Friday, February 29, 2008

Aden, Yemen

February 26 - 29, 2008
by KT

Yemen may not be on any top 10 lists, and granted I probably wouldn't use my two weeks vacation to go there, but it is one of the most intriguing places we have been.  I found Aden to be beyond anything I could imagine, from the scenery to the people, it is one of the those countries that sparks curiosity.

February 26, 2008

I loved the coastline as we approached the Aden harbour.  Dry desert mountains shot up from the water, with dirty white and sand colored houses built into their sides.  There wasn't a spec of color to be seen.  This may sound drab, but I found it just the opposite, perhaps because it was the way the houses seemed to be a part of the mountains, or the rugged lines of the mountains themselves, or the very uniqueness of such plainness, or maybe it's just because having grown up in Arizona I'm a desert girl at heart.  The one thing about Aden however, is that everything looks better from afar.  From the water you can't see that the buildings are crumbling, old, and dirty, and from the mountains you can't see that the water is a sick unnatural green color.

It was a huge relief to reach Aden.  The last three passages (Thailand-Maldives, Maldives-Oman, and Oman-Yemen) had been tough.  It seemed we have been living in a constant state of wetness, boat repairs, sea sickness, and fatigue.

The first order of business upon arriving (after showering of course) was the check-in.  This was the first country where we had been told we might need some baksheesh.  Baksheesh is a form of tipping, or bribing, depending on how you view it.  While Westerners probably see it more as a bribe, it is commonplace in this part of the world, and I'm sure they think of it more as a tip.  With officials it will usually start with the official asking if you brought him a "present".  Now, you can say no, and sometimes they'll just shrug and life will go on with no problem, but usually if you don't come up with something life suddenly becomes more difficult; paperwork might be lost or delayed, officials might find it's time for their lunch break, and so on.  Since a pack of cigarettes or a few dollars usually satisfies, it doesn't seem worth the hassle to say no.

The harbor is sectioned off from the city by a large wall.  To enter and exit one must present their shore visa at the gate.  Photography around the harbor is also usually frowned upon.  Much of this security was put in place after the US Navy war ship, Cole, was bombed some years back.  (Photo right: the guarded entrance gate)  The minute we stepped ashore a number of people approached offering taxis, tours, diesel, laundry, and other such services.  It was a little overwhelming, but also entertaining.  All the men were friendly, and none were the slight bit put off when we said no (although they didn't really take no for an answer, instead they'd just say, "okay no problem, tomorrow then?").  The check-in turned out to be one of the fastest, and easiest that we have ever been through.  The immigration officer was extremely friendly, although it's a little discerning to turn over your passport to be held in such an unsecured office, especially when the officer informs you to double check your passport photo when you check-out has he may accidentally give you back the wrong passport!!!  (As it turns out, one boat we know was stuck in Aden as another cruiser had indeed sailed off with the wrong passport).  Customs was just as easy, and we got away without having to hand out a gift.

We then set out walking, looking for an ATM and dinner.  We had read in one of the guidebooks that Aden is much poorer then Salalah.  At the time we had wondered what about Aden made the author write that.  It took about 30 seconds out on the street to understand - there was no doubt Aden is a poor city.  Everything is run down, and not just slightly, I'm talking full-on falling apart.  Every car looks as though it's been in a demolition derby, every building looks as though it is minutes from collapsing, and everything is a dingy grey or brown color.  The desert climate doesn't help, as it leaves a layer of dust covering every surface.  What was a real surprise though was not the poorness but the friendliness of the people.  I couldn't believe it when people shouted across the street "Hello! Welcome to Aden".  Horns honked and hands waved as cars drove by.  Everywhere people seemed to smile at us.

It turns out there is no ATM within easy walking distance, but we managed to exchange a few American dollars at one of the small shops.  As many of the stores didn't have signs, and any signs that did exist were in Arabic, finding anything required window shopping.  After a bit of walking around we settled on a place to eat.  Eight of us were given three menus, with pretty poor translation, which made ordering a bit of a fiasco.  All part of the fun of a new country.  We stuffed ourselves until it was painful - Chris and I gorging on the fresh pita bread and homemade hummus (along with our dinner of roasted chicken, kebabs, and salads).  Then we waddled back to the boats for a much looked forward to full nights rest.

And that's when we discovered a whole new side to the Arabs.  The Seaman's Club (which we thought would be patronized by mostly white-foreigner-folk, but turns out draws a huge local crowd), gets going around midnight.  That is it STARTS the loud music and dancing at midnight and continues until about 4am.  I couldn't believe it, and recognized that I was surely getting older as I kept thinking "Who the hell STARTS the party at midnight, and how can they stand the music that loud??".  I swear the speakers must've been aimed at the anchorage, it was so unbelievably loud.  To top it all off, it wasn't even good music.  No offense against Arab music, but I just wasn't digging it. Finally, when I realized it wasn't going to end at any respectful hour, I dug out an ear plug and managed to get some sleep.

February 27, 2008

We spent the morning doing odd projects around the boat (aka fixing stuff) and cleaning up another round of salt and sand.  Late in the afternoon we headed ashore for a trip to the shopping center, where it was reported there was a LuLu's supermarket (ah, the things that excite us).  One of the locals at the gate offered a taxi ride for 1,000 local (about $5.00), however you can hire a taxi/guide for $5.00/hour, and the shopping center was reportedly less than 20 minutes away - so this did not seem like a good deal to us, nor was he willing to negotiate his price.  We headed out looking to find our own taxi.  We finally came across a van and he was willing to take all eight of us for 400 (the first guy would've been 1000 per car which only holds four).  As it is said, half of the adventure is the journey itself.  Our driver had no clue where we were going, nor did he speak English.  He ended up driving us around the town (which was actually quite entertaining) and yelling out his window to various people on the street who would then yell directions back to him!  We did at last find the mall, and didn't even have to pay extra for the extended tour.

Inside the shopping mall is a huge contrast to the rest of Aden; it is clean, sparkling white, and very modern looking (motion sensor escalators and everything).  But there isn't much for content.  A lot of clothing shops, with designs that I'm not even sure I could begin to describe, a food court, and the LuLu's grocery store.

We had four goals: atm, ice cream (Baskin Robbins if you can believe it), internet, and grocery shopping.  Priorities first, we took off looking for the Baskin Robbins.  The mall was some funky design with what seemed like maze of halls; nothing like the simple circle shapes of American malls. In addition it is, of course, all in Arabic.  So it took us all of two minutes before we were lost.  But in our lost-ness we did come across a Kodak shop, where the eight of us proceeded to baffle and entertain the local shop clerk as we all decided to get passport photos taken.  You'd think we would've been clever enough to ask the English speaking women who took our photos where either the Baskin-Robbins or an ATM was, but oh no we just aren't that clever.

We ran into three 40-ish local men.  One approached asking if he could take a photo.  Becky said of course, but the men were looking at me and he said, "with her", pointing at me.  Oh boy I thought. Well, I have no problem with it so I stood by one of the men while another lined up the shot.  I am sure I was blushing bright red as my gang laughed at the scene (Becky and Gordon kept tell me I should ask them for some baksheesh for the photo!).  In these countries I never know how to "behave", normally I'd just throw my arms over the shoulder of whoever is next to me, but in a country where females don't even talk to strange men on the street, let alone touch them, I tend to be a bit conservative, so I just stood shoulder to shoulder, arms at my side, attempting to be as proper as possible.  After the first photo, the man behind the camera asked "one with me?" Sure, why not. When I stood next to him he put his arm around me (nothing rude), so what the heck I thought, and I threw my arm around his shoulder.  The third guy ran in to be in the photo, so up went my other arm (oh boy I thought, for sure they think I'm a big 'ol slut now).  Well, the first guy (who was now taking the photo) seemed to realize he was missing out, so he asked for one more photo, where he too put his arm around me.  They were very friendly, but it was still a strange experience.  I wish I could pop into their minds for just a moment - how do they see this white girl whose showing her hair, face, and wrists, willing to take a photo with strange men while her husband watches???

