Red Sea Storms
|Map of Red Sea
Port Ghalib Egypt to Yemen
Sunday 20 Dec 09 (continued)
135hrs: All sails up. Motor off and sailing. Wind from port quarter about 12 knots. Course 140 deg True for the next 840 miles to our waypoint which is at the northern end of Jabal Zuqar Island in the Great Hanish Group. This group of islands is about 90 miles north of the Straits of Bab el Mandeb and the entrance to the Red Sea. The word “Bab simply means “Strait”. Our selected waypoint is an area marked on the chart as a safe anchorage against southerly winds. We should be able to use it to wait for a weather window to get through the relatively narrow entrance to the Red Sea.
Approx 1600hrs: Starter battery indicator is showing a white colour. That’s not good – should be green. Andy investigates and finds the battery charger hadn’t been turned on at Port Ghalib and the batteries have run down to just 2.7 volts. Also not good. Doubts about whether any of them can hold a charge now but will just have to wait and see. We’ll have to do more motoring than anticipated. Wind drops to around five knots so Andy starts the motor. Need to charge the batteries anyway.
2130hrs: Starter battery indicator is green again as it should be. Will have to wait and see if the batteries can hold a charge.
2200hrs: Towns fewer and further between. Still motoring. Just using the mainsail which slats back and forth in five knots or less wind from astern.
Overnight: Wind remains dead astern. Mainsail only. Problems continue with power. House battery voltage drops fairly quickly below 12 volts once on sail only forcing us to turn the motor on again to recharge. Battery amp-hour capacity doesn’t drop by that much, only between five and 10% but am concerned at the rate of voltage drop. Find by experimenting that if we hold the motor to 1400 rpm we’ll use just one litre per hour fuel.
Mon 21 Dec 09
Morning: Goosewinged sails. Beautiful day. Northerly winds pushing us along nicely.
1130hrs: Last sighting of land off to the NW while we travel down towards the middle of the Red Sea.
1430hrs: Zeberged Island, a substantial piece of land with a prominent pyramid peak is abeam to starboard. There’s another small island appropriately named Rocky Islet nearby.
1500hrs: Going through a patch with lots of whitehorses. Rocky Islet abeam. Water a bit disturbed but nothing showing on the sounder. Probably turbulence downstream of some underwater feature. A fish is caught which I think is called a striped bonito. Has red flesh similar to tuna. Roger is getting some dinner ready in a pot – some kind of goulash. Andy getting much needed sleep.
Dusk: Big orange sun sets into a low band of haze over the top of what looks like one of the larger traditional wooden fishing boats with a large poop area. It’s similar to the one seen back at the Hurghada Marina. Shows no lights as the sun sinks and disappears as it gets dark and we leave it behind. Take the headsail down.
Tues 22 Dec 09
Midnight: We’ve done about 195 miles so far. 633 miles to waypoint.
0005hrs: On watch and downstairs checking the electronic chart. There’s a loud noise outside like a big wave hitting the rear of the boat. Our heading shown on the digital chart starts to spin so I rush upstairs to find the boat is indeed spinning quickly. Steer her back on course. Have to gybe the mainsail and in the process the traveller ropes knock the compass cover off as they pass violently across the boat from one side to the other. Curse myself for not pulling the boom inboard as much as possible before the gybe. Get the boat back under control and put it back onto auto. No idea what happened there. Nothing in the immediate sea that I can see that might have hit us. Gave me a start though.
Sea flat all night. Almost no wind. A light breeze comes up and swings abeam to starboard. It’s been astern slightly off the port quarter. Quite warm and warm clothing such as jumpers not required for the first time at night.
0300hrs: Sea haze closes in. Impossible to tell sky from the water. Listen to the small sounds; regular swishing of the sea at the rear of the boat, soft clanking of a rope hitting metal on the mast or boom, the curl of the sea amidships as a wavelet veers away from the hull. A myriad of phosphorescent sparks erupt in the inky sea behind … and the constant burbling drone of the exhaust. Continue to motor all night. The mirrored sea is as flat as a rumpled doona cover.
0900hrs: Winds southerly. Motor sailing SE with all sails up. Don’t really need southerly winds this far up the Red Sea. Seas still flat. It’s quite warm already – almost humid giving us a taste of what’s to come. Shirts off. 599 miles to waypoint plus about another 180 miles or so to Aden.
Andy calls us together in the cockpit for a discussion. He tells us that from the weather grib files that we’ll have headwinds today and tailwinds tomorrow and there are 12 knot headwinds down near the entrance to Red Sea. Some concerns are voiced about whether we’ll have enough fuel to make it to Aden. Options are to call into Port Sudan which is the last known place where we’ll be able to get more fuel, and it will be costly adding all the entry fees as well. Or we can divert to the other side of the Red Sea and try our luck at Jeddah in Yemen. Roger has done a swag of calculations on fuel usage rates and is confident we can make it directly to Aden. My point of view is to call into Port Sudan. Andy will think about it.
