Part 6 – Yemen: Aden & Pirate Alley

Aden, Yemen

Aden

map-aden-harbour
Map of Aden Harbour

Sat 2 Jan 10 (cont)

Aden is built in the crater of an extinct volcano. It consists of four separate districts, Tawahi, Krater, Khormaksar & Maala. The port is located in Tawahi which is a very old part of the city. The architecture clearly shows evidence of the old British colonial days. Krater has more shops. Around the other side of the harbour is Little Aden which is a more modernised area. Shopping is plentiful but most shops close between 1300 and 1600hrs then open up to trade into the evening. Just about everything closes on Friday. People are helpful and usually friendly.

01 02
Typical Yemen coast –
mountainous with very little vegetation
Typical Yemen coast
04 05
A freighter passes testing it’s water cannons. Its a reminder that pirates operate in these waters. Local fishermen In Aden
harbour.
06 07
Inside Aden Harbour which lies about 110 miles east of the Strait of Bab el Mandeb. It was first used between 5 and 7 BC. Residential housing as we approach the inner harbour where yachts can anchor.
08 10
Final approach to the inner harbour. The distinctive clock tower centre photo was built in 1890 by the British and known as the “Big Ben of the Arabs” or “Little Ben” Over the years the harbour has claimed many ships due to areas of shallow water. The harbour is littered with wrecks.

A highly noticeable habit is ‘gat’ chewing by the men. A green plant often mixed with white powder from burning coal, tobacco and sea-salt is formed into a pasty ball which they chew. Sometimes it’s stuffed to capacity in their mouths to form a huge bulge in the cheeks. As one yachtie puts it, as the day goes on and the longer they chew this stuff the loopier they become. But generally they’re a friendly bunch always ready to smile or laugh. The other noticeable thing is that just about all of the women wear black burka’s with the face veil showing just the eyes.

1330hrs: I’ve remained on board while Andy and Roger go ashore to complete formalities. They return to Jenzminc telling me it’s just as well I didn’t go with them; otherwise I’d still be over there writing all about it. Lots of offialdom and paperwork. The Yemenis do like their bureaucracy. They first headed for the Immigration Office to find its members sunning themselves under one of the pergolas on the Prince of Wales pier. All three of them could speak good English and when told what we want one of them says, “Yes, come with us, come with us”.

The Immigration Office consist of three desks and five chairs including the ones they sat on. They took our passports and because we didn’t have photocopies of them, gave them back with instructions to go away and get them photocopied. They also handed out gate passes to get out the gate.

Right: 12The Port Control Office on Prince of Wales pier

The boys then went to the Customs Office which turned out to be a small shed with a single room and one desk, two chairs and a mattress leaning against the wall. Two men and a woman were inside. One of the Customs men was sitting at the desk with the woman standing beside him. She passes a large hand written heavy ledger to the man sitting down and he writes up our details. No problems. There is no fee, but that doesn’t stop him asking USD$10 baksheesh for his services.

The other guy turns out to be something of an agent who quickly insinuates himself to the exalted position of our local guide and driver. His name is Wal-Id (Wally for short) and is the absolute spitting image of the African-American actor Morgan Freeman but a much younger version. His car is nothing short of decrepit but is no different to most of the other vehicles on the road around Aden, even to the severely cracked windscreen and ill fitting panels. Roger gets into the back seat and tries to wind the window down but the handle is
missing. At the next stop Wally gets a ring spanner and uses that to lower the window. The required photocopies were obtained using using Wally’s services

Next they headed for a money changer where they changed £438 Egyptian to 14,400 Rials. They looked for menthol cigarettes for Andy but none can be found. They also looked for a Vodaphone or telephone office to buy a Yemen prepaid simm card as the Australian Telstra simm cards don’t work here. They find one which costs about 2,400 Rials for 20 minutes on international rates. Assurances were given that they could ring anywhere. Okay ….

Back at the port they find the Immigration Office has closed but Wally’s not perturbed. He just says, “Don’t worry, come back later”. But the Customs guy must have seen them, comes over and takes the photocopies and passports, then puts his hand out for baksheesh for this little service. Okay. Our man then holds out his other hand but he’s got a big grin on his face. No harm in trying but nice try mate. Back to the boat.

Once Andy and Roger settle back onboard we motor Jenzminc over to the nearby Prince of Wales pier to take on fuel and water. We can’t get directly against the pier to have so tie up against some tourist boats painted white and yellow and fitted with bench seating. The fuel hose is passed over but it takes a while before someone comes down to read the meter before the fuel tap can be turned on.