It took a few more minutes of aimlessly walking around to find the ATMs.  With eight of us together we were quite a site for the locals and the men standing nearby couldn't help but wander over to check out what all these white-folk were doing.  Of course the last thing you want when punching in your super secret ATM code is a bunch of people looking over your shoulder!  We were double lucky in finding the ATMs, as right across from them was the Baskin Robbins.  We practically ran over to it, and must've looked downright pathetic when we discovered it was closed.  As if in denial we just stared into the window ...  eight white tourist hovering around the Baskin Robbin store window practically crying with disappointment.  Either because we looked so desperate, or maybe it appeared as though we would bust through the store window at any moment, one of the mall security guards came over and told us that he believed it would be open in a minute, that the worker had just gone to the bathroom.  Ahh were we ever relieved.

Having wised up since our last encounter with an English speaking local, I asked the man if there was an internet cafe in the mall.  Not only was there one, but he offered to escort us there.  Turns out our new friend was from Egypt and had only lived in Yemen for the last three years.  He seemed pleased enough to learn we were from America and Canada.  The internet cafe looked hi-tech enough, but was dog-slow, making even a simple email check painful.  Conveniently it was paired up with a cafe-restaurant, so after interneting we enjoyed chicken shwarmas (similar to a greek gyro), and then found our way back to the Baskin Robbins.

By the time we got around to the grocery shopping it was early evening; the time when the locals come out in full force.  The mall was a sea of black flowing cloth as women in full burkas mingled around.  It was a photographers dream, only not, because photographs in this part of the world aren't usually granted or appreciated (seems odd given the four men encountered earlier).  It was apparent that many of the women don't make it to this mall very often (if ever before), as the escalators seemed to make most of them nervous, and even caused one to fall.  Kids treated the escalators like an e-ticket Disney ride, while the older men seemed to hang on to the hand rail as if their life depended on it.  Huge people pile ups occurred at the entrance and exit points of the escalators, as the locals hesitantly attempted to get on or off.

I had always imagined the burka as a shapeless, drab, black, boring "dress".  What I found is that while it is pretty shapeless, there is quite a bit of style to it.  Intricate designs can be found on the wrists, and sometimes bottom hems.  Some of them have patterns around the hoods or down the front.  They are a almost silky material, that seems to flow rather than hang.  The women around Aden do not all wear a full face cover, many only cover their hair.  On the extreme end some women wear a full veil (even covering eyes), with full stockings (covering their feet) and mittens covering their hands.  The men are dressed smartly, whether in more western gear (slacks and long sleeve button shirts), or wearing more traditional sulus or robes.  And it did appear that more than one man was shopping with multiple wives (which Chris commented must be a nightmare, as he believes it's hard enough shopping with just me!!!)

Becky wanted to take a photograph in the grocery store, not necessarily of any one person, just of the crazy mass of people that were crowding the aisles (it was literally packed cart to cart).  When she pulled out her camera a security guard approached and told her absolutely no photos were allowed! They must keep top secrets hidden amongst the tomato sauce.

It is a nightmare shopping when it's that crowded, and I couldn't wait to be done.  We found another van cab, this time costing us 1000 for all eight, but it included a movie!  The driver put on the Disney Aladdin at top volume and away we went.  Turns out he didn't know where we were going either, so after getting a bit lost, doing a u-turn on some desolate dark road, and asking for directions from an eight year old, we made it back.  It was another midnight disco music night, but at least time we were prepared and had both gone to bed with ear plugs in!

February 28, 2008

In just about every small country nothing works the same way twice.  We had been told that getting diesel "inside" (meaning in the town versus outside at the dockside fuel station) was cheaper, but that inside wouldn't fill jerry cans unless you had permission from customs, which you couldn't get without paying a fee, which in turn made the price nearly the same as getting the fuel outside.  Just for grins Chris went to ask at the gate if he could bring jerry cans through.  He was told to go to customs.  The customs official walked him to the gate, spoke some Arabic while pointing at Chris, and just like that we were allowed to bring through jerry cans.  So the two of us made two trips through, without any hassle (except carrying the heavy cans), paying about a quarter of the cost.  It was easy as pie, but there is not doubt that on a different day, with a different guard or a different official we could've easily been in paperwork hell attempting to do the exact same thing.  At the gas station we talked to a few of the workers and for at the least the fourth time since Oman I was told (in response to saying we were from America) "We like Americans, just not Bush".  I only hope they are happier with our next selection, otherwise life could become more difficult for American tourist in this area.

After a morning of fueling up, we were off for some exploring.  It's not hard to find a guide and car, as they are hanging out around the gate waiting for business.  After a bit of negotiating we had ourselves a guide, and he was calling for a second car.  I don't know how either car actually managed to run, both seemed dented behind belief and laden with rust, neither installed a sense of safety, but in Aden terms they weren't too shabby.  Chris sat in the front with the guide and tried to put on his seat belt, our guy told him not to worry about it, that only the driver was required to wear a seatbelt.  Meanwhile I'm thinking, it's not the law that's worrisome, but rather that big shatter in the windshield right in front of Chris, about where someone's head might've hit when a crazy driver braked too hard!

Our first stop was the ancient water tanks.  An amazing water holding system built into the side of a few hills.  No accurate information exists about the original construction of the tanks, but the work is amazing and must've taken some bit of effort.  The tanks were discovered in 1854, covered by debris and rubbish.  They were dry when we visited, but can hold 20 million imperial gallons (our guide said that they still fill with some water during the wet season).  We met a few friendly local men, dressed in traditional Yemen clothing (robes and sulus), some even wearing a Jambiya (a curved dagger worn in a special belt).  I ended up getting my photo taken again, but in return they posed in a few good shots for us.

Next up was a ancient mosque (it seems everything in Aden is ancient), where for a small donation we got to see inside the tomb of Al Aidroos (I think you need to be a Muslim in Aden to know of him) ...  I didn't look, and everyone else said it was too dark to see anything anyway.

After the mosque we drove along the waterfront, with a quick stop at the fish market.  Then we hiked up to see the remains of an ancient castle.  Along the hike we came across a lot of local men, all who smiled and said a friendly "hello" or "welcome to Aden".  Up at the castle, groups of men sat about in circles chewing on Qat (pronounced "gat" or "cat").  Qat comes from a small evergreen bush, the leaves are chewed to produce a mild stimulant effect.  Supposedly it leads to a peaceful disposition and heightened sexual prowess.  Chris got one guy to laugh by enthusiastically chewing on one leaf when offered (he spit it out later, before any effect took place).  When they chew Qat they continuously shove leaf after leaf into their mouth, chewing and sucking, and storing the leaves in the side of the cheek.  It doesn't take long before their cheeks bulge as though they were chewing on a baseball.

The views from the castle were amazing, from here Aden didn't look so poor or dingy.  But the castle itself was strewn with trash and covered in graffiti (included the ever tactful "F...  Bush").

We continued driving along the coastline, past salt fields and a huge flock of flamingoes.  We made a quick stop at one of the beaches, were a lot of local women sat in full burkas, socializing in the sea breeze.  A huge line of men sat against the curving beach wall, all chewing Qat.  Our guide tended to make fun of the men who indulged in Qat.  He also joked about the burkas, calling the women Ninjas.  He said he too was married to a Ninja, so we figured he didn't use the word in disrespect (of course one never knows).  Since he was so open we felt we could ask more direct questions about the culture, and he was very friendly in trying to satisfy our curiosity, but I feel as though I still don't really understand a thing.  However we did learn that a man can have a maximum of four wives (our guide felt one was enough), and that if a man did have four it meant he was quite wealthy.  He said the advantage of multiple wives was that when you had only one, they might argue and be opinionated, but once a second or third wife came into the picture, the women became more submissive, as the husband would threaten to spend more time and money with the other wife.  Well, it's a unique way of thinking!

Our final stop of the day was Arab town.  This had to be one of the craziest, most crowded, extremely interesting, sensory overloading, and sadly, poorest places we've visited.  We started with a look at sesame oil processing.  From the grinding and shaking of the seeds, to the old machines that turned, grinding the seeds into oil, while the men scooped out the oil.  Down the street we visited with henna tattooed camels.  Yes, you read that correctly, the camels themselves were dyed in funny dot patterns. Chris attempted to get himself beaten-up by taking a photograph of the street ...  the women across the road thought he was taking their photo and began yelling and pointing, causing the men to send evil stares ...  luckily we were leaving that area, and quickly retreated!

