33 - In the Midst of Giants

I waved into the murk. "It's the bloody Rock of Gibraltar! It has got to be here. I can't believe we didn't hit it."

"It is in this, this how you call it, soup of peas."

Rock of Gibraltar with LNG carrier photo Elena and Meg photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-1] Daytime warming burns off an oily fog revealing lurking, metallic giants and The Rock of Gibraltar.

We could barely see our bow. Never mind the fabled Rock, anchored tankers, or ships about to run us down. We were navigating by finger poking a handheld GPS and eyeballing the magnetic compass. No electricity, meant no onboard instruments, like the depth sounder. Elena jigged for the bottom using her fishing pole and a weight. We thought it might keep us from running aground and was better than nothing. As for ships; ponderously slow wakes out of nowhere, subsonic throbbing and a heavy smell of scorched bitumen proved without a doubt, we were lurking blind in the midst of giants.

With daytime warming, the milky outlines of dozens of anchored ships coalesced from the smog. Then finally, the rock of Gibraltar itself. A pillar of Hercules? Not bloody likely! Slashed with roads, skewered by antennae, festooned with power lines and development, it looked more like an industrially scarred, tailings pile.

I didn't share Jon's overwhelming confidence in Gibraltar's friendliness toward wayward sailors. To be on the safe side, I stuffed a wad of friendly-making twenties in my pocket. He instructed us to tie to a specific dock, and for me -- as the captain, and having a passport that wouldn't get me shot on sight -- to enter the marina office with our papers and documents. He reckoned,the worst they could do was ask Elena to stay on board.

I jumped to the dock and tied the lines, while Elena sat, wraith-like, in the cockpit with the motor running. The marina's office was in a floating building a few docks over, up a flight of cantilevered, steel stairs. Getting to it was interesting. My legs appeared to have atrophied or forgotten how to walk a straight line in a stable environment. Behind the counter, a youngish man flipped through a magazine, munching a sandwich. "Allo allo allo! You off that pretty, little Beneteau, just pulled in?"

Hearing a voice that wasn't mine or Elena's was jarring. "Yes, that would be me. I mean, I am me. I mean, yes, I am from that Beneteau. That white one, out there. There on the dock. Me and my partner. She is waiting on the boat. I am the captain. Yeah, the skipper. Well, you know, someone has to come here first to check-in before anyone can get off. Right?" Astonishingly, I'd managed not to actually swallow my tongue.

Approach to Gibraltar by Sea photo by Elena and Meg photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-2] The Rock of Gibraltar looks pretty much like an industrially scarred tailings pile.

"Doesn't matter to me. Anyone can get off, stay on. Don't care, long as the parking's paid." He slid a photocopied rate sheet toward me. "You staying long? Telling ya right now, we don't got any long term space."Might hafta raft ya. By the way, where did you sail from?"

"Turkey." I wondered how that would turn out.

"Nah, ham. Can't stomach turkey, chicken, fish. It's rubbish. I am a red meat bloke all the way through." He waved the sandwich at me. "Beneteau looks like it's seen some weather. You come far?"

"Uh yeah, from Turkey. The country, it's in West Asia."

He stopped chewing. Looked at me like I just told him I had the plague.

"The Middle East? I know where it is. I just wondered where your last stop was."

Oh crap. "Yeah, that was our last stop. It's where we left from. A place called Marmaris, it is in Turkey."

"You taking the piss!? Saying this is your first stop, mate!?"

"Ah, yeah." Through the office windows, I watched Elena sitting dead still in the cockpit.

"Turkey ain't European union. Christ, you gotta clear in!"

"That's why I am here, with our papers. I thought the marina clears us in."

"Nope, but I can call em for ya. Start you on the forms to fill. Let's see your passports, boat reg, insurance docs." He crammed what was left of the ham sandwich into his mouth. "Oye, what's this?" He fanned himself with Elena's passport.

"It's Russian."

"Never seen one of these before." He flipped through the pages. "Bugger me, she gotta have a visa!"

"She won't set foot off the boat if she's not allowed in the country. No problem." I invoked Jon's worst-case scenario.

"Oh ya, problem! She don't got a bleeding visa, coppers'll nick the two of you, quick as you please."

"So, we can't stop here?"

"You already did! You are here, ain't ya? I got to report it, don't I? Lose my job, I will."

"Please, our boat's a mess. We have to cross the Atlantic. I just need some charts, fuel and water. I have money. Is that what you want?" I was pathetic.

An older man in coveralls came in. He had been talking to Elena, jotting things down on a clipboard. "Fourteen metres. I can put em into D-12 til Billy gets back." Then he saw the marina clerk on the phone, snatched our papers from under his nose and shoved them at me. "You have to go! He's calling the police on you."

Gibraltar with a bunch of yachts photo by Elena Vaytsel photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-3] Elena snapped this photo at the dock in Gibraltar while waiting for Meg.

Halfway down the stairs, I jumped, taking the rest in free-fall. "Untie us!" I leapt onto the drifting yacht and shoved the throttle forward.

Elena hit the deck backwards. "What's happening!?"

"We're screwed! The cops are after us!"

"Us, or me?" Elena crawled to the cockpit.

