HOME

ALL  JOURNALS

 

PHOTOS
        RED SEA

      YEMEN   THE RED SEA

Feb 21
We checked out of Salalah early morn and had a meeting to organize last minute plans for how to manage our convoy. Aden will be a sort of milestone as the passage will take us through the so called "Pirate Alley" where numerous boats and ships have been boarded in the past. Our convoy of 4 consists of Billabong, Stardust, Djarkka and Ascension. We carefully plotted our course to skirt around the "hotspots."

OUR PLAN: We have notified the Coalition Navy of our itinerary and will check in with them every day. Sailing in a diamond formation 1/4 mile apart, we will travel unlit at night, using our radar to keep course. We have a secret radio frequency in case we need to contact one another, otherwise we agreed to maintain radio silence.

Emergency procedures: converge on vessel in distress, call Mayday, emergency HF, Sat phone call to Navy, flares, taking photos with camera (although all our cameras will be hidden???!)

We were so keen to be organized! But most of our well thought out plans deteriorated rapidly under real circumstances as discussed later!

The passage was expected to take about 5 days.

PASSAGE  OMAN TO YEMEN
We thought we had a decent weather window ahead, although reliable weather info for the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea is sketchy at best. We should have realized the bad omen when we attempted to lift the anchor and.....nothing. Luckily Gord thought to change the polarity on the solenoid to see if the "down" button would become an "up" and yes...it worked! We sailed out of the harbour early afternoon optimistic that we would have a smooth passage ahead.

However, parts of the next 600 miles proved to be another challenging sail to add to the list of worst passages ever!

With 35+ knots of wind the first night out we got severely beat up. More water came down the companionway and into the boat that had ever been experienced before. The leaks forward were fixed but now we had so much water in the cockpit that water was coming into the aft cabin thru the cockpit speakers! Out bunk was soon soaked. Although we were desperately trying to stay together, the visibility was less than 1/2 mile due to the blowing sand and the enormous amount of clutter caused by the 3 meter frothing seas hid the other boats from view on our radar. Soon Ascension got separated from the other boats.

Our nav computer and GPS to run it were hidden from the "pirates" but we had no choice but to dig them out and ascertain where we were in relation to our group. We were soon back on track within the comforting lights of the other yachts.

I had left port sick and very soon I was so sick I could barely function, the first time my Stugeron didn't do the trick. I later learned that Stardust, Billabong and Djarkka were all also making use of their puke buckets!

We travelled on a route that took us 35 miles offshore to shirt the waypoints of previously reported pirate attacks. However, this bearing seemed to be a favorite of ships too as we were kept extremely busy dodging ships constantly. Luckily both Djarkka and Billabong had AIS aboard and were able to contact the ships requesting course diversions to avoid collisions!

With the brutal seastate, limited visibility due to sand in the air and 35 knots of wind, it was very challenging to keep the boats in our diamond formation, each 1/2 mile apart. In fact, the differences in boat designs, size and speeds made staying in our convoy position even more stressful than the threat of pirates. And I doubt that any pirate in his right mind would be attempting any robberies in the adverse sea and wind conditions we were having. On the entire passage we saw not one other boat, not even fishermen, besides the shipping. Just as we would get our boats in a reasonable formation, we would all have to alter course for another ship!

On Day 3 conditions moderated and the winds became fickle. Sometimes we motored for hours, then suddenly the wind would pick up and it was all we could do to slow Ascension down to keep all the boats travelling at the same speed as the slowest boat. Our course took us dead downwind so we sailed with a double-reefed main sail and our Genoa 2/3 furled, poled out and wing on wing (a sail configuration we are not at all fond of) as we needed to conform to the points of sail of the other boats.

Our plan to maintain radio silence went by the way very early as we could not resist chit chatting and there was soon constant natter between the boats, especially during the long busy night watches when it seems that there was always a ship bearing on a collision course. At least we had selected a US channel that was not an international frequency used by the local traffic.


 

February 26/2008
By midmorning, Yemen loomed on the horizon, a craggy, desolate inhospitable country and we wondered what would attract anyone to settle there. I suppose it has its own unique beauty, that is, if you're not terribly fond of vegetation!

