It’s been a few months of pensively waiting and biding my time between various stages of a bureaucratic process, in order to obtain the necessary US visa that allows me to arrive and depart the United States of America by various ports in US waters.
It was with great relief therefore, that on Saturday morning on my way to Appledore (Devon) in order to compete in my last gig regatta of the season, I swung by a soulless trading estate on the periphery of Bristol and the M4/M5 coridoor to collect my passport containing the much needed visa. Huge relief on my part and another milestone on the Clipper journey passed, as well as another item on the never diminishing ‘to-do’ list ticked off.
I must say, prior to having to attend a face-to-face interview at the US Embassy in London, I’d had to go through a two-stage online process, which given I’m supposed to be educated, I still often found confusing. The language of sovereign state borders, the control of the movement of people and the categorisation thereof, is truly mind-boggling. Clipper had advised that we should apply for what’s known as a B2 non-immigrant visa, but whilst in the process of applying for one you quickly realise there are several quite different circumstances why a person might need a B2 non-immigrant visa; as varied as being unpaid crew in the Clipper RTW yacht race to traveling to the States as a ‘medical tourist’. Dare I say that there might be occasions where those two intentions of travel to the States might collide, but I hope not on my watch! One category of person I found particularly interesting and half-jokingly reflected whether as race crew we were included, was an ‘alien with extraordinary ability’; certainly some people back onshore might identify us as being so!
Embassies are a curious piece of state apparatus, so although I was standing around for three hours waiting for my ticket number to be called for my interview, I found the whole process and aesthetic of the embassy fascinating. From being made to stand outside with no cover in front of two security guards with very large guns, to being asked to take a sip from my water bottle during the security clearance, to the faceless room we were all processed in, there was much to keep my anthropological gaze focused. I then spotted a woman, Catherine Johnson, from my team who was also waiting to be processed, so we quickly became animated talking about the race events of the last few weeks and comparing our own preparations. It was an odd acknowledgement that the next time I’d see her would be in Seattle as she disembarked after 3 long legs in the race and I step aboard to play my part for the team…
Saturday was clearly a good day despite the torrential rain obliterating my visibility on the drive down to Appledore…rather like helming in big seas actually! Perhaps having my US Visa gave me some special super powers (in addition to being able to travel internationally – unlike so many people in this world) ‘cos later in the day, I and five fellow Bristol women’s vets won our race in the North Coast Gig League hosted by Torridge Gig Club. Whether categorised as a ‘female vet’ gig rower or ‘non-immigrant’ traveler to the United States, both grant me permission to race, be on the water and an incentive to win.