RED SEA

                                INDIAN OCEAN - PASSAGE MALDIVES TO OMAN

Our passage across the Indian Ocean from the Maldives to Oman was promised by all the cruising guides and books to be the best sailing anywhere. As is turned out, we had unseasonable weather and the 11 day passage was the worst we have had since the Oregon Coast.
Jan 28

We began our passage with our sails reefed, the 15 knot winds a bit too northerly so we were fairly hard on it. The seas were moderate so we were pleased with the conditions. A Tropic bird made an appearance, the first I had seen since Mexico, otherwise we had an uneventful night.

The stars overflowing in the skies were being reflected in the waters below, flashing and shining brightly in every direction, like florescent lights. It so affected our night vision that we had to concentrate carefully to distinguish the lights from the fishing boats on the horizon.

Jan 29

Our second night out we experienced numerous fishing boats and strobes everywhere which we believed to be nets. The wind died so we motored on flat seas. In the darkness, the wake alongside the hull was a dazzling emerald, appearing like long streamers of ribbon, very mesmerizing.

Feb 1 Day 4

A low over India packed 20+ knots and 3-4 m seas from the N with a vengeance. We struggled against the wind on the nose and a contrary current. To make our course we had to sail tight to the wind but it seemed like we were going nowhere, like we were on a treadmill, barely moving.

The seas piled up and Ascension, hobby horsing into a marching row of steep, almost vertical waves, was pinched as high as possible to make our course. The first wave would send us airborne, bow high into the air. Then we would free fall down into the trough sending waves of frothing water blanketing the boat. Coming down we would slam wham  into the next wave, the force of the impact driving us to a sudden stop, the boat shuddering and sliding sideways. It felt like being dropped onto a cement parking lot.

As we continued to see saw slowly forward smashing through the crests of the waves, water careened over the deck, and occasionally would fly in through the companionway hatch into the galley, finding every conceivable pinpoint of entry for sea water, then occasionally plowing over the dodger sending a wall of water into the cockpit.

With  every violent pounding of the bow, there was the sound of water trying to infiltrate the boat. Dishes rattling in the cupboards, wind screaming against the rigging, halyards slapping against the mast. The cabin became a human pinball machine, as we were thrown around, so it was impossible to sleep or cook or even eat.

The wind continued to blow from the NNW, in exactly the direction we needed to go. We kept in constant communication with Stardust but by morning, we had been separated and Stardust was 18 miles south of the rum line. They had been taking on water through a leaky bow pulpit soaking the mattress in their V-Berth.

Feb 4

The strong winds continued but the seas got organized and we were finally able to adjust sail trim to maintain a reasonable course, more or less. But the ride was still rough as we pounded and twisted into the seas. On top of that the atmosphere was hazy, like fog but it could have been blowing sand, making visibility poor to see the ships and fishing boats constantly crossing our path.

The GRIB forecasted these conditions all the way to Salalah, 600 miles away, so we prepared ourselves for 5 or 6 more days of discomfort. Since we could not make water in these conditions, we were now on serious water rationing, no showers. Although the Indian Ocean is renown for its abundance of fish, it was too rough to put our lines out.

There were lots of ships at night and you really had to watch because they don't! They seldom responded when we called them to make our presence known. Perhaps they didn't speak English or maybe the person on watch was sleeping. Of course with our limited maneuverability, that made for a dangerous situation when one was coming right down our rum line. We usually started tracking them about 12 miles out on radar to determine which way they were traveling and that gave us about 15 minutes before contact!!!! Heading into Salalah, I sometimes had 10 targets on the radar, trying to keep track of which ones might pose a threat. Any vessels coming within 1/2 mile are considered a collision by these ships as they are measured not in feet or meters but in portions of miles long. When you see them a mile away you cannot believe the size...very frightening!

Our night watches were spent huddled in the companionway, sheltered from the waves breaking into the cockpit. It was very cold, so we had to dig out our sweatpants and jackets and  huddled under a blanket. The black nights were eerie with the stark white glowing trail of evanescent wake flashing in the darkness. All around, the wave tops sparkled and flashed with luminescence. Finally at 4 am the moon would make its appearance, and although only a bright fingernail clipping in the sky, it gave off an incredible amount of light.

As the boat bashed its way north, every day  new leaks made their appearance, just drips around the port lights, stovepipe fittings and the only hatch we didn't replace in Thailand. But soon the new upholstery on our sea bunk was soaked with salt water. Gord's new sea hood covering is void of any leaks though so we were thankful for that.

Feb 5

450 miles to go. We tried to catch up on sleep as we were exhausted. The endless sightings of ships seem to have abated and the sky turned a cheerful blue. The seas were still very rough but we had the consolation that no pirate in his right mind would try to board us in those conditions!

We were given a little reassurance that someone else was out there, perhaps watching for pirates. We were called by a Coalition Warship and although we could not see the vessel, they were obviously aware of our presence. Gord was interrogated and once all our information was given, a helicopter was dispatched and hovered over us for quite some time. They pointed some kind of infra red device at us and scanned the boat from all directions. We could see the faces of the pilot and "cameraman" and waved but they didn't respond! After about 10 minutes of being scanned, we wondered if we should worry about growing extra limbs or something. I suppose they were looking for castaways or drugs or maybe guns.

The officer on the Warship did assure us that they were patrolling the straits we were passing through and would respond to any emergency calls.

Feb 8

About 80 miles from our destination, it was like someone flipped a switch. The sky brightened, the winds settled, the seas flattened and we even had current with us. It was wonderful sailing conditions which was a good thing because we were at the point of total exhaustion. We had been separated from Stardust by about 50 miles because they couldn't keep the course and had decided to head for Aden instead. But when the conditions changed, they were able to sail back in our direction and we ended up sailing into the anchorage at Oman together on Friday morning.






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