There are many laws and formalities to be aware of when sailing between countries. Even when in Europe, with a boat registered in an EU country, containing only citizens of EU countries. Although many of these rules are only lightly enforced, or not at all, there are many tales told of them suddenly coming up to bite the unwary sailor. So when I was reminded of the Portuguese ‘light dues’, money to be paid on first entering Portugal to cover a year of government expense on navigation aids, such as buoys and lighthouses, I listened keenly because the fine for being caught without having paid could be over €600. My informant told me that I could pay the dues at the police station in Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
So a couple of days later I set off from Carina, before breakfast, leaving Martina and the girls stranded aboard for the day. A dinghy ride to Alcoutim, a wait at the bus stop, an hour on the bus, costing €4.20 for a single ticket, and I was there. I had been told the police station was to the right of the marina. Venturing in that direction I spotted a sign and eventually located the nondescript building down a side road. The policeman told me I was in the wrong place and I needed to go to the policia maritima. I should head to the river front and ask for directions there. Instead I decided to head for the tourist office to get a map of the town. The tourist office did not appear as signposted so I asked a waiter where it was. He lead me around the corner and pointed to a building clearly not labelled ‘tourist office’. “There it is, but it isn’t open yet”. On inspection it appeared to open at 10.00, it was 9.30, time enough to check out the fabled Lidl, rumoured to be on the other side of the town. It indeed proved to be there and after the purchase of some questionable tea bags at a reasonable price I resumed my quest to pay my fair share of Portuguese taxes.
The tourist office/cultural centre was resplendent with a display of mannequins dressed, to my eye, as airline pilots and schoolgirls. It was slightly disturbing seeing an adult female mannequin with extremely perky proportions dressed with a striped tie and red V-neck sweater, emblazoned with a school-like logo. I don’t think it left me with the impression that was intended. At last the woman at the tourist office pointed to a stretch of road along the front, saying “It’s somewhere along there, I’m sure you’ll find it.” And find it I did. I confidently walked up to the policia maritima building and pushed at the door, marked ‘push’. Nothing happened, so I rang the bell. Moments later a typically small policeman answered. Apparently I needed to go next door to the ‘Capitania’ “NO NOT THERE” insisted the policeman, not the big door marked ‘Capitania’ but a side street entrance a little further on. Great I was finally there!
I entered the public reception for a very official looking office. If this had been Spain or Morocco the walls would be covered with flags and pictures of the king (and possibly his dad, his granddad and his uncle Bert), however, being Portugal there were simply notices everywhere marked either ‘Rules’ or ‘Advisory’. One lady in a denim shirt was attending to three men. One was busy filling out forms whilst the other two were handing the lady various documents and chatting. They looked like seasoned seamen. After about 15 minutes one of the men handed over about €12, he was handed a piece of paper and left. The lady then asked the man filling in forms to sign them, she also took various booklets for photocopying.
Another man came into the office and started making impatient noises. The lady gestured that she was extremely busy dealing with the two men already there and shrugged ‘It can’t be helped I have to finish this first!’. A little over 30 minutes after I got to the office, the two men handed over about €12 along with various stamped and signed forms, including carbon copies, and left. It was now my turn. “I need to pay my light dues” I said, handing over my boat registration certificate. This she studied for a while then asked for my passport. She photocopied these and handed them back to me, she then went off to a desk and spent a few minutes punching stuff into a computer. Looking frustrated she asked for my passport again. “Nationality?”
“British” I said, she looked confused, “English” I said, which seemed to please her and she wrote this down. Flicking through the passport she couldn’t find my residence and told me I needed a city. “Coventry” (Believe me few would pretend to live there, but seeing as my dad does it sort of works for me). The computer was happy with this and she took a slip of multiple carbon papers for the captain to stamp and sign in a back office. She then printed an invoice/receipt and handed this to me along with the top carbon copy, which I have to keep on the boat to show to police, as evidence I have paid my tax to the Portuguese government. The slip was dated to expire in exactly one year’s time. I had been in the office about 45 minutes by now. “That will be €2 please” I gladly handed over a small pile of loose change and left the office feeling very legitimate with my new ‘official’ little bit of paper. Now all I had to do was find a chandlery, get some petrol, lunch and a haircut then catch the single, daily, bus back to Alcoutim at 17.35. By now it was near midday, the sun was roaring down, the shadows nearly nonexistent and my top priority was a cold beer.
P.S. By coincidence both the Spanish and Portuguese authorities decided to visit Carina whilst I was away. The Portuguese police boarded but seemed happy enough with Martina’s explanation of why I was away and were happy to recieve photocopies of the documents I had taken with me. We have always found maritime police to be very friendly and flexible with us, I suppose once they realise that we are not drug smugglers or people trafficers they get on with their job in the smoothest way possible, this has applied equally in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.