1130hrs: Andy is cleaning up on the stern landing platform with scrubbing brush. Takes a swim by holding onto a rail and gets back onboard. Consider doing the same but about 10 minutes later a shark circles about behind the boat. Not a particularly big one judging by his dorsal fin but big enough. No swim today.
Have been sailing close-hauled for the last hour or so on 180 deg due south, away from the usual 150 deg. We’re heading for Elba Reef where Andy wants to do a dive over the side and clean the log transducer under the boat. Temperature inside the boat is 30 degC. Sun makes it quite hot outside. IPod music on with “Dancing in the Street” coming from the ship’s speakers. Coffee or tea time. Low swells starting to come through from the SE, probably from the Strait of Bab el Mandeb around 600 miles or so away.
1300hrs: Sight a small ship wrecked on a reef where we want to go. It’s laying half on its side with it’s mast pointing rakishly at an angle to the sky. Simon and Garfunkel are singing “Homeward Bound” followed by the Dixie Chicks telling us not to waste our hearts on her. Andy sights land off to the west which I can hardly see even with binoculars, but it’s there all right – the coast of Sudan lying low on the horizon.
Right: The wreck of the Cedar Star, a Lebanese freighter ran aground on Elba Reef in 1978 with 170 Arab League Peacekeeping soldiers aboard. It took 3 days to get everybody off.
1500hrs: For the last two hours we’ve worked between the east and west Elba Reef systems. The wreck we’d seen earlier is on the East Reef. West Reef is marked by distinctive boulders easily seen from a couple of miles away. Numerous isolated pockets of reef everywhere forcing us to thread through them carefully with everybody on watch, as we look for a place to stop and anchor for a short while to clean the log transducer. A couple of dolphin pods swing by to check us out then disappear again. These ones have long grey bodies with a dull white mask about the eyes. Flying fish erupt from the water and skitter across the surface as we approach.
Left: Storm cell at left moving to the right. Rain beginning to fall centre photo.
Nasty looking storm cell system to the south. Clouds rise high into the sky with rain showing underneath. Stop motoring in around 13m depth and drift. Andy puts on his goggles and breather then climbs down into the water off the stern platform with kitchen scrubber in hand. Moves along the side of the boat opposite the transducer then dives under. He does this several times to get the job done before climbing back onboard.
By this time the sky has clouded over and heavy with rain clouds. Wind is picking up to around 10 to 12 knots. Put the sails up and start motoring until we can get back on course then turn the motor back off. The log is now working. We’ve got a working speed and depth instrument. Cuppa’s all round. Well done Andy!
1530hrs: Sailing at six knots in up to 14 knots northerly winds. Good! Temperature still hovering around 30 deg C. Sky is clouded over and it gets blowy with some gusts. Thunder rolls to the SW.
1630hrs: Storm cell is getting bigger and moving overhead. Heavy droplets of rain fall onboard so hatches are closed. Now hitting seven knots in up to 20 knots wind. Seas still not too bad – swells mostly.
The storm overtakes us and hits with winds up to 35 knots built up seas. Rain is pelting with logs of lightning. Pull the headsail in so that just a sliver is showing and put the first reef into the mainsail. Wind starts moaning louder and louder. All the signs are that this can only get worse. Turn the music off – can’t hear it anyway.
Andy changes direction trying to get out from under the storm but there’s nowhere to go. Put the second reef into the mainsail as lightning flashes overhead and all around. Turn off all unnecessary power in the boat in case of lightening strike. Visibility of the horizon is so thick we’re running blind but at least we’ve got sea room to spare. Ship lights further out to the east are coming our way. Everybody puts on wet weather gear for the first time this trip. At one stage we run before the wind but not for long. Turn and start travelling down the side of the system until it blows itself around towards the east.
1800hrs: The worst seems to be behind us with things gradually settling down. Turn the motor back on, plug in the computer again and check our position with the GPS. We’re over towards the east a bit but otherwise not too far off track, about 15 miles from Elba Reef and slowly getting back on course. The wind generator as you would expect really earned its keep pumping in valuable amps so that the power draw from batteries at the height of the storm was only one or two amps.
1820hrs: Make a soup and cook dinner while the guys take the reefs out of the mainsail. 562 miles to waypoint with a northerly wind, moderate but still bumpy seas. Moon and some stars are out. Roger has reworked his calculations regarding fuel. Andy decides we’ll keep heading for our waypoint.
2100hrs: Lots of bangs up top. Rush up to find Andy and Roger already putting two reefs into the main again. Get the boat sorted using just the mainsail. Wind has sprung up to 20-25 knots behind from port quarter. Speed five and a half to six knots and sometimes more. Waves building again. Lightening flickering almost constantly from two rain systems, one directly ahead and a nasty looking one sitting broad off the port bow. Sailing with motor off.
2200hrs: Andy can’t sleep. Keyed up I expect. Give him a bowl of stew and a cup of decaf coffee and he goes back to bed.
2330hrs: Boat rocking and rolling, corkscrewing her way forward. Speed six knots still. Under motor for the last half hour to bring the battery charge back up. They’re definitely not holding a charge very well. Storm cells to the east are still there but seem to be playing with us as they move away and come back again as the hours tick by. Bloody pain, not making for a fun night at all. At least we have a line of retreat due south if the system does come back on us but for now we just seem to be keeping pace with it.