Wally turns up and asks if we need any laundry done so we each hand over a bag of laundry. He tells us it will be ready tomorrow and asks if we want gas bottles filled. Hand over our empties. He says he’ll get them filled and returned tomorrow as well.

13 14
The Price of Wales pier. Refuelling in progress.

On the pier is the Port Control Office as opposed to the Harbourmaster’s Office, which seems to be more to do with tourists and local small boat traffic at the Prince of Wales pier. It’s an old brick colonial building decked out with flashing fairy lights. I suppose the lights are from Xmas and New Year. The building is basically open sided with the interior walls covered with photos of ships and a large map of the Aden area, plus a small shop selling souvenirs and postage stamps. A security guard is constantly located at a wooden desk immediately outside an iron gate. Beside the Port Control Office is a large multi-story building which is empty, save for pigeons roosting in the bare rooms on the top floor.

A Yemeni man gets off a nearby boat onto the pier while we’re waiting for access to the water hose. He has a badly bent left leg almost at right angles at the knee, which gives him a most awkward gait. Lots of yelling going on. Anyone speaking Arabic must be required to speak it in a loud and urgent manner. Finally the water tank is filled together with a 20-litre jerry container. We can have a good wash tonight. Getting a bit smelly after the exertions of the last few days.

Approx 1500hrs: Several boats speeding by set up a rough wash against the pier so it’s with a bit of relief that we can get Jenzminc out of there and take her back out onto her anchor. We get ourselves settled . Andy dons his scuba gear and dives under the back of the boat
to check if any nets have fouled the propeller or rudder. He cuts away several floats and about half a bucket of net that had wrapped around the prop shaft and hooked up on the rudder. The rest of the hull is clean.

14a

Right: Andy surfaces after clearing the fouled propeller and rudder.

1700hrs: A yellow and white tourist boat pulls up alongside after having spent the last half hour or so trying to get its motor started. Wally is standing on the bow alongside a deckhand with a huge bulge in his right cheek stuffed with ‘gat’. It wouldn’t be possible to fit more of the stuff in there and when he talks it’s so muffled it’s hard to understand.

The deckie hands over a bill from the Port Control Office for the water totalling USD $15. Unbelievable! $10 for the water and $5 to pay the driver of the tourist boat. Wally looks at
us somewhat apologetically and shrugs helplessly towards the Port Control Office. I think he’s trying to say it isn’t his doing. So now we know to pay as we go.

1730hrs: Turn the motor on to charge the batteries and take the opportunity for a hot
wash now that we have plenty of fresh water. It was beautiful. Fresh clean clothes – great! Sundowners in cockpit.

15b 15c
15a Top Left & Right:
A tanker believed to have been broken up in the Suez Canal and brought here to be used as a breakwater and channel markers.
Left: Sailor’s Club

1800hrs: Get into dinghy and go ashore. Present our gate passes to the security officer sitting at a desk who writes down our names and nationality in a big ledger book.

Head off walking to the left on the main road towards the market area in the local Tawahi District. The streets are noticeably clean compared to any place in Egypt. First impression by night is that the footpaths and roads are in good repair, kerbing is painted at appropriate places with yellow and black paint. However the buildings generally are a mess, mostly run down and badly in need or repair, or about to fall down. Some of them look like they already have. Roger tells me that some of the other districts are much more modernised and upmarket than they are here.

More women appear on the streets at night than we’ve probably seen anywhere in Egypt but they’re usually in pairs. You can tell them because almost all of them wear the full black burka with just the eyes showing. Though there are some with netting over the eyes as well. Some go way out and embroider bits of bling or even have coloured strips along the edges. The eyes tend to be quite distinctive. Some wear make-up under there. The women are generally slim and small in stature compared to Egyptian women who often tend towards plumpness. They stare fixedly ahead when they pass by and often stop talking until they get past us. Pretty sad to my western eyes really.

As we approach the market area there are many raggedy individuals sitting around the footpath in the darker areas on a piece of cardboard, with worldly possessions arranged in piles about them. They lounge about chewing on ‘gat’ or simply smoking a cigarette. Seems like everyone smokes cigarettes in Aden. There’s no real street lighting as such though some buildings have an orange light shining over the street. We find several streets of an entire block with stalls selling all sorts of goods. Lots of fish of just about any kind. Good quality fruit and vegetables. Just about every stall has its own portable gas pressure light lined with aluminium foil so as not to blind the customer, creating almost a candlelit effect and old world atmosphere.

