Check out weeks ending: [1
Mar 2003] [8 Mar 2003] [15
Mar 2003] [22 Mar 2003] [Events
in Iraq] [29 Mar 2003]
Week ending 1 Mar 2003 (Bob)
Crossing the Arabian Sea - This week we find ourselves
2/3 of the way across the Indian Ocean, in the part known as the Arabian
Sea. We have always read of this as another 'milk run', with trade winds
10-15, always from abaft the beam. Well, as many other times 'the
weather is never like this' when we get there, so we have had light (or no)
wind for several days, as well as winds from the north-west, which has pushed us
south of our rhumb line, and made us sail close-hauled for the first time in
quite a while. However, the last couple of days have brought gentle
breezes and we have even dragged out our light-air drifter to add color to the
rig. We have had a few encounters with dolphins, and a sea bird that
hitched a ride, and are looking for whales reported by other yachts ahead of us.
All in all, not a text-book crossing so far, but no real complaints!
'Get out of our patch of the ocean' - As we
travel at night, we often keep our radar on, and as it sweeps out a 450 square
mile area around us, we get downright indignant when another ship intrudes in
our space. We fret a bit, call them on the VHF, listen in frustration as
they ignore our calls, and then prepare to dodge them if they get too close
(we're talking 2 miles being too close). It warms our heart when the
person on watch answers us, most recently with an Italian accent, and confirms
that he has seen us and will change course to avoid us. Often though, they
still sneak close to get a peek at our little 38' vessel as it plies the same
ocean as his 400' ship full of cars.
Boy Scout's Motto and Cruisers - 'Do a Good Turn Every
day' - This motto was drummed into Bob for years in his Boy Scout days, and this
appears to alive and well among the cruisers. Good turns are given in all
close-knit communities around the world and here are a few examples from recent
- Give a tow - Late last month Talinga Too
diverted in mid-ocean and towed Tramontana, a bigger yacht, 60 miles
- Help with lines - Galle harbor is set up so that
lines need to be tied spider-web style to keep yachts in place. Each
of us, in turn, launched dinghies and sweated with the lines for others,
secure in the knowledge that they would do it for us when the time came.
- Help disabled yachts - When Limbo arrived at
Uligan out of fuel, the yachtie nets bristled with ideas on how to get them
into the atoll safely, and interceded with the authorities to get fuel
delivered to them as they approached.
Boredom - Despite protests to the contrary, I have
concluded that on a passage, boredom is good. It means:
- No bad weather - Bad weather relieves the boredom by
keeping us up at night, making us change clothes often, and frustrating us,
as well as being dangerous.
- No broken gear - Equipment breakage can fill lots of
ones time and avoid boredom.
- No close calls - Every 10 minutes, 24 hours per day,
one of us scans the horizon looking for a dim light or hard shape indicating
a ship is near. A ship sneaking up at night to
within a mile really relieves the boredom - we prefer to be bored.
I guess we prefer to be dull people while on a passage, how
Week ending 8 Mar 2003 (Bob)
Crossing to Oman - As this week dawned, the winds
freshened and for 48 hours we had winds in the 18-25 knot range with large seas
- 'boisterous conditions'! This drove us first south and then north of our
rhumb lines as we tried to avoid taking seas on our beam. It was a wet and
uncomfortable couple of days, but moved us along at 115 miles/day. On the
last day, with Oman 60+ miles away, we turned on the engine and motor-sailed
down wind at 7 1/2 knots and squeaked into the harbor at Salalah, Oman as the
sun was dropping below the yardarm. We celebrated our safe arrival with
thanks to Neptune and a cold drink (or 2) as we joined 12 other yachts anchored
in a modern-looking port.
A New Culture - The Middle East - We were
fascinated by the new culture we had just found, a very modern and wealthy
country with very friendly people. A few observations based on 2 days so
- Officials - They came to the yacht, were quick and
efficient and within 1/2 hours had surrendered our passports and were
officially in the country. Since we have no visas to roam the country,
we are bound to remain at the Port except for short visits outside. We
get a pass, which is stamped for a day visit, and then can travel locally as
long as we return before 11PM.
- Mohammed - One of the port workers has set up a
side-business serving the yachties, and Mohammed visited us with his flowing
white robe to offer rental car, tours, or other services. He is a very
handsome and charismatic young man that makes life easier for us travelers.