Weds 23 Dec 09
0600hrs: Mixed promises with the dawn. Sun rises into a clear sky under a low band of black cloud. The rain system that gave us the irrits last night has moved around to the north. It sits out there promising to come back at any time. There is another storm system sitting due south on the horizon. Sea is like a washing machine. Waves up to two metres or so. Wind still up to 20 knots. Mainsail with two reefs in it is still giving us around five and a half to six knots under sail. Uncomfortable corkscrewing motion of the boat.
Have a cup of tea with Roger but I’ve got an upset tummy and it doesn’t stay down long. Feel better once it comes back up again. Big freighter is moving to overtake us in the distance off to port. 478 miles to waypoint. Still heading SE with Port Sudan at 83 miles almost abeam to the SW.
1200hrs: Day has fined up with a full sun. No change to wind or seas or sailing rig. If there’s a rain system out there it’s lurking in the haze around the horizon. A couple more ships seen in the distance. A 200 litre drum floats by. It’s sitting a bit high so is probably empty or near to it. Hate to hit something like that when falling off the back of a wave.
1630hrs: A dark band of clouds masks the horizon from the west through the south to the north and it’s coming over cloudy again. Only the north-west is relatively clear.
1830hrs: Settle into night routine. Have been feeling crook in the belly all day but have some second hand stew. A ship steams up astern and overtakes us to starboard about 400 metres or so away. It’s the closest any have come to us before. Maybe they were just curious about us. Seas have eased a little bit and so has the wind. Batteries seem to be holding their volts better but that could be wishful thinking. Am no battery expert but I wonder if it’s a battery “memory” thing that’s been improving the more it’s being charged. In any case it means we’re not obliged to turn the motor on quite so often. Half moon directly overhead. Comfortable six knots speed. Sporadic lightning in a storm cell off the port beam to the NE.
2100hrs: Half moon set. Another ship overtakes us to port.
Getting to Hanish
|map showing anchorage site at the Hanish Island group in the Red Sea|
Hanish Island Group
The Hanish Islands consists of a group of some desolate, old volcanic islands about 90 miles north of the entrance to the Red Sea. In 1995 Eritrea invaded them and after an exchange of hostilities, Yemen reclaimed them. Ongoing contentious issue continue between the two countries. No doubt explains the presence of military camps on at least two of the bigger islands. Our anchorage is in a bay at the northern end of Jabal Zuqar Island, the northernmost of the group.
Right: About 1630 hrs on final approach to an anchorage off Jabal Zuqar Is in the Hanish Group, southern Red Sea, Yemen.
Approx 1800 hrs. About an hour after getting the anchor down, three fishermen including a teenager and two men in their early 20s come alongside in a rather long wooden boat about 32 feet by six feet wide. Paintwork is reasonably good. Doesn’t have all that much freeboard in the middle, perhaps two feet. Sturdy looking little vessel. Has a large stainless steel T-piece fibreglassed into the bow which gives us some concern as it bobs up and down menacing Jenzmincs hull.
They indicate they want a bandage. One of the men has a small wound on the calf muscle of his right leg. Andy gives him a bandage. Roger gives him some plaster strips. The injured bloke looks at the plaster strips as if he’s never seen them before. Roger demonstrates to use the plaster strip then use the bandage. Everybody happy with this arrangement except our injured bloke who still looks uncertain. Away they go.
Sundowners in the cockpit. Andy and Roger indulge in a well deserved beer and we’re all truly thankful as we listen to the wind howling and not being out there in it. As usual darkness falls suddenly. The wind generator toils away pumping power into the batteries, at about five amps when last I looked but it’s working harder than that now. It really gets up a moan and tends to make the wind sound worse than it really is. Andy gets contact with Abu Tig on SailMail and manages to get out a request for grib files for a weather update. Did I say it was bloody howling out there?
2100 hrs: Everybody getting ready for bed. There are voices outside so Andy climbs outside in his long pj’s. To his consternation he sees one of the fishing boats like the one earlier coming alongside with two men obviously getting ready to climb aboard.
He calls out in his best Captain’s voice, “What are you blokes about?”
A series of jabbering in Arabic. We then see the military berets and camouflage uniforms but most of all we see the short automatic rifle slung over the shoulder of one of the men. There are several other people in the boat. Perhaps four fishermen and another two military men in addition to the two who are now standing on our starboard deck. We indicate that their boat should stand away so they tie off to a cleat and hang off the stern.
Left: Rifles similar to that carried by the Police except the magazine and metal shoulder frame are missing, which means it’s meant to be used in close quarters.
They indicate that’s okay. We just don’t want too many onboard at the same time. The two men who climb aboard are Yemini military of average height. Both are quite polite and look more Indian than Arab to me, especially the younger one who is clean shaven and quite skinny. We learn he is a Lieutenant and doesn’t speak English; though I begin to suspect otherwise the longer they stay onboard.