Our guide walked us through the Qat market.  I can't even come close to explaining it.  Imagine shoulder to shoulder men, standing, yelling, sitting, bargaining ...  a sea of bodies and noise beyond comprehension.  A lot of people used gas lanterns, which heated up the place to a nice boiling temperature.  One thing I've noticed about Arab men is that when they yell or negotiate it can appear as though they are fighting - up until they finish the enthusiastic conversation and smile.  When you are trying to push your way through this mass of yelling it can feel intimidating.  And since it is entirely men, as a woman, I felt a bit out of place.  But what I never once felt was threatened or worried.  Eight white people walking through caused everyone to stare, but they all smiled and many said hello.

We stopped at a small juice shop for fresh lime juice that was outstanding.  Sweet, tart, and fresh. Sitting away from the masses also gave us a chance to get a breath and relax.  From there we walked through the garment shops, full of amazingly bright colors and gaudy dresses.  After a tying demonstration we bought Chris a head wrap.  I attempted to tie it around his head, but one passer-by just laughed, so I asked him to do it.  He got to work on Chris, laughing the entire time, with a huge ball of Qat bulging out the side of his cheek.  Chris wore his new head gear for the remainder of the day, which was a huge hit around the market.

As dusk came Arab town came to life.  I had already thought it was bustling and crowded, but it now seemed as though the entire population was wandering the streets!  We bought some fresh chapati (flat bread) at one of the stalls, which immediately brought along some beggars.  It is nearly impossible to turn away someone asking for a bite of bread, and so Chris handed some out, which of course just brought out more beggars.  We eventually had to walk away as it was too much to handle, but we did try to give everyone a little piece.  One the men was so pleased with Chris that he continued to follow us through the market.  When we stopped to buy vegetables Chris watched as the beggar stole a few carrots when the vendor was turned away busy handling a customer.  It is beyond heartbreaking to see people so desperate and so hungry.  (Photo left by Ascension)

Another hour was about all we could handle.  Then the crowds, the yelling, the haggling, the staring, all just became too much - we were ready for the peace and quiet of our boat!  After such a busy day even the midnight disco music couldn't wake us!

February 29, 2008

We finally had a little bit of a down day.  A few chores around the boat, some interneting, and a tiny bit of relaxing.  We could use a few more down days, but the southerlies are blowing, and our friends are anxious to get going.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Passage Blurbs: Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen

Aden, Oman: 25 feet Mud in Busy Port

Trip Summary - 617 nM, 122 hours, Ave 5 knots
Nautical Miles to Date - 25,502

Aden Yemen Yacht Anchorage

Night 5 - Feb 25, 2008

549 nM down - 63 nM to go Almost there, Nice Sailing, Lots of BIG Ships coming through the convoy

It was good sailing during the day. The wind picked up as the day carried on, and by night the seas had a pretty good swell going. The wind was directly behind us, so we had to run wing-on-wing. The difficult thing was that we were trying to keep our speed up in order to not cause everyone an extra night out, so we had our full main up, which meant we could absolutely not afford to accidentally jibe. Simon (the auto pilot) was having trouble steering down the big seas without going off course, so we had to continuously adjust and monitor things, practically hand steering, to ensure we did not jibe.

Sunset Last Night

Night 4 - Feb 24, 2008

427 nM down - 185 nM to go Passed through Pirate Alley with no problems, motor sailing to keep speed up

We hit the "pirate alley" around sunset and decided to run with anchor lights. Originally we had planned on no lights, but it was too difficult with the close proximity of the boats. All our anchor lights were pretty dim, so we figured it was good enough.

We got through the area without a single worry. We were almost to Aden and ready to be done with the convoy.

Night 3 - Feb 23, 2008

312 nM down - 300 nM to go Much Nicer day, sailing + motoring, Dust Clearing

Things were much, much better. The wind would occasionally pick up, but nothing like the day before. A brown haze still hung in the area -- we couldn't even spot a huge tanker that was barely 4 miles away! And dust still filled ever nook and cranny both on boat and person. I had trouble relaxing as every time a little burst of wind would come through I'd find myself bracing, waiting for the storm that was sure to follow...

Convoy sailing (photo by Stardust)

Night 2 - Feb 22, 2008

192 nM down - 420 nM to go 30-35 knots breaking Seas, a very Wet day. Still have reduced visibility due to desert winds

With the rising sun came a horrendous sand & wind storm. I can honestly say that these were the worst seas poor Billabong (and crew) have ever been through. They were big, steep, and extremely close together. A lot of them literally broke across Billabong. There was so much sand in the area that within minutes everything was turning dingy brown, and visibility was so low we couldn't make out any of the other boats...

Night 1 - Feb 21, 2008

62 nM down - 550 nM to go Crappy first day left in a Sand Storm very little visibility and lots of wind

The morning of our departure was a bit of a debacle. First the wind picked up enough to cause a few boats to drag and they had to re-anchor.   Then one of the tug boats came through asking about 10 of us to move as a ship was coming in that needed to dock behind us. In Oman you have to check out within a couple of hours of your departure, no 24 hour leeway, therefore we hadn't yet cleared out which meant we didn't have the option of just leaving, we had to re-anchor - not the easiest task with the higher winds, too-small of anchorage, and poor holding ground. We managed, and Chris was finally able to go ashore to check-out while I kept an eye on Billabong...

Continue reading "Passage Blurbs: Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen"...

Passage Journal: Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen

February 21 - 26, 2008
by KT

Trip Summary:  617 nM, 122 hours, Average 5 knots

Salalah (Oman) to Aden (Yemen) is the area of highest reported concentration of piracy attacks on yachts.  It is really the only area in the world where Chris and I have traveled that we actually looked to the news for information (in other places we have found news to be extremely focused towards violence and unsettlement).   "Pirate attacks" might sound daunting, but the reality is that not even 1% of the yachts who travel through this area are hit.   As I told our family, there was a higher chance of us dying in a motor scooter accident in Phuket than being hit by pirates.   In addition no incidents had yet been reported for our year.   We therefore were not worried about pirates, but still felt there was no need to tempt fate and did everything "by the book".

One thing that is recommended is to travel with a convoy.   Originally I had mixed thoughts about a convoy.   If I was a pirate, armed with MK-whatevers, and saw four or five small, slow yachts traveling together, it wouldn't stop me from approaching.   And if, upon approach, none of those yachts produced a weapon and started firing at me, well than I would be enjoying one-stop-shopping, four for the price of one!  What I found ironic however is that, by all accounts that I have read, traveling in a convoy does in fact deter the pirates; I've read where pirates (weapon bearing men) would scatter off when the other boats circled back.   It doesn't make sense to me, but there it was in written proof, so Chris and I decided a convoy was the way to go.   We hooked up with three other boats for the run to Aden.

We did take the time to hide all the goods (leaving various bits of money, and broken or old electronics out).   We also checked-in with the coalition armed forces, who now provide some patrolling, follow your route via daily check-ins, and offer to try to assist in the case of a pirate attack.  We opted against any types of weapons; all accounts we had read seemed to show that only those with weapons were ever harmed, those without were merely robbed.   And we decided to run about 40 nautical miles offshore.

February 21, 2008

The morning of our departure was a bit of a debacle.   First the wind picked up enough to cause a few boats to drag and they had to re-anchor.   Then one of the tug boats came through asking about 10 of us to move as a ship was coming in that needed to dock behind us.   In Oman you have to check out within a couple of hours of your departure, no 24 hour leeway, therefore we hadn't yet cleared out which meant we didn't have the option of just leaving, we had to re-anchor - not the easiest task with the higher winds, too-small of anchorage, and poor holding ground.  We managed, and Chris was finally able to go ashore to check-out while I kept an eye on Billabong.

A little before 11am we were ready to go, when one of the boats in our convoy called to say they had an engine problem and would need about an hour to fix it.  I figured I might as well get lunch ready so that I wouldn't have to do it "at sea".  Just as I was toasting bread for sandwiches (about 30 minutes after the delay call) they called to say they were ready.  I quickly pulled the bread off the pan and we lifted anchor.  Moments after we got the anchor up, another boat in our convoy called with windlass (the electronic piece of gear that hauls up the anchor & chain) problems -- another delay. We didn't bother re-anchoring, but rather just did slow loops around the anchorage.  About 20 minutes later they were ready to go, and finally all four of us were off.

