It is now just 19 days until I go on full-time standby to depart from San Francisco (the actual departure date will depend on the weather). There is a HUGE amount still to do - an achievable amount, but definitely challenging - so it is less than ideal that I will have to spend a third of those remaining days in Ottawa, Canada.
This is my problem...
I am a British citizen. In order to make preparations for this major undertaking, I have been coming and going from the US for the last 12 months under the Visa Waiver Scheme between the US and Great Britain, which allows me up to 90 days in the US without a visa.
Throughout that time I have been trying to arrange a visa. The procedure requires that I attend an interview at the US embassy in London. After many attempts to schedule an interview that coincided with my brief visits to Britain, I finally managed to secure an appointment on 11th May 2007.
I passed the rigorous interview process and was granted a visa, but the embassy required 3-5 working days to process my passport. On that date I had only 2 working days before I was due to fly back to the US to give two presentations as fundraisers for nonprofit organizations. I did not feel I could let down the people who had put so much effort into arranging these presentations for their good causes, so I elected to hold onto my passport so that I could return to the US and fulfill my obligations.
At the time this seemed a reasonable course of action, as I thought that:
a) By entering international waters as I rowed between San Francisco and Hawaii I would be officially departing the US, and
b) On entering Hawaii I could therefore recommence the 90-day visa waiver period...
and would therefore not be in breach of the U.S Immigration Visa Waiver Scheme.
However, upon further investigation since my return I have now found that:
a) there is no official procedure for departing the US by boat, so being in international waters does not count as having departed the US, and
b) the Visa Waiver Scheme only applies to those arriving by "approved carrier" and I suspect that my little ocean rowboat does not qualify.
So after extensive research and countless hours on the phone and website of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and many other information sources, I have found that my options are as follows:
a) I return to Great Britain for a month - the period now required by the US Embassy to process my passport (it takes much longer if the visa is not stamped into the passport immediately after the interview) - but this would mean that I would have to postpone my departure date and this could take me into dangerous weather conditions, or;
b) I attend an interview in Canada to try and obtain a visa - this will be an entirely fresh interview, the fact that I have already been approved for a visa in Great Britain counts for nothing. After frequently logging into the embassy interview booking system I have managed to obtain an appointment for 27th June, but this will mean that I have to spend at least a week in Canada while my passport is processed, and this is precious time in the run-up to an expedition, or;
c) I launch on my intended departure date and run the risk of deportation when I arrive in Hawaii, plus potentially being barred from re-entry to the US for 5 years - which would thwart the second stage of my Pacific row which runs from Hawaii to Tuvalu.
I do not want to run this risk. I would prefer to abide by the regulations, and ensure that my paperwork is in order before I depart from San Francisco.
So on Tuesday I fly to Ottawa, and I hope and pray that the US Embassy there will agree with their counterparts in London and will grant me a visa.
Or I might have to bypass Hawaii altogether, which would be a big shame...
[photo: first sea trial last week, under the Golden Gate Bridge where - paperwork and weather permitting - it will all start in less than 3 weeks]
I've made it into Outside Magazine - a major publication in the US for all outdoor/adventure type people. So far I'm just in the online version, but I'm working on it...
Click here to read the article.
Do you remember that childhood pre-Christmas feeling, when you feel pretty sure you've got a REALLY cool Christmas present, but you're just having to wait, and wait, and wait to be sure. That's what I've been going through with my title sponsor negotiations.
Over the last few weeks I've been involved in extensive discussions with the company and their PR people, but I still couldn't be sure what was inside the package. Surely it was too good to be true....
At last I know what is inside the package, and it is every bit as good as I'd hoped. So now I'm dying to go out and play with it (i.e. tell everybody about it) but we still haven't signed on the dotted line, so I can't. The frustration is agonising! All I can tell you for now is: The company is environmentally aware, high tech, local, and staffed by some genuinely nice people.
Keep watching this space, and hopefully by the end of this week we will have a done and dusted deal and I can go public. I can't wait!
[photo: annoyingly irrelevant photo of a fireboat salute - one of the cool things we are lining up for my "ceremonial" departure on July 10, pending actual departure whenever weather allows]
When I arrived at the Presidio Yacht Club on Friday to meet the CBS film crew, I was surprised to see Erden Eruc's ocean rowboat moored to the guest dock. The last time I had seen it had been at the Corinthian Yacht Club, before Erden's abortive first attempt to depart under the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of this month.
Erden and I chatted briefly before I was called away for filming, so it was only today that I found out the full story from his dispatch - that he had been trying again to leave, but the weather had been unfavourable as he approached the bridge so he had retreated to the safety of the Presidio.
I see from his site that he is now hoping to leave on one of the next two big ebbs - either at the end of June, or during the time window that I am looking at, between 11th and 13th July.
For the avoidance of doubt, if it should happen that Erden and I leave at about the same time, I'd like to make it clear that this is not a race. He is going direct to Australia. I will be stopping in Hawaii and Tuvalu. We are each just doing our own thing.
It may seem like I am labouring this point, but that is because I so strongly did not enjoy being in a race on the Atlantic. Although I was the only solo woman, and hence theoretically competing only against myself, I did not like it that there were 25 other boats out there who had left at the same time as me and whose progress would inevitably be compared with mine. This added to the already considerable mental pressure I was feeling at the time.
This also brings to mind the first ocean row of modern times, in 1966, when the Blyth/Fairfax crew presented a rival bid to Hoare and Johnstone. Pushed for time in order to compete, Hoare and Johnstone set out less well prepared than they may otherwise had been. Blyth and Fairfax arrived in Ireland to international acclaim. Hoare and Johnstone were lost at sea. Although present circumstances are very different, when I read the story of Hoare and Johnstone I resolved never to give in to the temptation to leave before I feel 99% ready. (Being something of a perfectionist, I will never feel 100% ready.)
It takes two to race, so even if Erden and I leave at the same time I will focus purely on my own project. But I can't help hoping that he gets away at the end of June - which is also what he hopes for .
And this latest development proves yet again that leaving from San Francisco requires the full cooperation of the weather gods.