The second man is the interpreter, medium build tending slightly to chubbiness with at least a few days growth of beard. He knows just enough English to make us understand and appears to be better at comprehending than speak it. This is the fellow with the gun. I wonder if it’s loaded and decide it probably would be, although you wouldn’t think so by the way in which it is being so casually handled.
The Lieutenant wants to see our passports. We fetch these and he studies each one intently, giving each of us a flash on the face with his little green LED torch a couple of times before handing them back. The interpreter asks for the ships number. Andy gives him a photocopy of the ships registration but he only wants a piece of paper with the number on it. He accepts the photocopy after Andy explains what the paper is and points out the number on it. Okay.
The Lieutenant now wants to know why we are here. It takes a while but we manage to convey that we are on our way to Aden from Hurghada in Egypt, but that the wind is too strong for our boat. This causes some confusion and it takes a while before the point is made. They’re obviously not sailors and the difficulties of trying to move a sailing boat into a strong blowing wind, even by using a motor is probably not understood. In any event it finally appears to be accepted.
“When will you leave?” We explain about waiting for a break in the weather and that it might take a day or two before we can go. Maybe we didn’t get the point across after all. Several more attempts to explain about the wind. Finally this is accepted but it’s clear that the sooner we go the happier they’ll be.
The interpreter now asks, “Do you need anything?”
This is a welcome surprise and since they asked, Andy tells them we’re getting short on fuel.
“How much do you need?”
Andy points out the empty jerry containers lashed to the rails, “40 or 60 litres”.
“Ugh”, grunts our man by way of agreement then after a quick exchange with the Lieutenant, “Five o’clock tomorrow.”
We indicate our wholehearted agreement.
“Money,” a demand not a statement.
Roger gives his USD $10. The interpreter shakes his hand for more. Roger gives him another USD $20. That is obviously enough. The Lieutenant issues a series of long instructions to the men in the boat. Lots of talking back and forth. I catch the word “Captain”. He’s probably sending them away to get permission to issue the fuel. The fishing boat lets go its line and takes off into the darkness leaving our two new mates onboard, with their gun being passed often and carelessly between the two as they move about.
The Lieutenant is showing every indication of being quite smart and I wonder again about his ability to comprehend English. As we wait he unobtrusively checks around the boat and downstairs, the little green torch flashing here and there, before returning to sit in the cockpit side by side with his offsider. Offer them a can of coca-cola but they each decline. Perhaps the four empty cans of beer sitting on the table in the cockpit made them think it was beer. They accept a smoke from Andy though the Lieutenant obviously doesn’t like menthol and soon throws it overboard.
At one point I try to initiate some conversation and mention that I am a policeman in Australia. The Lieutenant immediately pricks his ears and looks intently at me. Motions me downstairs and ushers me quietly into my cabin as if we’re on some sort of secret business. Start to wonder what on earth he is about. Holds his hand out for my Police badge and I pass the little leather bound wallet to him. Takes out my identity card and examines it carefully front and back. Hands it back and makes a curious gesture involving (I think) touching his chest and the top of his beret, bending his head down to do so. I’d seen him do that earlier but hadn’t taken much notice. I don’t know what it means but it looks polite so I smile and bow slightly toward him in response. He smiles back, bends his head in a polite manner and shows me back outside into the saloon.
Moving over to the companionway he speaks to his offsider outside. The word “Police” is mentioned several times, along with the green torch getting flashed on my face. The interpreter responds with an occasional “ugh”. We go back upstairs, but not before the interior of the boat gets another last sweep of the green light. All the official business now looks to be over and we sit in the cockpit waiting for their boat to return. Now and then everybody gets the green light treatment from the Lieutenant along with everything else; sails, jerry cans, instruments, bimini canvas and boom.
Our Lieutenant suddenly says something rather urgently.
“Guns?” asks the interpreter.
Our Lieutenant must have been thinking about me being a policeman. Policemen carry guns don’t they? The muzzle of the rifle lifts up slightly but points away which is a relief since it’s been passing over and around us numerous times already as the thing is waved around.
“No”, chorus three Caucasian voices accompanied by a simultaneous waving of hands in the negative manner.
We stare at each other and everything else for a while in periods of heavy silence. The Lieutenant must have been thinking again and says something to his mate carrying the gun. The uncocking of the weapon in the cockpit is sudden, startling and shockingly loud. The interpreter casually slings it back over his shoulder. Andy says he saw a bullet going back into the magazine and thinks it might have been about the standard NATO 7.62mm calibre, though can’t be sure. What we do know for sure is that the rifle had been in the loaded condition, only requiring the flick of the safety lever to fire it. Serious business indeed, especially when you don’t know how well the weapon has been maintained, or how worn is the safety catch which is all that stands between you, poor weapon handling practices and oblivion.
Our lieutenant suddenly jumps up and begins waving his little green light towards the shore. Give him our dolphin torch the better for him to attract the attention of his ride back, and the sooner we can get back to bed. Waiting. More torch waving. Waiting.
2200 hrs: Eventually the boat returns. Long exchanges of talking. The interpreter throws our jerry containers into it and the boat pulls away. More urgent jabbering, I suppose because our two blokes are still on Jenzminc. The boat comes back, our two visitors climb aboard and it starts to slide away.
