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Blogs from our sailing vessel SV Sänna. UK to New Zealand... & circumnavigation.
Does it Matter how deep it is?
Marie Beal
13/02/2008, Indian Ocean

Photo: 1,000 miles from land & 3,000 metres deep

We left Salalah in Oman heading for Sri Lanka late one evening, a little out of sorts, our good friends Peter and Dagmar were planning on making the 1700 mile crossing with us, but as we pulled up anchor and circled them it became evident that their anchor was fouled and they wouldn't be going anywhere that day, so with some reluctance and the promise of having a beer waiting for them in Sri Lanka we waved them goodbye to catch the back edge of a storm which we hoped would give us good winds for the crossing.

We did catch the storm, but more the middle than the edge and a few days of full on sailing followed, followed by days and days of sweet sailing with nothing in sight, where the biggest challenge was making sure the bunk in the rear cabin was level, for a restful sleep between watches, and deciding which bit needed tanning next.

Then in the middle of the night (it always is!) Dave was on watch and a thud hit the bottom of the boat, enough to wake me and send me up on deck, 'think we've hit a fishing net' said Dave. We'd heard tales of Iranian fisherman who cast nets miles long and then left them overnight to collect later, we were sailing and there was little we could do.

Next morning and the wind died and all was calm, "We need to check the keel and the rudder to make sure the net is free before we start the engine" were Dave's words of wisdom, after some intense negotiation - Dave "You go and I'll make you tea every day forever" Me - "I've got chocolate hidden" Dave "I'm skipper - you're going". It was decided that I should be the one to check, so I donned my cossie, snorkel and mask and tied a line on, before asking "By the way how deep is it here?", "Does it matter" were Dave's words of reassurance. I guess not - but out of interest it was 3000 metres!

It was fantastic, bath water warm and as clear as anything, there was no net but some fabulous fish swimming round the rudder, it was so good, Dave insisted on going in afterwards.


Gulf of Aden to Sri Lanka
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Somalian Prostitute...
13/01/2008, Aden

Dagmar told us over the VHF radio they were heading off to the Seaman's Bar for a beer, no easy matter in alcohol banned Yemen. We said we'd join them in half an hour or so when the outboard motor was fixed and we could get ashore. Gary, the commodore, fixed the engine and started to change into his best attire... I laughed and told him not to make too much effort. He'd never visited the decrepit bar before and I was bothered...

We all had another good evening in the only establishment in Aden in which alcohol could be served; strictly to non Muslims although it never seemed to deter Omar. The French delivery crew off the Catermeran joined us and my brother merrily consumed his cans of Heinnigan, the only beer on offer. He had no idea he was about to be 'solicited'...

The woman suddenly sat on his knee. She was dressed in the full Muslim habib showing only her eyes. Stroking his hair, she whispered into his ear... and Gary's face froze with shock. It was a spectacular moment and we all howled with laughter.

Dagmar explained to Gary that his new friend was from Somalia, trying to make a living as an illegal immigrant. He was not amused (although he did try hard). Dagmar was good friends with all the Muslim girls in the port. 

Peter and Dagmar cheerfully departed the next morning on Iltis for Salalah in Oman. Sänna would follow a couple of days later when the headsail furling gear was finally fixed. But we were further delayed by our fouled anchor; which meant we made good friends with the Frenchies off the Cat.

Gulf of Aden to Sri Lanka
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09/01/2008, Gulf of Aden, Yemen

Photo: Daybreak after the storm

"Shit" I screamed in sudden panic. The headsail flailed noisily in the wind and I realised the sheet rope had snapped. The tremendous 'bang' as it parted sent me reeling down into the cockpit floor. Gary, my Commodore brother, shook off his seasickness and heaved himself out of his bunk to join me on the rolling deck.  I could see little in the pitch black darkness. We needed to react quickly to secure the redundant port side sheet to the winch to somehow control the dangerously flogging sail. In no time it would tear itself into shreds, just like before. With the wind now well over 45kts, I turned Sänna's bows into the heaving sea, which then hurled green water down the deck as we prepared to furl in the already reefed sail. Then, unbelievably, the bowline knot of the remaining sheet shook itself free and the furling line jammed. Now we were in big trouble.

