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Hostage on the Lycian coast

Mar 24, 2016

A voyager spends an uneasy night following an incident with a Turkish fisherman

Bill Morris’ Cal 30 Saltaire at anchor during his circumnavigation.

Bill Morris’ Cal 30 Saltaire at anchor during his circumnavigation.

Bill Morris

The red and green running lights of dozens of purse seiner fishing boats dotted the Lycian coast of Turkey. It was a cloudless night in early summer and after many hours of motoring with little to eat, it was difficult to anticipate where the nets lay beneath the black surface of the Aegean.  

 My Cal 30 Saltaire had motored for many hours from the tiny anchorage at Bayindir Limani to the city of Fethiye, weaving around the nets on a northbound track. The distant glow of Fethiye was a welcome sight. By sunrise, I would be dropping anchor in a well-protected harbor.

Having passed the horde of gently bobbing lights, I turned northeast toward the coast. One seiner remained and I cut in a bit closer, trusting my instincts to skirt around the wide invisible net. Saltaire raced ahead but after a few minutes, though, she lost speed, as if motoring through porridge. I stared into the water, looking for an obstruction, but saw only the dark ripple of Saltaire’s bow wave.

To get a closer look, I throttled back and shifted to neutral. Saltaire coasted a few yards and then came to a stop. Then oddly, she began moving in reverse. “What in blast is going on?” I throttled forward again to pull away. The boat bolted ahead for a moment and then slowed to a stop. I pulled back into neutral, and again she drifted backward.

Then Saltaire slowly drifted sideways toward the coast, driven by an unseen force. The seiner a couple miles away slowly chugged toward the starlit horizon, and Saltaire followed behind.

I jumped into the cabin and barked into the VHF handset, “Fishing vessel heading east, this is the sailing vessel Saltaire!”

“Go ahead, Saltaire.” Thank God he spoke English.

Ten minutes later, a large wooden Turkish vessel pulled up alongside me. 

The captain stood near the fish hold and commanded, “Do not touch the controls of your vessel. I will tow you to a safe place to wait until morning.”

Having survived a boarding by Somali pirates only three months earlier, my internal radar sensed a threat. Wielding a hunting knife, I clearly stated my intentions: “Captain, I need to get into the water immediately to cut the net away from my prop and resume course. I regret any damage I may do to your net.”

Turkey’s Lycian coast.

“I cannot allow you to do that,” he responded, stone-faced and resolute. “You will allow us to tow you to a safe place along the coast until morning.”   

“Sir,” I stood firm, “this is an American sailing vessel, I am in international waters and I have every right to free my boat and resume course.”

The Turk stared at me, sizing me up, quietly appraising the situation. Calmly, he responded, “If your life is that cheap, go ahead and dive. As you say, it is your vessel, and you have every right to do as you please.”

“Thank you, Captain.” I peered into the dark water and could not make out a single thread of the monofilament mesh wrapped around the hull. He was right. Once into that nest, there would be no escape. A strange thought came over me: I was permitted to leave but was not able to leave. In an odd twist of fate, I had become a hostage.

“Skipper,” he now pleaded, “please do not dive.”

Three hours later, Saltaire was 100 yards from the rocks, anchored only by the mass of fishing net bunched around her hull. The Turk returned at daybreak as promised. Donning a mask and snorkel, and using only his bare hands, he freed Saltaire’s prop without coming up once for air. 

Standing aboard his vessel, the captain announced dryly, “You are free to proceed, Skipper.”

I called out, swallowing my pride as the seiner backed away, “Thank you, Captain. You are a true professional.”

He smiled stiffly and turned toward open sea, a faintly visible net trailing his stern.

Bill Morris completed a circumnavigation, mostly single-handed, aboard his 1966 Cal 30 Saltaire. Morris authored The Windvane Self-Steering Handbook.

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