Final words from the interpreter, “Five o’clock”.
Off they go with friendly waves all round. Now that visiting time is over, boil up the kettle. Cuppa’s all round. Andy sets an anchor alarm at 250 metres on a GPS at the nav station. Go to bed.
Mon 28 Dec 09
0130 hrs: Roger gets up during the night as is his sometimes habit. Andy doesn’t like the sound of the grumbling anchor chain, the noise rumbling through the hull up forward. He gets up to check it out. Decides it’s just the chain moving across patches of rock on the sea bed.
0630 hrs: Boys still asleep. Wind still strong. Cloudless sky. Need to make a long watery contribution into the sea at the back of the boat, probably because of late night coffee. Go back to bed.
1130 hrs: No change. Andy reports he can get contact with SailMail through Abu Tig, so at least we can send and receive short email messages though they have to be text only, kept short and no pictures. Andy receives his grib files and the news isn’t too good. Looks like we’ll be here for at least the next couple of days for a break in the weather.
Look around the anchorage. We’re in a wide bay about a mile from the shore. Old volcanic activity on the island is visible quite clearly. Three large hilly cones form a rim around an old crater directly in front of us. Off to the eastern side on our left, a black rock trail marks an ancient lava flow leading back into the interior where more old volcanic cones are visible. Shallows and mudflats extend out into the sea. The nearest reef is only about 300 metres away. The seabed appears opaquely off the stern of the boat. Sand and patches of black rock in dark green water. Scattered around the coast nearby are a few rocky islets with pointed peaks.
Off on our right to the west of us on top of a hill is a multi story rectangular building, which assumedly is one of the military buildings. According to the Red Sea Pilot Guide book there is a military camp here and on at least one of the other islands in this group. What a desolate place to be posted to. Along the foreshore are a few clumps of miserable bushes or small salt tolerant trees, which comprises just about all of the vegetation. In front of the old crater a fisherman’s camp consists of several substantial tents. We saw a light or two there last night.
|view of the shoreline from the anchorage||fishermen’s huts|
|view of the bay to the east in the anchorage||Mudflats and reefs nearby.
The small hills are left are a little island,
marking a channel back into the
Red Sea to the right of them.
1200 hrs: One of the long fishing boats is making its way out towards us. Even in the relative calm of the bay the waves make the little boat bob up and down. It’s loaded with four fishermen and four army guys in different camouflage uniform styles. One of the army men is wearing a thick belt of about a hand’s width, a white T-shirt and a woollen cap. The interpreter from last night steps aboard. The Lieutenant remains sitting in the boat. Our two jerry containers plus another one is passed to Jenzminc, and they indicate naturally they’d like their own jerry back.
Andy sets to work syphoning diesel from the jerries into the fuel tank and then hands them their jerry back. The interpreter asks for more money. Roger gives him another USD $20. That proves to be enough. Then asks for cigarettes. A packet of cigarettes changes hands. No other requests. Told the interpreter we’d be here for another two or three days due to the weather. They don’t argue the point and leave with much waving and smiles.
A nice encounter all around actually. Gave me the impression of professional soldiers just doing their job and being good ambassadors for their country.
All up our fuel cost USD $50 and a packet of cigarettes. I think the fishermen will probably get a bit of that for ferrying back and forth. Maybe the fishermen also supplied the fuel at a better price than they bought it. Am unable to know but it doesn’t matter. We now have 65 litres of clean looking diesel so fuel is no longer a potential problem in getting to Aden and keeping our batteries charged.
1400 hrs: Andy puts on scuba gear and goes over the side. Cleans the hull. Mostly slimy stuff but the metal bits are encrusted with small coral like worms. Throughout the rest of the afternoon he also repairs the mainsail halyard which is damaged near the masthead and the boat gets a clean up.
1900 hrs: Andy cooks up a lovely dinner of steak and vegetables, even remembering the gravy. Nice not to have to worry about fuel any more. A set of truck headlights appear on shore. Idly wonder if it’s been syphoned for fuel lately.
2000 hrs: Ship batteries running low after having supplied power all day with just the wind generator supplementing power. Motor groans a bit but fires up on the third attempt.
2100 hrs: Turned motor off. Everybody to bed.
Tues 29 Dec 09
0600 hrs: Slept fitfully during the early hours. Wind has built up and hitting 30 knots or more. Wind generator in the higher gusts is emitting a loud metal grinding noise before it applies its internal brake. It’s a bit like scratching fingernails across a blackboard. Seems to be getting longer.
0800 hrs: Looks like the wind generator blades are changing shape in the higher gusts and this may be causing the loud grinding noise, not something mechanical as first thought. It’s pumping up to 13 amps in the higher gusts. Batteries all up to 13.3 volts and amp hour capacity 100%.
These winds have put paid to Andy’s plan to move around to another anchorage further south today in this group of islands. We won’t be going anywhere while it’s like this. Our wide bay is a carpet of whitehorses. Am sitting in the cockpit having a morning cuppa. Not far away a sleek grey body bursts out of the water in a cloud of silvery glistening fish, which fall back into the sea in two groups darting off in different directions. Breakfast time for dolphins. The grib file predicts southerly winds at around 13 knots today. At least they got the direction right but a long way off in wind strength.
