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Yachts, boys & American Immigration

April 11, 2018

Life can be a fickle thing and it really is what you make it. Some days are filled with bright shining rainbows, cheesie grins and love that warms your heart. But other days can drown you with change and can leave your life spinning out of control. 


For me, the month of August 2017 was mostly the latter option. 



I was sailing the Caribbean Sea with my partner in crime.


We were a captain/1st mate team managing a privately owned 56ft brand-new Lagoon Catamaran between Florida and The Bahamas.


The family owners were intrigued by sailing and had a strong connection with the Bahamas. They were also adamant wine connoisseurs and loved fine dining. We would host them and their friends on luxury sailing charters around the Abaco’s history-filled Loyalist Cays. We would throw anchor nightly with a different backdrop of mesmerising blue. We’d freedive into spooky blue holes and explore limestone swim-throughs with a single breath. We’d serve up Mexican ceviche on crunchy tostadas with the speared fish that the Bull Sharks didn’t take from us.


Rise and shine was at 7am and our heads rarely hit the pillow before 12 midnight.


Our monthly day off was spent in our cabin sprawled out in bed consuming ice-cream, bags of corn chips and drinking coronas until we would forget tomorrows responsibilities.


Hurricane season was approaching rapidly. We finished our last Bahamas charter of the season and left at the crack of dawn the next morning. Choosing the slow route back to Florida, the 300nm navigation was completed with one last 24hr overnight sail. 


As we were exiting Bahamian waters, we anchored the boat at Tiger Beach and swam with over 15 Lemon Sharks!!! But it was America that snuck up on us from beneath the darkness....not the sharks. After a phone call to immigration and an appointment at their office in Fort Lauderdale, we were slapped with a new kind of reality. We were told we were working illegally, about to be deported and stripped of our visas! WHATTTT?? We had entered on the same boat twice before and were never questioned. We had the B1B2 visa which means you can enter the US on vessels for work and stay for up to 3 months. 



We talked our way into a warning and were given a week to leave the country. With threats and Trump quotes getting thrown at us from all angles; we raced back to the boat and packed up our life. At midnight we moved into the dingy hotel room that we called home for the next 9 nights. 


We flew back to our house in Mexico without a job and a big fat strike on our US visas. Mexico's colourful culture, warm-hearted locals and its outstanding natural assets, were just a few reasons why pieces of my heart will forever remain in Mexico. It was also a relief to be living in our humble little abode on the Yucatan Peninsula.


Life managing a yacht is compact, highly-organised, stressful and intensely consuming.


But some things happen for a reason. Before we got “kindly” evicted from America, we were scheduled to bring the yacht to her home in Port Aransas, Texas. If all had gone to plan, we would have sailed into the heart of Hurricane Harvey at the end of August 2017. We would have struggled to find refuge while at sea from this category 5 hurricane. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time could have been highly disastrous for our own safety and for the yacht. 


Once back in Mexico, those 2 weeks of R&R were pure bliss. I started writing again, I was doing yoga every morning, I was swimming in the sea at sunset and studying Spanish again. But 2 weeks was all I got. I ended up breaking with my significant other half. 


Without going into the details of our love & failures, I packed up my life once again and walked away with tears in my eyes. 


The following days were spent in the boho town of Tulum with my best friend and her partner. We stayed by the seaside, ate our weight in Mexican food, drank a bottle of vino daily, and swam in the cenotes deep into the tropical jungle. Cenotes are underwater caves and are sacred places where the ancient Mayan civilisation would communicate with their gods. The crisp cold water, the unrealistic shades of blue and the feeling of dancing with death with every free-dive down into the darkness, helped me to find peace and clarity within my busy mind. 



I parted ways with them at the Cancun airport. With 3 big bags and a heavy heart, I decided to spend my last week overseas in my old home island of Isla Mujeres. It was here I built up the strength and courage to actually book my flight home to Australia. Time spent on the white sandy palm-infringed beaches, good Internet cafes and a great group of International friends; was just what the doctor ordered.


My flight from Cancun to Melbourne had a short 4 hour layover in Los Angeles. Little did I predict what was to come. I was escorted by a US Immigration Officer to the brightly lit interrogation roomI had my passport taken away from me and was told nothing. After a long 3 hours my name was finally called. A tall African-American Officer spoke down to me for 45 minutes in a similar way to those suspected of murder on CSI Miami.


I was yelled at, I was questioned, I was told I didn’t have a visa.


All I wanted to do was to cry and to go back to Australia. This Officer bullied me and wasted my time until he realised he couldn’t do anything more with me and that I’d already missed my flight back to Australia. 


With 20 minutes to spare before my flight departed, I threw my bags on a trolley and raced from one end of Los Angeles airport terminal to the other. And by raced I mean sweet dripping from face loudly instructing strolling airport goers to “PLEASE MOVE ASIDE!” Of course the airport staff were not going to let me board my flight that was due to depart in 3 minutes. But luckily for me they booked me a seat on the flight for the next day, and by lucky I mean were ordered by Immigration to make sure I leave America. That night I slept on the cold hard airport floor next to the domestic arrival doors. It was a sleepless and stressful night and I was shaken to the core. 



At 6:30pm the next day I checked my bags in with United Airlines and entered the terminal for my flight home. As the staff scanned my boarding pass, two very offical-looking Police Officers glanced at the paper in their hands and then back at me. They escorted me onto the plane. When I took my seat I was shaking and pleading with a higher energy that this planes leaves America with me on it.


A wave of relief washed over my body as the wheels of the plane left American soil en route for Australia. 

I spent 1.5 years in foreign lands. I visited 12 countries, volunteered as a Marine Biologist in Mexico, co-managed a yacht in the Bahamas, sailed into Cuba, helped renovate a house, studied Spanish, surfed in Central America and learnt that it is possible to be a traveling expat. 



But I was ready to come home.


Home to familiarity, home to the comfort of normal, and home to those who love me the most. My last month overseas was a hard one, but it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. The challenges I overcame have just made me more determined for living life with passion and adventure.


It has shown me the strength I hide within my heart, that friends are fucking amazing and being an independent woman is not to be taken for granted!  


The only words of advice I can pass on is to you is to keep smiling, follow the rhythm in your heart and slow down. The world is full of incredible opportunities when you start looking. To begin with start saying yes to the unusual and see where that takes you… 


Sometimes you have to stop going against the currents of the ocean and choose to go downwind. Sometimes the shit that happens to us will save us and make us stronger in the long run.




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I’m Hannah. Welcome to my blog, where I write honest stories, advice & inspiration from the time I've spent as a traveling marine biologist.



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