In September, I returned to Greece after a quick two-week trip back to Florida to visit family and friends. The trip there and back was not quick and required 2-days worth of travel each way. The closest large airport to our boat is on the neighboring island of Kos, and it was already dark as I waited for the last ferry to take me back home to MÖBIUS, still tied to the pier in Kalymnos.
I was so happy to be back home on the boat with Wayne and our (geriatric) puppy dogs both of whom would be celebrating October birthdays soon. The little guy would be turning 11 while Ruby was about to be 15 years old.
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The weather had cooled, but it still felt great to be back on my e-bike on my favorite Greek island. The reason that we were still there is that it turned out that we had to have a complete factory rebuild of our engine and had shipped the whole thing off to the Gardner Marine Engine works in Canterbury, UK. You can’t exactly move a powerboat without an engine, so, oh poor us, we’d been “stuck” on a Greek island for almost three months.
However, that can be a problem as we were nearing the end of our 90-days that we were allotted under the European Union’s Schengen visa regulations. These regulations can be confusing because not all EU countries are part of the Schengen region, and not all Schengen countries are part of the EU.
And what the heck is Schengen anyway? It’s simply the name of the city in Luxembourg where the original treaty was signed. These countries have agreed to abolish the national borders among themselves, so that now when you travel from say Germany into France, you no longer have to go through customs and immigration. As you can imagine, this has really made trade easier among these countries, and anyone who is a citizen of a Schengen country can go work in another Schengen country without any visa or green card.
What this means, for non-Schengen citizens (like us) is that we are granted a visa good for 90 days when we enter one of the member countries, and when those days are up, we are supposed to leave. If we had exited the region during our 90 days, those days spent outside the region don’t count. So, as they say, we are allowed a rolling 90 days out of 180, or for every 90 days in - you have to spend 90 days out. As a result, my time out on my Florida trip had granted me about 17 extra days, but Wayne was quickly running out of time. But hey, we’d been through this before, and we applied for visa extensions in Portugal, and we were granted them with no problems. So, I gathered all our documents and a few days later, we were off to the island of Kos (the administrative center) to apply for our visa extensions. We applied for 90 day extensions, and since Wayne’s was expiring sooner, they processed his application first.
Wayne had taken the ferry to Kos a second time, presumably to get his visa approval on Friday, September 30. I was standing in line at the Cosmo cell phone store trying to top up the boat’s cellular Internet service when my phone rang. It was Wayne.
“Hi. What’s up?” I said.
“What?” My Canadian rarely uses language like that unless he’s in the engine room.
“They denied my visa extension and told me I have to leave the country now. Like today! I’m supposed to go straight to the dock and get on the ferry to Turkey.”
We hadn’t really even given much consideration to the possibility that they would refuse our applications for extensions. Clearly, the boat cannot be moved, and it is our only home. We had demonstrated that we more than met the financial requirements for an extension, we had bought extra medical insurance, and we had a place to stay - our home.
Just two years ago, Greece was suffering from the lack of tourism during the height of the pandemic. They were desperate to revive tourism, and even today, their economy is still reeling. We were asking nothing more than to stay in their country and inject our American dollars into their economy. But, if there is one thing I have learned in my travels, it is that when it comes to bureaucrats, looking for logic is hopeless.
“Listen,” Wayne said. “They aren’t joking. They said if I stay, I could be subject to fines or even jail. I’m going to try to get them to agree to let me to stay for 24 hours more, though, so I can at least go back to the boat and pack a bag.”
And that’s how fast things can change when you live this Nomad Life that we live.
I peddled my way back to the boat, and Wayne came across on the ferry from Kos. I hugged him extra long when I saw him, then we looked at each other and exchanged wry smiles. In this life, we learn to switch gears fast.
“What other choice do we have?”
We started shutting things down on the boat that would not be necessary in our absence. I defrosted one of the fridges and threw away stuff that would go bad. I got on the computer and started looking for an Airbnb in Bodrum, Turkey, then I packed my bags. We pulled out the dogs’ airline bags and packed the canine supplies - for how long? We didn’t have a clue, but since I still had more Schengen days available, I would be able to enter back into Turkey in the next week or two if we needed something more from the boat.
