After a lovely two weeks in Turkey we left Bozborun, slightly perturbed by a loud knocking sound as the anchor came up. We quickly attributed it to the dinghy hitting the bow as it swung forwards and happily set sail for Symi, Greece. We had the sails up the whole way.
After completing the paperwork formalities, we set off to deliver Josh and Erin the 50 miles to Kos, as the winds were forecast to be favourable. After a fairly slow and hot start out of Symi bay, we were soon tonking along in strong winds at 7.5kts. Almost as soon as the wind appeared, it died and came only in fits and starts. On starting the engine there was a terrible noise and on further investigation black oil and sea water were gushing into the engine bilge. On selecting forward or reverse gears there were awful grinding and grating noises. The engine would not help us. The swell was too great to deploy the dinghy. Oh, bugger!
The swell was rapidly pushing us closer to the rocks. Finally, we were resigned to the fact that we would need an emergency tow.
Whilst the option to call for help is well-organised and the coastguard response prompt and professional, the consequences of calling them out can be far-reaching, as we were soon to discover.
Once you have called them, their obligation is to organise a tow to the nearest safe harbour. In our case this was to be Symi, a harbour where we knew we would not be able to be repaired as there are no haul out facilities for yachts. Once in the harbour, they impound your boat and take your documents until such a time as you have had the problem fixed.
Soon we were in an endless cycle of;
Port Authority: “You cannot leave until you have the engine fixed.”
Us: “We cannot get the engine fixed here and we must go to Kos or Rhodes.”
Port Authority: “You cannot go until you have the engine fixed.”
We already had an offer from the fishing boat that brought us back to Symi, to tow us to Rhodes. But the paperwork involved in issuing a Towing Certificate is significant. It transpired that the fishing boat did not have sufficient horse power on its papers to comply with the Ministry of Port Police regulations.
Another boat that was willing to tow us was found and negotiations ensued AND he had the required horsepower, too. But no, this was still not adequate. The Port Police were now insisting that we use a professional tug boat company from Rhodes. The quote for this service was 750 Euros an hour plus VAT for a job that will probably take about ten hours. A quick calculation gives a total fee of around E10000!
We tried every possible tack. Wonderful friends and neighbours from our winter mooring base in Sicily offered messages of support and suggestions as to how we should proceed.
So, we tried to make a temporary repair guided by clear instructions and diagrams from Allan and Bruce. Ian dived under the boat to fill the hole in the sail drive with epoxy putty and cover it with self-amalgamating tape. We pumped out burnt oil and sea water from the gear box and replaced it with bio-degradable vegetable oil. Now we had two methods of propulsion and a working mast and sails but the necessary certification could not be granted even to let us go to Rhodes for proper repairs.
Inevitably we toyed with the idea of absconding to Turkey about 10 miles away but the harbour here in Symi is small and everyone knows our predicament due to effective jungle drums. The port police and the coastguard have offices on either side of the entrance to the harbour. The harbour is at the head of a huge bay, the sheer size of which would hamper our chances of a rapid departure without being seen.
We did not want to be arrested!
So we continued with discussions and negotiations about a tug boat.
We managed to whittle the price down a bit but it was still a massive amount. We had no option but to agree to the charge being held to ransom, as it were.
The port police added in hurdles every time we spoke. We were told that the first towing certificate we received from our surveyor had expired so he would need to issue a new one.
Next, we are told that the Captain of the tug boat would only be given permission to leave Rhodes once the Port Police had viewed the latest weather report and agreed that it was safe to tow us and that the whole operation must be completed within a twelve hour time frame.
Additionally, we are not allowed to have our boat papers back until this permission has been given and the Captain of the tug boat had signed some paperwork and been fully rubber-stamped in the Port Police office here in Symi. A process that was bound to take time, for which we would be paying!
To add to the irony of the situation, the tug boat was HUGE. It was 31m long, 11m wide and weighs 400T. It had 4500HP engines. It was so big that it couldn’t even enter the harbour in Symi to pick us up. So, we had to manoeuvre out in to the bay using our temporarily fixed engine, to the precise point from which we could easily sail! Hmmm? When we arrived in Rhodes we would be dropped near the boat yard and would have to motor in to the slips. Talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The rigid following of procedures and rules to the letter, with no logical thought about the type of boat and the individual circumstances, has been incredibly frustrating and stressful.
Anyway, the day of the tow was selected and the tug duly arrived. Once we had directed the crew of the tug boat as to how they should rig their substantial towing line to our bridle and what distance to leave between our two vessels the tow went very smoothly. ( See our blog on How to rig a bridle when your yacht is to be towed.)
The weather was kind to us and the swell was a minimal 60cm, even in the Rhodes Channel. We arrived within four hours and the tug was able to drop us very close to the slips.
The yard stayed open a little later than normal and we were soon in the cradle and lifted out on the hard.
Twenty days after breaking down we had arrived in Rhodes.