Sahula Cruising

14 May 2012 | England
25 October 2011 | Ipswic
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
25 June 2011 | Frankfurt
09 June 2011 | Frankfurt
25 May 2011 | Regensburg, Germany
18 May 2011 | Linz
12 May 2011 | Nova Sad
12 May 2011 | Vienna
05 May 2011 | Budapest
22 April 2011 | Viden
08 April 2011 | Constanta, Romania

Passage Report #28

12 June 2009 | Suakin, Sudan to Egypt

Sahula - Passage Report No. 29

Suakin to Hurgarda, Egypt

April 2009

Goodbye Suakin - 10 nm - hello Marsa Ata. Kayitsiz III was first in, Sahula followed after flying yankee and main before a 10 knot easterly. Cool Change needed more rest so will follow tomorrow.

Al, the Autohelm self steering, fish tailed till skipper "gained" the subtle art. It was good to be at sea. A sense of excitement brewed at thoughts of fabled Egypt - Sahula was underway, some 700 nm to go.

Where a swamp drains or a stream flows (rare), the reef yields and a marsa is born. Sailors retreats, the entrances test skills and nerves. Marsa's frequent the Red Sea coastline allowing day sailing.

Weather often requires a retreat. The Convergence Zone along Sudan coast produces Southerlies and Northerlies. Weather reports are suspect. Grib files (from US) provide a guide.

A mackerel makes a fresh fish dinner. Unlike the Eritrean, the Sudan coastal waters yield few fish. On both there are few fishing boats. On both there is little plastic pollution. However, ashore it is different. It awaits rare rain to enter the sea.

A moonscape stretches inland across a coast plain to high precipitous mountains. Life is a few mangroves and tough desert shrubs. A road carries the national commerce, yet it is difficult to conceive a substantial economy in such an unyielding environment.

Skipper is told by a daughter "It is Easter, what are you doing?" Skipper is in a timeless, dateless existence, wrapped in passing cultures.

Mollie (spinnaker) and Tanya take Sahula to Taila Island, a reef anchorage. Sea hawk nests dot the cay.

Skipper dives, in mirror clear water, to shave Sahula's bottom, hoping for increased speed and fuel saving.

Radio is agog. Somalian piracy has increased substantially taking smaller vessels and ships well out into the Indian Ocean. Hostages and pirates have been killed. Threats are made against US and French nationals. US yacht crews hail President Obama's order: a tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye. A distant memory made real.

Sahula calling "yacht heading south, this is the Red Yacht on your starboard bow." "Musketelle" here, it's an oil drilling rig."

Frustration: fixing at sea, a challenge - the fuel pump isn't working. Critical to pumping fuel from the keel tank to the header tank The cause is air in the line. Spare line is added to "parts required" list. An alternative manual pump is considered.

Morning dawned an oily calm and a SE'ly forecast. In the late afternoon, Sahula was butting into the notorious Red Sea chop whipped by a 25-30 knot northerly. Sahula needed a safe anchorage. Tanya and the staysail drove Sahula to Marsa Shinab passing between shore and offshore reefs. It was not for the feint hearted.

Al, (the new autohelm tillerpilot working the Aries windvane) allows Skipper to enjoy the passage.

The entry waypoints were radioed (by an Austrian yacht, Esperanza, already at anchor) and checked against the "Alb" track; a prior passage able to be layered on the digital charts. Reassuring when a reef entry is into the setting sun. Sahula waited off the headland to guide in Kayitsiz III. Entry between reefs, passed low cliffs amongst stark hills and a plain to the horizon. A dry, desert place. Appreciated after a deep sleep. Five boats were already at anchor. Cheers as Sahula anchored.

With radios on (VHF Channel 16), all yachts avidly follow others adventure or drama and offer assistance.

Guide states Marsa Shinab is a "beautiful place...," "... favourite anchorage in the Red Sea. It has desert colours and sculptured landscape to match one's imaginings." It has a history in Portuguese and British colonialism.

Days aboard in a wind swept anchorage, resting, gluing the inflatable, baking bread and cakes, cooking dinner with friends, fixing fuel pump, analysing and part fixing HF radio problem, visiting other boats, others visiting Sahula.

Quoin Hill gave the gunners a high point from which to direct the defenders armory. Sahula's, Musketelle's, Capension's, and the Hungarian "Little Flower's," ascent was rewarded with sweeping views of the marsa and the moonscape of western plains and hills. Camels grazed along the shore.

Ozkan harvested a shore plant which fried in olive oil, lemon and garlic. Cruisers Turkish delight. Sailors living off the littoral land.

Camel family honks it way into the mellow, yellow sunset over distant ochre blue peaks, as the day closes at Khor (inlet) Marob.

Fish dinner aboard a 47 foot US (French design) catamaran with four other crews closes the day on pristine, Elba Reef in disputed border waters (Egyptian by force, Sudanese by claim).

"It's a bad law..." ie all Egyptian reefs and islands are national parks; fishing and anchoring on reef, is illegal. Ozkan spearfishes six fish, distributing them to other yachts. The "Massacre of Elba Reef" invites discussion.

Sahula is a "salt water" yacht. Fresh water is gold. Salt water (cold) is utilized in steam cooking, dish washing and with a final FW wash when clothes washing and bathing. Water makers expand FW profligacy: showers, baths, washing machine, ice maker. Hot water is a corollary. A generous generator follows suite. More space used, more weight in the boat. More items for the maintenance list. More noise in beautiful places.

The apex is a FW loo.

The availability of FW, its contamination, is an ever present issue. Sahula has had no such problem (Darwin to Red Sea). The minimal use of bleach "cauterizes" contamination. Cost is minimal. The FW volume aboard a large yacht can create a transport problem (hose or containers). Usually it is an inconvenience only.

"This is the Egyptian Navy, you can't anchor there, please come alongside..." The Guide warns Marsa Halaib is an Egyptian Naval base guarding the disputed border from Sudan, called the "Halaib Triangle." The Captain Ahmet (23 years old) spoke broken English. Simultaneously, passports were surrendered till departure, tea was passed, an invitation was extended to "chicken..." dinner. Captain Ahmet proudly showed his ship: a 70 foot patrol boat showing all of its 25 years. Land based cannon emplacements, aimed at Sudan, across Sahula's proposed anchorage, make clear the wisdom of "coming alongside."

Lunch is at 1600, dinner at 2200. A healthy appetite was ensured. Skipper gave Captain Ahmet a much appreciated letter of thanks (and little koala) for being a superb ambassador for Egypt. Fresh food was provided from the village, strawberry jam, fresh tea; their generosity knew no bounds.

Bread, muffins and yoghurt made, then tea aboard and departure. 100 nm of Foul Bay reefs requires an overnight passage to Ras Banas or Dolphin Reef. Tanya and full sails ensure a fast passage over calm seas.

Sahula is, unperturbed by the blowing northerly, at anchor awaiting tomorrow to swim with the dolphins of the namesake reef. Dinner aboard Memet (Turkey) and Elaines (Texan, US), 45 foot Prout catamaran. Skipper votes it the best cruising catamaran yet seen. It comes at a large dollar price ($500,000 a decade ago)

After 14 years afloat they're "swallowing the hook" in Turkey to become landed gentry.

Memet comments, "... it's not a challenge, or adventure - it's a lifestyle - not dangerous - with caution,- no more than needed for survival ashore. Pirates = suburban muggings. Storms - good seamanship..." "Adventure:" incur risk (Oxford), "Adventurous lifestyle:" one providing challenges different to the norm.

Perhaps in the beginning it's an adventure related to a past; in the end, it's a lifestyle related to the present.

Fresh water electric pump is down; back to saving power and manual pump. Message there? Coloured pencil sketch of dolphins breaking from a wave. Dolphins around the boat today - inspiration.

The northerly gale increases to 25-26 knots, gusting; huge waves, relentlessly, pounded into a spectacle of white and azure spray, rush over reef, into the brilliant blues of lee sands and crystal clear water. Sahula swings before natures forces; an observer's home. Dolphins tread their age old path through the lagoon.

It was time to get close and intimate. A pod gamboled by; newly born slipped closer to mothers, slim and aerodynamic; bathed in a serenity that comes from no enemies. Skipper became a dolphin.

Appetite wetted, seas calm, the garden adorned outer reef edge and its colourful guardians made up for anchored inactivity.

Being at sea cleanses the mind and body after long stints ashore or at anchor. Sahula is Port Ghalib bound, 100 nm; a golden orb sets over rugged mountains before a moonlit, overnight passage on an oily calm. Tanya is humming, dinner is last nights vegetarian (tinned, potatoes, a last carrot...), yoghurt and fruit (sultanas, shreaded coconut, orange). A star filled night is mercifully short.