Yemen, meaning the Land of Blessings and Favors, lies southwest of the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, south of Saudi Arabia. It covers an area of about 550,000 sq. km with a population of 21,000,000.

Aden

We meandered along the Aden harbour channel among anchored ships, past a shipwreck and into the harbour. The anchorage, surrounded by ramshackle buildings clinging to the backdrop of dramatic barren cliffs, devoid of vegetation, created an impression of a rapidly declining remote outpost, rather than a thriving port.  The anchorage was chock a block full of 24 rally boats (traversing Med to India). We later learned that 5 of the rally boats hit reefs and one was lost completely! 

Of course our windlass was not functioning properly. Gord changed the polarity on the solenoid back to "down" hoping we wouldn't have to get our anchor back up in a hurry if we started to drag. We selected a spot and I started to drop the hook only to realize that it was freefalling with no way to stop it. "Quick!, trip the Breaker" I yelled to Gord and he left the helm rushed below and got the windlass stopped before we ran out all the chain. After much cajoling with the chain we managed to end up meters from a big ugly unyielding steel barge anchored near our stern.

So the immediate order of business was not sleep as hoped, but repairing the windlass. Gord managed to isolate the problem to faulty switches in the remote and was able to jury rig something that would work using the old original deck switches.

That accomplished, we needed to go ashore to check in but first, badly needed showers. We were so encrusted with salt and sand and I HAD to do something about my Medusa Hair!!! Poor Gord, had to fix the sump pump and water heater first. Well one out of two isn't so bad and I am getting used to cold showers.

Even from the boat the evidence of Aden’s conflicting past was there, our first exposure to the results of warfare. Next to a clock tower on the hill were remains of  buildings riddled with bullet holes, whilst adjacent to that was relatively new, ornate buildings.

.

We landed the dinghy at a large concrete pier. The dock was a hive of activity with fellow yachties congregating with each other and the local men. We were constantly approached by one of the hawk nosed Arabs dressed in a wrap around skirt and chequered turban, with offers for tours, laundry services and everything else.

Customs and Immigration was an easy process, with no costs involved, although we felt uncomfortable relinquishing our passports in exchange for our gate card

We took a walk and wandered the streets, changing some money at a local shop and marveling at the how different Aden is from the more affluent Salalah, Oman. It is a war torn city, the buildings dilapidated and crumbling. It looked like the remains of a warzone that hadn't been repaired!

There are many beggars on the streets. But the people were amazingly cheerful and very friendly.

Remnants of the Italian influence is seen in the architecture The streets were filthy and there was that sand dust everywhere. Aden has many slums and lots of garbage lying about, which the goats attack assiduously without making much progress.

Aden was certainly immensely interesting in a unique sort of way. We thought we would experience a Yemen dinner that first night but the food was unimpressive, fried and greasy so we decided to limit our future meals to the boat.

Yemeni people

 

The Yemeni people were exuberant, helpful, and happy to have you there. We were definitely in the world of Islam though.

The Islamic culture is not only a religion in Yemen but a way of life. Islam means total submission to Allah (God) in all aspects of life with no objection, their prophet being Muhammad. According to the Qura'n (Koran) Islam has many disciplines to purify the Muslim society. The veil is a way toward purification because it closes roads leading to fornication and adultery. Showing a woman's beauty can arouse sexual desires in men and can lead to sexual harassment or rape. So Allah ordained Muslim women to wear the veil for their protection.

 

At least, that's what they say.....


Feb 27

FYI 89 deg F (32 C)
Today is chore day. Girls chiselling the salt of every square inch of our boats, inside and out. Our bunk got soaked so it's off to the laundry this aft with salty sheets and towels. Boys are jerry jugging fuel. It is imperative that the fuel be purchased from inside the compound and of course it is 3x the cost than at the pumps just outside.
But still a relative bargain at 75 cents/litre.


Feb 28

We were planned to pick up a few groceries as this was our last opportunity before Egypt. Albeit, our passage was so rough and I was so sick that we ate virtually nothing so we still have lots of food onboard. So after fierce negotiations with the "dock nannys" (men who will take you anywhere you want to go and look after your needs), the 8 of us decided to take our chances and get our own taxi out on the street. It was an easy process and saved us 3/4 of the cost!

