A few questions:
(1) It seems that C&I on most of the islands close by the late afternoon, and significantly earlier on weekends and holidays. If I arrive after closing time, is there anything I can do other than stay on board until the next morning and clear in then? I've heard that it is sometimes possible to arrange for clearance outside of normal hours with the payment of an extra fee, but I'm not sure where this is available or how I would go about arranging for it.
(2) If I do get stuck arriving too late to clear in and want to leave early the next day for another island (i.e., before c&i opens) can I do this? Or am I required to clear in and out as a result of having spent the night in the harbor, even though I never went ashore?
I say the answer to your questions is "It depends" -- It depends on who you run into when you do check into customs....and on how honest you're going to be.
Here's what can happen:
Checked out of Martinique on a Thursday afternoon. Left Friday morning. Arrived in Dominica 30 minutes after customs closed Friday afternoon. Anchored for the night and left in the morning. Arrived in Iles des Saintes around noon on Saturday. Police station closed for the weekend at noon. Left Sunday morning for Deshaies, NW Guadeloupe. Arrived Sunday afternoon after the internet café that handles customs clearance via internet closed. Left Monday morning for Antiqua. Checked in a Jolly Harbor where the customs lady (one stripe on the epaulet) asked, "Where are you coming from?"
I answered, "You mean the last place I stopped or the place I checked out from last?" From the look on her face I knew I had messed up.
I probably should have said I was three days out of Martinique and complained about the lack of wind on the leeward side of all the islands, but I didn't. I gave her the itinerary above and, thinking very quickly, said that I stopped in each place for "crew rest" and "safe operation" of the boat, that I sought out customs officials in each place, but when none were available I continued my journey northward with all deliberate speed as I needed to avoid bad weather that was forecast to arrive the next morning.
She held me up in customs for about an hour and in the end made me write an explanation of "why Billy Ruff'n had not checked in at anywhere". You know, sort of like the second grade teacher telling you to stay after school and write "I will not talk in class anymore" 100 times. She attached the letter to the customs form and let me finish clearing in with immigration and the port authority.
When I checked out a few days later, a much more senior customs officer (three stripes) was on duty. When he saw the boat papers, he just smiled and said, "Ah, you're the guy I heard about...." Stamp, stamp, and I was on my way.
That was the first and only time I've ever stretched things in regard to clearing in or out. My sense is that in the Caribbean if you're honest about your circumstances and respectful of the authority, which customs officers DO HAVE, and you have at least a somewhat reasonable explanation for your inability to follow the official procedures, you MIGHT get off with a wrist slap, as I did. If you don't take them seriously or appear to dis them in any way, they will slap you down.
So it depends -- on what you say, how you're dressed, how you act, and how they felt when they got out of bed on the day you walked into their office.