Sleep is between 15 -20 minute clock alarms.

Dawn is an oily calm. Ashore Allah is displaced by the God of Tourism. No minarets jut skyward, only hotel, after hotel, after hotel for European "pinkies.

Egypt beats to a different drum. Less cultural Islam, more western. Port Ghalib, a multi-million (billion?) resort "city" carved out of the abject dryness surrounding a Red Sea marsa, stands as a modern monument to tourism excess. Built by a Kuwait Sheik, it's mainly a retreat for warmth seeking Russians. Their exercise is diving trips aboard a fleet of purpose built boats. It is summer, inactive staff fill time not tills. Guests are "gold."

Baskin Robbins, Pizza Hut, rows of tourist shops, ATMs, greener grass and palm trees contrast the desert and dust. A $40 million private motor yacht parks centerpiece.

Port Ghalib is the least expensive check in point for Egypt. Skipper receives a one month visa and cruising permit.

Sahula has her first experience of a "Mediterranean" buoyed berth: fore and aft lines. Skipper's maneuvering skills are tested in a strong northerly.

Respite is a hot shower, a restaurant meal, cold beer and ignoring the expense.

Material comfort is soon an illusion. Sahula carves a calm sea north to Hurghada. The gods are smiling.

A mind change is underway. Acer, the laptop, is ill with a virus. It's being "cleansed" by Peter (Cool Change).. A borrowed computer (Turkish laptop) has no GPS. The ease of GPS combined with a digital chart is a fond memory.

Skipper uses the Radar GPS to check the course and position on a hard chart, every hour.

A lesson learned. A second computer is on the agenda. One computer for "passive" use ie no outside inputs and the other "active"computer taking inputs. Both being set up as a navigation alternative to the other. The "active" computer virus program being regularly updated with internet connections.

The solo fleet of three is two. Cool Change has engine problems and remains in port. The computer epic - getting the computer to Sahula begins. Sahula cannot leave Hurghada without it. Cool Change is wind bound in Ghalib. Finally, it travels north with a couple journeying by bus to Hurghada.

Over a thousand dive boats work out of Hurghada. They crowd the nearby reefs.

As a Rally participant, Sahula receives a free week in the marina. At $US 20.00 a night it is welcome.

Cruisers often view a sanitized world. Hurgarda marina is centerpiece to an array of glitzy units, restaurants and boutique shops. Beyond, a street away is the urban grind of half built apartment blocks, dirt streets and small businesses eking a living and a bustling city centre.

For Skipper it's the door to the Nile and pharaoh culture.

Luxor beckons and plans are made. Advice from Marje, a Finish lady married to a local, working part-time as a travel agent, proves invaluable. Skipper joins Peter and Barbara (Musketelle, NZ).

We travel aboard the luxury "Super Jet" bus (US$9.00 one way) through desert and the fertile Nile valley. It is a stark contrast: inhabitable dryness to luxuriant Bruegelian farm lands. An unchanged timeless scene; a yellow and green patchwork quilt, of manual labour and donkey carts, bringing in the grain harvest. It is the same land that fed the Pharoahs civilization.

Luxor is tourism. Hotel, horse carriage and taxi touts besiege. The Emilio Hotel (4 star -US $30 single, $40 double including breakfast) is recommended and doesn't disappoint. The uninterrupted rooftop view across the Luxor temple, the Nile, graceful felugas (traditional sailing boats), to the necropolis hills is memorable.

The Egyptian souk (market) provides a birthday (Annalise) gift: a silver key to paradise. "Half price for you...only today..." The next day is the same.

Ahmed is recommended as a taxi for the West Bank tours to the Valley of the Kings, of Queens, of Nobles and temples. It is good advice (US$30 a day) (phone: 010 507 6306).

2-4000 years before Christ, this Valley hosted the Pharoahs civilization. The society created a religion, art, architecture and government that functioned when Europe was primitive. A tour of the antiquities remaining cannot be "done" in a day or even a week. It is so overwhelming in its splendour, creative art, concept and architecture that to try to understand it before visiting it places an impossible burden. It requires two or more visits. It is enough to just soak up, bath in. Better to have some visual perception before embarking on the intellectual exercise of understanding.

A ticket allows three King's tombs. Tut Ankh Hamun's is an extra fee as the only intact tomb yet found (1922). Only Tut's mummy remains, all else is in the Cairo museum. It remained unfound due to the entrance being under the rubble from Ramesses IV tomb.

There are 63 tombs. A Pharoah's tomb provided an economy of artisans, workers and agriculture. The gods were thanked through tomb and temple building. It was a time of tremendous artistic flowering. Temples and tombs were intricately carved and painted in iconic scenes of the many gods. It is impossible to imagine the huge temple complexes adorned in colourful pristine art. Remarkably some colour (red, blue, yellow, gold, white) remains to hint at the splendour.

Karnak Temple complex is some hundred acres.. The Temple huge and imposing. It was developed by each succeeding Pharoahs. A Son et Lumiere emphasized its mystique.

Roberts (English, 1800's) watercolours view the Luxor Temple, pre-tourism. Surrounding roads built higher and cutting it off from the river, now subjugate it to a Temple of tourism.

Skipper returns to Sahula. Three days was insufficient. A return visit considered after study and time to assimilate the wonder. Luxor joins, Ubud, Bali and Sana, Yemen as in need of a return visit.

Skipper reads "Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt" (Armour). The colour pencil sketch "Mona Lisa of Luxor" recalls the ancient culture, its mystique and colour.

Predicting the weather is a major interest of frustrated cruisers. Each has a different source and different conclusion and a different rationale for its unpredictability. Hurghada, an inherently windy place tests all soothsayers. Finally, Sahula leaves and begins the Gulf of Suez passage.

The passage is to Endeavour Harbour, Shag Rock and the eastern coastal passage. Calmer seas are reported on the east. Tur, and an overnight passage in calm, then rough, then windy then calm puts aside any forecast. Luck has more to do with and seamanship ie inate feeling that now is the time.

A fleet arrives in Suez. All feel the relief of a completed Red Sea passage. The Suez canal measurer arrives courtesy of the yacht agent (Felix Agency) (no tape just information on the yachts vital statistics), a fee paid (some US$350.00) and departure is set for early morning. Ismailia (45 nm) with a canal pilot. Departure can be delayed by a warship or weather. A evening sandstorm wraps the fleet.

Skipper relives early times when adorned in whites, the Suez struck wonder into the young Australian. Now, seeming inches away, huge mammoths calve silently by, dwarfing Sahula. All is under the watchful eye of the endless military camps along the canal.

Ibrahim, the Pilot speaks some English. He asks for more speed but Sahaula strains to progress. Ismailia soon welcomes Sahaul to its yacht club. This is to be the base for Skipper to visit Cairo and its superb pyramids and museum.

Next report: Cairo to Turkey.

(009) 593 539 85 32 mob in Turkey.

Passage Report #27

22 April 2009 | Sudan
Suakin, Sudan, to Suakin

Medical needs do arise, in spite of the healthy lifestyle. Cruisers are largely "post war babies.". Peter (Sandpiper, UK) requires hospitalization for spinal spasms. Sudanese hospitality ensures he is soon treated by Sudan's Chief Surgeon. It's a common tale that westerners are given special access to excellent medical facilities in the poorest countries. Locally, cost reserves it for the few.

Skipper resolves to buy a self steering system (Raymarine autohelm ST2000) that works with Arial (Aries wind vane). It is commended by experienced cruisers and simple to install. Sahula's Sydney "agent," Peter offers to organize sending it by DHL to Port Sudan for arrival on Thursday. Skipper visits yachts using it, for advice.

Every cruiser needs an "Agent." A provider, supporter, advisor at "home." Peter, in Sydney, world cruiser, "Illywhacker" owner, good friend, smoothes Sahula's inevitable rough patches. The challenges are met, the insolvable, resolvable, the lows returned to highs.

Taj is an elder, a wise man of metal in a street of metal and car repair workshops. He is recommended as Mr. Fixit, by Mohammed. Tanya needed an in-line filter before the fuel pump. Taj soon had it. He appraised the disintegrated plastic "Plastimo" cog, "call me Monday." He'd try to replicate it in aluminum. Sudanese hospitality filled time. A passing parade of locals ensured much tea, discussion and an evening meal on waste plate metal table and old chairs.