We had to motor against 20-25+ knots out of the channel and out through the breakwater before we could finally turn, putting the winds behind us and making things a lot more comfortable.  After we got settled sailing Chris asked what was up with the sandwiches on the counter.  "Oh," I said "that's our lunch".  I went down to grab them and noticed that it was awfully warm in the galley.  That's when I discovered I had left the burner on this entire time ...  more than two hours!!!

Our convoy goal was to stay within .5 to 1 nautical mile of each other.  Our first night out we failed miserably.  At first it didn't seem too bad, especially motoring, but as the night wore on and the winds came and went we couldn't seem to keep together.  I believe our biggest problem was that the fast boat was in front, so the only way they knew they were going too fast was by constantly checking radar or by us calling them.  At one point we were over 2.5 miles behind.  It wasn't too big of a deal, the real pirate alley was still a few nights away, but we thought it was not a good sign that we were already failing at this convoy thing!

February 22, 2008

With the rising sun came a horrendous sand & wind storm.  I can honestly say that these were the worst seas poor Billabong (and crew) have ever been through.  They were big, steep, and extremely close together.  A lot of them literally broke across Billabong.  There was so much sand in the area that within minutes everything was turning dingy brown, and visibility was so low we couldn't make out any of the other boats.

The convoy quickly fell apart (I mean if we couldn't stay together in mild conditions how could we in this crap???).  Stardust couldn't point, so we changed course to try and stay closer to them.  Djarrka couldn't seem to slow down enough, and Ascension couldn't pound through the waves, so they were pointing off and reefing.  We reefed to get as comfortable a ride as possible and tried to head off enough to not have the waves break on us.  Chris donned on foul weather gear and took station in the cockpit, while I sat on the floor next to the navigation station, periodically throwing up.  We tried as much as possible to keep the group together, but it was nearly impossible.  The upside is that there was no way any pirate would be out in that crap anyway, so we didn't have to worry about them!

Of course during this entire time Chris and I were both stressed about the forward compartment. He'd done a temporary fix to try and keep water from getting under the hatch (the best he could do with the supplies we had access to), and of course put in a new bilge pump.  This time he wired the bilge pump such that an alarm and red light would go off inside the boat if it was triggered.  In addition he put a switch inside the boat (forward) that allowed us to manually switch on the bilge pump without going on deck.  With waves breaking over Billabong the force of the water on deck was tremendous, and we just didn't know how the hatch would hold.  Then "beeeeeeeep" went the high pitched alarm, which meant that the bilge pump was going off.  Okay, it's good that the pump was working, but not so good that there was water.  What would we do if we ruined the borrowed water maker???  And God forbid, what if water got under the bed again? Every time a really huge wave would break over Billabong I would go forward and manually run the pump, just in case.  The trick was to hopefully get out any water, but not to run it so much that we burnt out the bilge pump. Once, I was forward running the switch when Chris yelled down "HOLD ON!".  I braced myself and looked back towards to the cockpit to make sure I could see Chris.  What I saw was a huge flood of water flowing from the roof of our cabin onto the cushions, table, and floor.  Everything was soaked. Enough water had hit the dorade vents with enough force that it had forced its way through the vents and into the cabin - well that was a new one for us.  I did a quick clean up (just what I could manage given the conditions), and then Chris threw on his harness and struggled forward to cap the vents.  He also tried to take a peek at the forward hatch but it was just too rough.  I couldn't stand watching him on deck with the huge waves lumbering towards us, even with his harness on.  I was quite relieved when he was safely back in the cockpit.

It took about eight hours before things settled enough that we could try and get the convoy back together.  The seas were still big though which made radar useless (for spotting each other), and the visibility was still pretty low.  Somehow, magically, by dinner time the seas had calmed, and the convoy was back within visual sight of each other!!!

We changed our convoy "formation", such that the slow boat (that's Billabong) was leading, and therefore setting the speed, which seemed to help us keep together a bit.

February 23, 2008

Things were much, much better.  The wind would occasionally pick up, but nothing like the day before.  A brown haze still hung in the area -- we couldn't even spot a huge tanker that was barely 4 miles away! And dust still filled ever nook and cranny both on boat and person.  I had trouble relaxing as every time a little burst of wind would come through I'd find myself bracing, waiting for the storm that was sure to follow.

And finally good news, Chris was able to check the forward compartment and there was no water! Hooray!!! Apparently what was causing the bilge pump to go off was the tiny bit of water left in the compartment from when Chris was testing the new bilge pump.  With the dramatic motion caused by the waves, this little bit of water would go racing under the bilge pump, lifting the lever and causing the alarm to go off.  The water maker was safe, the temporary hatch fix still working, and the bilge pump still going.  Phew!

February 24, 2008

We hit the "pirate alley" around sunset and decided to run with anchor lights.  Originally we had planned on no lights, but it was too difficult with the close proximity of the boats.  All our anchor lights were pretty dim, so we figured it was good enough.

We got through the area without a single worry.  We were almost to Aden and ready to be done with the convoy.

February 25, 2008

It was good sailing during the day.  The wind picked up as the day carried on, and by night the seas had a pretty good swell going.  The wind was directly behind us, so we had to run wing-on-wing. The difficult thing was that we were trying to keep our speed up in order to not cause everyone an extra night out, so we had our full main up, which meant we could absolutely not afford to accidentally jibe.  Simon (the auto pilot) was having trouble steering down the big seas without going off course, so we had to continuously adjust and monitor things, practically hand steering, to ensure we did not jibe.

This was also the busiest shipping night I've ever been through.  Ship after ship came through our path and we'd have to shift starboard then port.  It was exhausting, and with the difficulties keeping Simon on course it was frustrating.  Our AIS (Automated Information System - which reports pertinent information for the large ships) was invaluable that night.

Finally around 4am we told everyone that we had to reef (and slow down), it was just getting too dangerous.  Things were so much better for Simon after the main was reefed, and now we no longer had to stress about an accidental jibe bringing down our rigging.  At this point the slower speed didn't matter because we were close enough to Aden to know we were going to make it without an extra night out.

February 26, 2008

To finally arrive in Aden felt like a huge burden off our backs.  Not only had we gotten through some ugly seas, but we were finally through the worst pirate area and could be around people without talking about and analyzing it.  But mostly it was the end of the convoy that made us happy.  I watch these birds zoom inches from the water, in tight formation.  The lead bird angles left and like synchronized swimmers the other birds effortlessly follow.  It looks so easy ...  I can't help wonder why our convoy was such a nightmare, why couldn't we be more like those birds? And it wasn't just Billabong who felt this.  At dinner on the night of arrival we all talked about how frustrating it was and how annoyed we'd get with each other (luckily we all had good humor about it afterwards and are still all friends).  Here's where we figure the SNAFU began:

Steering.  All four boats used a different method of auto navigation.  Wind vanes, Auto Nav to a waypoint with no crosstrack error, auto pilot based on heading, and so on.  Every method of auto navigation has some degree of error (more accurately, you will go off course a certain number of degrees on either side before the auto navigation corrects it, so your overall course is correct but a sailboat never travels in a perfectly straight line).  Normally, alone, you don't care about this back and forth, or getting slightly off course ...  you just periodically correct things so that you stay mostly on target, but if trying to stay within a certain range of three other boats you don't have the luxury of error and this becomes a very tiresome task!

Speed.  It sucks to be the slow boat (which Billabong was).  Of course, I'm sure if you talk to the other boats they'll say it sucked to be the fast boat - always having to slow down.  Prior to departing we had told everyone our motoring speed sucked and we were lucky to do 5 knots (and were doing even less because we needed new bottom paint).  We told them even sailing we rarely get over 6/6.5 unless the wind is really piping (in which case the seas bump up and we don't want to be going over 6.5 anyway).  We told them that if we had to use our pole then it meant reefing our jib because our pole was too short, so we couldn't get as much speed as a normal boat our size.  They were all okay with that.  But once out there we felt like a hindrance, everyone kept saying it was no problem, but then they'd also start asking "do you have ALL your sail out", "what RPMs are you running at", how much more speed would you get if you weren't reefed", and so on.  It seemed that some also felt the need to announce things like "well I just can't put up any less sail", or "I'm reefing AGAIN", and "I guess I have to go to even lower RPMs" ...  every comment just made Chris and I cringe.