We crammed into a beat-up van wondering whether we would get to our destination without a major breakdown. But then, everyone drives dilapidated vehicles that look like they have come directly from the Auto Wreckers or at least a local Demolition Derby, certainly they don't appear roadworthy . Very few cars did not have crushed in panels, missing bumpers, shattered windshields and punched in fenders! The streets were lined with abandoned vehicles, some of which were driven until the rust was unable to support the weight of the engines!

Our driver raced at top speed down the busy roads, leaning on his horn the whole way, stopping for no one. As pedestrians scattered from marked crosswalks, we passed goats roaming in front of shops, their products spilling out onto the street.

A wrong turn ended up with us in a very dubious neighborhood, where we hit a dead end in a dark rocky back street, filthy and littered with garbage and stagnant water. Around us, in front of decrepit crumbling concrete buildings, men lazed in groups chewing qat (more about that later) and smoking. We had a sudden urge to lock all the doors!

Eventually, the taxi took us to a large shopping center where there was another "Lulu's" Supermarket.

We wandered through the modern shopping centre, totally incongruous with the surrounding slums, amidst the veiled ladies (always separated from the men), looking at us imploringly through the tiny slits in their veils.

We all got passport photos taken and had a laugh at the styles of dresses displayed in the windows. Gaudy and glittery, they were definitely Bollywood or something that one of the Thai Catoys would surely go for! We wondered if that's what the women wore under their bleak burkas!

We ended our shopping excursion at Lulu's, but the store was so crowded that you could barely get a buggy down the aisle and the women's stares at our "nakedness" (even though we had long sleeves and long pants) made us uncomfortable. There were security guards everywhere and Becky was ordered not to take any photos. The biscuit/candy isle was gated with guards too. The experience left us all more than a little overwhelmed.

February 29
Since our visa only allowed us to visit the surrounding area, we all got together for a tour of the city. We took 2 cars. Our guide, Salam, was a real character, congenial, funny and very talkative. He spoke very fast and although he thought he was speaking English you only got every third or fourth word but we learned a lot by talking with him.
As we proceeded away from the confines of the marina, the countryside was again stark and lunar, with very little vegetation.

The hillsides were packed with square unimpressive houses. There is little or no greenery thriving on the rocky hillsides and everything appears to be very dry.

We drove into the downtown area and along the main street and noticed very few women about. Salam called the women "ninjas" because they were all  heavily veiled with their black burkas, even gloves and stockings. He said he was married to one, but "not Ninja at home, only in public. It is actually not acceptable to photograph the women but Salam taunted us on, pointing out "sightings" as we discreetly snapped photos of fleeting Muslim women out the car window. The men of Yemen are allowed up to 4 wives, depending upon how much money they have. Many times the wives are kept in separate homes.

Ancient Water Storage Tanks

Our first stop was the Aden Tanks which were thought to be built in the era of the Queen of Sheeba. Partly cut out of the rock, with a storage capacity of 50 million litres, when it rains, the upper basins fill up first and then overflow into the lower basins. Completely hidden by rubbish and debris from the hills, these huge tanks were discovered by accident in 1854. The British Government reopened and repaired the tanks, the aggregate capacity of all the tanks exceeding 20,000,000 million imperial gallons.

There were many interesting locals at the Tanks and some carrying the traditional knives were eager to have their photos taken

 

We next visited a Mosque which contained a decorative room with elaborate designs on the ceiling.


A number of tents made from bright shiny fabric enclosed the tombs of Holy Men. Inside the tent is the burial spot with burning frankincense to ward off evil. We then drove on through the rubble and crumbling concrete structures lining the streets, stopping at the very smelly
fish market. The locals were very proud to show us the large bull sharks they had killed.

Archaeological Ruins

We continued to the base of a mountain which held the remains of a castle type structure that served as a lookout during the war with the Russians.

After stopping to purchase a cold drink we proceeded to climb up the loose shale path to the site of the ruins.

It was a long hot climb but there were fabulous views of Aden including a bird's eye view
of the harbour and mountainous terrain.
 

The structure, built from square cut rock, contained a maze of tunnels, bunkers and cannon stands with lookout points situated everywhere .

GB and Chris could not resist posing in the castle water closet.


