Monday, 5 June 2017

Halyard Havoc and More About Refugees

After a calm night at anchor in the harbor of Aquilas, we knew we were in for a calm day for the 30 mile sail to Cartagena, so we decided it was time to break out the gennaker. After much heaving and gruntinig to extract the puffy sack from the forward cabin and after rigging all the pulleys and lines needed to make it work, we discovered that the spinnaker halyard that we use to hoist the gennaker was somehow trapped in between the genoa halyard and the mast. It had clearly been this way since we left Gibraltar. With the binoculars I could tell something was wrong but with no details. A photo from my trusty Olympus Tough Camera set to 16 megapixels revealed all once the image was blown up on the computer screen.

Apparently, when we hoisted the genoa, we didn’t think about the spinnaker halyard because all seemed clear, and, well, we just didn’t think about it. Our options were to either take down the genoa headsail far enough to pass the spinnaker halyard around, or to climb the mast and pass the spinnaker halyard around the genoa halyard by hand, neither of which I was keen to do at anchor.

We headed off, disgruntled, in light winds and prepared to put up the main sail, more for show and a little shade than for its wind-capturing abilities. Today was to be the day when all of the halyards conspire against us. The main sail halyard had wrapped itself around the deck lamp on the front of the mast and was, as we say back home, “stuck but good”. I must have left too much slack in it after taking down my riding sail and the feeble winds in the anchorage were just enough to loop it around the lamp. We tried a variety of tricks, turning the boat into the wind, to the side, to the rear with no success. Finally we used our longest boat hook and Patrick climbed our 2 mast steps to reach as high as possible to try to swing it out and around the lamp. After a few painful attempts, he managed to loosen it enough that we could pull it around. No fun, but no harm done either. Afterwards, I thought another method would be to hoist a fender (with lines attached to both ends) and the bulk of the fender would force the halyard to go out and around. Anyway, it’s always something.

And then we were in for 7 hours of motor “sailing”.

Heard on the radio: 20 people adrift on a rubber raft approaching Cartagena, exact position unknown. Everyone asked to keep an eye out for them and report any sightings.

I knew that the Med was having a refugee crisis. We hear about it on the news in France often, but I had no idea of the extent, and no idea that Spain was on the front lines, although it makes geographic sense. Here in Europe, we always hear about Italy’s crisis, but judging by the radio calls, Spain is responding to daily rescues.

The recommendation for sailors who see a refugee raft is to stay as far away as possible and to call the authorities to report their position. When the refugees see boats, even a small sailboat like ours, they assume it is safer than the rubber raft they are in, and they have been known to jump into the water and try to swim to your boat. More extreme stories report that the refugees set fire to their raft, trying to force you to respond. But rescuing them puts YOU in danger. Our sailboat, for example, is stability rated for only about 8 adults. Putting 20 panicked adults on board risks capsizing your boat and there’s no way to control such a situation by saying “women and children only” in that kind of drama.

Here in Cartagena, a Dutch friend who wintered over began working as a volunteer for an NGO that deals with these refugees when they arrive. She teaches basic Spanish, but mostly ends up translating from French or English into Spanish for the various aid organizattions. She has some horrific stories about what the refugees are fleeing and what they went through to reach the Spanish coast. It seems crazy to most of us simply watching the drama unfold on the tv why they keep coming here when they are almost always picked up by the coast guard and returned back to where they came from.

In fact, it’s not that simple. First of all, as my friend points out, most of the ones making the journey don’t have television and don’t know the real risks or what happens. There seem to be two or three outcomes depending on where the refugees are from and their situations. They typically destroy all of their identity documents so that it is not possible to easily identify where they come from. Anyone who is clearly Moroccan usually gets sent back since it’s close by. But often the authorities simply inform the refugee that he does not have the right to stay on Spanish soil and that he must go home. Huh? No plane ticket, no bus ticket, no rubber dinghy… just “go home”. Then there are the refugees that ask for asylum and begin a long and uncertain process of trying to legalize their claims to stay. Spain is a particularly attractive landing place for refugees since it is faster to qualify for health care, get jobs in the fishing or agriculture industries, and nationality is attributed to foreign spouses of Spanish nationals after only 3 years. My friend says most of the fruits and vegetables grown in Spain and eaten all throughout Europe were almost certainly picked by workers who were once refugees. So many of the refugees are getting through and are able to eek out a living once the ordeal of the crossing is over (and much to the benefit of the European economy, I suspect).

Patrick and I asked ourselves what we would do if we saw a boat, or worse, a body. It’s hard to accept that we are here living a dream in a place where people are literally dying all around us. My knee-jerk reaction is to say we’ll leave the Med and go somewhere else out of some confused sense of solidarity, but how would this help anyone? As we make our way along the coast, we get further away from the passage points and the refugee crisis will likely fade into a scrapbook memory. It leaves me feeling sad and helpless and a little bit ashamed. 

And now, back to our vacation.  News from Cartagena forthcoming... we thoroughly enjoyed it.

4 comments: said...

What a fascinating inside look on this international crisis. We feel so removed from it here, except that we are dealing with our own crisis of identity and immigration response. It's a complicated and sad world sometimes and it would be easy to allow our collective guilt to land squarely on our own shoulders and fail to live our own dream. I do think you are making the best choice you can by carrying on. I'm going to share your post on my FB wall for others to read. It's so easy for us to just see headlines and make knee jerk responses rather than look deeper at the issues. Fair winds to you. I hope you do not run into any refugee boats, simply because there would be so little you could do to help.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks LCP. I think we're out of "the zone" and shouldn't reach another crossing point until Italy and Greece. Sad and terrible situation.

popsi kopper said...

Well, no matter if you sail in the med or have sit in a café in Paris, you're living the dream of all those poor guys in the rubber boats. Actually, having coffee and madeleines in a café in Paris is closer to their dream than sitting on Mareda.

As to what to do if you spot them is very easy: You stand off, inform the MRCC about their coordinates and make sure you don't put yourself into danger. That's the only possible action. Organisations with bigger ships specially on the lookout for fugitives do that and they don't let those rafts or rubber boats closer. Here's an example how people knowing what to do handle things:

So please don't kill yourself and don't feel bad.

Sailing Mareda said...

Hey Popsi - you are definitely right (most of them never want to see a boat again, even one as elegant as Mareda !) The video is chilling. We wouldn't even think about going near one of these rafts if we can avoid it, so no heroics for us, don't worry. Hope your Med cruising is going well, too !