Discussion drifts over Sudan's political situation, thoughts on the Presidents ICC indictment, appropriateness of democracy, military and security forces role, their corruption of government and industry, the Chinese model, hope in education - a familiar pattern in the developing world, born of deep frustration.
Taj (age 65) has seven children (thirties to teenage). Two sons work in the business. Sudanese families are large; "There are many wars." Retirement isn't considered.

If freedom is choice, then happiness in poverty measures only the human spirit in adversity. There is much human spirit in Sudan. Youths seeks opportunities overseas. Women, young children are rarely seen in the sea of white robed males on "Arab Street." White signifies prosperity. Suakin "white" is blotted and edged in the yellow of a harder life.

Cruiser's love their pets. Many have a cat or dog or two. Animals restrict destinations and limit a global cruise. Human entry requirements are problem enough. Australian restrictions are well known.

24 yachts shelter in Suakin. More arrive each day. All will leave when winds abate.
Some buy plastic fantastics and sail off in retirement to a plastic dream global cruise. Others younger, buy or build and embark, on a "shoe-string", on adventures that would make the "dreamers" give up long ago. Umberto (solo) and Finn friends are of the latter. They came to dinner aboard Sahula. They live by their wits, wisdom and initiative. They're relaxed, unstressed individuals, who had careers, who owe little to the real world. They're heading home after decades.

Umberto, trades (viagra, TV sets, anything) to support himself, his dog and his 23 foot sloop, Calefel. He relates meeting, inter alia, women, Phillipino "rebels," stone age Papuan natives and military, police - bureaucracy. Finland friends built there lovely Nordic gaffer, "Liv," sailing to Japan, Korea and return. They wet Skipper's appetite for sailing in Scandinavia, the Baltic, White Russia to the Black Sea.

Life long friendships are made in Sahula's cosy saloon.

A problem is taken on from various angles. One is to fix the equipment another is to add a crew. "Crew - wanted." was attached at the dinghy wharf. It was read by excited locals. A candidate, a young fisherman, was keen; "Yes, he had experience (on fishing boats only); yes, he had sailed the coast (to a mersa a few miles distant), yes he spoke English (could his friend interpret); did he have money (no, he expected to be paid "A million pounds."); how would he return to Suakin (he expected a paid ticket); what food did he expect (what ever was supplied), did he have a passport and visa to Egypt (Yes, he could get these in two days - "Sudan's no good.Australia."). The sign was changed; "English speaking; yacht experience required."

The yachts have supplied no candidates.

The Northerly abated, the fleet left; only Sahula remains. Oskan, the solo Turk (Indonesian Rally) is due. Sahula may sail with Kayitsiz III to Turkey. Sailing solo doesn't favour extended overnight passages... After a day, another fleet comes in.

The autohelm autopilot arrives via DHL, one day early. Fitting is planned for a day takes three days. Along the way other repairs come to light. Drilling through steel plate with a hand drill proves problematic.

Time out as a stomach bug strikes for a day. Lows and highs.

Skipper's advised the Course Master's problem may be worn brushes on the hydraulic motor. If only it is so simple. The electronics remain a mystery. Lesson: Equipment should have international service agents.

The skies above ancient Suakin soar with eagles. Some are not satisfied with ancient ruins; they seek more modern "apartments." High on "Orca Joss," amongst the two anemometer and VHF aerials, the stick strewn deck heralds construction.

The "second" fleet leaves. A third fleet including Kayitsiz III, replaces it. It includes Kari, a 14m Irish yacht heading south to Australia with a family of three children.

Advice is willingly given. Value is in the recipient. The fleets are driven by impending strong northerlies in late season. To dally or flee? Kari has 5 seasons in the northern Red Sea. "There are always windows.enjoy the superb diving."; "The Med in May is to be avoided.": keep east to avoid the Meltemi (northerly gales); Israel, Lebanon, Syria - Jerusalem, Damascus are worth it. Fuel is cheapest in Port Ghalib, El Gouna, Ismailia. Marti, Boat Yacht Lift near Marmaris, Turkey - "good deal" marinas.

Kari yields "gold" in a long overdue book swap.

The Plastimo self steering is taken apart then again. Plastimo life awaits sea trials. The autohelm may remain the sole system until Turkey. Sea trials give it a tick.

A shopping trip to the market, ends in a ride on a donkey cart. Amused locals watch the boy driver flay the donkey. Skipper pleads the donkey's case. The donkey wins. It refuses to move.

Busy Suakin boat builders, custodians of ancient skills, hammer, saw, trim (using an adze) and caulk (bark or sheep wool), oil, paint, time honoured, timber hulls designed by history, their backdrop, a fleet of their colourful "forebears." Expendable craft; of natural knees, pine and iron, subject to rust, borers and water sodden hulls.

Yemeni dhows await a judicial decision. They're caught smuggling for $US 300 each (Incentive: some $US 30,000 per trip) "workers" seeking opportunities in Gulf States. After crossing the Red Sea "workers" risk Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Gulf State borders.

A final bus trip to Port Sudan to skype daughters and friends, buy expensive "essentials:" cereal (Kellogs), yoghurt(fresh starter), change US dollars.

A touch of parental remorse. A daughter asks when Sahula will again be in home waters, answered by many miles in many years. "We want you here as we grow old." Daughter is aged 23. A conundrum: fly home, using cruising funds or enjoy family and friends aboard.

Doing it the hard way: a mantra. South African couple (60's); 10 years cruising; only self steering 3 years ago, no email facility; no weather reports: "can't be trusted.we don't sail in the cyclone season."

Cool Change's skipper (Peter [Canadian]) was tired; he'd set out waypoints around a danger zone. He needed sleep. Solo from Aden in high winds in the Straits of "Sorrow," he was exhausted and needed to stop. He cut the corner. At 0100 he was awake to rocks grinding as Cool Change heaved into sheer cliffs. His motor started only after hand cranking. He backed then full throttle forward miraculously came off albeit with the bow pulverized and a hole gushing water. Nothing beats a sailor and a bucket. Cool Change ran for 50 miles onto a beach, patched, repaired in Massawa, Eritrea and was now in Suakin. Cool Change joined the solo sailor's fleet of three.

Skipper over the side, scrapped barnacles off the propeller, shaft, and hull and wiped off growth. The antifoul (Jotun "Seavictor" ablative), applied a year ago.

Final visit to Suakin's market. Fruit, vegs, eggs, tins, dried milk, biscuits and freshly ground wholemeal flour. It may be weeks to Egypt.

Skipper contemplates putting adventure aside, enjoying time without limits, just being there, a beautiful bay, reading, painting, good friends. Turkey seems an eon away.

Next Passage Report - Suakin to Egypt.

Suakin, Sudan,
Monday, 13th April, 2009

Passage Repory #26

28 March 2009 | Suakin, Sudan
Goodbye Pirates, hello Africa

Aden to Suakin, Sudan

The pulse of country is usually clear within an hour of meeting its inhabitants. For the sailor the first meeting is with Immigration and Customs officials. So it was in Aden. Helpful, welcoming and efficient the entry formalities were soon over. Passports are retained in exchange for a shore pass. The shore pass is valid within the Aden city area. Travel outside required a visa (US$58). Customs smilingly announced "Welcome to Yemen), made clear his power and accepted baksheesh.

Stanley, bags packed, was first ashore revitalized by the prospect of adventures in Sana, inland capital of Yemen. He would return in time to rejoin Sahula.

Skipper enjoyed the delights of Aden and worked on Sahula's readiness for the next passage to Sudan. Repairs, fuel, water and food were required. 10 days not 5 days is needed. The Rally push gave little time to rest.

Sahula was anchored off Prince of Wales pier. Under the gaze of a bronzed Queen Victoria.. On the hill, a soaring replica of Big Ben, entire with clock, the ultimate kitsch power symbol, pointedly recalled home. Adenese recall fondly British rule and disparage communist Russia's past influence. Now a democratic republic, the President stoutly rebounds from every shop or public wall and billboard. His vestige, in suit and tie, is an ever present reminder of the separation between religion and State.

The prominence of Islam is clear. It is a man's world. Women adorned from 15 years in black burka's gracefully float by. They pray in separate parts of the mosque, eat in separate enclosed parts of a restaurant. Colourful women dress shops evidence that black is the public face. In the home there is a different world. Women students passing, through smiling eyes and muted hello, welcome Skipper. Through the black, women display a warm strength, curiosity and congeniality.

Males wear the "futa" waist wraparound and head dress. In relaxed dress, wide belts carry the ceremonial metal filigree scabbard and hooked knife.

Public places and restaurants resound with males talking in a rising crescendo. Noise is a feature of the Arab community whether from vehicles or people.

