Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.
On the first leg of our journey, about fifty miles out from the coast of Oregon, Bruce called me for my morning 6:00 watch. “Since about 3:30 I’ve been watching a light astern of us. It seems to be staying with us. Keep an eye on it.”
It seemed strange to have no one in sight for days and suddenly there was another boat and they seemed to be following us. I found it unsettling.
We ate our oatmeal in Impunity’s cockpit and continued to watch astern for the lights of whoever was following us. Finally, around 7:00 they called on the VHF, identified themselves as the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute. They asked who we were, the name of our boat, its documentation number, the number of crew onboard, and where we were going. Bruce answered all their questions. A long period of silence followed. Bruce wondered if something was wrong with our radio.
Finally, the radio crackled to life and the Coast Guardsman asked, “On which side of the boat do you want us to board?”
To stop the boat, of course, was out of the question. The Coast Guard wouldn’t expect that, nor would it even be possible.
Bruce offered to put a boarding ladder on Impunity’s port side. Within a few minutes a sixteen-foot RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) pulled up alongside carrying four heavily armed Coast Guardsmen. Three climbed aboard and introduced themselves, very professional and thoroughly efficient.
“We need to inspect all compartments of your boat. Please don’t be alarmed, this is mostly a safety check.”
Right, I thought. I would not have wanted to be carrying illegal cargo. These guys meant business.
The officer in charge, carrying a clipboard, nodded to Bruce. “Go ahead, Sir, lead the way.” He turned to me, “Ma’am, please stay in the cockpit with Seaman Turner. Two of them went below with Bruce. One remained in their large, inflatable dinghy, keeping pace with Impunity, but never touching it. Both boats rolled with the rough seas.
Bruce told me later that the fellows who went below decks with him searched every nook and cranny. One of them remarked that he’d never seen so many drawers and compartments in a yacht’s head. They checked the engine compartment, all the lockers, all the drawers throughout the boat. After the search, the officer in charge referred to his clipboard and began writing down the particulars of the boat. Bruce handed him a copy of our ”Vessel and Personal Information” document that he had designed. The Coast Guardsman was impressed. “All boats should be required to do this.”
In the meantime, the fellow and I sat in the cockpit and carried on a conversation. The Coast Guardsman still at the wheel in the RIB kept an even pace with Impunity, but never tied up to us.
The Coast Guardsmen then inspected the cockpit lockers. The officer in charge looked at his clipboard. They were satisfied that we’d complied, and presented us with a nice safety certificate. According to them, it’s rare to pass a safety check with no citations or warnings. In our case, not even a suggestion.
They climbed into their RIB, still never having tied to Impunity, and were off, back to the Resolute. They were onboard Impunity for about an hour.
We wondered if the Coast Guard thought perhaps we were carrying drugs. We didn’t mind the boarding. In fact, we approved. It was our tax dollars at work.