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  • Writer's pictureSailing The Dream

Brazil, São Luís - a difficult check-out

After arriving at the conclusion that sailing this section of the Brazilian North coast was not the best idea given our boat design. The challenging conditions in front of us didn’t fulfil our criteria for a fun time. Every new place we were trying to visit was becoming more stressful than pleasurable, and we decided our time in Brazil was coming to an end despite still having several weeks left on our Brazilian visas.

With the flop of our previous day with the anchorage in Alcântara and now in São Luis with waves breaking violently on our stern, the current challenge was how to get out of The Dream onto the dinghy safely to go and check out of the country. After an entire day pent up onboard watching how the anchorage conditions evolved we realised there was a moment at slack tide where it was possible to splash the dinghy and climb safely onto it before the wind against strong current shenanigans started again. There was also the small issue of only being able to get to shore near high tide when it was possible to reach the nautical club pontoon with the dinghy. That meant heading to shore well before 7am!

view from th eharbour aster office over the mud flats at low tide with The Dream in the distance

During this time we stayed restricted onboard, I frantically researched where were the offices of the authorities we needed to visit. The info regarding the addresses was very vague, and the official websites were clearly outdated considering not a single phone number listed existed!

After hours of trying to call disconnected numbers, I managed through the Brazilian Help Task Force WhatsApp group talk to a retired Military Police officer that passed me the contact of the Polícia Federal colleague in Belém (the next port of entry) that could maybe put us through to a colleague in this city. After exchanging a few text messages with him, he kindly helped find the contact for the Receita Federal (Customs / Aduane) colleague at the commercial harbour. With that contact number, we finally managed to get some answers and directions on where to go.

I contacted this officer and scheduled an appointment in the city office instead of the commercial harbour for Monday early morning, luckily he had a meeting there and could go earlier avoiding us having to travel to the distant commercial harbour. It took me an entire morning to find all the required addresses of places we needed to visit, and I doubt that if didn’t speak Portuguese I could ever find this information!

In the meantime, the conditions instead of improving only seemed to either deteriorate or remain the same. By the end of the day, we came to the conclusion our position there was unattainable, and we needed to depart before stronger winds forecasted for the weekend arrived.

The following morning, a Friday morning we splashed the dinghy quickly and scrambled to shore before the change of tide made the voyage by dinghy unsafe.

We reached Marina Aven pontoon and laughed at the suggestion of its President that we could tie up our 50ft monohull on that floating pontoon. The whole place was suited for small boats only.

We would see later in the day how extremely unsuitable it was at low tide.

We called an Uber and went straight to the Receita Federal building in town instead of the commercial harbour. I had not understood at that time that the officer that was going to check us out is actually permanently stationed at the commercial harbour and only visits the city building occasionally (the Monday appointment had just been a fluke of luck), after waiting for the opening of the service for a long time we discovered that to check out that day we would need to go to the commercial harbour to sort out the Customs (Receita Federal), there was no way around it. We quickly grabbed another Uber, and after a long drive, as we realised how isolated the harbour is, we negotiated with the driver to wait for us a few minutes, offering to pay the fare for him to take us from the commercial harbour to the airport directly to him bypassing the Uber app. Luckily he accepted because there was no way he would find other clients until he returned back to town, and neither would we be able to get another Uber at such a remote place.

We entered the main gate and followed the instructions of the guard only to find we were in the wrong building within the commercial harbour. With a new set of instructions, I ran towards the correct building while John rushed to go find our Uber driver that in the meantime had just parked the car in the parking lot right next to the wrong building.

I arrived at the correct building, a place all closed up it looked like there wasn’t anybody inside or in the area, but I managed to hear a bit of music from the inside, so I insisted on knocking on the door, but no answer. Luckily an officer was returning to the office after an installation, and he let me in and pointed me towards the correct room within the office. The nice officer with whom I had spoken the previous day was very surprised to see me there on Friday and not on Monday as we had scheduled.

He and his colleague immediately started the whole process of checking us out, double-checking all our papers etc., with all the paperwork nearly sorted they then asked where was the boat to be inspected. My heart dropped! What did they mean by inspecting the boat?

I explained where the boat was at anchor, and when questioned why weren’t we at Marina Aven, I had to explain there was no depth for us to dock there. The officers were very confused, could they come with me to inspect the boat they asked. A bit puzzled I asked if they had lifejackets and were willing to wait for high tide and a bumpy ride. Now it was their turn to be confused.

A bit of an awkward moment as they questioned each other if they could ask for the coastguard's assistance. At that point I decided to comment it was the very first time I heard of an actual inspection of a pleasure sailboat departing a country, after all, we are not a commercial business and carry no cargo or passengers…, and we still needed to go to Polícia Federal for immigration services and harbourmaster to be discharged. The two officers came to the conclusion that they were being a bit overzealous with their duties and wished me a good journey after stamping the documents. Just before I left they asked if I would like them to check if there was any Polícia Federal officer at the port at that moment that could take care of our passports avoiding us having to go to the airport.

I, of course, said that would be great, but unfortunately, there was no one on-site a trip to the airport was indeed necessary.

I ran out the door to find the Uber driver, and we rushed to the airport, it was now nearly 10am, and we had started all this before 8am.

After a longish drive, we arrived at the very small airport. We found a security guard and asked where was the Polícia Federal Office, he was a bit puzzled by our question but pointed us in the right direction. When we found the office, there was an A4 paper on the door with a phone number. Great, I thought, there was no one on duty!

I called the number, and after a bit of ringing eventually, a guy picked up and said he would return to the office in 5 minutes.

We waited 15 minutes before he showed up. His office was tiny. He turned the PC on, logged into the system, checked our passports, and stamped us out without any problems. Then he looked at the form he needed to fill the bottom like the colleague had done in Fernando de Noronha, it seemed he had never seen one of these on paper, according to him it should be done online (?!), the first time we had heard of such thing after much chit chat on the Brazilian Help Task Force WhatsApp group. After a bit of time chit-chatting, he explained that he does boat check-in and out all the time, albeit not pleasure yachts. We came to the conclusion that commercial vessels use agents, so it’s done online, and the agent just prints the completed forms for the clients. He then finally filled out the much-needed form.

Now it was time to rush back to town to the harbourmaster and hope we arrived before 12am, luckily our Uber driver was a fast driver although a terrible one. We arrived at the very last minute, but the officer on duty very kindly let us in and called his superior.

view of the harbourmaster office

I showed all papers completed by Recita Federal (Customs) and Polícia Federal (Immigration), and that was when the officer said that the colleague responsible for this service was not on duty.

My heart dropped. What did he mean, there wasn’t anybody available to check us out?!

He replied, nop, no one, maybe it was better if we came back Monday.

I explained that was not possible, Customs and Immigration had already checked us out we needed to complete the final formalities and leave with the next high tide.

The officer called the colleague and explained the situation, his colleague said he could discharge us he would give the instructions on what to do over the phone. A bit of our help and in 10 minutes the paperwork was completed, and we could now depart.

We grabbed another Uber and returned to Marina Aven where to our dismay our dinghy awaited us sitting completely dry in the mud!

the dinghy bogged on the mud at low tide

We would have to wait quite a few hours for the rising tide to get here and then a bit more for it to be possible for us to be able to dinghy across to our boat.

***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.

1 comment

1 Comment

Karl Metzner
Karl Metzner
Jul 02, 2023

Another amazing bureaucratic odyssey

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