Imagine our pride at having sailed over 4,000 miles, unassisted, without incident and without a scratch to Esper. I haven’t mentioned that our autopilot packed up early on in the Gulf of Aden, so many of the last 2,000 miles were hand-steered. That’s bloody hard work in case you didn’t know.
Imagine, then, our horror when approaching the Indian coast, after our incident-free 4,000 miles, we were t-boned by the stupid dumb-ass Indian Navy!
It happened like this:
About 60 miles out from Mumbai ‘Roam II’ and ‘Esper’ were approaching the Neelam Heera and Ratna oilfields along Direction Bank. Our route was to take us five miles south of these rigs but what with our squiffy autopilot we had a tendency to deviate somewhat from our proposed route. In this instance we were actually closer to four miles south of the oilfields. ‘Roam II’ were even closer and were approached by a fishing vessel which, it turned out, was carrying two military personnel. We had both gone inside a five mile no-go zone.
The boat came alongside ‘Roam II’, albeit rather roughly, and two Indian navy chaps boarded, asking for boat documents and stuff. To cut a long story short Terry fobbed them off with a bottle of gin and they left, heading towards us.
Terry then radioed through warning us that the fishing vessel was heading in our direction. Because it was a heavy wooden thing adorned by many old car tyres it took almost an hour to catch up with us. We were under sail with the windpilot out and fishing line too so when they approached from behind I started to take down or put away all of the above. When they were within earshot the naval officer shouted angrily that he had been trying to hail us for the last 20 minutes on channel 06! Channel 06? Why did he think we would be monitoring this random channel number??? He then told me to talk to him on VHF Ch 05. Well, any fool knows that this is a Duplex channel where two-way communication is impossible. (Actually I didn’t know this but I quickly worked it out.) I went back up on deck to tell him this whilst Liz suggested that he just shout across his intentions since we were within earshot anyway! Clearly this chap wasn’t thinking things through and, knowing that he’d just bagged a bottle of gin from another boat, I was starting to worry that perhaps they weren’t who they said they were.
I went back down below to radio through to Lo to ask why the Indian Navy was approaching us, asking for our paperwork, when we were in international waters. Unfortunately we were too far out to get a response. It was at this point that I heard Liz shouting “Nooooooooooo”, which was followed by a crack and a crunch. The helms-man of the fishing vessel had only gone and driven straight into the side of Esper! He successfully smashed the toe rail and bent a stanchion (a few hundred pounds worth of damage) and I ran around the deck cursing my head off! I don’t remember the last time I was so angry, though my expletives gave away my feelings. To say I lost it would have been an understatement. There was this naval officer, on board this clumsy fishing vessel, getting angry because I’d refused to talk to him on a channel that I had not been monitoring, and then he drives the boat into the side of Esper! TWAT!!!!!!!!!
The next ten minutes, which were clouded by a curtain of red blood vessels bursting in my eyeballs, was spent telling the naval officer that I refused to show him my paper work until I saw his insurance documents. Of course he denied that the accident was their fault so I told him I refused to show my documents. The language barrier didn’t help. Actually, I think it did. At one point he told me to stop swearing at him, to which I replied that I wasn’t swearing at him, but just at the situation. When I said I was not swearing he thought I’d said ‘you are scaring me’, to which he replied ‘we are not trying to scare you’! This misinterpretation helped defuse the situation and finally registering my absolute refusal to allow him on board they backed off. They still refused to acknowledge any responsibility though.
The next 24 hours was utterly exhausting as we hand-steered, feeling rather despondent, through many hundreds of fishing boats. So many fishing boats, so many fishing nets. Mile after mile after mile of fishing boats. More fishing boats than fish.
Funnily enough when we arrived in Mumbai and completed our paper work one form asked the question “Were you involved in any incident whilst at sea?”. Oooh, it was so tempting to answer that question! So, so tempting, yet this would have opened a can of worms. In fact I think I would still be in Mumbai now working through the paperwork if I’d bothered to respond to that question. I’ll write about the administration in India at some point since it is laughable, but for the time being just let it be known that Petty Officer Ali Kumar is a twat and he owes me money.