Course.  Before departing we agreed that one person (Chris) would put together a route and then it would be passed around so that we all had the same waypoints.  About two hours into the trip we realized that we weren't all steering the same heading, which we should've been given we were all trying to go to the same point.  Turns out one of the boats had changed, just so slightly, the waypoints in the process of entering them into their auto navigation! Well, obviously that wasn't going to work.  Also some boats treated the route and waypoints as though they were the one and only way to get to Aden, like a highway that had to be followed.  If someone suggested a different heading to make the sail easier (either more comfortable angle to the waves, or better wing angle for the sails), someone else would come back with something like, "but that's not the course to the waypoint", and then a ten minute discussion would follow.  It's not like it mattered, the waypoint was a reference, as long as we all shifted our heading together it wouldn't make a difference! Argh!

In the end it just comes to down to the fact that we all have different sailing styles, different ways of navigating, and different speeds we are happy with, and we couldn't seem to get the four boats to gel.  Between sand storms, occasional high winds, shipping traffic, and multiple nights at sea, we were all sleep deprived and slightly irritable.  The good news is that we all easily got over our frustrations once in port.  We did joke at one point that the pirates didn't bother us because they overhead all our bickering on the VHF and just figured we'd be too much of a handful!!!

Continue reading "Passage Journal: Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen"...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Salalah, Oman

February 15 - 20, 2008
by KT

February 15, 2008

The anchorage in Salalah is at a huge shipping port, actually run by Maersk Shipping.  Therefore they tightly control where the yachts can anchor and monitor the port entrance and exits closely (as to prevent boats coming while another is trying to leave or vice-versa).  The area they allow for yachts is tiny and not really suited to handle the number of yachts that were visiting.  The holding is also poor and sometimes a bit of current runs through.  All this made it difficult for Chris and I to find a spot, and we weren't really thrilled with our situation ... we'd have to monitor the winds closely, being sure to not be away from Billabong if anything came through.

The officials were aboard our boat for all of about two minutes.  Probably the fastest to date.  The anchorage is miles away from the city - more accurately miles away from anything.  It is cheaper to rent a car per day than a round trip taxi ride, but since Chris and I figured we'd be spending most of our time on board fixing stuff we didn't bother worrying about getting around.  Friends were heading into the city and offered us a ride to Immigration.  Afterwards they drove us into Salalah with a plan at going to LuLu's Supermarket, but as it was Friday even LuLu's was closed.  Salalah appeared to be vast and spread out, no real apparent downtown or area where shops were more dense.  There were some mountains in the background, but the city itself was flat.  It would not be a place easy to explore by foot.

It felt as though we'd moved into a sepia photograph, as there was almost no color to be seen.  The mountains and earth were desert brown with brown rocks and dirt clumps.  The rare pieces of grass that existed were yellow-brown with dehydration.  The buildings were beige and white.  Men walked about everywhere, many wearing long robes or what we called pajama outfits (loose long shirts over baggy light pants of lightweight material), of white, brown, or grey.  Some men wore sulus and loose shirts, but again the colors were drab.  The only thing that seemed to have color were some of the men's hats.  There were two types, the sit-on-top hat which was small and perched on the top of the head, or the rag-hat, which was a light material wrapped around the head.  Both of these tended to be white, but had mixed-in designs of vibrant colors.  To complete the picture were the women.  On this first trip in I only spotted one, apparently they don't come out during the day, but the one I spotted wore a full black burka, just as I knew the others would be wearing as well.

We returned to Billabong where Chris got right to work on the water maker, hoping that perhaps he could flush out the salt water and maybe to salvage it.  That evening we joined some friends for dinner in town.  The dinner was spectacular.  Huge quantities of food appeared, all delicious.  Plates of salad and fresh pita bread were brought, followed by our entrees.  We had a mixed grill platter which included kebabs of varying meats.  We also had hummus that was to die for ...  I've always liked hummus, but never did I know it could be this good.  We ate until I thought we'd both be sick, and then finished up with tea.  There is no alcohol served in Salalah, instead the men sit around smoking huge (about 3 feet) water bong tobacco pipes.  They come in various flavors, such as strawberry or cherry, and are apparently quite popular.  It felt exotic to watch these men in their white robes, kicking back playing checkers while sucking away on a huge bong that sat on the floor next to them, filling the air with a delicious strawberry scent.  Again there was a huge lack of women (like none at all), apparently they don't visit the restaurants very often, and when they do there is a different section for women.

With all the food and tea and the long passage just over, it wasn't long before I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Bed was heaven.

February 16, 2008

As Chris worked on the water maker, I bummed a ride to drop off laundry in town.  It was slightly more lively, with the shops now open, but the vastness of the city and the desert surroundings still gave Salalah a deserted feeling.  Again I barely saw another women, even the laundry place was run by men.  I returned to the boat feeling pretty good, Chris was making progress with the water maker and all our laundry was about to be done by someone else.

I stepped into the cockpit to find a huge mess.  Stuff was strewn all over the place, and there was Chris with this depressing look on his face, afraid to give me the bad news.  There are some cords and piping that run from the main part of the boat into the forward compartment.  Back in Ventura Chris had epoxied all open holes, making our forward compartment about 99% water tight.  The only spot where water could come in was through the very very small gaps in cords that was high up on the port side of the hull.  This means that for water to actually ever make it's way in we would have to flood the forward compartment high enough to reach  the small space and be on a port tack.  Well, wouldn't you know, that is exactly what we'd done.  Under our bed we have heaps of space, but not all of it is easy to get to.  So, what's the best stuff to keep in such a location -- spare parts of course.  Alternators, refrigeration units, rigging, and on and on the list goes.  All submerged in salt water since we'd left Uligan.  And that's just the beginning of the list, for the water managed not to just get into the first compartment under the bed, but the second and third as well.  All our bandages, gauze, and medical tape ruined.  Heaps of fabric and material soaked.  Canned goods now rusted and label-less.  But the real doozy for me (not that all those electronics and the rigging don't matter to me, they just don't effect me as immediately), was that my laptop was now dripping water.  The ironic thing is that we do not normally store the laptop under the bed, usually it's in our clothing closet.  But in Uligan we had started the process of hiding things (for the potential pirates on the leg to Aden).  We had thought about putting things under the floor boards, but we felt that there is always potential for water in the bilge (even though they've been dry since we've had Billabong).  Under the bed seemed more safe - we never have even come close to getting water there!  And then there was also the fact that I'd stored my laptop and accessories in a Pelican water-tight hard case.  With the hard case, inside foam, and water-tight protection I felt that I could pretty much store the laptop anywhere and it would be fine.  Chris couldn't believe when he'd opened up the Pelican case and water had pretty much poured out.  He still tried to recover parts of the laptop, but everything from the hard drive to the battery was soaked.  The external DVD/CD writer stored in the case was also toast, along with all the cables and mouse.  I know it's just a computer, but it is the one that we store ALL our photographs on, the one we use to create our DVD home-videos, and the one that is used to maintain our website.  It didn't help matters that I couldn't recall if I'd backed it up recently, but we were happy that I'd stored the backup disk in a different location.  (It turns out that I had indeed backed it up somewhat recently so no data was lost, just a few hours worth of photo editing).  It'll be interesting to see what Pelican has to say about their case!!!

Chris led me forward to show me the water damage, and so started our long days of continuous boat work.

February 17 - 18, 2008

We spent these two days working non-stop; cleaning and trying to recover as much stuff as we could.  Chris also worked on repairing the tear in the jib (luckily it was on a seam) and the UV covering of our Genoa.  I made a few trips into Salalah for errands (laundry and groceries), where I still hardly saw more than a handful of women.  Everyone was extremely friendly, and at first I was hesitant to answer "Where are you from" with "America", but people seemed thrilled that I was American and would usually smile and say "ahh, very good!".  I did have one guy at the vegetable market tell me that "America was good" but he did not like "Mr Bush".  It does feel a bit odd to be a women, especially out in town during the day when there is not another women in sight, but it does not feel threatening, nor did I ever feel that any of the men looked down at me.

