It couldn’t have been a better day. The lonely, flat gray lake at the end of November, was just perfect for the group of questionable islanders to head to Pelee Island in two boats for lunch. It was a convincing story if there were stopped crossing the border this late in the season.
The group consisted of the “Gray Ghost” running his boat and the “Captain” running the second and faster boat. On board the first boat with Ghost were a (re)tired old captain who we will call “Cap,” his wife the “Island Tree Lady,” the “Diplomat,” and one other, “Donner.” The captain had the more delicate passengers in the group on his boat, the innocent “Girl Scout” and the “Seamstress.” It was indeed an eclectic group, each one skilled for the mission which would take them from Put-in-Bay to Pelee Island and return. They had their passports in hand and paperwork all in order neatly packed in a garbage bag. They pulled out of the harbor, taking one last look at their compasses before leaving the Bass Islands in the misty haze at their stern. Ahead, West Dock, Pelee Island.
The captain, the innocent Girl Scout and Seamstress made it to shore first. Nothing suspicious going on here came the word from the Royal Canadian Customs and Immigration officials who faithfully guard this foreign land in Lake Erie. The precious confirmation number they had given the Captain, was now tightly held in the Captain’s hand and indelibly stamped into his ever-busy mind as the trio stepped onto land. The innocent Girl Scout squealed with joy, as it was her first time on Pelee Island.
The second boat arrived, but no luck this time, the boring existence of these friendly officials stationed in this lonely water-surrounded outpost was about to be reversed. The sweat on the palm of their hands told the Gray Ghost they might be on to something. He and his boat had been back and forth across the border many, many times and had aroused suspicions. Something wasn’t quite right here. The two officers watched the three men and two women get off the boat with a careful eye, asking each one if they had anything to declare, “Liquor, Cigarettes, Weapons, Human Trafficking, CANNABIS!” Having practiced ahead of time, each in the cagey group had the same answer, “No.”
Apparently, that wasn’t enough. Thumbing though their manual of what to do next, they found “Vessel Search.” You could see their hands were invisibly trembling with excitement. A vessel search…something they had never done before on the last day of November. Now hungering for contraband instead of food, their lunch break had to be postponed.
Sadly, nothing was found and about a half and hour later, they presented the group with the confirmation number which would now allow them to legally enjoy lunch at the island’s Legion Post. The group took all their paperwork with them just in case they ran into anymore difficulties.
Lunch was great, and from what we hear, the Girl Scout had her first drink on Pelee Island. With a quick stop at the LCBO (Liquor store here in the States), the group re-boarded their vessel’s and with a friendly wave goodbye form the CanPass twins, they headed on a shortcut return course to Put-in-Bay across the lake still eerily void of any traffic. As they plied through water that had once found home in the Detroit River, someone mentioned they had left behind their paperwork. Beyond the point of no return, there was no point going back to retrieve what they could all get copies of at Put-in-Bay.
Always watchful, the Captain suddenly spied two vessels approaching from the east or maybe south depending on your sense of direction. “Right on time,” he thought. This was no coincidence, the timing coincided with his leaving Pelee for a perfect rendezvous just outside Put-in-Bay’s harbor. With the seamstress busy signing off on the Girl Scout’s “border crossing” merit badge, the Captain sped up and eluded the Coast Guard boat bearing down on him. To his delight, he had outsmarted them again.
Unfortunately, the Gray Ghost wasn’t so lucky and was stopped dead in his tracks almost in the shadow of the Lonz Winery tower on Middle Bass. It didn’t look good as another boat flying the colors of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service came on the scene. It was obvious to the Ghost that these Federal agents bent on protecting the men, women and children of Continental U.S.A. and the orange-clad Coasties were ready to pounce for the slightest infringement of the law.
“Find something or else”
The decision was made to escort the Ghost and his crew to the Put-in-Bay Village Docks where things got serious, the headman shouted out orders, his trusty magnum .57mm pistol in one holster and his flare gun in the other on his gun belt, reversed so the handles pointed forward like in the old cowboy movies. The crossing bandoliers on his chest full of flare gun shells was impressive indeed. “Find something or else,” he barked as half the crew guarded the suspects on the docks, and the other half went to work searching every nook and cranny of the Ghost’s boat. In the meantime, the other agents began questioning the suspects. Their story of just wanting to go to lunch on Pelee didn’t seem believable. “Why would anyone want to do that on such a cold day?”
Then they spied the Tree Lady’s address book in her suspicious-looking backpack. Carefully scanning the pages, the only thing they could find of an unusual nature was a dried, pressed leaf from the Ginkgo tree that grows on the lawn at Perry’s Monument. That really set them off and they then turned to her cellphone, going through her most personal texts and photos, something her husband Cap did once, but fell fast asleep.
Donner, at this part, was trying to bargain with one of the customs agents. “I have three daughters. You can have them all! Just let me go!” He was almost arrested on the spot for human trafficking, but then someone laughed realizing he was only nervously joking with the agents, something no one in their right mind would do under any circumstances.
The officials then cornered the Diplomat, who was now declaring diplomatic immunity, telling them he needed to catch a ferry to the mainland. They took a close look at his passport and waved him on his way as they spotted another suspicious customer.
Across the way on the Boardwalk Dock, a boat had just pulled in. A couple of the agents double timed it over to the unsuspecting lady who had just pulled in from Middle Bass (aka Isle de Fleurs). Apparently, there was some confusion in their minds as to whether or not Middle Bass (with its alternate French name) was in the United States of America.
Finding nothing, the agents released everyone, but not before filling out the appropriate paperwork, not to be confused with the paperwork the group had left behind on Pelee. No duty was collected, no fines were levied, no one was arrested.
Unfortunately, these islanders will now be looked at in a new light. Did they or did they get away with something? The uncertainty will be a tough cross to bear, and we will never know for sure whether or not they should be shunned as they walk the avenues of our community.
Conservative costs of for two private boats (round trip to Pelee Island, insurance, maintenance, fuel, no paid captain, etc.) $150, Lunch at Legion for eight people $120 Canadian, Liquor at the LCBO store $300 Canadian = NET TOTAL $270; Cost of one Coast Guard Boat (round trip Marblehead/Put-in-Bay with all expenses paid $500, Cost if Custom Boat ( round trip to Put-in-Bay with all expenses $500), cost of nine Coasties and agents @ four hours each at $50 per hour $1800; mainland support team and equipment for the operation $1000 = TOTAL TAX PAYER SUBSIDIZED LUNCH AT PELEE FOR EIGHT = $3800.
So it all comes down to this….
1) Did the group smuggle anything into Canada?
2) Did the group smuggle anything into the US?
3) Did the group just go to Pelee for lunch at the Legion and a stop at the liquor store?
4) Did the group just go to Pelee in anticipation of coming back to Put-in-Bay with a story that will live in the annals of island lore?
5) Who had more fun, the island group or the Feds?
6) Now that recreational use of marijuana is legal in Canada, did the group make the trip to test border security in the anticipation of future, more profitable runs?
7) Should there be a wall going down the middle of the lake to prevent further incidents like this?
Just in case you are wondering, the group used their new smart phone app to check back into the U.S. on the day they returned to Pelee, but didn’t get approved until three days later. We think they were wandering around the U.S. illegally if they didn’t wait by their boat until they got formal entry notification.
A few liberties may have been taken in writhing this story to make it more exciting than it really was. We will leave what is not believable up to the imagination of the reader. Names have been changed for those planning to take the 5th.
As Seen in the January 2019 edition of the Put-in-Bay Gazette