Life with Qat.

The ruins high above the city where the air was cooler seemed to be a gathering spot for groups of men, sleepy eyed, their cheeks bulging with qat.

There is, of course, no alcohol in these Muslim countries but in Yemen the men have found an admissible substitute – qat. This leafy tree is apparently cultivated in large areas in Yemen and chewing the leaves releases a gentle narcotic into the bloodstream. Large amounts of masticated leaves are stored in one cheek, bulging more and more as the day progresses. Qat is consumed in the afternoon, so activity seriously declines after lunch as the men lie around in a soporific daze.

It amazed me that this society actually propagats and encourages the use of these "drugs" which basically drains its user of ambition to work or be a productive citizen. We were told that this practice has become a huge problem because men sacrifice buying food for their families and milk for their babies in place of the qat, which constitutes a huge portion of the market in Aden.


We climbed back down the rocky escarpment passing Yemen men and women trekking up the path, the women in their full black heavy garb in the scorching heat of the day!
 
Back in the car we stopped briefly at the Beach, where women congregated in their full hot black attire. An Arabian horse pranced down the sand past men lining the beach wall, sitting in the shade chewing qat or smoking Hubba Bubble (or Sheshaw) water pipes. Tents and shelters were erected along the beach as a place for the men to gather and chew.

The Crater

The oldest part of the city is known as the Crater, since it lies in the crater of an extinct volcano. 

Arab Town

Our journey to the Market in Arab Town, with the camels pulling carts through the crowded markets, a tapestry of colour vibrant with energy, really gave us an insight to Aden with its 1,000,000 people. Poverty in the streets were very apparent here, where shelters constructed from cardboard and rags was called home. Goats, camels and donkeys roamed the streets. Cart pulling camels pulled their heavy loads, competed with the crowds, vehicles and motor bikes through the narrow streets.

Chaotic crowds of shoppers frequented tiny stores, their mismatched products spilling into the streets. Beggars were frequent and we noticed that the locals gave freely.

Henna Camels

We stopped to visit with some locals while the camels munched on sesame pulp. One of the camels was painted up with spots of henna.

Making Sesame Oil

Our car pulled into a filthy littered street in Arab Town, with a decaying building housing the sesame oil mill. Sesame oil was being made in the traditional method dating back to 1798. The rotary grinder was an interesting contraption, very primitive but functional.

To Market to Market

Onward to the Marketplace. A crazy packed section with narrow rows burrowing between all kinds of products from clothing to car parts.

We took respite in a little restaurant and all had a delightful lime drink, the recipe: Throw into blender a little sugar, a little salt, and whole limes. Blend and strain. Delicious.
Heading back out through the marketplace, it was so crowded that we couldn't keep together. Gord was accosted by some local boys intent on selling him some qat. There was much discussion, all in good jest, and in the end Gord was given the qat as a present! Good fun and new friends were made.

The boys learned how to tie headgear and several purchases were made in the hopes of blending in with the locals!
 

Don't you think it suits!!!

A quick stop at a produce stand and we were on a mission to find the smokey goat cheese that we had heard so much about. We each bought a round for 500 rial ($2.50). Then a stop at the Roti Maker where we sampled several different kinds. The vegetable stands were so colorful and tempting, we all made purchases.
It had been a very interesting 6 hour tour and time to head back to the boats. With tip, each car of 4 gave our driver/guide about $20 each, well worth the money.

March 2

We checked out and, after a brief fight with the windlass to get the anchor up, our group of four set sail to travel 100 miles to the Strait of Bab El Mandel, the narrow elbow that links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea known as "The Straits of Sorrow" (because the relentless head winds, unyielding counter currents and vicious waves). From there our next stop will be dependant on wind. If we have good conditions we will continue toward Massawa, Eritrea, or as far as we can get. If the wind reverses and comes from the North, we will take refuge at an anchorage. Seems that we will be traveling with the same group again but we won't worry so much about making it an organized convoy as most of the danger is over as far as Pirates are concerned.

 

NEXT ERITREA >>>>>

HOME

INDEX RED SEA

ALL  JOURNALS

Contact Ascension - COOL STUFF  - About Ascension - Who's Who - ALL JOURNALS - Privacy Statement