I cursed this Gulf of Aden, Marie and I had already fought for our lives in the Straights of Bab Al Mandab. We'd then spent three months replacing sails and making repairs in Aden. I instructed my brother to steer and, at all costs, hold the bows into the sea to use the wind to control the sail. I clipped my dual harness to the webbing life lines and, crouching low, made my way forward against the crashing waves washing down from Sänna's bows. I raised myself onto the bow pushpit and, with my harness straps still secured, tried desperately to turn the sail to furl it. Suddenly, the bows pitched and I flew into the air. I shouted in alarm but, in the wind, Gary had no idea I was in trouble; he hid behind the spray hood whilst concentrating hard on steering Sänna to keep us safe. I flew down over the bows and into the frothing sea...

This was it. I knew there was no way out from this one. The harnesses held me but I was immersed to my chest in the water. The next wave would bring the bows crashing down on to me and force me under. In the few moments when Sänna raised herself on the next towering wave my only thoughts were for my brother and how he would cope alone in these conditions...

Then, I flew into the air as the bows heaved down. Clear of the sea, I hung uselessly on the harness and landed forcibly on the pullpit.... in exactly the same position I'd departed. I grabbed the half furled sail and held tight to regain my nerves. My brother's head appeared around the spray hood and he shouted "Is everything ok?"...

I managed to somehow re-tie the sheet into the headsail clew but we couldn't free the jammed furling line to bring in the sail. Our only option was to turn and run with the wind back to harbour in Aden. With the sheet properly tied we tacked the boat to use the now secured headsail and set a downwind course back to Yemen. In Aden, we'd be able to fix our problems and start again.

I never told Gary I'd been overboard in the sea. The commodore would never be able to look his rear commodore in the eye...

Gulf of Aden to Sri Lanka
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Pirates in Aden...
Dave Ungless
10/11/2007, Aden, Yemen.

Photo: All dressed up and nowhere to go. Aden, Yemen.

I went to see the local Commanding Officer of the Yemen Navy. Every day, vagabond pirates passed by Sänna when they went to get their diesel to pillage and rampage out in the Gulf. They waved and smiled and said I looked like the man in the movie. The Navy Chief told me Sänna would be safe and we would have nothing to fear or stolen in Aden because the Pirates had told him I was their friend. But they said if I insulted Islam or their God they would slit my throat and I would die like a western dog. He asked me how many children we had and he laughed when I told him four. He said we were lazy coz he had twelve and also two wives. I didn't tell him Marie and me were not married...

We left Sänna swinging on the anchor for nine weeks in the once glorious Port of Aden, a magical place. And we made good friends with Peter & Dagmar on the German yacht Iltis and with Omar and the Somalian laundry man...


Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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Fisherman Pirates...
Dave Ungless
28/10/2007, Gulf of Aden

Marie was worried, I could see it in her face. The speeding skiff boat was approaching very quickly on our starboard beam and was now on a constant bearing. We'd been watching them for about half an hour. We could see four men onboard and one of them was holding what appeared to be a weapon, but it was difficult to be sure at this range. They changed direction on to a parallel course and their speed slowed to track us. I was worried too - these were standard pirate tactics and our current position put us about 30 miles off the Yemen coastline, well within the piracy danger zone. They turned and approached us and I told Marie to stay calm...

The skiff came alongside with four ragged and beaming fishermen. They could have been Yemenis or Somalian, we couldn't tell. They wanted to give us fish and insisted they wanted nothing in return. They showed us the huge sharks they had caught and we all laughed, they because they had laughing faces, Marie and I because we realised we were stupid.

They gave us a great big tuna and Marie gave them my favourite knitted Rastafarian cap, my treasured one from Jamaica. "Good trade" the skinny black man said, smiling, and they sped off, the shabby helmsman wearing my hat...

Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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Beau Geste...
Dave Ungless
20/10/2007, Bab Al Mandab, Yemen

Photo: Cheap diesel and new friends.

I was surrounded by four skinny black soldiers beaming their smiles and proudly presenting their automatic weapons. I climbed the stairs and entered the smoky room in what seemed like an old desert fort from some Beau Geste novel. The officer sat behind his desk smoking a cigar, looking at me intensely. This was surreal. Everyone was silent and no one said anything. I couldn't think straight so I saluted. They all laughed and saluted back, obviously thinking this was some strange English greeting. I saluted again, laughing, and they followed the same ritual, laughing even more. This was going well...