0830 hrs: A fishing boat with several men aboard slowly approaches from the east side. They come to us with a small catch of shark, stingrays and some fish in the bottom of the boat. Their hopeful intention of selling something is not going to happen. The sharks look like they’ve been sitting in the sun awhile and gone all blotchy, not that we’re interested anyway. We decline the invitation to buy. They cast off with disappointed looks. Ragged looking bunch. Definitely more Arab looking men of various ages. Clothes are old. Most still wearing balaclavas. They must lead a hard life. They head for the beach, wave and pose while I take a photo.
Oh well, back to the book about Lewis and Clark’s expedition into the interior of America in 1804, a book given me by Alan and Hailá of Alice.
1000 hrs: Wind gusting up to 35 knots – Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale.
1300 hrs: Andy gets an updated grib file for the next 72 hours. We won’t be able to move for another two days, maybe a bit earlier with a transition from southerly to northerly where we are anchored.
1800 hrs: Wind dies down to below 20 knots. Seas calm down accordingly but we know this is temporary. It tends to drop a bit at the end of the day.
2100 hrs: Winds back up to 35 knots again.
Weds 30 Dec 09
0700 hrs: No change. Wind still gusting to 34 knots maybe higher. Navy patrol boat still in its position and hasn’t moved. Boring. Another day sitting here mostly just reading or sleeping.
1600 hrs: Take a wash during the day by taking a dip in the sea. Climb down the stern ladder, jump in then climb out, lather up then get back into the sea again. Pull out the food locker and make an inventory. Tidy up in my cabin. Read. Sleep. Bored.
1900 hrs: Tail lights of a truck ashore are over on the north-eastern end of the island. Has been there for some time. Speculate there might be another yacht pulled up in an anchorage around that side.
2100 hrs: No change.
Thurs 31 Dec 09
0900 hrs: Fourth day here. Had been expecting a wind change by 0200 hrs this morning but an updated grib file tells us it won’t happen until tomorrow morning. Forecast for the next 72 hrs looking really good with northerlies right out into the Gulf of Aden. In the meantime the wind is leaving us with some last savage gasps with gusts up to at least 37 knots.
The sea at anchor is the highest we’ve seen here yet. Last night we’d swung parallel to the shore and reefs. Anchor chain grumbles loudly over rocks as the boat swings more quickly to her anchor. Usually very little noise comes from the chain. The anchor must be wedged in behind rocks to keep holding us like this. Wind generator is very noisy emitting those long grinding sounds, anything up eight seconds in the constant gusts. Sort of puts the teeth on edge. Don’t mind though, it’s supplying all our power. Haven’t turned the motor on for about 60 hrs or so. Water level in the tank is down to just 26 litres but we have a 20 litre container in a locker plus a couple of cartons of bottled water.
1000 hrs: Wind consistently over 30 knots. It’s determined to make its last gasps as hard as it can. Almost constant rumbling of the anchor chain running through the boat.
Anchor starts dragging. The wind speed has just peaked at 40 knots and Roger hurries up to the bow. Tells us the snubber rope – a rope connecting the anchor chain to the anchor post to soften the jerking of the chain is snapped. It’s a pretty sorry looking thing having taken such a beating for so long. Motor turned on as a precaution while Roger replaces the snubber. Anchor holds and motor turned off. Keeping an anchor watch going for now.
1145 hrs: Wind starting to ease a little bit. Some gusts to around 30 knots but also some lulls under 20 knots. Mostly around 25 knots. Anything under 20 knots is starting to be seen as a bit of a bonus.
1330 hrs: Andy manages to get a new grib file just a few minutes ago. We have a window of 48 hours to get to Aden with northerly favouring winds. Good! Winds drop consistently below 20 knots and slowly backing to the south-west, so we’ll try to get a bit further south while we can. Pull up the anchor and get under way.
Shots Fired at Hanish!
East Bay Incident
1400hrs: Sailing down the eastern side of Jabal Zuqar Island. Seas still quite boisterous following the high winds of the last four days and especially this morning. Boat slamming into the head-on seas. Andy decides to wait a bit longer in East Bay at 14 deg 01 min N, 42 deg 48 min E.
1430hrs: Pull into the bay which is sheltered from the wind to wait for conditions to ease a bit more before continuing. Start preparing to put the anchor down in three metres depth. Off to our right are the rusted skeletal remains of what was once a large freighter and to the left, just the top masts of another submerged wreck poke above the surface. Above us is what looks to be a cluster of abandoned huts roughly made with volcanic rocks.
Still setting the anchor when a group of people appear in the distance at maybe 500 metres or so. Some of them appear to be military and others fishermen. One of them wearing camouflage trousers and white T-short breaks into a run along the foreshore to the left. Another one moves around to the right. This one looks like he’s got one of those automatic rifles slung over his shoulder. The rest of the group start yelling and gesticulating but we can make no sense of what they want. We assume, given the attitude of our visitors a few nights ago that they want us to move away from the area.
