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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.....
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.
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"
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
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
As we proceeded away from the confines
of the marina, the countryside was again stark and lunar, with very
The hillsides were packed with
square unimpressive houses. There is little or no greenery
thriving on the rocky hillsides and everything appears to be
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.
||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
||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
The oldest part of the city is known
as the Crater, since it lies in the crater of an extinct
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
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.
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