- Beige and white - These are the colors of the desert
and the cities, beige sand and white buildings and mosques with colorful
- Black and white - These are the colors of the
clothing - Omani men generally wear white robes with a colorful head turban,
the women wear black with a veil. But there are many foreign workers,
Indian, Sri Lankan, Westerners, and foreign forces so that people on the
streets could be dressed in almost any attire.
- Modern and wealthy - The highways are wide and
divided and the cars new in this country that makes its living by selling
oil to the world. The city of Salalah is ancient and used to be the
capital of the Oman empire that covered much of Africa and the Middle
East. Now it is a port city with modern, but plain buildings, good
shopping and friendly people.
2 Down, 1 to go - Of the world's big oceans, we have
now crossed 2 - the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, the Atlantic comes up in a
couple of years. Our high-level observations are:
- They are not predictable 'milk runs' - Contrary to
the Pilot chart predictions, one cannot depend on moderate trade winds on
the quarter to move you along. In both cases we have encountered winds
with speeds from 1 to 30 knots (outside of the cyclone season), coming from
close hauled to dead down-wind directions.
- Indian Ocean has lots of sea-life - Although we were
not privileged to see any whales (yet) other yachts have reported
hump-backs, pilot whales, orcas, and pods of hundreds of dolphins.
There are lots of fishing vessels out there, but abundant sea-life.
Week ending 15 Mar 2003 (Bob)
Salalah, Oman - This has been another very pleasant
surprise - a friendly introduction to the Arab world. Oman is quite
modern, thanks to rich oil fields, and thus the people are well-off, the city is
clean and modern and friendly to the visitors. We have been able to travel
to the city and some of the surrounding area and our highlights include:
- Family Restaurants - On our first night ashore we
went to a local restaurant. It is set up with private rooms, where we
sat on the floor and chose meals from a generous menu. The 5 of us
selected Omani and Indian dishes, ate with our fingers, and had a great
time. The waiters always knocked before they entered the room, and we
believe the whole system is set up so that women can remove their veils
since they will be only in the presence of their family.
- Coastal drive - West along the coast are dramatic
cliffs and beautiful beaches so we drove about 30 miles to a check-point -
beyond it was the road to Yemen, but it was closed to us. The
check-point was manned by heavily armed soldiers with machine guns and armed
- Camels - They are everywhere! From the front
gates of the Port to the highway north of town, they roam through the
countryside and on the highways. Big, little, dark, and light they are
arrogant and do NOT get out of the way of vehicles. They are known to
be valuable, so we gave them a wide berth.
- Friendly people - We have found all of the people to
friendly - we shake hands with anyone who approaches, and many want to know
where we are from. Some people have been invited home for dinner, and
at market stalls people will engage in friendly conversation.
- Frankincense - The Christian Bible lists
frankincense as one of the gifts brought to Jesus by the three magi, and
Oman is the source of frankincense. We visited a market near the
palace of the Sultan of Oman, and scores of vendors sold this aromatic pitch
from a small shrub that grows on the surrounding hills. 1 riyeal
(about $US3.80) will get you about 1 pound of 'the best' stuff, as described
to us by the merchant we visited. He also happened to be a chemical
engineer graduate from U of California at Long Beach and was moon-lighting
at his own incense and perfume shop.
- Impending confrontation with Iraq - We talked with
some young men at a small village north of Salalah, and got onto this
subject. Their view is that US people are good, but their government has it
all wrong in planning to attack Iraq. They believe it is all about
control of Iraq's oil fields, and feel Bush is 'bad'.
Ready to Move on - When we arrived, we had a few
problems which we have resolved:
- Broken windvane - We hit a crab-pot buoy on the way
into Salalah and broke a stainless part on our Monitor windvane. We
found a place to weld it, and it is back in place, albeit with a slight
- Overheating autopilot - The last couple of days the
autopilot had been overheating with no apparent reason. We found a
broken guide wheel inside the unit, and have repaired it. No way to know for
sure if this was the cause, but it is likely.
- Defective regulator - We have been plagued by a
problem with charging the batteries for several weeks, and upon arrival
ordered a new regulator from West Marine. It arrived with 4 days. duty
was minimal, and we had it installed and running within 4 hours.
Currently we anticipate a Saturday 15 March departure with 2
other yachts: Herodotus and Limbo. There have been 2 recent
piracy incidents, so our adrenaline level is up, and we will not sleep
comfortably until we clear the danger area off of the coast of Yemen.