Battered taxis and buses, crowded at suicidal speeds provide mass transit on the "wrong" side.

It is a fast moving hectic world that stops and engulfs the visitor. It is a safe and secure society that enjoys its existance. Skipper has not found similar since Indonesia. Yemen has 20% poverty. It seems poorer societies build on the family, community and accept life as it is.

Market enterprise, materialism and the hussle exist alongside peacefully accepting Allah's designated lot in life. Business stops lunch to 1600 for rest and prayer. The resonating call to prayer is answered enmass in crowded mosques. In a seeming ancient world it is hard to comprehend that only recent times have given Yemen independence in politics.

Compulsory education from 8 years to college ensures that English is common. The internet café is crowded with young males playing violent computer games. Youth is short. Young males barely able to sit on a chair, are soon adult. Women have unseen, "Girls Net" cafes.

Refugee Somalis and Sudanese, nursing rounded babies, in poverty, beg for alms. Evidence of wealth is well hidden. Mercedes Benz's have less dents on well worn chassis.

An Aden tour emphasized the bone dryness of its precipitous mountains volcanic geography. The city seems to impossibly cling to life on the barest slope. Cemeteries bore their inhabitants above ground. A British military colonial ground bore young 17-20 age soldiers. Memories of a wasted past.

A beach further emphasized Islam's male world. Women bathed separated and fully dressed in black burka.

The bustle of the "Arab Quarter" market set the standard. A world of rampant enterprise selling the inconceivable to a bustling, surging crowd that seems to never sleep. Amed, the guide, mixed the spectrum with a Yemeni meal.

Quat, a plant and mild drug, chewed by males, is sold in a frenzy.

Group 4 of the Salahah passage reconstitutes for the passage to the Bab el Mandeb straits.. The pirate risk remains till the Red Sea. A few yachts unwisely sail alone.

Adel, an electronics engineer assists in repairing the Course Master Auto pilot. His coming aboard requires, a permit of the Marine Security police and Port Captain. It's Friday, a holiday; the latter will be back tomorrow. The Chief of Police permits the visit. Baksheesh (1000 Reals) is passed via a young boy intermediary. A weekend in Australia prevents the receipt of a wiring diagram. Pearl is retained as sole electronic self steering.

Is it tainted water? Opinions differ on whether the wharf tap is potable. Skipper fills one side with it and another with bottled water. Bleach is added to the "potable" water.

Is the fuel pump 10% out? The authority maintains the gauge is "god"; the yachties, that it's godless.. Yachts taking large volumes are not happy. The fuel wharf bathes in oil and fuel.

Skipper, for the first time since leaving Darwin, suffers a stomach upset. It seems the cause is the last supper ashore and a drop in standards (water and a salad).

What is an Agent worth? Agents assist in cutting through. They approach or hussle, when first landing, arrange deals thereafter. Skipper was recommended Amir. He assisted or manipulated, in finding items, and organizing an electronic engineer. He received $50 US as a service charge. The 2amp fuses and "Stanley" knife he acquired seemed rather expensive. Lesson: Agents are a last resort.

When to depart Aden? Some left midday, others late afternoon, some the next day. Grib files (weather forecasts from historic data) are assiduously studied. Skipper left late afternoon. It was a fair 15 knot wind and there was time to settle down before night fall. However, it was not to be the expected pleasant sail. Pearl (wheel autopilot) stopped. Sahula was back to hand steering. Crew was not happy. Skipper regretted not repairing the Course master.

Crew is learning that cruising is done on complex machines in a harsh environment. "Things" continually require repair. It is accepted as part of the "romantic" lifestyle. Fortunately, maintenance takes 60% of the time, but 10% of the memory.

The English fleet (Hinewai, Island Fling, Sahula) head to Ras Al Ara to effect repairs. "All for one, one for all." Al Ara, a fishing village at the head of a bay, is a set on a desolate, raw beachfront. Fishing gives it life. Locals (males) came alongside and willed fish and squid on their unexpected guests. The "port" official and accompanying army officer come out to act out the formality of a check on papers. They visit one yacht, confuse all the names, and leave.

Pearls most critical part, a small plastic cog, has disintegrated. "Plastimo" by name and nature. The childhood wonder glue, "Araldite," recreated it. An example of sailor ingenuity, based more on hope than reality.

Lesson: Always effect repairs no matter how long it takes if expertise (electronic expert) is available. Lesson Two: Rally schedules put pressure to leave. Lesson Three: No more Rally's. Cruising at your own pace is more fun.

Hinewai and Island Fling depart late afternoon.

Sleep reconstitutes Skipper and Crew. Sahula departed at midnight to pass through the Bab el Mandeb Strait at dawn. We may do so with the Scandinavian Fleet leaving Aden today.

Sailing down a moonbeam to the Straits of Sorrow (Bab el Mandeb). It is reputed to harbour strong winds and large seas. Sahula transits the Small Strait at daybreak in 20 knots and 1 m seas. The worst is in the main strait. Winds blow 30 -40 knots on 2 m seas.

Shipping drives through to the open sea. They bring Skipper memories of passing this way in the 1960's as a Cadet on the "English Star" (Blue Star Line, London). Skipper notes a small "motor boat" driving fast through the heavy seas. It resolves into the eerie sight of a submarine conning tower.

The first "sorrow" in the Fleet. Cool Change (Vancouver 26, solo sailed by Canadian, Peter) is sinking. She's hit an island while the skipper slept. Many yachts are lost in the Red Sea each year. Other yachts race to assist and she is later beached for interim repairs.

Skipper's first view of Africa is Eritrea, the irretrievable. Sahula enters the protected waters of Ras (cape) Terma, Eritrea, a bone dry, sand and rock pile. Its moonscape rejects all life except human. Impossibly, a village, housed in grass roofed, rock walled shanties, claims the ridge line. The bay houses the modern buildings of a military camp. Soldiers wander amongst the huts. Fish, crows and seabirds are the only visible natural food. Water, a mystery.

Lean, coal black village boys pass in a fishing boat. They laugh and smile, shout hello, where from, and pass on.

Yankee poled out, Arial steering, a strong SE'ly; Sahula bowls along gyrating over the building seas.. Crew writes poetry, Skipper sketches in coloured pencil the modernistic, "Red Sea."

Spectacular volcanic islands lead into Mersa Dudo. Yachts already there ride to 30-40 knots, funneling between the onshore volcanoes. Ashore fisherman eek out an existence.

Sahula stays a day. Skipper goes ashore to land on Africa, meet the "locals" (fisherman from Assab), and climb volcanic Mt. Dudo. The headman, recently returned from Europe, offers to converse in German, Italian, or English. Younger fisherman also speak some English. A visiting soldier wields a "Kalashnikov." Rice is exchanged for fish (shark). From nearby wafts the smell of sharks carcasses, minus their fins. Shark fin soup a delicacy.

High on the lee of a desolate, Mt Dudo, a small bird flits between rocks. On the summit winds scream across.

The view across Eritrean Africa is dry, barren, volcanic mountains and lava plains to the horizon. In the lava flows, goats graze on short trees under a wizened shepherd. He prays to Allah then greets Skipper with a toothless smile.

Beyond the fisherman's rude huts, a large graveyard, simple stone mounds, stands testament to Eritrea's demands on life.

A beached, red rusting, cargo vessel is testimony to Eritrea's independence battles.

The Plastimo is reassembled and works. Sahula has an "araldite" autopilot. The jury remains out.

Christiane, (Paddy and Caroline, IndoRally, Aden) reports in on VHF. They've passed unhinded along the "Protected Corridor" and had repairs done in Djibouti. They're sailing non -stop alongside the offshore shipping channel, riding the SE'ly.

Cool Change is patched and heads north in company with a Dutch yacht to Massawa, Eritrea, for full repairs.

The Rally Fleet is split into many parts; some riding overnight before the SE'ly or motoring into a light N'ly, others day sailing. Winds vary depending on whether off or in shore. All will meet in Suakin, Sudan.

Night anchoring is fraught with risk. Digital charts are suspect. Sahula's main compass (Morris Sestrel) has a sticking card. The digital compass gives a check. There is much relief after a long day, in 20 knot SE'lies, under moonlight, anchoring behind Handa Deset.

Winlink (ham, email system) has a "red" hole. There are no stations in close proximity to the Red Sea. Contact is made with YBOAJZ (Indonesia). It is intermittent, dependant on propagation (interference).Other stations are in Bulgaria, Austria and Europe. Critically, the only weather reports are emailed Grib files.

