Siberian Bureaucracy and A Cruiser Robbed

Logistics can make you crazy on a trip like the GSSR. I was working yesterday on planning for the trip, and hitting some tricky issues.


I’ve been thinking about the Visas we’ll need for getting into Siberia. We’re hitting a bit of a roadblock, in that we can’t apply for the visa until 90 days prior to our arrival date in Siberia. Unfortunately, we don’t know our arrival date, and also unfortunately, we are likely to be at sea when the time comes.


Here’s a very high-level overview of the schedule:


· First week April – The boats move from Seattle to Roche Harbor (about 80 miles north). The goal for this trip is to just shake down the boats, and see if any last minute repairs are needed.

· April 23rd to June 7th – Cruise to Alaska. During this time various friends and family will join us on the boat for site-seeing. The boats will travel only loosely together. We’ll each have exploring to do, and our own guests to attend to. We will meet up from time to time, but mostly we’ll just enjoy the run.

· June 7th – The boats will form a tight group at Glacier Bay Alaska, and probably travel together from this point until reaching Japan. From Glacier Bay we’ll do a three day passage across the Gulf of Alaska.

·  June 10th-15th – We’ll hang out in Kodiak.

· June 175h-June 23rd – Geographic Harbor, and then cruise to Dutch Harbor. Great bear watching!

· June 23rd to July 1st – Hang out in Dutch Harbor, home of the Deadliest Catch, and the start of our run across the Bering Sea.

· July 1st to July 21st – Run the Bering Sea, and explore the Aleutian islands

· July 21st to August 1st – Petrapovlosk Kamchatka Siberia. Spend a week hanging out in Siberia!

· August 1st to August 7th – Run to Hokkaido Japan, an island just north of Japan. Spend 3-4 days just “seeing Hokkaido” and dealing with the bureaucracy of entering Japan.

· August 7th to Oct 1st – Explore Japan and the Inland Sea. Dodge Typhoons as best we can.

· Oct 1st – put the boats away for the winter, in a Japan marina, and at least in my case, fly home and back to reality.

· Spring 2010 – Head to: ?????


This preliminary schedule should be considered as very soft. Our real schedule will be set by the weather. There are a few spots we want to see and explore, and we will not blast through these, regardless of weather conditions, but generally, our philosophy is: “Move when the moving is good.” So, regardless of plans, if we look out the window, and see the sun, or at least don’t see a storm on the horizon, our plan is to be moving.


As I looked at this schedule, and thought about our visas for Siberia, and the fact that we have to wait until 90 days prior to arrival in Siberia to apply for visa, I saw a problem. The soonest we can apply for our visas is April 21st. Actually, we could arrive in Siberia far later, perhaps even mid-August, so we shouldn’t really apply until at least May 15th. Applying means sending in our passports to the Russian Consulate. This doesn’t work, in that we’ll be on the boat traveling North through Canada at the time. How do we get into and out of Canada without our passports?


As messy as it sounds, the best plan I’ve come up with so far involves me hand carrying everyone’s passports, flying from Dutch Harbor to Seattle, where there is a Russian Consulate, and paying rush fees for fast turnaround. But, this plan has its’ own risks. Our Siberian expert described it this way:


“…Theoretically they can turn your passports in 2 working days but it will cost you $300 – $400 to expedite these…”


Note the use of the word “theoretically” in that sentence. Argh. Also note the $300-400. That’s for EACH of us. Argh.


And on a completely different topic…


One of our favorite stops on the run to Costa Rica last year was at Chamela, a spectacular bay, just south of Puerto Vallarta, in Mexico. Recently there was a report of an armed robbery of some cruisers who had anchored in the bay. Here’s a full report by the victim:



“We are still enjoying the wonderful fruits of the Baja Ha-Ha, as we progress down the Mexican coast, visiting with other Ha-Ha folks along the way. It had been a great experience until a few days ago, February 12, in Chamela, which is about 15 miles north of Tenacatita Bay.. Linda and I were strolling along a paved road from the beach to the small village in the middle of the afternoon, with other people within 100 feet, when a real ‘Frito Bandito’ jumped out at us from behind a tree with a large caliber revolver in his hand. He was very agitated, so we did not quibble when he asked for our money. He took about 950 pesos — about $60 U.S. — and ran back into the woods.