It wasn't look good for fixing the water maker, but we were extremely lucky that friends of ours actually have a spare that they lent us until we could get a replacement.  At least we won't have to worry about where we are going to get water while traveling through the desert countries.  We are also hopeful that a lot of the damage will be covered by our insurance.  Every year we've debated whether we should continue to fork out the money for insurance, but we always have because we like the extra security, after all Billabong and what's on her is all we own in the world.  It would be nice to know that all this insurance money we've dished out might actually provide us something in return. We'll see - we are still in the claim filing process, so far they have been extremely nice, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

I have to make a comment about the laundry.  Salalah was THE best place we've ever had our laundry done.  Granted it was a bit more pricey than elsewhere, but things came back smelling so wonderful .. and IRONED!  I haven't seen an ironed shirt in four years!  Our sheets were even ironed; when I pulled them out of the bag it was like they were brand new.  Some of Chris' work shirts were actually looking as though he could maybe wear them in public without embarrassment!  Of course it's still not quite the same as back home; there was the use of a permanent black magic marker to mark every item of laundry with two black dots -- usually in a spot you couldn't see, but not always.  And the use of extreme bleach, even on items with some color in them -- mostly just on towels, so the color change didn't really matter, but what if I'd wanted the kitchen towel to be blue striped instead of lime green?

February 19, 2008

By now we were worn out and feeling frustrated that everything in our lives seemed to be just about the boat.  We had decided to be apart of a convoy for the next leg (read more about that decision in the next entry), and they were chomping at the bit to leave, so we didn't have much spare time and didn't have the option of staying longer.  We had just about everything done and really needed a break from Billabong, so we decided to spend our afternoon land touring with Sarah & GB from Djarrka.

Our first stop was a museum in town.  Inside they had displays depicting the history of Oman and relics from the past.  We were impressed with the complex, detailed and intricate water system they had built in the early days.  We watched a video on Frankincense.  Frankincense is "milked" from a frankincense tree, which involves scrapping the bark of the tree such that the sap seeps out - the sap (or gum) forms a hard rock shaped lump that is extremely aromatic, especially when heated.  There are different aromas, which are thought to produce different effects, from healing to warding off evil spirits.  Back in the ancient days this gum was one of the world's most sought after substances and it kept the southern Arabia extremely wealthy.  In the small gift shop Chris and I purchased a bag as I figured with all the bad weather and lost/broken gear we definitely had some evil spirits that needed warding off!

They also had a maritime section with displays on ship building and the exploration that took place from Oman.  We got a kick out of the "head" (toilet) which was basically a small platform with a hole in it that hung over the side of the ship.  A bucket attached to a rope completed the flushing system!  Talk about exposed!  Since then we've actually seen a number of fishing boats with this same system in place!

Then, for a whopping $1.00 each, we hopped on a golf cart and were driven around the ruins of the old town - consisting mostly of mosques.  We would've walked but it was now nearing noon, and being in the desert and all we thought we'd be more comfortable under the shade of the cart top.  The town did not span a very large area, yet there must have been over thirty mosques.  I guess when you pray five times a day it's handy to have a mosque nearby!

After a terrific lunch we headed out to look for a small spring area that another cruiser had recommended.  Once you get out of the city area driving becomes a bit difficult, or rather driving without getting lost.  The signs are mostly in Arabic, and those that are in English tend to not have consistent English translations; if a location in one translation ends EAY and in another ends with just Y is it the same location??? Apparently sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not.  Getting lost was probably the best thing that happened to us.  We ended up traveling up through the mountains, getting a terrific few back at Salalah and the ocean.  We passed heaps of wild camels as well as donkeys and goats.  Finally, convinced we had no clue where we were, we stopped at a small shop and took the map in to see if they could point to where we were.  After a lot of pointing and hand waving and questioning eyes we came away still as lost as before but with some tasty nut treats.  A few more miles up the road we spotted a "Department of Tourism" building.  Ahhh, perfect!  Only the building was closed, and covered with so much dust it looked as though perhaps it has been closed for a very very long time.  Two policemen stood across the road curiously look at us.  Chris ran over with a big 'ol smile and the map and after a bit of discussion as well as a lot of laughing he came back to tell us that we were miles and miles off course!  We were almost at some border and just about off the map we had.  Kind of ironic but when we were first coming up the mountains Chris looked at the map and said, "Where is this huge mountain range that the map shows?".  Well apparently we were driving up and through it the whole time!!!  But, like I said, we were all completely happy that we had been lost and really enjoyed the drive.

We eventually found the little spring or waterhole.  It was pretty but not that impressive, making us even more grateful for our earlier detour.  As we were driving back from the spring a herd of camels came sauntering down the road.  These must be one of the strangest looking animals on earth ...  but what a smart design!  At last I could get my wild camel photo.  These guys were a perfect end to our half day tour.

We made a quick stop at LuLu's where Chris and I determined that the full veil burka does not make a lot of sense, the women who were shopping with the full veil actually had to lift the veil in order to read some of the labels -- doesn't seem very practical.  That afternoon in the supermarket was the largest quantity of women I'd see out and about since being in Salalah.  We spotted everything from western-style dressed women (still further covered but not in a gown or burka), to veiled black burkas, and even some of the face covers with the eye protectors that block the women's peripheral vision such that her whole head has to turn if she wants to look at something.  The women whose faces we could see were heavily done up with tons of makeup and many of them had shaved off their eyebrows, only to paint one long continuous one that formed a v in the center.  I would've liked to seen their clothing under the burkas as I've read that many wear extravagant, fancy clothes.  I understand the idea of dressing conservative, and even, to some extent, covering every inch of the body, but I'm not sure I get why it has to be black, especially when the men get to wear the cooler white color.  Perhaps it's time I found a book and did a bit of research on the whole thing.

Even though we got back to Billabong as the sun was setting, Chris got right back to work on the sail repairs he was doing.  I admit that I'm amazed at his relentless energy when it comes to getting stuff done - he easily out lasts me ten-fold.

February 20, 2008

We were happy when the convoy decided that an extra day wouldn't hurt and actually, according to forecasts, might give us better sailing weather.  This gave us a chance not only to do our previous days worth of touring, but also some time to get the boat put back together after all the work and repairs.  It took us all day to finish up everything, and then get everything stowed for the upcoming passage, but at long last Billabong was a working boat again.

We walked up to the Oasis Club (about a twenty-thirty minute walk from the anchorage) for dinner and drinks.  The oasis Club is pretty much a whitey hang out, the only place in Oman you can get a beer.  It is patronized by ex-pats and the large ship's crews.  I was craving a good 'ol fashioned cheeseburger and fries, and it really hit the spot.  We had drinks with the gang we had done a lot of our passages with since Thailand, they were all staying a few more days and not going directly to Aden, so we wouldn't be catching them again until somewhere up in the Red Sea.

Continue reading "Salalah, Oman"...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Passage Journal: Uligan, Maldives to Salalah, Oman

February 5 - 15, 2008
by KT

Trip Summary: 1237 nM, 240 Hours, Average 5.3 Knots

When I wrote the BLOG about our passage from Thailand to the Maldives one of our sailor friends emailed us saying passages were akin to childbirth; you never wanted to document them too accurately (especially the bad stuff), otherwise you wouldn't be able to allow your mind to smooth over the rough corners (and potentially forget the bad moments all together), and that means you'd never do it again!  If that's true then I should just stop writing now, because there was pretty much nothing good about our passage from the Maldives to Oman.  It was in Oman that I began seriously wondering if I couldn't bribe Chris into allowing me to fly to Egypt!  But our friend is right, because as I try to write this (about one month post-passage) I find myself having difficulties remembering the fine details of the passage, right now I'm thinking, hmmm perhaps it wasn't so bad!

I suppose we should've foreseen the future when we woke up and a rainy squall was passing through.  We hadn't had rain in months, perhaps the Gods were trying to warn us.  It almost worked, as Chris and I put in a movie and proceeded to wait for the weather to clear.  About two-thirds into the movie we got a VHF call from one of the other boats, telling us that all looked quiet aboard Billabong and were we still going to go? As a few other boats were still going we figured we ought to motivate and just get on with it, the rain had mostly stopped and delaying was just postponing the inevitable.

