I had to get out of the country. I had no passport and no chance of getting one without being traced. The obvious choice was to find a small boat, but where?
Big ferry ports are a waste of time. There's security everywhere and you won't get far without a ticket, never mind a passport. Even trying the port area in the vicinity of a ferry terminal is useless. If you do manage to find a small boat with a talkative owner, he'll politely decline your request for fear of getting picked up by the customs patrols.
But you'll learn something. Most boat owners will admit to knowing someone or somewhere you can try. They're usually far from the main shipping lanes and are almost always actively dealing in some sort of smuggling. The professionals, however, do it as a business and will try to get as much money out of you as they possibly can.
I stood in the shadows at one harbour watching a large crowd of Africans and Middle Eastern people disembark from a small fishing boat. How much had they paid for the trip? I was shocked when I asked one and found out. How on earth could they afford it? As they scurried off as far from the pier as they could, I watched the boat.
It hadn't finished unloading yet. A few small vans and cars appeared at the quay alongside the boat. Boxes of alcoholic drinks, cartons of cigarettes and packets of what looked like drugs were unloaded and put into the waiting vehicles. Cash changed hands openly on the quayside. Although I had my doubts, once the vehicles disappeared, I approached the men on board the vessel.
At first they denied the smuggling operation. When I asked for a quote to go abroad, I was asked all sorts of questions. Most of them were not what I'd expected and it soon became clear the men were trying to rip me off, as they'd done to the people they'd dropped off. It would be pointless asking them for advice. Most of them seemed to be foreign, anyway.
Which set me thinking. What I needed was a local boat, manned by local people. There was a busy fishing port not too far away. I decided to ask there. It was difficult to know where to start. There were lots of boats and people busily working, but I spotted an old man sitting on a wall, watching all the action. He looked like he knew the place and what was going on.
He soon informed me many of the smaller boats took shellfish abroad and most would willing take a passenger over for the price of a few beers. I looked at the boats he pointed to. They were small and I didn't fancy being tossed around on a rough, open sea. I asked if there was anything else. The first of the larger boats was due out the following night. He pointed it out to me and there was a crewman on deck. I went over and asked him. It was as the old man had said; all he wanted was the price of a few beers. It was cheaper than flying.
The following night, I watched the town lights go further and further away, as I sailed abroad. The sailors advised me simply to walk out of the harbour gates when we arrived. Once outside the harbour, I wouldn't get questioned. They were right.