Week ending 22 Mar 2003 (Bob)
On the Move - We left Salalah mid-day on 22 March for
the Red Sea. We plan to sail directly to Massawa in Eritrea in company
with Tara 3 on a 1200 mile passage. If fuel runs low, we plan to
pull into Aden, about 7 days from Salalah.
False Start - This is what happens when we write our
journal before the week is completed - events tend to make the prediction
obsolete. One hour out of Salalah, our venerable autopilot started to
over-heat and wandered wildly in course +/- 20░, and after experimenting with
it for over an hour of motoring sou'west in light winds, we decided to turn back
to repair or order a new one. Our traveling companions, Herodotus
and Limbo, wisely decided to press on (they are nearing Aden, 700 miles
away as we write this).
Autopilot Update - After reconciling ourselves to a
$1000 order for a new autopilot, we continued troubleshooting the next day and
found the root cause: the retaining washer on the steering shaft was
missing (who knows how or when) and the autopilot was jammed in such a way that
there was too much friction while steering. This caused the little motor
to over-work, over-correct and over-heat. We fixed the problem, took Long
Passages our for a several hour spin, and all systems appear to operate
properly. Now we plan to leave on 22 March with Tara 3, a New
Zealand yacht that arrived the day we made our false start.
More about Oman - With another week in this interesting
country, we have some other observations:
- Veils - Most Muslim women in Oman wear veils of one
type or another, ranging from merely a head-dress to slits for the eyes to
ones where the face is completely concealed - they look out through the
loose weave of the cloth. At night, we visited the gold shops, and the
veils had fancy trim and sequins - but always black.
- Gold - We shopped in the gold and silver souq
(markets) and found that the jewelry was cheaper than the cost of the gold.
Judi succumbed to the temptation and bought a fine filigree piece.
- Desolate interior - Drives into the mountains around
Salalah reveal barren and dry hillsides, suitable for grazing animals and
not much else.
- Camels and more camels - We
continue to be fascinated by these animals, that appear to be everywhere,
and arrogantly stroll the streets and roads with scant regard for passing
- Liquor - It is difficult to find in this Muslim
country. Near the port is the Oasis, a western-style restaurant with
steaks and beer (and no signs to announce its presence) that we quite
like. One of the super-markets on the local Air Force base sells
liquor, but only if you have a police permit and buy in 10-case lots.
- Hand-shaking - We find we shake hands with everyone
- shop-keepers, the guards every time we leave or return, and even
hitchhikers that we pick up on the highways.
Saddened by events in Iraq
- As we write this, US
troops are rolling across the desert of Iraq, and we are sad that diplomatic
maneuvers have failed. We
think the US is making a mistake, and that the long-term ramifications of
this action will far out-weigh the short-term gain of throwing out a bad
guy. The people we have talked to have been against the US action, and not
just because they are Arabs or Muslims, but because they do not understand the
threat, and believe the issue is oil. We have already detected a cooling of the
friendliness of the people and guards at this port, and the changes include:
- Guards now carry machine guns at all times.
- Security has been tightened at the entrances.
- We have been confined to the base for 2 days.
- The local KFC was attacked, we don't know the extent of the
- In Yemen, our potential next stop, protesters clashed with
police and 1 person was killed.
- The port has accumulated 4 motor-launches so far from
nearby Dubai in the United Arab Emirates - although they are reputed to be
here just for the fishing.
- The editorial in the local paper, usually friendly to the
US, points out that the US is confirming that it believes 'might makes
right', and other countries will use this justification when dealing with
neighbors they don't like.
Piracy on the horizon - The big topic continues to be
the possibility of piracy when transiting the Gulf of Aden. Two incidents
happened in early March near the same area, and subsequently yachts have
employed tactics to cross the danger area (between 49 and 48) at times of least
danger. All yachts have transited this area recently with no problems.
Week ending 29 Mar 2003 (Bob)
Arrival in Aden, Yemen - Well, we switched to
Plan B and decided to pull into Aden, even though our fuel supply was adequate
to get us to Eritrea. So far (one day) we have found it interesting, and
as usual, the people are friendly! Formalities were a breeze, cost no
money, and the only nuisance is leaving our passports in an official's office
while we use our Shore Pass to leave the Port area.