It's another bad sign when you get out of the lagoon and the winds are about three times stronger then predicted.  We knew we would have wind on the nose for part of the trip, but it was predicted to be light for that portion so we figured we could handle it.  Once we pulled away from the lagoon the seas seemed to flatten a bit and even though we were about 25 degrees off course we thought we were doing okay.

For the next three days the winds continued to drive us off course, and we found ourselves beating into 20-25 knots (which means our apparent wind was 26-31 knots -- YUCK).  The seas built back up and we were taking huge amounts green water over the deck.  The force of these waves was astronomical.  At one point our kayak even broke free, breaking the three lines that tied it to our deck. Chris was able to catch it before it was washed away or managed to break anything else.  Another scary mishap was when we hit a sudden burst of wind before we'd had a chance to get a reef in the jib, Chris looked up and noticed that our jib was tearing.  Luckily we were able to get the sail in before the tear worsened, but now, for the remainder of the trip we had to baby the jib and keep it well reefed.  From the Marshall Islands to Fiji we had beat to weather for over fifteen days, and most of the time we experienced more winds than the Maldives-Oman passage.  Afterwards we had promised ourselves we'd never do that again, but here we were, once again in beating hell.  We noticed that although the winds weren't any higher than those we experienced in the Marshall Island to Fiji leg, the seas seemed more rough, steeper, and more unsettled.  The force and quantity of water that came across our decks seemed twice of what we'd previously experienced (and to think that during that passage to Fiji we had thought things couldn't get any worse!).

Now, let me break and quote to you from Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes".  First he states that the routes in the North Indian Ocean are "governed by the predictability of the weather ...". Hmmm, none of the crap we were in was predicted.  According to weather reports, by now the winds should've been shifting and they should've been about half the strength.  Next Jimmy says, "The favourable season for a passage across the North Indian Ocean is during the NE monsoon, when almost perfect sailing conditions can be expected".  Well, here we were in the NE monsoon season wondering just when we'd hit these perfect sailing conditions.  For the leg from the Maldives to Oman he says "Excellent weather conditions will be experienced ...".  This was far from excellent. And Jimmy is not the only cruising book that raves about the North Indian Ocean crossing and the fantastic NE monsoon.  Also I should point out that for at least this sailing season, we are not the only boat who found the passages difficult, just about every boat we've talked to hit crappy weather (that was not predicted), and found themselves wanting to have a word with good 'ol Jimmy!  If we hadn't known better we'd swear that we weren't in the NE monsoon season at all!

What really wore me down was the fact that the weather was so different than expected.  It was as though mentally I could not accept or comprehend why we were bashing into the rough seas or why our cockpit was continuously soaked with water, I wanted that great passage that I'd read about.  To put it lightly it made me a wee bit grouchy.

On about the 9th (our fifth day out).  The winds finally shifted, and the seas calmed enough that we could try to make up some miles (we were now about 50 nautical miles off course).  It was also calm enough that Chris felt like fishing, snagging a nice Mahi Mahi.  Chris also decided that he should take the opportunity to double-check things on deck (rigging, booms, blocks, the lines that tie down the dinghy and kayaks, and so on).  It was during this process that he found our forward bulkhead filled with water.  Apparently (what we discovered later when we were able to take a closer look), the forward hatch cover had cracked under all the water pressure and pounding.  The force of the water across the decks was able to flex the hatch enough to allow water into the compartment.  To make matters worse the bilge pump broke, so the water just continued to pile up ...  high enough that our water maker was submerged.  Motors and salt water do not mix.  Chris pumped out the water, cleaned up everything the best he could (the seas were still lumpy so he couldn't fully take out the water maker), and then tried to better seal the cracked hatch -- a temporary fix until we could make it into port and do a full investigation and fix.  We spent the rest of the day completely bummed out about the water maker and wondering what it was going to be like traveling through the desert countries without a water maker.

We spent the next three days in crappy seas, the wind was more on our beam so we could at least get on course, but water continued to come across the decks.  Every time it got calm enough Chris would go forward to check on the forward compartment and pump out any water that had accumulated.  It was not a fun time.  But ever the fisherman, Chris didn't let the weather interfere.  Anytime it calmed down just a wee bit a line went overboard.  In a three day period (from the 10th to 12th) he caught four Mahi Mahi, two small tuna, and a bluefin tuna.  We threw most of them back (not having the space in the freezer and only wanting to hassle with cleaning them if they were big enough for a couple of meals).

It's bad enough when things break on their own accord, or when you suffer through weather that you just can't control.  But I felt it was just plain mean of the Gods when they caused me to accidental through over Chris' fish cleaning glove.  Chris was constantly nicking himself when he'd clean fish underway, so in Australia I talked him into buying a Kevlar glove.  He wasn't originally going to because it was $35.  The problem with the glove is that after a few cleanings it begun to stink to high heaven.  Underway I'm ultra sensitive to bad smells (part of the sea-sick thing), so I was sitting in the cockpit practically gagging when I decided I needed it to be far away from me.  I casually grabbed it and went to toss it across the cockpit.  Wouldn't you know it, but the damn thing went further than expected and managed to flop, ever so slowly, between the gap in the wind screens.  Away floated our expensive glove, and it wasn't like we were going to find another one anytime soon!  AND we were headed towards fishing haven -- the Red Sea!

On the 13th things finally started to settle out.  By nighttime it was almost comfortable.  That was until the flying fish attacked.  As I was going down for my first sleep Chris yelled down, "wow, a whole fleet of flying fish just flew over the boat in formation!".  When he woke me up three hours later he informed me that tons of flying fish had flown into the boat and cockpit during his watch.  I settled down into the cockpit, but after about 20 minutes not a single flying fish appeared so I thought I was in the clear.  Then it began.  "Thump".  "Thump thump", I could hear them hitting the hull of the boat.  Then "thump ..  thwat-thwat-thwat-thwat", one had hit the side of our screen and fallen into the cockpit.  Before I could get him scooped out two more had fallen onto the deck next to the cockpit.  I spent the next hour running around trying to throw the ones I could reach back into the sea. Finally I realized it was futile, there were too many, and every time I went to try and save one he'd just end up beating himself to death trying to avoid my touch anyway!  Chris later told me that he too had tried to save them until in the mist of throwing one back to the sea another flew straight into his chest -- SMACK!  After that he said "to hell with this!"  The rest of my watch I only removed the ones that came directly into the cockpit.  It was a strange night, the water was so phosphorescent that it was as though a huge spotlight shone from beneath.  The flying fish continued to thump against the boat, hitting our cockpit screens, the sails, and decks ...  it was like being under attack.  During our next watches the flying fish died down so things were peaceful again.  As the sun came up I looked forward and saw our decks were littered with what appeared to be hundreds of dead fish.  There wasn't a clear spot to be seen.  When Chris came up I told him to look, he couldn't believe it.  we also had fish scales on everything, it was a mess.  It was finally our first calm day, so Chris was able to go on deck and clean up some of the mess.  He counted 78 fish, and this does not include the ones that hit and bounced off, nor the ones that we threw off.  One poor guy was wedged in-between a solar panel and the support beam that held it, about a 1/4-inch space above the dodger!

Chris kept a "fleet" of four, which he rigged up to use as a lure

We spent our last night in super calm seas, going about 3 knots.  As we wanted to arrive in the daylight we just sat back and enjoyed the smooth oceans and calm sail.  I probably say this after every passage, but I've never been happier to have a passage over with and to arrive somewhere safely.  Now of course we had a huge task ahead of us, we had the forward hatch that needed repairing, a water maker that was probably beyond repair, a torn sail, and oh did I mention we discovered another hole in the dinghy? Little did we know that our problems were actually ten times worse that all that -- water had found its way from the forward compartment to under our bed, causing substantial damage ...  but that's a story for our time in Salalah.

