I reported yesterday that, despite the best efforts of the US airline industry to thwart me, I did manage to arrive at Cabarete with my Black Diamond carbon-fiber low-profile high-stiffness tiller (with titanium chafe plate) along with associated 48" Fatso Junior oval-cross-section peel-ply-finish tiller extension (with fully rotating omniflex universal joint).
This is a big deal. We Laser sailors treaure our tillers and not only so that we can recognize each other when wandering lost around international airports by the fact that we are all carrying our 48" long cylindrical packages. These carbon fiber tillers really do give a lighter, smoother, more sensitive feel on the helm than the clunky old aluminum ones we used to use.
But there was a surprise.
When I opened the package containing my tiller there was a little note inside from the TSA saying that they had opened the parcel and inspected it but not removed anything. Phew. That's a relief.
For those non-American readers who may not know, the TSA is the Transport Security Administration, the fine men and women whom we rely upon to keep us safe when we travel by air. Prior to Sep 11 2001, in line with the best principles of the free market, a mish-mash of various private companies were responsible for security screening at airports in the USA. After said private companies somehow managed to allow fifteen middle-eastern gentlemen to carry a number of box-cutters on to four airplanes (you never know when you might need a box-cutter to open the free bag of peanuts on the flight) the US government decided, in line with the best principles of government accountability, to take over security screening themselves and created the TSA.
Not everybody thinks this was a good move.
Personally I have nothing but praise for the efficiency and cheerfulness with which the TSA agents always check out my shoes for hidden bombs and force my wife to dispose of her bottle of drinking water before every flight. It's not easy separating a woman from her bottle, you know.
But the TSA's critics harp on such issues as employees being found asleep on the job, spending of federal funds on lavish parties, and failures to detect fake bombs carried by undercover TSA agents. Hey, nobody's perfect.
Then there was the famous case where a frustrated passenger decided to have a bit of fun at the expense of the TSA Administrator Kip Hawley by scrawling in black indelible ink on the regulation quart size clear plastic Ziploc bag in which we are allowed to carry travel-size toiletries on board, "Kip Hawley is an IDIOT". Naturally this witty chap was detained for a few minutes by TSA agents while they established that he was not (a) an Islamic jihadist, (b) off his meds, or (c) another of those damn undercover TSA agents trying to test us. For some reason, said witty gentleman thought that this brief detention was a violation of his constitutional rights and like all red-blooded Americans these days whose constitutional rights are violated he went and posted about it on an Internet forum.
Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes.
Apparently some eagle-eyed TSA agent at Newark airport must have spotted on his X-ray machine a suspicious looking package consisting of two long PVC pipes taped together, each containing some mysterious black substance. What could it be? A pipe bomb? A homing device for shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles? Another test fake bomb from those damn undercover TSA agents trying to test us?
Anyway, better safe than sorry. Eagle Eye opened up my tiller package and satisfied himself that it was just another one of those weird sticks carried by those guys with unseasonal tans and over-developed quad muscles, and he let it pass.
Thanks dude. Have a nice day.