"We need diesel" I told the officer. They all laughed again, having no comprehension of what I'd said. I got coffee. It was good too. I tried to explain again that we'd anchored off their military post because of the big storm, our damaged boat and lack of fuel. They were now my friends and the tall skinny slapped my back and said "You stay." I laughed my stupid laugh...

A good while after I was taken outside and led around the back of the fort to a compound by the same officer and two other skinnys I'd not seen before. Inside the compound stood three enormous army Tanks, their yellow guns pointing to sea in the general direction of Sänna still anchored about a hundred metres from shore. Marie was sitting in the cockpit drinking tea. I don't think she noticed three tank cannons pointing at her. The officer said something in Arabic and the two skinnys started to drain the diesel from the engine of each army Tank which they transferred into two bigger oil drums. I got 300 litres.

I love these people...

Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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15/10/2007, Bab Al Mandab Straights

"Where are you now?" she whispered above the howling wind...
"We're near the Straights of Bab Al Mandab and Sänna is dying" I cried, in desperation, the sail shredding and tearing away into the darkness. We were fighting to stay alive.
"She will not die, this angry sea will not claim you" she turned away and looked back with a strange light in the sky...
"How do you know? is now the time to find you?" I pleaded, the towering sea curling and breaking across our desperate bows. We could not take much more.
"Someone else is protecting you on this dark evil night. It is not my soul that will save you"... the screaming wind and spray stung our eyes...
"Please don't leave, not now, we need you to see us through?" I begged. I watched the mast bend and twist towards the pitching sea. The harnesses held and we grasped hard on the sodden lines.
"Now is not my time. Nor yours either I say".... the gale blew down harder, we crashed headlong down into the boiling abyss...

But when the daylight came with a cruel dark sky, Sänna reared her broken bows with a tired sigh. The wind paused and this cruel sea began to die...

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25/09/2007, Massawa, Eritrea

Photo: War ruined Massawa...

This wasn't going very well. We needed diesel. The skipper of the Yankee vessel Pipe Dream had already approached me asking for spare diesel. I'd told him to bollocks when he informed me he needed it to run his air conditioning!

Port Massawa, still a war ruined shambles, offered very little in the way of supplies and nothing much else either. Mike, the 'Laundry Man', was our Mr Fix It and he told us the good news. A UN Aid vessel had just docked with 400 tonnes of sugar. If we queued at the depot we'd get some. I told him we didn't need sugar, only diesel and whatever supplied we could scrounge with our US dollars. He promised to take me to see the harbour master to ask for a permit to buy diesel... turned into a disaster. The skipper of Pipe Dream was already there ranting and raving in his American style, demanding diesel as though it was his right. His arrogance was unbelievable. The Harbour Master threw us both out, saying his diesel was for his people, not for rich Americans. The Yank asked me again if we could spare some fuel adding that, to stay on his schedule to arrive in Yemen, he needed to use the engine if his speed dropped below five knots. He couldn't just rely on the wind and his three fee paying crew demanded their air conditioning. I assumed they must be Yankees too. I told him we were down to our last 100 litres, which was hardly enough given we would need our engine if we ourselves encountered trouble heading south to Aden. He told me they were down to their last 800 litres too which, I figured, was more than enough for him to get out of the Red Sea.

Pipe Dream left Massawa within the hour and Mike told us, now that the Yanks had gone, we'd get some fresh supplies but no diesel. Maybe there was fuel in Port Assad but we must be careful of pirates there. He said there was little of anything in Eritrea except lots of good fish. Mike led us both to a back street eating place and, in the squalid port, they served us the best white fish we'd ever tasted, straight from newspaper and eaten with our hands. Washed down with fresh mango juice. Fantastic!

The next morning, the harbour master cleared us out and Sänna left port under sail to conserve the precious fuel we had left. We'd managed to buy some meagre supplies of questionable fruit and veg which would somehow get us through. Marie and I both knew it was going to be tough. A few days later we sailed into the foulest storm we'd ever experienced....


Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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The One that got away
Marie Beal
17/09/2007, The Red Sea. Sudan to Eritrea

We were two days into a five day sail down the Red Sea heading for Eritrea having left Egypt after a fabulous few months, night time was here, Dave had just gone to bed, I was on watch, the stars were out, it was a full moon, the bimini was back and my Ipod was playing in one ear - all was good in my world.