Continue reading "Passage Journal: Uligan, Maldives to Salalah, Oman"...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Passage Blurbs: Uligan, Maldives to Salalah, Oman

Salalah Oman - Busy Port Anchorage

Trip Summary - 1273 nM, 240 Hours, Ave 5.3 Knots
Nautical Miles to Date - 24,885
a very Crowded Area by Container Port

Salalah Oman Yacht Anchorage

Night 10 - Feb 14, 2008

1226 nM down - 45 to go Very Calm and slow - Nice for a change

Night 9 - Feb 13, 2008

1120 nM down - 152 nM to go Woke up with 78 dead flying fish on board

Flying Fish Fiasco

Night 8 - Feb 12, 2008

996 nM down - 277 nM to go Nice Bluefin Tuna for Sashimi Lunch Caught 2 Mahi Mahi and another Small Tuna

The Keeper - Nice 4+ foot Bull Mahi Mahi for the Freezer

Night 7 - Feb 11, 2008
846 nM down - 425 nM to go Calm then Rough - Wind on the Beam Caught small tuna 3 x size of lure

Night 6 - Feb 10, 2008
708 nM down - 545 nM to go Wind finally at 70-90 Degrees Caught two Mahi Mahi at once - Too small

Pizza on a rolly boat At least you can check your toppings through the window

Night 5 - Feb 09, 2008
570 nM down - 683 nM to go Bearing off a bit - Still 20nM off course

Small Mahi-Mahi - too rough to clean

Night 4 - Feb 08, 2008
450 nM down - 804 nM to go Still Beating 20 knots. Slightly Favorable Wind Shift - Still 40nM Off Course

Night 3 - Feb 07, 2008
330 nM down - 925 nM to go Still Beating 20 knots w Torn Jib. NE Moonson? Why NNW Winds? UGGH

Night 2 - Feb 06, 2008
205 nM down - 1050 nM to go Still Crappy increased to 25 knots

Night 1 - Feb 05, 2008 
75 nM down - 1180 nM to go Crappy Sailing beating into 20 knots

Continue reading "Passage Blurbs: Uligan, Maldives to Salalah, Oman"...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Uligan, Maldives Journal

January 29 - February 5, 2008
by KT

Uligan Atoll, Maldives: 40 Feet in Sand

Anchorage off the main Motu
Maldives Mantas, 12 feeding just outside the anchorage - Very Playful!!
Some friends had emailed us and told us that four days was more than enough time in Uligan, and that we would see what they meant when we got there.  After one week, we still didn't understand what they meant, we'd been fully entertained in Uligan and had found the mix of relaxation and exploration to be perfect.  Perhaps we are just easily entertained, or maybe it's that we have perfected the art of doing nothing!

At first glance Uligan is the typical tropical atoll.  Turquoise green water, white sand beaches, and palm trees scattered about.  Ashore however, I was struck by the structure of the town.  Instead of grass huts with thatched roofs the buildings were concrete and coral.  But more unique was a tall wall that runs through the entire town.  The wall provided both protection to the houses behind it (from the sand the wind stirred up), as well as privacy.  The wall was clean and neat, forming a wide street in-between.   It was built entirely of coral which was pretty impressive.   There are no cars in Uligan, and at most a handful of bicycles plus a couple of motor scooters, but the road was easily wide enough for opposing car traffic.  The street is not paved and barely even packed, so you are constantly trudging through the white thick beach sand.  It is the contrast between the sandy beach streets and the almost modern houses & walls that makes Uligan so different from the other atolls we've visited (modern being a relative term, What I mean is modern compared to say the open bamboo huts of Kiribati).  We were especially impressed with their hammock chairs.  In other island/atoll countries the typical relaxation-socialization calls for sitting cross-legged on a mat under a tree.  It doesn't take long before your legs fall asleep and your back aches.  In the Maldives they've built a simple hammock chair; woven roped tied into a metal structure.  These chairs are everywhere and superbly comfortable.  Even their meeting "house" has these chairs instead of mats.  Their only flaw is that they are made for the tiny bums of the locals, us large Westerners found that we didn't have a lot of room to spare!  They had also built a set of lounging chairs, a small table, a couple of stools, and a bouncing child's chair into a tree -- it was ingenious.  A photo is the only way to describe it (see below).

Uligan is full of rules -- the introduction to the stricter societies that we would be traveling through from here to the Med.  We were only allowed to anchor at the one atoll, we could not travel to the other atolls without a guide/escort, and we were rarely left to walk alone in Uligan.  We could not have locals on our boat, could not bring alcohol ashore (actually the alcohol ashore is a pretty standard rule in every country), and for the first time in our travels we were actually required by the officials to run an anchor light during the night hours (something we do anyway, but have never been required to by the local government).  The rules aren't that big of deal, we just found it interesting that they were so worried about letting us do anything on our own.  The people themselves are relaxed and friendly, but private and reserved.  They would say hello and occasionally ask how we were, but for the most part had practically no interest in us, and pretty much ignored us (with exception of the group of men who were in charge of managing and monitoring us).

The check-in was fantastic.  Tons of paperwork like always, and they wanted our boat stamp on everything, but they were efficient and quick.  They were also all extremely young.  Later, when we were checking out, I asked a couple of them how old they were; they ranged from 17 to 22.  I had just finished reading an old Western book, and associated their ages with the ages from early America, when one was a fully aged, almost old, adult by 20.

Our time in Uligan was nicely broken up between boat projects, exploration, and relaxation.  At some point we'd cracked the swedge on our shroud.  It was a small crack, but we were glad Chris found it early on.  It took a few trips up the mast to replace it.  We'd also torn the UV cover seam on our Genoa.  We didn't have the time to fix it in Uligan so instead we just put up our smaller Jib.  Both of these fixes turned out to be good choices as our next passage ended up being rougher and more to weather than we'd anticipated.  We'd also had to fix a hole in the dinghy.  It may not sound like a lot, but this was probably the first time that we had so many boat projects after a passage ...  I guess we'd been quite lucky the last few years.

For exploration we strolled the white sand beaches, walked along Uligan's town walls, and visited their wind farm.  They are quite proud of this accomplishment and tout is as "The world's first AC coupled Renewable Energy Micro Grid System.  Initiated under the Renewable Energy Pilot Project".  Chris also checked out a boat the locals were making.  A huge wooden thing that they were building without a spec or plan of any sort -- just straight from the head!

We spent one day on a tour, visiting two of the nearby atolls and snorkeling.  It was a beautiful and interesting day.  We had two guides, and I felt bad for them as they struggled to keep track of our group and to keep us together, moving at the same speed.  They couldn't let any of us out of their sight (see rules above), and I felt a bit like cattle being herded from one spot to the next.  The two atolls were similar to Uligan, with clean wide streets and walls lining them.  We visited a small store and one of the schools.  The snorkeling was good, but not as impressive as we'd expected for the area.

We also enjoyed a local dinner buffet ashore.  The food was outstanding, similar to the Fijian-Indian food we'd had in Fiji, with curries, chili fish (very hot), dahl (a split pea type of curry), and heaps of fresh rotis.  Chris and I love fresh Roti so much that we actually asked if we could order 30 to pick up the next day for our passage, not one to miss out on a profit the guy was quite happy to arrange it.

The highlight of our stay was when one of the other boats spotted some manta rays swimming just next to the anchorage.  We dinghied out, and minutes later were snorkeling amongst ten of the gigantic winged animals.  The water was murky, so we couldn't see them until they were really close, which sometimes made for a shock.  I'd tread water in one spot, doing circles looking for a manta.  Then out of the murkiness, quite close, would appear a set of huge open mouths, sometimes aimed right at me.  The manta would always end up veering off, but sometimes they'd get close enough that I was sure they were going to bump into me!  I noticed that the longer I stayed in the water, the less the manta's cared about me.  First they'd give me wide berth, then after a few minutes it was pretty much as if I wasn't there, and they'd pass close enough that I could've easily reached out and touched them.  Chris, more daring than I, actually swam down and touched a few on the back.  We both swear that one guy was playing with us.  Chris had touched his back once, and on a second pass the manta came really close to Chris, but when Chris swam down to pet him the manta turned over on his back and swam beneath us for almost a minute upside down, before turning right side and coming back towards us.  We've never seen a manta do that before.  We stayed out there a couple of hours, until our backs were sunburned, our hands and feet turned to prunes, and our bodies shivered from the cool water.
Continue reading "Uligan, Maldives Journal"...