An unfortunate set of circumstances this week has left me in a very different, and rather more difficult position than if the same thing had happened six months’ ago.
As professional yacht delivery crew my job is to take other people’s boats from one place to another. Often these places are in two different countries, but, prior to 31 December 2020, as long as these two places were within the EU, the most difficult part of the job was concerning the vessel itself.
I am currently in Greece as an ‘illegal alien’, due in no small part to Brexit. Almost two weeks ago my skipper and I flew into Thessaloniki, Northern Greece, having taken a PCR test, which came back negative (and cost £139), less than 72 hours before arrival, and upon disembarking the plane was subject to a rapid flow test before being officially allowed into the country.
All of this was to be expected, and indeed it was nice to see a country taking the virus so seriously. At passport control I was a little sad to have my passport stamped, and I must admit this was the first time Brexit had really hit home for me. It was also a reminder that I only had 89 days remaining in the European Union before I would have to leave, not that I was planning on staying more than a few days.
We hired a car and drove the wonderfully scenic four-hour mountain route to Preveza, on the Ionion coast, where the job would begin. Our task was to repatriate an old 1975 built Swan 411 back to its owner in Devon, a trip which would take the best part of a month, and would see us cross the majority of the Mediterranean, before before turning North up the Atlantic. A pretty standard delivery in all, but one we were most looking forward to.
Before leaving for Sardinia, our first stop to take on more supplies, and around five days’ good sailing, we encountered our first post-Brexit hurdle: clearing out of the country, including having our passports stamped again. This was done within two days, but was still an unnecessary delay, and one that simply didn’t exist before the beginning of the year.
We made the yacht, Coco, ready to leave, but upon starting the engine encountered an issue which required several oil changes. This was done as soon as possible, and by the following morning we were on our way.
Unfortunately luck was not on our side, and within four hours, about 10 nautical miles offshore, we decided to put a reef in the old mainsail and proceeded to lose five of the ancient plastic sliders used to hold the sail to the mast. With no spares on board, but still reasonably close to port we decided we would turn back, buying and fitting new sliders ASAP, and leaving again just as quickly. The idea that we should go through the entire immigration process again simply didn’t cross our minds. I will admit this was a mistake.
Unfortunately it took a full day to source the required parts, and so were not back under way until the Sunday, some five days since getting our passports stamped and ‘clearing out’ of Greece.
This time it was a full nine hours into the journey before disaster struck once more. The bilge was rapidly filling with water from an unknown source, and the electric pump was not doing its job properly. This final catastrophic failure on the part of the vessel cemented our decision to once again turn back to Preveza and abandon the job entirely, the beleagured sailing boat clearly needing a lot more work to be considered seaworthy at all, let alone fit for a 2,500 mile voyage.
Returning to the marina in the early hours of Monday, thoroughly tired and dejected, we planned to inform the authorities of our presence back in the country in the morning, hoping to clear back in to allow us to fly home later in the week.
The immigration official at Preveza police station was not happy. I don’t speak any Greek aside from ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, and ‘thank you’, which I managed to pick up over my short time in the country, however the way he was speaking over the phone to our Hellenic crew member as she tried to explain our situation did not require an interpreter.
In short, his position was that as we did not inform him of our return to the Greek mainland the first time we turned back, our problem was not his, and as such we were completely on our own. A call to the British embassy was similarly unhelpful, as expected, and we are left in the unenviable position of being, as a previously mentioned, ‘illegal aliens’ in a European country.
Today we will travel to Athens in the hope that the immigration office in the capital will be more helpful, if not sympathetic, to our plight. I very well understand that a small oversight, possibly even slight hubris, on our part, has precipitated this predicament. I have to wonder however, is this the Brexit that 52% of the population voted for?
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