Sahula rode the SE'ly with Mollie (MPS) from Anfile Bay, to anchor behind Adjuz Island, Howakil Bay in company with six other yachts. The forecast is northerlies tomorrow. It seems the northerlies are further south than last year. Tanya (engine) is again to earn her adoration.

Red dust encrusts Sahula; paint, rigging, ropes, solar panels, flags... Visibility is through a dust cloud. The sun sets yellow.

Shumma Island, a flat, dry, raised seabed, spruiks its ancientness. More recent history is written in the name, "Port Smyth" given to a reef enclosed lagoon.. Sahula rests here with a fleet of yachts, amid a clear blue sea, beaches and birdlife.

Into the idyll, the military came; Sahula was long gone. Yachts remaining were boarded and asked to proceed to Massawa for official processing. The radio was abuzz. It was contrary to the international rights of passage accorded all vessels in territorial waters but it is the military...

Sahula is with five German yachts (Casita, Seranade, Pegasus, Antaries) motor sailing overnight, against the light northerlies to Khor Nawarak. The fleet bypassed Sheik Abu Island to avoid officialdom. Tanya is again doing overtime.

Red Sea barracuda and tuna prefer a stainless spinner (or plastic squid) to plastic fish. Two fish are caught in an hour. The first since Asia.

Skipper sketches the coloured pencil: Gliding Birds, Red Sea.

The Convergence Zone, between the north and south weather systems arrives. Sahula can expect light various winds and possible rain. Rivulets of mud run to deck in the first rain since Thailand.

In pitch black, relying on Maxsea digital charts, radar and faith, Sahula anchors at Khor Nawarat. After two nights and two days motor sailing, all is calm. The gods are smiling.

Hinewai (Australia) is the only yacht at the anchorage.

Fuel is a major issue. Sahula carries 210 litres in ship tanks and 180 litres in containers. Motoring against a northerly takes a heavy fuel toll. Tanya drinks 2.3 litres per hour at 1500 revs. At 2000 revs she is thirsty. Refueling in Suakin will include another 100 litres ie 490 litres in total, for the long haul to Egypt.

Experts correctly say, Red Sea passages require time. Rally time is around deadlines. Crew's wife arrives in Egypt on April first. Skipper wishes to enjoy a Red Sea cruise. Contradictions abound.

The Grib weather forecasts a southerly for 2-3 days. The Rally fleet again splits into two groups. Those who caught the previous southerly have had time in Suakin but see only the Red Sea. They now ride the projected Southerly further north. Sahula has moved with the Southerly but also anchored overnight. The passage has been enriched by the Eritrean anchorages. The price is motoring into northerlies or motor sailing with Easterlies. The northern Southerlies are however light winds which also require motor sailing. A conundrum resolved by each cruiser.

Grib files are the only weather reports and charts, accessible by email. Although based on historical data from NOAA in Washington, USA, they are proven accurate. They are mana to the fleet. They depend on access to Winlink.

A day of rest. Bread in the oven. Time to read and sketch. Crew pens poetry.

A fast passage to the Shubuk Channel. Mollie (spinnaker) strains to an early morning Easterly. Its "fish on demand" as the silver spinner again hooks a large fish. The lagoon at Long Island (anchorage at Channel entrance) is alive with birds. Skipper enjoys his first sighting of pink Flamingos. Predator free, a sea eagle family nest on a mudflat.

Maxsea proves completely misleading in the Shubuk Channel. Sahula wends between the visible reefs to Suakin.

The preconception of Suakin is a small port town. A large modern port looms up but once passed the scene is the visual shock of utter desolation; of a town comparable to immediate post war Dresden.

Suakin, the last African slave port (to the USA), was abandoned for nearby Port Sudan. The coral structure of the city quickly crumbled. Present, Suakin exists in all its poverty, wandering camels, donkey carts, markets, amongst the devastation. No electricity service, ensures generators beat the pitch black night air.

An Australian crew (Gold Coast), proclaimed, "I'm glad I came here to see that people lived like this - I would never have known!"

Yet the people are welcoming, friendly, and helpful. Skipper feels as if safe among friends.

Sahula anchored in the inner fishing port amongst colourful traditional fishing boats and other yachts.

The agent, Mohommed (university educated; Conservation) in flowing white and cap, welcomed yachts and efficiently completed the formalities. His battered Mercedes Benz, the best car in town. He is an "agent" worthy of his fee. He organizes fuel, water, money and anything else, with a smile and understanding.

Sahula's voyage halts in Suakin. Crew opts to disembark, prematurely, to rejoin his wife in Egypt. Skipper is initially frustrated, then resigned to the challenge. A cruiser cannot afford to dwell. Survival depends on resolving and moving on.

Sahula is effectively out of the Rally as the fleet proceeds north. The Rally has effectively collapsed as participants were unwilling to remain as a group. Skipper welcomes having no timetable other than inclination, wind and the seasons.

Skipper must now proceed solo or find another crew. It is a prospect full of risk. The autopilots must be repaired or face fulltime hand steering during day sailing between anchorages. "Day sailing" means, at best, motor sailing into prevailing Northerly headwinds for some 600 nm to Hurghada, Egypt. Hopefully, Sahula can join another yacht for the passage.

A crew is unlikely. Skipper has seen no westerners apart from fellow sailors and two UNAID personnel. Tourism is non existent.

Electronic expertise proves more probable. In Port Sudan (Pop: 2 million), Skipper is guided to another "agent" who contacts a Technical College, electronics lecturer who agrees to assist.

Both autopilots manufacturers declare their product old technology with no stocked parts. It is repair or replace. The latter difficult in remote Sudan.

Lesson: replace or update critical electronic items in the cruise preparation stage.

Money access and limited funds, adds to the issues. There are no ATMs or Banks using Visa, providing overseas funds. Western Union, in Port Sudan, is the only lifeline.

Khartoum is reported wracked by political disturbances due to ICC indictment of the President. Westerners are being told to leave. Mohammed assures sailors there is no overflow to Suakin or Port Sudan. "It is just politics," he says. Skipper ensures Sahula is fully prepared for immediate departure.

Internet facilities require a bus trip to Port Sudan. Port Sudan is a featureless, dusty teaming, Arab port city. Skipper welcomes mobile calls from Turkey and Sydney and emails and skype with daughters and friends. Remoteness contracts into the ether.

Skipper meets Gaylani on a crowded bus. Buses only depart when packed full. He is a semi retired local fisherman, restaurant owner and English speaking, merchant seaman. He advises locals sail east (offshore) with the early morning land breeze, returning to the coast with the later Northerly. Skipper surveys a chart. A continuous line of near offshore reefs would require local knowledge to regain the coastal anchorages.

Gaylani, phones to arrange a meeting.

Skipper accompanies Crew to a "luxury" room in a rundown hotel in a dusty city street. Skipper appreciates an icecream then a hot shower. Crew is left enjoying four walls and a TV.

"Home" is a cosy, welcoming, Sahula. Above deck, the Northerly sweeps the bay. The yellow sun sets through a dust cloud. Suakin's jagged skyline, pierced by mosque minarets, melts into utter darkness.

Next Report: Suakin to Hurghada, Egypt


Passage Report 25

04 March 2009 | Aden
Pirate Alley to Aden

The Military were adamant, "Keep to the middle of the Protected Corridor" for maximum protection. Yet another large mammoth was hijacked from under the noses of the Military fleet. Since then, the Corridor has been moved to the middle of the Gulf of Aden away from the Yemeni coast. The reason being to deter Yemeni fisherman cum pirates.

The Military consists of a fleet of ships from France, Britain, USA, and Europe which patrol the Corridor. Chinese, Indian, Omani, Yemen ships patrol outside the Corridor. Such huge military resources are merely protecting commercial ships and yachts. The pirates, from Somalia and Yemen, change their tactics to fit. They have 500 nm to render the Military resources impotent.

There are many recent reports of pirate attacks or harassment. A family of two children was attacked from astern guns firing. The father fired a shotgun and either killing the pirates or driving them off. The family suffered major trauma. Yacht convoys have reported harassment on a number of occasions.

The Rally fleet meets at the Oasis Club. Zero hour is approaching. The Fleet is abuzz with views. The Corridor or the coast. All agree that Lo, the Rally organizer has the final word.

The plan is put. There will be four fleets of six boats with each having a fleet coordinator. The Coordinators liaise with Lo. Skipper is coordinator of fleet four. Each fleet contains a language group. Fleet four is English. Sahula sports a large flag and green flashing light.

Each fleet is given a VHF channel for inter-fleet four discussions. Yacht is referred to only by number. Radio contact is to be minimal.

At night yachts are to use only lower navigation lights. Yachts sail within one to half a nautical mile of each other.