Once again Dave had a line out fishing (as we had for the last few years) with little hope of catching anything - despite every other boat telling us how rich the Red Sea was for fish (my hunter gatherer sadly very rarely did), suddenly there was a big bang and a clatter, I jumped up and grabbed the torch scanning the back to see what had fell off or hit us. Realisation slowly dawned - I needed to wake the Skipper....

'Do you want the good news or the bad?' I asked giggling, like any good seafaring sole he was already on his feet heading for deck - 'Give me the good' he said '....well you've just caught your first fish...' replied I 'and the bad?' he asked with a slowing down ' its got your rod...' at which point I gave in to a good old fashioned hysterical chuckle.

Dave consoled himself as he headed back to bed that it must have been least of shark like proportions to have pulled it out of its holder, I on the other hand - laughed all night.


Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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The man with no legs...
Dave Ungless
10/09/2007, Port Sudan.

Photo: Hungry Friends

I threw the mooring line and shouted to the old man on the quayside to quickly take it and secure it. We were drifting towards the rusting dive boat and I desperately needed a fixed line. He was sitting smoking his pipe but he dropped it as he groped for my line. The old man shuffled and crawled and missed. I nearly died on the spot! He had no legs. Marie was horrified and the bunch of Sudanese soldiers standing by the guard post started laughing uncontrollably. I didn't know what to do.

We got the line secured and got ashore. I went to see him but didn't know what to say. He stared at me, me with my big sailing boat and him with no legs. I had much to say to him but in the end said nothing. I offered him some money but he refused it. He then pointed to the black plastic refuse bag I was holding full of rubbish. He asked for that.

As I walked away he was joined by two other men and they poked through my rubbish looking for bits of food. I turned to watch the three of them eagerly devouring the stale bread we'd had onboard for some considerable time. We walked down the street into the main town and saw much worse. I was agitated and distressed.

Why is the world such a crazy place?

Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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Swimming in the Suez Canal...
Henry Beal
22/07/2007, Port Tewfig, Suez Canal, Egypt

Me and Dave went swimming in the Suez Canal in a harbour. There is a big container ship behind us. It is ten meters deep and it is very hot. Dave said he had a fight with a shark once and I asked him who won.

Bealy Boy x

Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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Pilot in the Water...
Dave Ungless
15/06/2007, Ismalia, Suez Canal, Egypt

Photo: Louise
I bet no one who's transited the Suez Canal has had to fish their Canal Pilot out of the Canal? There's no RYA qualification or certificate available for standing and staring gormlessly at the thrashing arms of the guy you're totally dependent upon as he screams at you in Arabic. Can you imagine the might of the Egyptian Navy and Army fixing their beady eyes on you in disbelief as chaos reigns in their beautiful canal? It all began so smoothly....

We left Sänna moored for a month in Ismalia, the Egyptian port half way down the Canal where, it seems, all sailing vessels have to spend the obligatory period tied up paying fees to the 'Ismalia Yacht Club' before they are allowed to transit the remaining part of the Canal. But it's a really nice town, a perfectly safe and friendly mooring and an ideal spot to leave your vessel whilst you explore the unbelievable sights of ancient Egypt. So we did it all and it was fantastic. Egypt is stunning! Then, when we'd done everything, we decided to continue our passage south down the Canal to the Red Sea, which we thought was a fairly straightforward matter....

Well, no....

The skippers on board the two other waiting yachts laughed, "War Ship", they said with knowing smiles. And so it proved that each time I requested a departure date from the Canal Pilot's office they would inform me "Not today, big warship coming." Which everyone knew was just a ruse to get you to stay and pay. After waiting five more days with no warships of any nationality in sight, I decided I'd had enough and confronted the Harbourmaster using a version of the English language that, I understand, is not translatable into Arabic. And, in the middle of my rant, a huge American Aircraft Carrier drifted by behind the Harbourmaster's back with impeccable timing. He didn't say anything to me. He didn't have to! He just beamed a gratifying smile that made me want to knock his block off.

So two days later, we got ready our departure, cast off our lines and waited for our Pilot to jump aboard. But our propeller was completely fouled from four weeks moored up motionless in some of the most growth prolific waters in the world. We drifted instead, despite revving the engine at full throttle in panic. The Pilot jumped, missed as we drifted out... and fell into the canal....

Red Sea to Gulf of Aden
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Meet the Crew of the sailing vessel Sänna
Who: Dave & Marie Ungless
Port: Poole UK
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