Anchor is raised again and we start heading reluctantly back out to sea. Roger is still up on the bow while Andy and I are standing in the cockpit preparing to raise the mainsail. Two shots ring out in quick succession.
“What the bloody hell …?”
The first is appallingly loud and I suspect I hear a low whipping kind of noise in front of the mast and maybe a little high between Roger and I. The second shot is not as loud but I’m sure the round also passes in front of the mast, maybe a little further away.
With over 20 years service in the Australian Army I am familiar with the sound of live rounds passing overhead or nearby. To an untrained ear it might even pass unnoticed but a small “zip” sort of sound just immediately prior to the report of a rifle firing leaves you in no doubt that something just whipped by. A little echo bouncing off the low cliffs ashore follows each bang.
Another shot with an accompanying crump cracks out quickly following the first two. There is a different volume to this one, which makes me think it’s going in a different direction. I don’t see any fall of shot in the water but I do get the impression it passes behind the boat. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the different sound of the shot. Should we turn back? Andy has to make a quick decision. No. These aren’t measured warning shots fired into the air for us to stop. These people are actually firing what we’re certain are in our direction. Andy guns the motor.
Two more sporadic shots follow but we’re well underway and fast drawing away. These shots also have different volumes which seem to indicate firing in different directions. Can’t be sure where these shots went but suspect they might have been behind us. One soldier starts running along the foreshore to the left to head us off but I don’t have time to watch him. I’m too busy winching in the headsail to get more speed up.
Got the headsail trimmed and look towards the shore. All the while I’m conscious of a feeling vulnerable. Roger is still up on the bow putting the anchor away. He must also be feeling awfully exposed up there. If the weapon(s) being fired is the same as the one brought onboard a few nights ago then there is a real cause for worry. It consisted of a barrel, stock and two pistol grips; one front and one rear, and a magazine below. No shoulder butt to help steady the weapon while firing. A slight movement to left or right of the rear pistol grip can easily translate to a very wide danger zone at these distances. There is a real possibility of a poorly aimed shot actually landing on the boat.
Using the binoculars, the rock huts do not appear to be a military post. I cannot see any flag flying to indicate an officially occupied post. What did they want? We’d already given the Yeminis all our details and intentions days ago. I agree with Andy. If someone’s shooting towards you then you don’t stop to ask why. We can only assume that if these people were on official business then they were ill disciplined, over zealous and using excessive force in the execution of their duties. Three measured shots into the air should have been enough and would have been a more professional way to do it – or not fired shots at all and waited until we anchored up.
1445hrs: Work our way around the shallows and reach the open water, then resume our southerly course in rough seas.
Beautiful sunset. Sky above the sun is full of high cirrus “mares tails” indicating more strong winds to come. We’ve done over 16 miles since we left the northern anchorage and about 12.5 miles since East Bay. Seas bumpy. Boat slamming down the other sides of waves. Unable to stay on our rhumb line because of the angle to the wind, which doesn’t even begin to look like changing around to northerlies. Motor sailing to keep as close to rhumb line as possible.
1800hrs: Settling into the night routine. Andy on watch. Have some dinner and get to bed.
2130hrs: Roger on watch. Andy as usual still up. Winds 20 knots and higher gusts. Seas still rough. Motor sailing. Boat continues to slam down into hollows between waves.
… Then the motor conks out.
2345hrs: Andy still working on the motor. Problem is a blocked fuel feed line and he’s been using Roger’s cabin to get to the motor. He now wakes me up to strip out my cabin so he can start working in there and doggedly continues working on into the night on the problem. Turn off all unnecessary power including the fridge and navigation lights unless a ship comes by. The wind generator is enough to keep power to the auto-pilot for now.
Fri 1 Jan 10
0130hrs: New Year’s Day – one to remember. Andy has changed the fuel filter but the system is still not sucking any fuel. In theory it’s a relatively simple procedure to find a blockage and although Andy’s highly competent he can’t find one.
Lights of Al Mukha on the Yemen coast visible and abeam to port. Heading south on 185 deg True. Seas still rough though easing and winds lessening to below 20 knots most of the time. Boat no longer slamming in the waves. Andy and Roger have been tacking back and forth slowly making ground to the south. Wind still south-east though mostly under 15 knots. Clouds overhead travelling south. Northerly winds pushing them but it’ no good to us up there – we need it down here.
0230hrs: There just doesn’t seem to be any way to get fuel from the tank into the fuel filter. The system is supposed to have an automatic priming system, but there is a manual fuel pump. That doesn’t do any good either, though there is positive pressure and the pump itself seems okay. Every single feed line including the fuel tank breather has been blown through to make sure it is clear. Put everything back together and try a test run of the motor. Starts okay then dies so it’s still not sucking fuel yet. Back to work. Andy very tired and running out of ideas. Decides to take a sleep on it.
0400hrs: Andy and Roger get up. Wind and seas still dropping. Wind generator not pumping in much power. Battery charge is going to be an issue sooner or later.
0600hrs: Clouded over but not thick cover with some small patches of blue showing. Tacking back and forth trying to make ground to the south.