The route is along the coast to Shi ir in Yemen then onto Aden. Shi ir to Aden is the active pirate zone. The distance is some 600 nm and five days.

Departure time is 1200. A large passenger ship co-opts the immigration official. Delay on delay. Departure is 1430. Invictus is left behind to tend to her engine repair.

Umberto on Calefel and Liva also depart to follow the fleet outside the Rally.

It is light headwinds so Tanya, fresh from an oil change and new fuel filter, is again called on. Sails remain under cover. Sahula carries extra fuel (390 litres; an extra 180 litres). Cool Change, a 26 foot Canadian sloop lags behind. Fleet speed is 4 to 5 knots. Cool Change is towed by Mistral.

Fleet four is in position at the rear middle of the fleet. The fleet sail as a large diamond.

Course Master self steering repair fails to work. Pearl, the recently installed Plastimo AS100 wheel autopilot, works her magic to save the day. Much relief especially by Crew.

Night sailing finds a large fleet holding position. Speed is increased to five knots then five point five. There is no recorded pirate escapade at night.

Early morning is "high risk." Skipper asks fleet four to "close up." Fast local fishing boats seem to be everywhere. Friends or foe? Fisherman wave in passing. Tension is high when one stops to ask for cigarettes. Farce competes with reality. Paranoia with calm rationality.

"Close up" order again goes out. A dhow towing three boats is unusual. Lo orders full readiness. It is false alarm, but useful dress rehearsal.

Single mammoths pass by close to the coast.

Pearl allows Skipper to colour pencil sketch: Sahula plunging through a rough modernize abstract sea. Sketches of the Oman desert and a camel. Crew reads and rests.

A pod of some 50 dolphins cavorts to port. Their playfulness a contrast to the seriousness of the Fleet.

A yacht, Blue Marlin, catches five tuna. Sahula is a beneficiary after a fish is taken off by the Japanese yacht, Harmony IV and passed aboard.

The fleet drives on at 5.5 knots under full sail before a 12-13 knot SW'ly.

Night finds the fleet closing the dry mountainous Yemeni coast. Skipper recalls, as a merchant ships cadet, the excitement of viewing the first overseas landscape: the dry, red rock of the Horn of Somalian Africa sans pirates.

The VHF crackles with warships contacting boats. Their advice is "if you find suspicious activity you can request assistance." A trawler is reported with two attached fishing boats that fit the description of a pirate vessel. The warship advice remains consistent.

A Rally yacht has engine problems and drops astern. Fortunately the SW'ly comes in so she can sail till the resolved. The Fleet slows down to accommodate the reduced speed. Other yachts have turbo charged motors that don't appreciate the slow Fleet speed. They yo yo back in forth increasing and reducing speed. Solo sailed yachts are given more sea room.

Press button Pearl, accommodates all the changes in course.

The Rally fishing fleet reports ample catches of five tuna a boat. Sahula remains a fishless zone.

Whale ho!! A huge beast of the Antarctic, breeches nearby. Breeding in pirate alley, natures respite to man's madness.

A ruby globe sets on another pirate less day and welcomes the third night in pirate alley.

Morning dawns over Shir iz. Lead boasts entangle in a militarized restricted zone surrounding an oil tanker mammoth. A military boat inadvertently, cuts the tow line between Mistral and Cool Change. A course change to sea then to the coast.

The fleet enters unannounced the calm, tiny breakwater protected port of Shi iz. So small that yachts raft up. Port captain advises the fleet that a $100 US fee applies to each boat if they stay overnight. Soldiers slinging machine guns walk the wharf. After taking on fuel, in the late afternoon, 22 yachts, rested, head to sea. A fishing boat loaded with waving, excited young males escorts the Fleet... Good citizens of Shi iz will record the event for time immemorial.

Liv, a Finish yacht, tacks onto the rear of the Fleet. The Fleet is advised that Liv is to be asked to stay 5 nm astern of the Fleet and that the Fleet would not render assistance. Liv does not respond to radio calls. At night Liv sails for a time with masthead navigation lights contrary to the Fleet. Discussion on the ethics of seconding the benefit of the fleet security without contributing to it, of confusing self reliance and freedom of the seas, with freeloading.

Skipper resolves that Sahula would render assistance to Liv (friends Sture and Gengal) if required according to a long held sailors assistance convention. Assistance would not be "Rally." For the time the matter is academic.

Ideal sailing conditions are subject to Rally requirements. Tanya remains on under shortened sail to ensure maximum maneuverability. The silence of sailing is denied by Tanya.

Fleet is at the point where reality seems a myth; where pirates inhabit movies not the Gulf of Aden or Yemeni coast. Calm seas, insouciance, consistent winds, a ruby orb, a golden crescent moon in a starry sky, crew reading, skipper sketching (sand desert of Oman). Serenity engulfs the Fleet.

A yacht sails close to invite Sahula to an onboard cocktail party in Aden. Crew plans a tour to Sana, inland capital of Yemen. Chips, fried tuna, yoghurt and fruit. High protein to ensure an alert crew.

Ah, the French. A rebellious skipper refuses to be part of a group Fleet. His catamaran is off on a sojourn of its own, making chaos. Its skipper oblivious to the consternation, testing the limits of power.

Skipper is passed a red trumpet to call to the French yacht should it again threaten Sahula's space. Trumpets blare out across the Fleet.

Rhino has disappeared. She was astern of the fleet and isn't now on radio. Hinewei, reverses her course to locate Rhino. The Fleet stopped awaiting news. She is contacted on her satphone. She has dropped astern with electrical problems that cut her radio. Consternation that she had not contacted the Fleet.

It is the fifth day, Aden tonight. The schisms of human time evolve in abundance. Group 2 complains Group 4 has invaded its territory. Group 4 maintains the opposite. At night it is difficult to identify difference in red and green lights. Night is low risk so there is room to move. Another yacht claims the Scandinavian language group 2 is chatting to free bounder, Liv despite its radio silence. Indignant innocence is professed. The accuser knows only English.

Ah, wonderful Aden. Five days, five nights in tight pirate threatened convoy is soon to be over. It is none too soon.

In the dawning light, the soaring craggy volcanic escarpment of Aden welcomes the Fleet. Port Control directs 22 yachts to anchor off Prince of Wales Pier. There is much relief.

Crews attend the friendly efficient authorities, Immigration and Customs. Yemeni people extend a smiling welcome. School boys, women and school girls in black burka's or veils smile and welcome. Shop keepers, street vendors do the same. It is clear these are a content, welcoming and pleasant people. It is a welcome similar to Indonesia.

Crew seeks time out in an Aden hotel, before traveling to Sana, capital of Aden till Sahula departs in five days time.

For Skipper it is time to rest then prepare Sahula for the next passage to Sudan and Egypt.

Resurrected, Skipper attends the "formal" Group 4 cocktail party aboard catamaran, Island Fling. Skipper, in Omani headress, and plastic parrot "Polly," attends as the pirate that never was. Sho (Japan) is in Omani full length arab dress. Sho, John and Sam (Japan) sing their national anthem in full. Skipper attempts Waltzing Matilda. God Save the Queen rolls out from the British. Tales are told and retold; stress dissipates to hilarity in the wee hours. Time cures all.

Umberto anchored Calefell and related his solo passage on the same route. He foiled "attacking" fishermen by a Koran on his computer and displaying Islamic materials and stickers aboard. They left with cigarettes in return for a large fish. The tale enhanced the wisdom of a fleet convoy and reputation of a wily Spanish skipper.

Next Report Aden to Sudan.


Passage Report 24

01 March 2009 | Salalah Oman
Sahula Passage Report No. 25

February, 2009-02-10

Goodbye Goa, Hello Salalah, Oman

1100 nautical miles: Sahula's second ocean passage. 10-14 days crossing the Arabian Sea. The forecast is NE'lies, moderate to light winds. Sahula is well stocked for weeks to Egypt.

She leaves with the Vasco da Gama Rally fleet. A stop to clean her bottom and she is away.

The winds are contrary. Sahula sets her course with a NE'ly. Then later in the evening it is a strong Northerly. Northerlies are a head wind. In 22 knots, the sea builds. Sahula is bounding through it. It is wet sailing under a full moon.

Crew is seasick. Nothing more debilitates the ability or moral. Crew's wife receives an email that she would not want to be here.

Sail changes are frequent. Headsails can be furled but the mainsail has to be reefed. It's a frustrating process. The headsails are furled, Tanya is fired, Skipper has to bring down the mainsail to two reefs and winch down the sails aft end, then raise it. Crew struggles to put Sahula's bow into the wind. Steering is an evolving skill. It is demanding wet, work.