"What's the difference? Last I heard from Jon, Spanish territory was our fail-safe." I pointed across an airport's runway slicing across the peninsula and into the bay itself. "He said Spain probably won't cooperate with Gibraltar. Let's hope he's at least right about that!"

A boulder embankment marked the end of the runway. Beyond that, the western approach -- for aircraft -- was cordoned off by floating markers. I saw macaroni and cheese coloured buildings and anchored yachts to the north. That was Spain. Something big was lined up on final, flaps, slats and wheels down. I steered hard right into the forbidden approach zone. Colliding with an airliner wasn't my biggest concern at that moment.

Elena stood watch among the anchored small craft in Spanish water. I plunged down the companionway, listening for VHF radio calls, the roar of speedboats, helicopters or Elena's cries. At that point, we were ready to run Boadicea aground and hide out in Spain. Anything was better than giving up. We had come way too far. It was a bloody good thing the sun was up. I wired the sat-comm to the solar panels and emailed Jon.

His response was immediate and along the lines of: "You're going nowhere with the boat in that condition. You still have fuel? Find a Spanish dock. Let Elena off to make a refugee claim in SPAIN. You might lose the boat, but it's better than losing your lives."

Cheesy buildings near Gibraltar photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-4] The cheesy colored buildings Meg and Elena fled toward in Spanish waters.

"A refugee claim? From what do I need asylum?" She asked.

"From Russia, obviously!"

"I will be a refugee. Maybe not deported to Russia, but to prison or camp. We will be apart. You will be a criminal for this. I will be here, without you! Without Boadicea. Why to even consider!?" Elena gripped the wheel, stared straight ahead.

"Jon is right! We can't cross the Atlantic with the boat like this. We won't bloody make it."

"Make it?"

"Alive!" I snapped. "We won't make it across alive." I took a deep breath. What was I doing to her? I put my hand on one of hers. She was white-knuckled to the wheel. It was like I wasn't even there. "I think that's why Jon suggests giving up, living to fight another day. I agree, in Spain, we'll be at the mercy of officials, they'll arrest us, but they aren't going to kill us. The Atlantic probably will."

"Meg! There is no life for me without you. I do not want to die. But do you not think we can do this? Do not you believe in us, like you have always believed that nothing can stop us? It seems there is nothing impossible. Look how far we have gone already! We have crossed the entire Mediterranean. It is a huge distance. Nobody in Russia would believe if I told them we did this." She wiped away tears with the back of a hand. Then she looked at me, wiped at my own wet cheeks. "Look, Meg, the last island is Cape Verde. From there to Caribbean islands is only couple-thousand miles. Just another Mediterranean for us."

"That's no Mediterranean. It's an ocean. A huge body of water. Nothing stops the waves and they get bigger than anything we've seen so far. There is nothing to stop weather fronts and storms from growing. They sweep across the surface like runaway trains, gathering speed and force. It won't be like gales in Greece. Forty-five knots is nothing. A hurricane can pack winds of eighty, ninety, even more than a hundred knots. That's faster than any car on any highway." I stopped, looked around. "And Lenna, Boadicea is a wreck. I don't know how much further it will go."

Anchored ships in the bay of Gibraltar photo Elena and Meg photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-5] Hiding among anchored ships in Spanish waters.

"We can try to fix it. You can fix anything. We just need to get to the next islands. The Canary Islands, maybe ten days. We can survive that. We have a chance of surviving, of being with each other out there, but what are the chances in Spain?"

"The chance of not being dead."

"Ach, what do I know about this country? How do I know what they will do to me? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I know the sea. I know its moods, its weather, and Meg, I know how to sail now. I am not so afraid any more. I can react to the sea, deal with what it throws at me. It makes sense. It has no malice. It just is nature. But in the hands of immigration officers, officials, I am at the mercy of people. I cannot change or affect my fate there. I am trapped. I am powerless. I am a victim." She let go of the wheel and bent toward the shore, hands out as if imploring it to answer. "Can you tell to me that I will be safe there?"

I opened my mouth to speak but had no words.

Elena went on. "I have only three things now: you; me; and this boat that keeps us alive and brings us home. If I leave the boat and stay here, I lose everything."

The idling ships and oil refineries stank of fire and brimstone. I took a huge, deep breath. Elena was absolutely right. I couldn't leave her either. Regardless of how it all started back in Kiev, or even online. Everything we did was about being together and to "Live as (we) wanted!" Ironically, those were Olga's last cursed words to Elena at the police station. The Canadian vice-consul didn't get it -- or couldn't acknowledge it. Sinem got it. Elena was certain of it. I leaned on my programming, conditioning, arrogance; my self-righteous, ultra-trendy coolness. Hiding from what it was really all about. Everything that had happened: the unfathomable risk; the limitless expense; the reckless abandon, it had always been about love.

I put my hand on Elena's and eased the throttle forward. The motor increased in speed, and khaki water churned behind the transom.

The rock of Gibralter seen from the Strait of Gibraltar while facing east photo elenameg.com

[Image 33-6] A look back at the rock of Gibraltar while heading into the Atlantic.

[[ updated -- photos Apr 24, 18:00 GMT ]]