Sunday, July 7, 2013

Boarded by Thieves in Albania - This Time We Did Not Lose Our Dinghy

2013 07 07
Korcula, Croatia

Faithful readers will recall that we have trouble keeping dinghies on board our sailing yacht. For whatever reason the average lifespan of a tender runs to no more than two years for us. We have over the years tended to buy cheaper and cheaper dinghies, the last such purchase made last month to replace a dinghy lost to unfortunate waves.

The new dinghy is a winner. Being cheap it is also small and light which means we haul it on board every night with no effort. This consequence of being inexpensive saved us the loss of our new dinghy only a fortnight after we acquire it. Here is what happened.

Anchored just off the northern border of Albania, protected by the river delta formed by the river dividing Albania and Montenegro we took our beds early after a full day of sailing and motorsailing. Night fell gently and before retiring we looked for a while at the lights of nearby Velipoje, a resort town for apparatchiks in the old stalinist dictatorship that used to keep an iron grip on things around here.

Sleep came easily but did not last.

At 2345 (quarter to twelve), Connie and I were rudely awakened by a loud noise coming from the boat. Since we were asleep it would be silly to describe the noise but we both understood clearly something had struck our boat and struck it hard.

Sleep does not linger in such situations and we were fully alert and on deck in seconds. Nothing to be seen immediately. No foreign object near our boat, no sign of motion.  A wispish mist did not help our search.

Then, the gentle splash of a swimmer. And then, in the far mist, a small guarded light held by someone standing in a boat, being shone intermittently as a guide to ... well we figure to a lone swimmer who had launched from the very boat shining the light.

Some stupid ass swam to our boat and tried to climb aboard using the anchor chain. Not much of a waterman he was unaware that we keep our anchor chain generously snubbed, ie. We always secure the chain to a deck cleat using nylon line leaving the chain loose where it leaves the windlass.

The swimmer grabbed the chain and tried to climb. This brought four to six feet of chain raining down on his head. Poor baby. Suffering a hard knock to the head and having made a very loud noise and hard knock on the heat Knowing we had been alerted he took off trying to swim quietly to avoid detection. He almost made it.

With the aid of the binoculars we now knew there were three intruders and we knew where they were.  I stood quitely on deck pointing directly at their boat. Using binoculars they were quite clear to see. I wanted them to know they were blown.

I maintained this stance for probably half an hour my arm moving with them as they tried to surreptitously move out of sight. It wore at them. Being thieves they sought the protection of darkness; confrontation was not their thing. These were sneak thieves not bandits prepared to take what they wanted.

The intruders returned to shore and built a fire. Connie and I took up a watch in the cockpit, nothing defiant, just steadfast, or so we hoped.  We watched and we made sure they knew we were watching.

Finally the wearing broke.  They began yelling to each other and, unmistakably, yelling insults at us.  About 0200 the three of them moved off back towards Velipoje. We maintained our watch in the dark of the cockpit.  

At 0230 the inept young men returned, easily spotted by the small flashlight they continued to shine to light their way.  These were not high class thieves.  

When they had returned to their initial landing spot Connie brought up the 3 million candle power spot and I hit them with the beam of the spot and kept it on them for a good two minutes. It would have been longer but the battery was dieing on our lantern and I did not want to give any sign we were less than fully prepared.

Of course we were fully prepared: to run away. Had the little testosterones made any move towards our boat we were off.  Our plan to haul anchor and run away was settled early on.  Before that however we were prepared to do what we could to keep them off.  Having raised children we were well armed psychologically.

Finally about 0400 the trio departed for good. We returned to our beds our sleep interrupted and our stores of adrenaline squeezed dry.


We figure the thieves were not watermen of Albania, just disaffected youth seeking a thrill. They were used to easy prey and likely they did not fear consequences of an Albanian system which their parents controlled. Consequences of boarding a boat that was waiting for them exceeded their courage.

As Connie says “It could have happened anywhere”.

We still have our dinghy.    

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