Approx 0800hrs: Auto-pilot turned off to conserve batteries. Hand steering using compass and some club flags as wind indicators.
Morning: Work our way slowly over to the Yemen coast to about one mile off. Still unable to identify the problem with the motor. We’ve all had our heads together on the problem. All tired and maybe our collective judgements aren’t working so well. It’s probably going to be one of those “Why didn’t I think of that before” things once it’s been found but it’s got us all stumped right now.
A fishing boat with a couple of men and a young lad come alongside making gestures for food. Andy throws over a bottle of water but it lands short into the water. They circle about and pick it up then leave with a friendly wave.
I suggest we try and drain fuel through the feed pipe directly into the fuel filter. We try it but the fuel simply doesn’t gravity feed into it. Perhaps we should have woken up to the fault right there but in our tired state none of us saw it. Logic would indicate that if fuel won’t go in then there’s probably something stopping it at the inlet. None of us saw it. Can’t see the forest for the trees as the old saying goes.
Be that as it may, Andy decides to by-pass the fuel filter entirely and feed fuel to the motor directly from a jerry can. He disconnects the filter and pulls it out, then runs both the fuel feed and fuel return lines into a full jerry can. Start the motor which coughs a bit then settles down. We’re underway again. Smiles all around. Batteries drawing about 15 amps which is not too bad considering. Auto-pilot on. Instruments on. Set course directly for Bab el Mandeb 28 miles away. Seas all flat. Wind has dropped off to less than five knots in the last few hours. Wind generator now useless. Solar panels would be nice though if we’d had them.
Left: Bypassing the fuel filter and running the motor directly from a jerry can.
1130hrs: Sea flat. Hot. Wind less than eight knots most of which we are making ourselves. Problem is finally found. We’d checked every line for a blockage except in the inlet of the filter itself. The fuel inlet is clogged with thick black rubber-like stuff. Cleaned it all out and replaced the filter onto the motor.
1230hrs: All motor bits back in place and all connections tightened. Start the motor. Beautiful. Resume course. Getting around six and a half knots motor sailing with both sails up.
1400hrs: Bab el Mandeb, the corner of Yemen leading into the Gulf of Aden and which we must turn around is dead ahead in the haze at 10 miles.
1530hrs: Turn the corner and finally make our way out of the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Aden. Never got our northerly winds as predicted. Bab el Mandeb is the eastern tip to the entrance of Small Strait accessing the Red Sea. Perim Island just offshore marks the entrance of Bab el Mandeb Strait itself and the main shipping channel. We’re taking a short cut though it’s close to a military area and stopping is not permitted. Lots of small fishing dinghies working the area. These are smaller than seen so far, about 16 ft with big bows. Some of the water off the point is churned up, as one would expect. Very rugged looking country with large hills behind.
1815hrs: Big yellow full moon rising. Heading 120 deg True at around five knots. Motor sailing with mainsail only. Have run over three fishing nets already. Fishermen don’t have lights on and just turn on one small light as you get near. Approx 80 miles to Aden.
Sat 2 Jan 10
0100hrs: Slightly murky night. Clouded over. Nothing to see. Occasional light of a small fishing boat but even these are getting fewer as the night wears on. Couple of ships further out to sea heading west towards the Red Sea. Sea flat. Doing around five and a half knots motor sailing. Pretty boring.
0700hrs: Very jagged mountains mark the east and west entrances into Aden Harbour. Quite speccy. Beautiful day. Unbelievably the winds are northerly but we no longer need them. Sea the same grey colour seen in the southern Red Sea. Wind slight. Sea still flat. Motor sailing.
0715hrs. Andy puts up the quarantine flag. Slight sulphur smell in the air. Oil refinery and large tank farm off to port. Lots of shipping anchored in the harbour, some riding high waiting their turn to be loaded. Ahead is what looks like a couple of long rectangular multi-story blocks. Probably resorts given that there’s a chairlift up to a lookout on one of the peaks behind. Seagulls more numerous than any seen since Port Said back in Egypt. Couple of small fishing boats closer inshore but they do not attempt to come out to us.
“Okay Jenzminc, call again when you reach the breakwater, thank you, thank you, Jenzminc, Australia, back to (ch) 16.”
We now expect probably a dozen or more touts to be standing dockside grinning delightedly at the Australian dollars onboard when we leave the port gates.
0800hrs: Aden Port Control tells us to move directly to the Immigration area and to drop anchor amongst the other yachts already there.
0840hrs: Anchor dropped in Aden Harbour under a conspicuous clock tower amongst “all those other yachts” consisting of one yacht named Kari and one unknown catamaran, neither of which is occupied. There is a pier known as the Prince of Wales pier with official offices off to the left. No berthing here, it’s all on the pick. Beautiful day at 27 deg C. Light breeze. Nearby is a large ship in two separate pieces and connected by lines. Enquiries later reveal it had broken up in the Suez Canal and was brought here, and now it’s been declared a write-off. Meanwhile it just sits there.
Dinghy over the side. Andy and Roger go ashore to complete formalities.
END OF PART 5