Once upon a time, long ago and in a land far away, Andrew and I were celebrating Christmas at home and preparing a number of items send back to Sonrisa. We had a straightforward plan. We would get everything delivered to an international shipper. The shipper would package everything onto one large palate, and then over the three months we toured New Zealand, our palate could make its way to Tonga. Joe would get everything through customs and it would all be waiting for us upon our return. Three months seemed like plenty of time to complete this quest.
So, we purchased spoils and baubles like scuba bottles, rebuilt regulators, BCDs, a new switch for the fridge, hoses, some bolts and screws, a spare part here, and a spare part there. We were offered a gift of a spear gun from a kindly soul, and it was added to the pack. We packaged up the things we had, and instructed the dive gear company to ship their portion to our international shipper: DGX, Dependable. Global. eXpress. “Please ship to The Tonga BoatYard, Vava’u Tonga, C/O Joe, for Ship in Transit, Sonrisa.” And all seemed well.
But, this is not where our story ends. When we returned to our fair ship, we found some of our treasures reached its end and some were lost at sea. The rebuilt scuba regulators and the spear gun, where might they be? After making some calls and inquiries, Joe delivered some unfortunate news. These remaining baubles were still sitting in DGX’s warehouse - no, not in Tonga - but in the land far away and over the sea.
Apparently, Dependable-Global-Express was anything but dependable or express. For four full months, the right hand failed to speak with the left hand and they left not only our spear gun sitting next to Floyd’s desk, but also a palette of batteries that our boatyard neighbors Carol and Brian needed to install in Prince Diamond. Not to worry, we have a solution. Joe instructed DGX to ship the batteries, the regulator, and the spear gun directly to Fiji instead.
“Fast” forward another month. Sonrisa and Prince Diamond sailed away from Tonga to Fiji. In correspondence directly with Dependable Global Express, Prince Diamond receives the instruction to contact Saten, phone number: +66 6 666 66. Not really, but close. There were repeating 6s in his phone number, and Brian found this rather amusing.
Saten is the strong and silent type, not one to be trifled with too many words. When Prince Diamond emailed to determine how best to retrieve his batteries, Saten replied: “the 26th” with nothing more. A second email: “Where?” “Suva” Over a series of emails, Brian determined in two word phrases involving symbols and a lot of acronyms only that he must send his "rot#" (rotation number), invoice, "BOL" (bill of lading) and ships papers to allow for clearance through customs.
We pass a shop selling spearguns in Savusavu, quite cheap.
By mid-May, we still had not heard anything about our speargun. No emails, no messenger pigeon, no Saten. We email Joe at the Boatyard and he pokes and prods Dependable Global Express to be slightly more communicative. They respond: “Oh, we put the speargun in the same box as Prince Diamond’s batteries.”
Not to worry, Jolene at Waitui Marina is a DHL agent and she has expertise in transpacific shipping and customs clearance. She takes up the mantle and starts to sort things out. Soon, we learn that there is nothing we can do to get our speargun. It is included in Brian’s stores, and therefore, he is the only one who can retrieve them.
This turns out to be a lucky turn of events, as we didn’t really want to go to Suva anyway. So, Prince Diamond and Sonrisa parted ways from Savusavu. Prince Diamond headed south to Suva. Sonrisa headed West to cruise the beautiful, white sandy beaches of the Yasawa Island Group. (Sorry Brian!)
Each day, we received emails providing updates. Day 1, the ship had arrived, but the items were not off loaded. Day 2, the items were unloaded but still in customs clearance; Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 arrived and Brian thought he could retrieve everything, but no. Customs required a customs officer to monitor the taking of the items back to Brian's vessel - to ensure no "hanky-panky" as Brian put it. Day 6... Administrative fee here, customs fee there, quarantine inspection, shipping from US to Fiji (instead of Tonga with the rest of our stuff).
We considered responding to their emails with mean spirited photographs to tell them "OK" as their week progressed. But, it's not Brian's fault, so we kept our tropical wanderings to ourselves.
Six days and an unexpected charge of $734.33 FJ (or about $325 US) later… Brian and Carol have our spear gun in hand, along side their batteries. A few days more and we linked up in Musket Cove to retrieve our spoils.
A few lessons were learned here:
#1: Shipping a speargun from the U.S. to any island in the South Pacific is like shipping yourself a box of coconuts. Seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it?
#2: Dependable Global Express. Maybe the name is not intended to be descriptive?
#3: Always try to saddle some other poor sailor with your shipping stores so you can go cruise in style while he wrestles your speargun through customs.