt for everything I paid for. "Absolutely!" he said.

I paid the money, and more. And more. I never saw a single receipt, and when I asked later about why not, it was hinted that I didn't want to be "… a problem for all concerned," did I?

When the Egyptian police in Port Said found out I was being criminally exploited by every Tom, Dick, and Yosef in town, they called me in – and demanded that I pay them money to fill out an expensive Governmental form that stated I was not an international terrorist who was going to blow up the Suez Canal.

I'm ashamed to say I complied.

The first time I passed through the Galapagos, the man at Customs asked me to pay his brother-in-law $20 US to not fumigate my boat … otherwise they'd smother Wild Card in a cloud of deadly poison AND ultimately charge me the same amount … wasn't it nice to have a choice?

The second time we passed through the Galapagos, a dot.com millionaire was reported to have just paid a $10,000 bribe to allow his mega-yacht filled with California guests to visit in violation of all local laws – and suddenly everyone in a uniform started adding many zeros to their no-longer-petty bribe demands. Talk about the crime of inflation and the inflation of crime!

What really gets me is that I'm increasingly just 'presented' with a bill (by a complete stranger) which I'm expected to pay without question. Increasingly, it is considered an act of aggression to say, "… what for?"

"Oh, you're a trouble-maker, eh?"

This isn't limited to the Third World. Right here in Turkey I had to pay an 'agent fellow' $120 to carry a few sheets of paper from his office … to the governmental office … which is 20 meters away. This took around two minutes.

There's dozens of harbors in Croatia (maybe hundreds) where, at dusk, a dinghy full of large, threatening men row around the harbor and demand as much as $50 to anchor for the night. Some have a faded T-shirt which says Harbor Master (most do not) and/or issue a scribbled 'official receipt' from a generic receipt book. Who is to say who they are or where the money goes? If you don't pay, you have to leave immediately … even if it is dangerous and/or life-threatening to do so. Ha ha!

I won't even begin to attempt to 're-ignite' the Bequia rent-a-mooring debate. Or mention those expensive Piton palm trees in St. Lucia.

But, surely, this isn't what the term 'marine entrepreneur' is supposed to mean, is it? Strong-arm men in a dinghy, threatening you with physical violence if you don't give them money-with-a-smile?

Just before I cleared into Sudan, I learned – via VHF from Horst Wolff aboard the Island Packet 36 Pacific Star who was in the harbor – that I needed to pay an agent $35 US to clear me in. (This is a HUGE amount of money in rural Africa: yes, this agent fellow actually drove a large Mercedes in a place where most people can't afford shoes. And, yes, this was truly a sign-of-the-times: a town where the wealthiest man is the one with the sole right to exploit the yachts.)

But, hey, my job isn't to change the world but to enjoy it. The only problem was, when I went to pay my $35 bucks, it was $40. And the next boat (same day) paid $45. And the final boat that same day paid $50!

The agent was raising the price by $5 per vessel, each and every time! (Probably still is, for all I know. Why not? We pay! And pay! And pay! Hell, we even smile throughout the process!)

Are we, or are we not, in favor of (the crime that is being increasingly labeled) free enterprise?

The (suddenly-required-by-port-regulation) agent in Oman went from (2010) charging $80 dollars … to occasionally slyly padding on a few hundred more … and then, believing there was no upper limit to the stupidity of his yachting customers, he boldly demanded $1,000 per vessel to do a task which (until recently) was done for free by the government in ten minutes.

In Port Ghalib, the marina manager knows all the arriving yachtsmen are worried sick about getting ripped off by 'an Egyptian agent' so his marina claims that you don't need an agent to clear in if you stay with them … and then hopes no one notices the $40 'administrative fee' tacked on to your dockage. (Yes, complaining about it is a waste of time, as you are certainly not coming back and they certainly know it.)

What gets me is that we yachties pay and pay and pay, mostly without question nor complaint. People I don't know – and whom I have very little way of evaluating – are continuously asking me for major amounts of real-honest-to-goodness money, money I have to earn with the sweat of my brow. They just stand in front of me and nonchalantly say, "$80 for agent, $40 for harbor master, $25 for Port Control, $22.50 for Customs, $120 each for visas, $12.22 for ship's clearance, $88 for Lights and Buoys, $24 each for immigration, $44 for health, $14 for fumigation, $9 for de-ratting certificate … and 16 dollars and 12 cents for photocopies … which comes to a total of … we'll round it off to, say, $615 US!"

And I pay it. The guy takes my money and doesn't even bother to count it. It's too much trouble. He doesn't want to waste his time. The guy who is cheating me knows I won't cheat him! He just thrusts it into his pocket, smirks, and swaggers away.

How did we get to this point?

If I 'stand on my rights' and insist on a receipt, the guy acts hurt. "… am I not a good person?" one Mideast agent-in-mid-rip-off asked me and it was everything I could not to yell back, "… you are an awful, despicable person who, I hope, rots in hell!"

I recently pulled into a 'marina' which was really just a plank stuck out from the muddy shore. I asked how much to tie up for the night. "Twenty-one bucks," said the man.

"That's expensive," I said, "for nothing. No dock, no cleat, no electricity, no water … no nothing! How much to pick up one of your moorings?"

"Same-same," he said and grinned. "Twenty-one dollars!"

"That's ridiculous," I said. "Do you think I'm stupid. I'll anchor out and …"

"Same-same," he said, and grinned even wider. "Twenty-one dollars to tie up, pick up a mooring, or drop your hook. If you're here in the morning, you owe me $21 US, dude! And no 'ifs, ands, or buts!'"

The bastard was right, too.

Some countries (like Oman) are waiting until the very end of your lengthy, complicated clearing out process to suddenly demand, unannounced, certain 'insurance forms' be provided or, sadly, they are 'forced' to slap you with a heavy on-the-spot fine! (My wife Carolyn is a master forger, thank you Jah!)

The bottom line is this: if people of average work-a-day wealth expect to sail around the world, we circumnavigators have to parse the subtle difference between LEAVING A CLEAN WAKE and I'LL PAY WHAT EVER IS ASKED, ALWAYS, FOR WHATEVER, WITH A WIDE SMILE before it is too late.

I once believed the world was getting freer, less greedy, and more welcoming. I was wrong.

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon by American Paradise Publishing, Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies, The Collected Fat, All At Sea Yarns and Red Sea Run. For details of Fatty's books and more, visit fattygoodlander.com

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