“I reported the incident to the local village leader, who got the police involved. Within two hours, a panga was sent out to our boat so I could meet with the police and try to identify the suspect. Yes, they said they’d already found him, and that he was an ‘outsider.’ In fact, they had the guy in shackles in a police pickup.


“I told the police what had been taken from us, and it’s what they found in his wallet. I could not positively identify the guy — and I told the police that — but the money, especially a 500 peso note — was fairly evidentiary. One is guilty in Mexico until proven innocent, and the police had all they needed to nail this guy. The officials were all very apologetic, and said that things like that never happened in Chamela. We’re inclined to believe them.


“What lessons did we learn? Even though I had never been attacked or robbed before in all my worldwide travels, I still consider Mexico very safe and would not want to discourage others from travelling here. Perhaps we should have walked in a larger group — my wife and two others had made the same walk only 60 minutes earlier! Or maybe this was just bad luck.


“If others report this incident, it might get corrupted in some form. Please use this letter as a statement of simple facts.”


– scott brear



-Ken W














4 Responses

  1. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to the other GSSR boats (Seabird and Grey Pearl) this morning….

    “Braun/Steven: I spoke with a visa agency yesterday (Zierer Visa Service – ( ) to discuss the timing on obtaining our Russian Visas. I have used them in the past, and all went smoothly.

    According to them, we have to wait until SIXTY days prior to arrival to obtain our visas. In other words, we can’t apply until around June 1st.

    I forgot to ask the normal processing period, but it is something like three weeks, and doesn’t cost much. Given the timing, I don’t know how to make that work.

    Alternately, they have a one-day turnaround, which costs more like $600 each (including Russian consulate fees, and Zierer’s fees). I am open for ideas on how to do the “normal processing”, but my best thought currently is that we send our Passports from Kodiak around June 10th, to Zierer (or, some other agent), and have them returned to us in Dutch Harbor, or fed-exed to my home in Seattle. I’ll be visiting Seattle briefly while the boat is in Dutch Harbor and can retrieve them. I could hand-carry them into the consulate in Seattle myself, but think we are safer to use an agent as a intermediary. I spoke with Zierer about having them review our paperwork weeks in advance, so that if there are issues, we’ll know immediately. They said it really comes down to having a quality “invitation” from a Russian travel agency (which we have) and our US passports.

    So .. to summarize:

    Unless someone has a better idea (perhaps Braun knows someone who can work some magic):

    -From Kodiak, we bundle up all 15 or so passports
    -Send them along with our letter from Sergey to Zierer in San Francisco
    -Accompany the passports with checks for approx. $600 each
    -When I travel to Seattle from Dutch Harbor, I’ll retrieve everyone’s passports

    We can save at least $200 each by hand carrying the passports into the consulate ourselves. I’m biased against this option, but not rationally so. I don’t like dealing with government bureaucracies directly. It’s a bunch of money though, so perhaps one of you wants to take on that challenge….”

    -Ken W

  2. Ken,

    An agent is the answer and there has to be a way of geting an advance clearance or a way of registering your documents for your future entry into Canada.

    Mr. Unknown is right. Once I obtained a visa for a third party to enter communist Poland. My wife and I employed an agent at the suggestion of our travel company to obtain visas for China in 1999. The fee we paid to the agent was minimal, yet we received expedited processing.

    The most effective agents may not be in Seattle. You may wish to FEDEX your documents to an agent in Washington, DC. I just don’t know. Perhaps you know a Seattle travel agent who can advise you. Doing it yourself is not the wisest course of action.


  3. Ken,

    What about getting enhanced DL’s for entry into Canada, and having an agent file with the consulate? Even a couple hours in legal fees would be far less than airfare + $400/person to expedite processing.

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