Further offshore the wind is more consistent. The Course Master electronic self steering stops. Sahula is without her "third" crew. Arial (Aries windvane self steering) is easier to set with the Course Master holding to course. Crew struggles to set Aries.

Once set, Arial works well. Sahula glides along in "sustainable" mode, using natures wind and sun to steer and generate electricity. It is slow sailing as Arial requires a balance between sails and rudder. Windward helm (bow moving to wind) can override Arial. Less sail means fewer knots. The Course Master can override this requirement.

Skipper seeks electronic skills applied on a rolling and plunging Sahula. The hydraulic pump is without power. Fuses are checked. The electrical "board" provides a daunting obstacle. Through Peter in Sydney the manufacturer sends instructions: "send the black box to Sydney."

Crew recovers on the fourth day. Moral rises, 800 nm to go, the seas beauty and the remoteness are enjoyed. Sahula, Skipper and Crew are in the "groove." A flock of seabirds fishes to port.

Sahula crosses the invisible thin line that guides commerce from Suez to Middle East oil and India. Mammoths abound, silently looming large into the horizon. At night one alters course for Sahula. A rare event. Deck lights inform the watch. Perhaps, being steel, Sahula is prominent on the watch radar.

With no electronic auto pilot, demands on Skipper and Crew are 24 hour, 7 day manual self steering if none or insufficient wind.

Crew advises hand steering is impossible for more than a short time due to a previous shoulder injury. Crew's past yacht experience took no account of the vagaries of the yacht machine. Skipper's position is a quandary. Without a third crew, Skipper must essentially self steer the yacht unless Aries is set. There are some ten days and nights to Salalah.

Skipper is effectively solo sailing and expresses concern at the late advice and approaching "pirate" zone. Options are considered including finding a third crew. A consideration is whether the disability may worsen.

A pray is made for wind sufficient to set Aries. It remains unanswered for the next ten days to Oman. Tanya alone or with sails is taxed to the extreme.

Sahula wallows in a glassy Arabian sea. It is a short time to find sleep and relax. Skipper enjoys a swim, albeit a bath, in a 3000 meter, clear blue, Arabian Sea. Crew stands shark watch.

Another dilemma: Sahula carries 290 litres of fuel, insufficient to make Salalah without wind. The forecast is for hot sunny windless days for the foreseeable future. Tanya is slowed to low revs to conserve fuel.

Sahula carves through a green blue oily ocean. "Green" algae covers the ocean surface. Skipper is reminded of a poem:

" Deep Blue Sea"

"As I sail through the unknown,
The waves seem to open up into mounds of unknown sea.

The wind blows vigorously over my face.
My hair rustles like a hurricane.
Then, all is still.

I see a faint patch of shimmering light.
Is it fire or
The sun glistening its streaks of gold onto the waves?

Behind that place of golden warmth
It is cold a bitter
Revealing darkness is coming

It is sticky and smells like a decaying rat
If we don't help soon there will bee
No blue green sea.

(Annalise Haigh, Aged 9, Age Group Winner North Queensland Conservation Group Environmental Poetry Competition, 2000.)

A premonition perhaps? It is ignored by pods of dolphins leaping high, playing around Sahula.

At night, Sahula's wake and folding wave tops sparkle blue white with phosphorescence. The ocean is alive with minute white lights eerily flashing. Then moonlight rises, shimmers and continues the "son illuminaire."

Tiredness disorientates Skipper. The compass malfunctions, Sahula seeking to find direction entangles the fishing line around the propeller shaft. Skipper, plums the energy depth, dons the snorkel and, over an hour, with a sharp knife and cuts the line free. Doctor Stanley tends to many Skippers' wounds from barnacles clinging to the hull.

Mollie (spinnaker) flies free in light winds. Sahula is underway under hand steering.

Other yachts report varying winds. Sahula's sea remains light to glassy calm.

Moral is an undulating graph of hope and despair.

Crew becomes cook. Food is plentiful. Meals are simple but healthy. Fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit dominate.

Skippers prepares a bread mix, but Asian flour is finely shifted, more suited to pancakes. Banana cake resolves to pancakes

Packaged biscuits from Asia are caramelized sweet. Cashew nuts provide snacks.

Tanya sips ever reducing fuel. Watches of Crew "on" for one hour, off for three. Skipper tired, cannot enjoy reading or sketching.

Days stretch out into a weather report of continuing calm conditions. Crew notes that the Pardys, renowned cruisers took 50 days on the same passage.

On night watch, Skipper reaches out to a figure on deck. In hallucination comes sanity. Crew takes the watch.

Middle East colours of napier yellow, white and ochre are reflected in the dusk sky. The sun sets yellow white.

Invictus IV looses all power on motor. "Bud" her skipper is a retired US lawyer and State Supreme Court judge. Discussion criss crosses the airwaves on how to organize a tow. Sahula couldn't reach their waypoint with current fuel. The radio waves bounce with possibilities.

Sahula presses on advising Invictus that we will tow them if we can reach them.

Invictus 4 is 80nm distant is in a shipping lane. A tow is imperative.

Invictus carried by the current edges closer to Sahula. Both yachts rendezvous in the early morning. Sahula takes fuel from Invictus and passes a tow line. Slowly they head to port.

Two days later the stark, praying mantis like, container cranes of Salalah, Oman seem to form a guard of honour for the arriving yachts. Cheers rise from the anchored fleet. A long sleep is overdue.

The port's container terminal is huge. It is a transition port, similar to Singapore where containers are interchanged and stored.

Immigration, Customs are efficiently concluded. Mohammed, the agent, in long flowing robes, arranges experts to fix the autopilot and outboards. Sahula soon has hydraulic, digital self steering and resurrects a Plastimo wheel autopilot. Olive and Olive Too are soon driving Zod.

Omani's friendly smiles and quite efficiency welcome Skipper and crew. Salalah is a modern city of freeways and stark "block" Arabic buildings. None are higher than the minaret. All are separated by dusty dirt streets except around palaces and government buildings.

It is a man's world. Few women, young people or children are seen.

Salalah's claim to fame is the ancient trade in frankincense and the Al Kaleeff. The former is the sap of the tree, ground to make powder or perfume. It was carried by the "three wise men" to Jerusalem. The Ah Kaleeff is the greening wet season unusual in a region more noted for its extreme dryness.

A tour takes Skipper and crew to the UNESCO Frankincense wadi. At this World Heritage Cultural Site, the small, gnarled trees eek existence of hundreds of years. We follow the frankincense trade route to Ubar, World Heritage archeological Bedouin fort site and palm filled wadi. However, World Heritage fails to protect the ancient palms. They are being sacrificed to draw down the water table to irrigate. livestock grass.

Lunch (camel meat, rice and salad) is alongside the huge sand hills that mark the deserts of the "forgotten" corner of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is hard to imagine the ancient camel trains passing this way enroute to the markets of Europe.
Nessr, the driver presents Skipper with an Arab headdress tutoring him in how to "wrap"

"Liv", a Finish yacht arrives. Sture and Gangel are worried about Umberto on Calefel. Umberto, a solo sailor, enriches cruising culture. His boat, all 24 feet, is run down and looks it, yet it and a sea dog, have survived years of cruising. Umberto has a unique money making venture. He seeks out unhappy cruising couples and mentions a miracle drug to improve their relationship. The husband rejects it, the wife shows interest. Umberto buys it at a local chemist and after doubling the price, satisfies
the happy couple. The drug is "Viagra."

Liv is worried Umberto hasn't arrived from Goa. Late at night he finally arrives. He anchors finds about high cost in Salahah, doesn't "book" in with authorities, and leaves. Salahah is none the wiser. Skipper donates 20 litres of fuel to get Calefel to Aden. No pirate will profit from raiding Calefel.

Christiane, an Australian yacht departs taking the "Protected Corridor" route through pirate alley. They are advised the sail between the North and South corridors for maximum military protection.

Reports of two previous fleets being harassed by fast fishing boats.

Sahula prepares to leave with the Rally fleet.

Next Report - Pirate Alley.

Sv Sahula
25th Feb, 2009

Passage Report 23

26 January 2009 | Cochin, India
Phuket, Thailand, to Cochin, India

January, 2009

There is a time in life when all before is preparation for the present. Sahula has checked out of customs, immigration and the harbour master. It is Cochin, India next anchorage. Cochin is some 12 days voyaging across the Bay of Bengal in the northern Indian Ocean. It will be Skipper's, Lorraine (crew) and Sahula's, first long ocean passage.

