July 28, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
69°F
test

Come sail away, but beware of cranky Canadian Customs officer

Ahoy, mate! It’s regatta time and I want to warn everybody to stay the heck off Lake Erie because here I come.
Actually, my racing days are over but I’ll still head out there for the occasional leisurely sail on my brother-in-law’s
37-footer this summer. We should all count our blessings for the joy of living on one of the Great Lakes. Too bad Canadian Customs can’t get into the spirit of the thing.
A couple of years ago three of us raised the sails for an overnight trip to Erieau, directly across the lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a tiny community of about 500 marvelously friendly people with two restaurants, a general store and a marina where we docked for the night.
In Erieau, it turns out, everyone watches Fox 8 because it’s barely 40 miles from the Fox 8 tower and the signal comes in like high-definition. At that time I ranked just behind Big Chuck, Little John and Neil Zurcher on their TV hit parade, and when we walked into a restaurant the cook almost dropped her spatula. There were introductions all around before they took our order.
Canadian Customs, however, lags behind in the good manners department.
Upon tying up the boat, the first mate called customs from the marina office while the skipper and I walked down the street in search of a beer store. What?!! The nearest carry-out store was 10 miles away, we were told. A lady overheard this conversation and agreed to drive us to the beer store.
Back to customs. On the phone the customs officer asked for personal information on each of us, which the first mate could not answer.
“Well, put them on the phone,” said the customs officer.
“They’re not here. They went to town looking for beer,” said the first mate.
“That’s a crime! You’re not allowed to leave the boat until you report to customs,” the angry customs man scolded.
Instead of gratitude for spending American dollars on Canadian goods, he threatened to have us arrested and charged with illegal entry. Since this was 5 o’clock on a Friday and he was in Windsor about two hours away, we did not take this threat seriously. We did not believe he would spend his weekend chasing three Americans across Lake Erie, and our instincts proved to be correct.
As for sailboat racing, my one race was not a good experience. The day after the 1978 World Series ended in Los Angeles — the Yankees won four games to two — I was recruited to crew in an evening race off Marina del Rey along with two pals who also had never crewed.
It began with a great deal of shouting and swearing just to raise the sails.
“How long should I crank?” asked my friend George.
“Crank till you puke,” said the captain.
A flotilla of a hundred boats entered the race and most of them actually knew what they were doing. The dialogue really turned foul at the start when we almost cut another boat in half. The swearing would have mortified a sailor.
It was dark when we found our way back to the marina. They had posted the DNF (did not finish) next to our name and discussed organizing a search committee.
Nowadays, our trips are leisurely. They usually let me steer and I haven’t hit a freighter yet even though it’s tough to miss that kind of a target.
Next time we meet, give me a snappy salute and say, “Ten-hut. Captain’s on the bridge.”
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for TV-8. Contact him at ctsports@chroniclet.com.