And so it was that early the next morning, we were on the ferry to Kos and catching one last glimpse of our home squeezed between a tugboat and a tanker on the inside of the breakwater on Kalymnos.
We transited Greek immigration at the docks and got stamped out of the EU, then we boarded the high-speed ferry with suitcases, backpacks, and dogs. In less than an hour (at 26 knots), we were back in Turkey in the city of Bodrum.
We landed with all our bags back in the country that we had called home for the past 4+ years, also the country where we have long-term visas until December 2023.
And just like that, we had once again traded church bells for the call to prayer.
The first Airbnb we tried was in the touristy part of the Bodrum old town, and while it was close to the ferry dock, it was too small and the environs too crowded. I got back online, and we moved to the smaller seaside town of Bitez, just a couple of bays to the east of the main town. Here we have a real kitchen, so we aren’t always dependent on restaurants even though there is a lovely waterfront filled with cafes as well as a small marina. And we have high speed Internet for work and entertainment.
I’ve been researching digital nomad visas for the EU, and I even wrote to the US Embassy in Athens from whom I got this reply:
“Thank you for your email. We empathize with your situation, however, we cannot intervene in matters of local law nor can we influence the local authorities with regard to their decision making. We would encourage you to continue to work with the local authorities on Kos as they have sole jurisdiction in this matter.”
Whenever we find ourselves in some new place for some time, I really enjoy exploring the new spot. Since I no longer have my e-bike, and frankly, my meniscus-tear knee surgery is so well healed I really don’t need it, I am enjoying long walks exploring our area.
We can actually see the Greek island of Kos from the beach that is closest to our place. This is the view from the hill behind the village, looking out to sea.
Shortly after our arrival here, we got word that our engine had shipped and departed the UK on a truck on a ferry across to Calais. Now, two weeks later, we are awaiting confirmation that it supposedly arrived on a different truck on a different ferry from Athens to Kalymnos - last night, which of course means it has to clear customs today, a Friday.
The way we left things with the immigration agents in Kos was this: they said once the engine has arrived at the boat, we are to reapply and request two weeks to return to Kalymnos, install the engine, and then leave. They were adamant that there was no guarantee that their boss would approve this, but it was worth a try. So, hopefully, Monday, we will get confirmation of the engine’s arrival and we will make that try. Fingers crossed that the crew of MÖBIUS will be allowed out of our current state of exile.
If Wayne is not allowed back into the EU until 90 days have passed, that will mean the end of December, and we will be homeless until then. Our plan has been to cross the Atlantic this winter, and it will be much more difficult (though not impossible) to pull that off by starting out from Greece in January.
We have been having fun floating all sorts of versions of Plan B:
I will go back on a very calm day, launch the tender with its 110 HP Diesel engine and jet drive, and tow the big 78-foot MÖBIUS (with the new engine on deck) the 24 miles from Kalymnos across to Bodrum Marina in Turkey.
Wayne will swim out several miles from Turkey, and I will pick him up in the tender and smuggle him in to Greece.
I will go back for my extra 17 days and Wayne will instruct me via phone video how to install the Gardner Diesel engine. Who? ⊙▽⊙
Wayne will go to the Canadian Embassy in Istanbul and say he lost his passport and get issued a new one. They literally do this visa thing by counting the stamps in your passport.
If you have another wacky idea for how we can get out of our EU-imposed exile, please share it by clicking on the comment link below!
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I vote for the plan where you smuggle Wayne onto the island in the dead of night, Macgyver style. You can bring the drone and launch it at daybreak so Wayne can keep an eye on the Customs guys from his hiding place. You’ll hire a team to crane the engine into place w/ Wayne talking into your earpiece. Cue the spy music and the race is on! Would make a great movie - Good luck!
This is an amazing story and a predicament to solve. I love all your creative solutions outlined. We will be holding you in our thoughts as you get through this stumble.