Capturing another sailboat in Greece

Greece, Peleponnese, Sailing

Happy teak deck (2018)

Our teak deck had been laid in 2001, when the boat was new. It was definitely getting a bit old now. The wood was wearing thin in places, but overall still okay. However, something strange had happened to the black caulking between the strips of teak. When the intense Mediterranean sun was shining on the deck, heating it to silly temperatures so you couldn't walk barefoot, the black caulking was going sticky, reverting more or less to its original, liquid state. Only a few small spots at first, which I initially scraped out, cleaned up and then re-caulked, but this summer it was getting out of hand and starting to appear in larger patches. One such patch was on the starboard side of the foredeck, and we just avoided stepping there as much as possible.

Sailing to Koroni

After having a lovely time in our remote island hideout, we went up the first gulf between the fingers of the southern Peleponnese, the Kolpos Messiniakos (Messenian gulf). The first stop here was Koroni, where the following drama played out. We'd anchored in the big bay, between a few moored fishing boats and some other yachts at anchor. Behind us a large rocky breakwater provided shelter from easterly swell and wind. Cozy place and we were the first boat behind the breakwater, so upwind of everyone else, which is our preference.

Chirp in tow

Unfortunately this didn't last long. We had planned to visit the town by dinghy, but before we could get ready, the wind shifted to the northwest, picked up and some fetch started to build. We now were downwind of everyone, with a breakwater behind us. Not our preferred situation, but not normally a problem, as we do set our anchor properly and test it with full reverse on the engine, so we know it holds. The problems usually arise from other people not caring so much about their anchoring, as happened that day.

The wind was perhaps 20-25 knots with some higher gusts, nothing dramatic, but a small boat upwind started to slowly come closer, which meant its anchor must be dragging. It was first heading for a catamaran, but as the wind shifted direction, it started to head for our bow. We fired up our engine and grabbed some fenders. The boat was now close enough for us to see their open companionway and some swimwear hanging around, so we expected they were below and hadn't yet noticed they were dragging. We shouted to raise their attention, but nobody showed up. Uh oh.

Okay I thought, we'd get out of the way while we still can. Elvyra took the helm and I went to the bow to operate the windlass. We picked up most of our chain, getting very close to the dragging sailboat in doing so, but weren't quite at our anchor yet when much to my surprise, the windlass stopped with a clunk and the chain was now rigid, going straight down. Stuck on something, damnit! The other boat had meanwhile dragged further and was right ahead of us. I still couldn't see anyone on board and there was no tender, so I had to assume they had left everything open and gone to town, probably sitting in a taverna enjoying a beer and having no idea what was happening to their boat.

This was not good. We couldn't leave quickly (abandoning the anchor gear was an option, but would mean spooling out all 75m of chain, which takes a while). We couldn't avoid the boat, which was swinging left and right directly in front of us, and even if we did manage that, their anchor would drag through our chain and get entangled. Not to mention the breakwater behind us now making me a little nervous. I had to think for a minute. This wasn't helped by loud shouting in French from the catamaran. Neither of us speaks French and we had no idea what he wanted, but it wasn't helping, so I ignored him and focused on the problem.

We seemed to be stuck on something, preventing us from leaving, but on the upside, it was holding us very well so there was no worry about ending up on the breakwater ourselves. But if we did nothing, two boats swinging on anchor chains in the same place would inevitably bang into each other. The only way I could think of to save both our and the dragging boat was to capture it, forestalling any violent collisions. I explained the plan to Elvyra and we deployed all of our eight fenders on our starboard side. I then went forward, let out a good amount of chain so we had room to maneouvre and got two of our mooring lines ready, one on the bow and one on the stern cleat. Then I motored us up to the other boat, slowly and carefully, trying to predict the way it would swing on its anchor. After a few missed attempts, we got close enough and Elvyra managed to get the rope around one of their bow cleats, so now the boat swiveled into our prepared fenders and we could get the other rope on the stern. Both boats were now peacefully rafted up side by side.

Adrenaline ebbing, I put the throttle in neutral and let both boats fall back on our chain, which held even with two boats now hanging off it. Time to see what we were caught on. I picked up some chain again to shorten the distance, then got my fins and mask and jumped in. The depth was only 4.5m and I soon spotted the problem. We were stuck on a very large engine block, probably from a truck. You might wonder what that was doing in the sea, but it's not unusual to use big, heavy chunks of scrap metal as mooring for fishing boats (and then leave them there forever). Our chain had caught in a pipe that was jutting out from this engine block.

I untangled us, went up for air and then had a look at the other boat's anchor. Following their chain, I found a yellow painted plough type anchor, which had left a shallow track where it must've bounced along the seafloor without setting. I gave it some assistance by picking it up and ramming the tip in the ground as hard as I could. Between that and the boat now having stopped, even a Delta anchor should manage to set. Back aboard, we picked up our anchor, so the raft was now held by the draggy Delta, which seemed eager to prove itself this time. Thus ensured, we slipped the lines from our captive and proceeded to re-anchor ourselves on the other side of the bay, upwind and well clear of everyone else. Passing another boater who must've observed the whole ordeal, we got a thumbs up and applause.

We never met the crew from the other boat, but once the wind had settled down we did see a dinghy heading in that direction from town. We wonder if they even noticed their boat had moved. In the unlikely case they should read this: You're welcome and sorry for crushing that $3 solar garden light you had zip-tied to your rail.

Foredeck gunk spread everywhere

Oh, and remember how I was talking about our sticky deck caulking earlier? The area we were avoiding to step on happened to be right where Elvyra had to nimbly dance around while capturing the stray vessel. So of course the stuff went everywhere and we spent an hour cleaning it off her feet, knees and legs with a lot of cleaning alcohol. And we never even made it ashore in Koroni.

Caulked feet. This comes off only with cleaning alcohol.