The "grib file" received off Winlink (High Frequency radio internet system open to Ham radio operators) forecasts 10-15 knot, NE'ly winds. It is operated by the USA. It provides a 72 hour weather forecast chart for any part of the world. The Indian Weather Bureau report is similar.

The forecast is favourable. There is a full moon. Stores are aboard, last minute farewells. No more excuses. A family of twin daughters (aged 10) and parents blithely set sail last week.

Skipper has decided to not go via the Andaman Islands as time is too short to stay over there. Sahula is now a participant in the Vasco da Gama Rally from Cochin, Oman, Red Sea and Turkey... The Rally sets sail from Cochin on the 25th January. A fast sail will be needed to make this date. If it is unattainable Sahula will join in Salalah, Oman in late February.

Nai Harn Bay, a few miles from Ao Chalong is first stop to do final preparations. These include hull cleaning, decks cleared of Bridgett (surfski) and Zod (inflatable) and resting physically and psychologically. Nadezdha, a day ahead, calls in to advise that conditions are fair at sea.

It's blowing 15-20 knots, time to leave. Blue mountains, to gray, to a universe of horizons. Sahula pranced across the calm sea to a grinding halt. The wind dropped to 3-4 knots. Sahula wallowed, sails flapping. Even Mollie (spinnaker) couldn't raise the log. The "fast passage" seemed to fade. Tanya (engine) stood tantalizingly a switch away, an impossible dream. It is 1247 nm to Cochin. Ocean passages are driven by the elements.

Not only Sahula is at the behest of the elements, Sandra, the swallow, seeks refuge aboard. She circles the boat planning her landing. She's exhausted after a long flight from only she knows where. Sahula is 80 nm from Thailand and 200 nm from the Nicobar Islands. The doghouse accommodation finds her instantly asleep.

A full moon, silvery sea and increased breeze, raise morale. The first night at sea is always difficult. Sleep is nigh on impossible. Experienced cruisers proffer the third day as heralding the best of a long passage. Sundowners, and time to dine, crew concocts a meal for royals.

At midnight with headsails wing on wing and main driving her on, skips to 6 knots. A day of contrasts. A new Winlink "grib" weather report confirms good winds.

The ocean is a dynamic place. Sahula in mid-ocean sails through an area of confused, tumbling sea then into calm. Skipper surmises the cause as upwelling from deep below.

From the valleys, mountains, from the peaks, a desert is the ocean sailor's constant vista.

Dolphins (small, black, grey bibs) dance in the waves, gamboling, leaping meters into the air before streaking alongside Sahula.

Sandra, the swallow succumbed to her journey. Full tributes were paid before committing her to the sea.

Goodbye Andaman Sea, hello Bay of Bengal. Sahula scudded though the Sombero Channel past Meroa Island in the Nicobars. There could be no stopping. The Nicobars, an Indian territory, are off limits to cruising yachts.

It warranted a second look. There against the islands shore, listing, rested a large inter-island passenger, car ferry. It seemed impossible that such a vessel could be a recent wreck in such a place.

Headsail partly furled and poled out with full main in 15-20 knots, Sahula began the long haul to Sri Lanka some 5 days and 784 nm distant.

At midnight, wind to 21 knots, seas rising, Skipper (in safety harness) with Crew on the helm, put two reefs in the main. Crew and Tanya (engine) put the bow to the waves. Skipper, at the mast, pulled down the main to two reefs, hooked in the cringle and winched in the boom end of the mainsail. Sahula was happier albeit slower. Skipper was wet.

At 0900 (local Thai time) each day, Sahula provides her position, weather and "alls well" report to the Indian Ocean Net (4039 frequency). Some 20 yachts call in on their passages across from Thailand to Sri Lanka (Galle), Maldives or Cochin. The Net is run by Keith on Kirsten Jane while enroute to the Maldives. A participant has "shredded" their headsail. The Net provides information on a sail maker in Galle (Windsor Flags and Sails).

Sahula is in constant email contact with family and friends through Winlink. Isolation is visually a horizon.

Watches are listed by Crew. It is a guide only as Skipper, at any time, is required on deck. Generally, the list is three hours on by night and half days. Crew works the galley, Skipper handles sailing, cajoling, caressing, and maintaining Sahula and her myriad parts. Three hour watches did not give enough sleep. Now doing four hour night watches. Six hours sleep seems to optimum to ensure perky crew.

In the dark of the night, the sounds of waves tumbling, waves on hull, Arial's (wind vane steering) high pitched sigh, all seem loud, close and at times, threatening. Plunging on into inky darkness is not for the feint hearted. Welcome to the moon. Skipper stands on the after deck, phosphorescence lights the parted waters, the night sky is a blaze of stars and planets.

Barack Obama, "Audacity of Hope," a blueprint to a presidency, is enjoyed by Skipper. Well written and thought provoking. Christopher Kremmer, "The Carpet Wars" is next. It unfolds the intricacies of the Islamic world. Reading and time to do so is a sailor's delight. Crew has also sewn new colourful, cockpit cushion covers. There has been no news of the world since departure.

There is healthy mental cleansing (or happy ignorance) in being so isolated for so long.

Sahula has done on average, 150 nm a day. An average of 6.25 knots. Arial (self steering) has been in charge all day and most nights. Sails have been in the same mode for a week. They're winched in or out depending on wind strength and Arial's ability to keep to course..

Wind routine settles in. Midnight, winds increase to 20-23 knots, morning winds ease to midday when 15-17 knots. Seas vary from steep and tumbling to a sharp swell. Sahula's motion is twisting, rolling to a calm slide creating the sailor's gait.

On the 8th Day, Sahula is off the Sri Lankan coast. Shipping has increased, seabirds dive and circle, butterfly seeks refuge. Crew celebrates Sahula's first ocean passage with wine and biscuits.

Skipper must be in the groove as a coloured pencil sketch of the sea is underway. One of the difficult topics to draw or paint is the sea. It has no constancy, shape or being. Continual observation over the passage finally resolved its basic shape. It gives great satisfaction to evolve a work in a medium that allows the creative juices on a moving platform.

Four days to go to Cochin.

Sri Lanka slips into the night. Fishing boats like fireflies. By day as colourful as Indonesia and Asia. It would be possible to know location by the design and colour of the local fishing boats. In every location the fishing boats are traditional one design.

"Mannar" must mean "angry." Sahula's crossing started in near perfect conditions, then rapidly increased to a constant 18 knots on a moderate sea. Halfway and the illusion was gone. 25-35 knots winds swept the tops to waterfalls. Coming from the north they broke beam on and roared across the deck. Doghouse, plastic cockpit covers, lee clothes kept a dry crew. Double reefed main, "handkerchief" furled Yankee drove Sahula, rising to the occasion, as she lopped over and, at times, through them dispensing
confidence in her abilities. Reminisces of the similar, Gulf of Carpentaria crossing.

Morning dawned with gale conditions that quickly abated over the Wedge Bank along the Indian coast.

Sahula, by contrast, entered ideal sailing conditions in the lee of the coast: fine day, calm seas and 10-15 knot NE'lies. Again Indian locals in fishing boats dotted the evening like a million fireflies.

Crew relaxed and rested feeling the effects of a Mannar crossing.

Sahula arrived in Cochin in the evening of Wednesday, 21st January. Her first ocean passage (10 days, 11 - 21st January.) had successfully passed by. Many lessons learned and the maintenance list added to. Each passage gives experience and lessons. It is a very good life.

Crew had done well. Fresh food had lasted to arrival. Skipper is grateful for her company.

Crew will be departing in Cochin for a month's holiday in India and then back to Melbourne to sustain the mortgage.. Stanley from NZ is crew for the passage to Turkey. His wife joins up in Egypt. Stanley is a "refugee" from a busy medical practice in Invercargill, South Island.

Sahula will join the Vasco da Gama Rally from Cochin to Alanya, Turkey. She will sail in a fleet of some 16 yachts. A number of them are from the Indonesian Rally.

The Rally takes Sahula to Oman, through "pirate alley" off Somalia, Yemen and into the Red Sea to the Suez Canal to Cyprus and Turkey. It finishes on the 5th May 2009.

Now for a well earned R&R in Cochin.

Sv Sahula
Vessel Name: Sahula
Vessel Make/Model: van de stadt 36 extended to 40 feet
Hailing Port: Townsville
Crew: David - single hander
David is retired (60 ish young) academic who taught potential environmental radicals environmental law, law of the sea and coastal law. He's now setting out on a global cruise aboard Sahula. He's travelling solo except when potential crew take the plunge and join up. He welcomes worthy souls. [...]

About Sahula

Who: David - single hander
Port: Townsville