Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gunboats and Another Culture

Admiral Maria cooking onboard Aspen at sea

Leaving Crete in 30 knots of wind and some nasty seas.  Maria has the windblown look it seems.

"Israeli Navy this is the sailing vessel Aspen".  "ASPEN from Pine, Colorado in the USA!  We are not armed..."    

Israeli Navy gunboat who just wanted to ask us a few important questions before we got any closer!

Our marina in Israel.  We can't read the flag either.

Captain Steve bringing Aspen into Israel

Admiral Maria on watch, sailing from Crete to Israel

Welcome to Israel!

 A typical beach next to our marina in Israel.  Tel Aviv is about 6 miles down the coast from here.  Maria is happy to be here!

A heavily armed Israeli gunboat circled Aspen, 6 miles off the coast of Israel, as Captain Steve worked the VHF radio answering their questions:

Where did you come from?
Where are you going?
Do you have weapons onboard?
Why are you coming to Israel?

Israel???  What is that, you might ask?

Well, our EU visa was about to expire and we had to leave Crete and the rest of the EU.  We could not return to Turkey because they won’t let us into the country just yet either.  Another visa problem.  These visa issues are really nasty in this part of the world!

We had to go to a non-EU country so that eliminated nearly every country that borders the Mediterranean Sea, except those in northern Africa and the Middle East. 

Our options were limited to Egypt where they are rioting in the streets and fighting for control of the government, Syria but that is a no-brainer with the revolution, Lebanon but they don’t like sailboats in their country and then there is Israel where we heard they have a McDonalds and air conditioning. 

When I mentioned to Maria that we could sail to Israel, Admiral Maria said, “but isn’t it dangerous in Israel and aren’t they shooting missiles and isn’t there talk about Iran doing something bad to Israel?”

These thoughts flashed through my mind as Maria took pictures of the metal gray military gunboat with the big guns motoring just off Aspen’s stern.

How bad could it be, I told Maria when we were sitting in our comfortable slip in Crete.  We have to go somewhere and can’t just hide among the Greek islands until Turkey lets us back in.

With Maria kind of convinced, it took us 4 days to sail from Crete to our position 6 miles off the town of Herzliya, Israel, answering these questions just after sunrise.  We were very tired and running low on fuel besides just wanting to get into the marina and have a Big Mac in an air conditioned restaurant.

The gunboat probably didn’t want to hear Captain Steve’s reasoning but they eventually said that “they are letting us go” and powered away out to sea.  They advised us to check in with Border Control when we got to the marina.

No problem, SIR, Captain Steve calmly replied.

An hour later we found the entrance to Herzliya Marina, the largest marina in Israel.  An Israel gunboat was tied up to the dock and we were told to tie up opposite them.

As soon as we flung our lines to the waiting people on the dock a security person from the gunboat asked Maria to please get off the boat and for Captain Steve to accompany him as he thoroughly searched Aspen.  He found things we forgot we even had in some of the lockers but eventually he gave up trying to find whatever he was searching for and said we were ok and now needed to answer some questions from another security person standing on the dock as he took our passports away for a “routine check”, he said.

The security person on the dock asked general questions like why did we come to Israel?  Did we plan to come to Israel?  What do we want to do in Israel?  Do we know anyone in Israel?

It seems we answered the questions to his satisfaction and then our passports reappeared.  The security man took the passports and looked at all the stamps, that was a big problem.

“Oman?”, he questioned us.  Why were you in Oman?  Did you make any friends in Oman?  What other Arab countries did you visit?  Were you in Indonesia?

We were truthful and said yes, we had been to several Arab countries but that we are really ok and had not made any friends but only were tourists sailing around. 

The toughest question was “why were we in Oman for over 3 months and never made any friends there?”  We told him about our Indian Ocean crossing and attack story and their tone changed instantly.  We are certain they knew of the piracy incident and why we were stuck in Oman afterwards.

The interview ended abruptly and the security man said that we were free to go to passport control, fill out some forms and check into the marina.  Welcome to Israel and enjoy our stay!!!

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

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