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36 - In the Midst of Giants

"It's the freaking Rock of Gibraltar! It's gotta be there." I waved my hiker's GPS. "I can't believe we didn't hit it... yet."

"It is in this, this whatever you called it... Soup of peas."

Rock of Gibraltar with LNG carrier photo Elena and Meg
Daytime warming burns off an oily fog revealing lurking, metallic giants and The Rock of Gibraltar.

We could barely see our own bow. Never mind the fabled Rock, anchored tankers or ships about to run us down. It was all up to finger poking on an itty-bitty, handheld GPS. Damn good thing Bernadette tossed it into that apple box from home. Elena used fishing line and a weight to check for depth. Correlating our depth with the chart was one way to keep from running aground. No electrical system: no depth sounder. 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 freighters coalesced from the murk. Then finally, the rock of Gibraltar itself: a pillar of Hercules!? Slashed with roads, skewered by antennae, it looked more like an industrially scarred, tailings pile.

Jon's overwhelming confidence in Gibraltar's friendliness toward wayward sailors was all we had to go on. To be on the safe side, I stuffed a wad of friendly-making twenties in my pocket. He had 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 gathered, the worst they would do was ask Elena to stay on board.

I jumped to the dock and tied the lines. Elena sat in the cockpit, wraith-like, with the engine running. Walking more than a couple meters in one direction was interesting. My legs didn't work right. Who in hell turned up Earth's gravity!? The office was up a flight of steel stairs, cantilevered off a floating building. Behind the counter, a youngish man flipped through a magazine, munching a sandwich. "Allo allo allo! You off that pretty 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 mean my sailing partner, that is. 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?" I damn near swallowed my tongue.

Approach to Gibraltar by Sea photo by Elena and Meg
The Rock of Gibraltar looks 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 and your sailing partner 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?"

"Ah, ah, aaah, Turkey?"

"Nah, ham. Can't stomach turkey, chicken, fish... it's rubish. 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 shit. "Yeah, that was our last stop. It's where we left from. A place called Marmaris, it is in Turkey."

"You taking a piss on me!? Saying this is your first stop!?"

Bollocks, we were toast! Jon never met this guy. "Yes, this is our first stop." I saw Elena through the office windows. She sat in the cockpit, shoulders hunched. Dead still.

"That's a long way. It ain't European union. Kroyst, you gotta clear in. Got your passports, registration, insurance?"

"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 papers." Narked, he crammed what was left of the sandwich into his mouth. "Oye, what's this?" Crumbs flew. He fanned himself with Elena's passport.

"It's Russian."

"Hello? You don't say. Never seen one of these before." He flipped through the pages. "Bugger me, she gotta have a visa!"

"She won't set a 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, water and a few repairs. We'll die out there without them. 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 meters. I can put em into D-12 til Billy gets back."

Gibraltar with a bunch of yachts photo by Elena Ivanova
Elena snapped this photo at the dock in Gibraltar while waiting for Meg.

The ham sandwich bloke had the phone, and was rattling off data from Elena's passport.

The older man snatched the passport and our papers from the guy on the phone. "You have to go, right now! He is on the phone with the police."

Half way down the stairs I jumped, taking the rest in free fall. "Untie us!" I screamed. I leaped 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 planes -- was cordoned off by floating markers. I saw macaroni and cheese colored 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 no-go approach zone. Colliding with an airliner wasn't my biggest concern.

Elena stood watch among the anchored small craft in Spanish territorial water. I plunged down the companionway like a gopher down its hole. I was listening for VHF radio calls, the roar of speedboats, helicopters or Elena's warning. We were ready to run Boadicea aground at full speed and make a run for it in Spain. Damn 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
The cheesy colored buildings Meg and Elena fled toward in Spanish waters.

"A refugee claim? He wants me to ask for asylum? From what do I need asylum?" She asked.

"From Russia, obviously! If you get caught, they will deport you to Russia!"

"As refugee, what then? Maybe not deported to Russia, but to prison camp. We will be apart. You will be criminal for this. I will be here, without you! Without Boadicea. Why to do this, Meg? 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 out 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 always believe nothing can stop us? It seems there is nothing impossible for you. For us. Look how far we have gone already! We have crossed 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
Hiding among anchored ships in Spanish waters.

"We can try to fix it. You can fix anything. We just need to get to 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 now. 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 her. "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 Kyiv, 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 absolutely 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 engine increased in speed and khaki water churned behind the transom.

The rock of Gibralter seen from the Strait of Gibraltar while facing east
A look back at the rock of Gibraltar while heading into the Atlantic.

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