Shared stories vol. 4: Tired out of our brains (Nikolaj)

"Another SAR patrol, we're tired out of our brains, and the weather turns nasty. Mo Chara gets mostly fixed. Polychronos reminds me to talk about life in Skala."

Oct 7: Early morning SAR patrol, nothing found.

We start at 5:30 AM, well before dawn, and work our way eastwards from Korakas lighthouse towards Palios, then return westwards, past Skala and all the way to the RRS lookout near the rusty wreck described in one of my earlier posts east of Molyvos. (I'll cover what you do on a SAR patrol in more detail during my Oct 10 update.)

After we return from our SAR patrol and refuel Mo Chara, Daisy and I undo our hack job made up of bungee cords and zip ties and disassemble the lights to remove the broken A-frame extension pieces so that they can go into the shop to get welded up today. It's a delicate operation, as we can't really afford to drop any pieces into the harbour. We have to stand on the rear arch with the boat tied up to the quay, carefully undoing bolts and removing cables one by one until we have the two broken extension pieces safely in our hands. Shortly after, Jan and Daisy drive back to the work shop to get the pieces welded back up.

The whole crew is fatigued. Yesterday was a long day followed by today's 5:30 AM SAR patrol. All of us are short on sleep and everyone on Mo Chara's crew catches forty winks at different times during the day. It helps, but only some. We've been switched on for so long, it's hard to get a proper rest. People in Skala have mentioned volunteer burnout to me, and I think we're getting a taste of it.

Whilst having a belated breakfast at Goji's, Polychronos the dog pees on my left foot to remind me that I haven't really talked about life in Skala much. Time to fix this oversight! (Also, bad Polychronos, bad! It took my fatigued brain a few moments to figure out what the sudden sensation of warmth meant.)

Life in Skala in a nutshell: A community amidst a small Greek fishing village that sprung up spontaneously in response to human tragedy, with people from all over the world descending on Skala to help. There are several volunteer organizations here, such as Refugee Rescue, Lighthouse Relief, and Refugee4Refugees, along with IsraAID, all joining in for a common cause, from all walks of life. Mo Chara's current crew is a good example of this: We're made up of an RNLI member as our team coordinator, an ex-Royal Navy diver and submariner, an ex-Forces member, and a mountain rescue specialist, plus myself from RCM-SAR 27 in Canada. People here connect with an immediacy that is rare: I've met so many new people in the past week and a bit that it feels like I've gotten to know a whole new world. Everyone is friendly, everyone takes an interest in what is going on, and there's a common bond created by the desire to do good. Ages range from university students to retirees, with everything in between. Some people are here for months, others only for a couple of weeks. (There are other lifeboat institutions represented here as well. For example, a Dutch KNRM member helps run the show in the Stage 2 camp.)

Life in Skala often revolves around Goji's, a small café right near the harbour. Goji's is open from early in the morning to late at night and people trickle in and out of there all day long. Meetings are held, food and coffee are consumed, and there's friendly banter and discussions to be had all day long. Most locals are accepting of the influx of volunteers and some are clearly very supportive. Besides English and Greek, you hear many other languages spoken every day. If you ever get to eat at Goji's, I highly recommend the Greek yoghurt with fruits and honey, which has turned into a bit of an addiction for most of the boat crew. The coffee here is excellent.

There are cats that belong to the community in Skala everywhere, plus a few dogs like Polychronos and some geese. Near Volunteer House, there's also a braying donkey.

The community of volunteers has come up with all sorts of ingenious names and programs, like Suspected Fitness and Confirmed Yoga, named after suspected and confirmed refugee boat sightings. One problem with Confirmed Yoga: It's difficult to confirm the time for it, since its name implies it's always confirmed. They are currently working on sorting that out.

The crowning glory of Skala is Dimitri, the Queen of Skala. Every day, this gentle soul prances through Skala in a different outfit, greeting people and adding a certain flair to this place that is unique. Skala would not be complete without her and I am grateful that she was kind enough to let me have my picture taken with her. (She looks great and I look ... tired. Also, I'd just been peed on by a dog. You really can't predict what each day brings here on Lesvos.)

There's evidence of refugee arrivals not just on the local beaches but also in Skala itself. Refugee boats get recycled in all sorts of ways. For example: The cover for a large pile of fishing gear right next to where Mo Chara is moored is the recycled skin from a refugee boat. You can tell from the inflation valves that are still present. This rubber skin was part of a boat that carried somewhere between 30 and 50 people across from Turkey to Lesvos. Elsewhere, I've seen part of a recycled emergency blanket used to cover a drain, weighed down by a metal plate. The aluminum floor boards are also a valuable commodity and used to make all sorts of things. As each boat arrives, it's disassembled bit by bit and reused until very little remains.

That evening, we fix Mo Chara just before dusk, reassembling all the pieces we took off earlier. We're goofy tired, but happy that the boat is back in one piece. We still need to open up the radar dome and make sure it seals properly at some point, but Mo Chara more or less looks the same as before she got damaged at the shop. The completed repair gives us all a much needed boost, and we laugh and crack jokes as we wrap up for the day.

The wind picks up again that evening and then the weather turns downright nasty. During the night, a torrential downpour sweeps over Lesvos and washes all the dust off the streets of Skala into the ocean. No boats arrive during the night, a first in quite some time.


photo credit: Nikolaj Richers

photo credit: Nikolaj Richers