Threading the needle - The big event of the week was
the area where most piracy incidents happened. The red areas show the
general danger areas We can be a little more
relaxed now as we continue to the Red Sea (only 50 miles away). The chart
shows the Gulf of Aden with the danger areas highlighted while *
show attacks in the last 4 years. The red band that runs
from Somalia to Yemen is apparently used by smugglers, who are willing to attack
small vessels as they transit the Gulf, and unarmed yachts are good
pickings. The conventional approach has become to:
- Travel in groups
- Travel at night
- Stick to the middle of the Gulf
- Run with either no lights or low lights.
- Keep VHF radios off if at all possible.
- Yell MAYDAY via all possible means if attacked.
A Real Piracy Account - The following is a harrowing,
first hand account of an attempted attack that happened 2 weeks before we left
Oman. This was one of the reasons our adrenaline level was HIGH as we
transited this same area. We have changed the names of the yachts involved
Yacht A - who wrote this report
Yacht B - also part of group attacked
Yacht C - net controller of SSB Radio Net
Yacht X - attacked a week earlier in same area.
Initial contact - "This morning at 8 am Yemen local time
Yacht A was in close company with 4 other yachts at 13░ 11 N and 48░ 40 E approximately 50 miles off the Yemen coast
and 100 from Somalia in the Gulf of Aden: We spotted three fast moving motorized dhows coming across our track from
the direction of Somalia towards the Yemen coast. I was just about give a
routine position report in to a NET on the SSB radio where by chance M...,
the skipper of YACHT X (a yacht attacked, boarded and robbed near here a week
ago) was describing his attack."
The attackers - "I broke in to his conversation and asked for a quick
description of the boats that attacked him and his response described the ones
approaching us. Local boats, 20 meters long, probably made of wood judging from their
radar echo (only visible on radar within 1.5 miles) and inboard powered. They were covered with bright blue and orange plastic sheeting possibly to
conceal their identity or their cargo. By this time we had formed a very tight group and had increased speed to
the maximum we could sustain as a group - 6-7 knots. One of the three dhows
had diverted and was heading directly for us from our port
Shots Fired - "When he was about half a mile away we heard
shots fired. We immediately called mayday. K... on YACHT B using VHF and I called the skipper of
YACHT C and of YACHT X who were in direct communication with the German Navy HQ in
Djibouti. They informed us that help was on its way but would take several
hours. We repeatedly called Mayday on other channels but got no
response. The boat was only very slowly overtaking us and as no further shots were
fired an anxious ten or fifteen minutes followed as they gradually drew
astern and we coaxed more speed from our engines. His other two companion
vessels did not seem to take an enthusiastic part in the pursuit, both appeared
heavily laden with people. All this time K... , I and some of the others kept up a barrage of Mayday calls and updating of the contacts that we had
managed to make by the various radio frequencies."
Ships Respond - "A Panamanian registered freighter answered one of
L...'s calls and said that he was turning towards our position. Then a US warship called and said
he would be in our position in 3 hours. Finally the attacking boat gave up the chase and turned for the Yemen
coast possibly because of the obvious long chase he was in for to overtake us,
also because we were a close bunched group of five yachts, and also because he was heavily laden with "passengers". The appearance of the merchant
vessel ROYAL PESCADORES heading in our direction must have also been a
deterrent 9.12am a Coalition Orion 4-engined navy aircraft made contact, flew
over and then headed down the coast AHEAD OF US! (The pirates were astern) On
his second pass fifteen minutes later we managed to indicate to him the direction in which they had fled and he did a run in that direction. He then
returned, asked if we needed any assistance, and departed. At 1050 he
returned and asked for details of the yachts involved, reported that had had seen
any local small vessels but could not identify our
All Clear - "Thankfully we have escaped that attack unscathed and will pass the worst
"danger zone" by tonight. We have 2-3 days to go before we enter the "Gates
of Sorrow" at the southern end of the Red Sea and head for the relative safety of Eritrea."
The continuing Autopilot saga - After
testing the autopilot
for several hours in Salalah, we declared it 'cured' and left on the 1200 mile
passage expecting no problems. About 2 hours out of Salalah, the autopilot
resumed its wandering ways, and after swinging +/- 20║ and getting hot, we shut
it off and went to another Plan B - as we engaged 'Casco' to
steer.. This is a Rube Goldberg arrangement shown to the right where the
autopilot acts like the vane, and the windvane thinks it is being steered by the
wind. Judi said "No way will this work!". Much to our
joint surprise it has worked well for the last 400 miles, and now is part of our
options as far as steering.