15d

Right: One of the better lit back streets by night.

We look for a restaurant for something to eat but can’t find anywhere we’d be comfortable to eat at so return along the road back towards the Port Control Office. Nearby is the Sailor’s Club. This establishment was the wonderful recipient of a write-up in one of the Indian Ocean Pilot Guide books so we go inside for a look. Apparently it’s also one of the few places in Aden where alcohol can be purchased. Inside are a couple of local men at the bar drinking what looks like vodka, and some tables and chairs.

We ask the constantly smiling barman if food is available.
“Yes, yes, yes. No problem”.
Ask for chicken. “No chicken…sorry. No fish…sorry. We have bif?”
I order the beef not knowing what to expect but what the hell. Also order a bowl of lentil soup and a plate of french fries after much confusing negotiation about what is actually available. Roger asks for an omelette and Andy goes for the fish.
“Yes”.
I assume the fish must be available now. This’ll be interesting …

Some Heineken beers and a Pepsi Cola arrive at the table. One of the locals tells us to try the white wine as he is leaving, “Really good” he says.
The boys ask the barman for white wine and he brings over two bottles. One is a bottle of white West Indies rum and the other a non-alcoholic sparkling red. Forget the red.
“Two glasses of this white rum please?”
“Sorry… no glass … (something uncatchable)”.
He can’t sell by the glass. We must buy the whole bottle.
“How much for the bottle?”
Our man goes away and brings back a calculator. Labours away at it for a while then produces the result.
“7000 Rials” (about US$35).
“Okay, we’ll take the bottle then”.
The boys have a little rum sippies to have with the meal that hasn’t come yet.

The meals arrive. Mine’s a mixed grill. Well cooked except the onions are charcoal. The beef I’m not sure about. I’ve never seen beef bones like these. They remind me of dog or maybe goat or some other small mammal. One small plate of bone looks suspiciously like the top part of a skull. In any case it’s edible enough. Roger enjoys his omelette. Andy finishes his fish, which looked like a steak of small mackerel.

Pay for the meal. Roger asks for a bag to carry the rum bottle as it won’t be allowed through the security guard’s gate at the Port Control Office. Customs thing. They also won’t allow tobacco through. The barman decants the bottle into a small water bottle. Doesn’t work at the gate though. The security guard is wise to this ploy, takes the cap off the bottle and sniffs it. Shakes his head. His mate comes over and sniffs it. He shakes his head. Long conflab starts. Andy takes the bottle and starts walking outside.
“What’s he doing?” the guard asks.
“Tipping it out”.
“No, no, no he don’t have to do that”, he says in an alarmed voice.
The pennies drop. A bit of USD $10 baksheesh and suddenly the bottle can leave with us. This rum has started to become a pretty expensive drop.
Back out at the boat the two boys have a coffee and a Dos Maderas while I go to bed.

Sunday 3 Jan 10

0600hrs: Roger alerts us that Jenzminc has dragged on her anchor overnight and our stern is sitting about a foot off Kari’s bow. Pull the anchor in and reset it. Back to bed.

1000hrs: Go ashore. It’s very blowy today and the harbour is a bit chopped up so we get wet bottoms sitting on the side pontoon of the dinghy. Wally is at the pier waiting and leads us to his battered old Toyota Cressida. None of the doors line up, the windscreen is badly cracked and the bonnet pokes up amongst other modifications.

15Left:Driver Wal-Id and his battered car

The first thing I notice is the Yemeni driving method. There are no rules. If a street exists it’s to be driven on. Doesn’t matter if it’s one way and everybody else must get out of the way. It’s just like driving dodge‘em cars and a contest to see who has the longest sounding horn. You try to drive the fastest and miss the others but if you don’t then never mind. The second thing is that any car over a few years old is understandably battered and dented, usually quite badly. Bumper bars tied on with rope and flapping about is not unusual. Despite all this everyone seems quite patient and tolerant, responding to horn blasts with a smile and a wave.

Wally is no different. At one point in the day he does a U-turn against oncoming traffic right in the face of a fast oncoming car. While everyone else tries to push their feet through the floor he spins his car around, crosses in front of the other vehicle and gets into the
other lane. Thankfully the oncoming vehicle keeps going straight on in the same lane, flying past with his horn going. Wally has a big grin on his face. Nudges Andy in the front seat and says, “How about that eh?”

First stop is the Harbour Master’s Office. The man himself isn’t there so we are introduced to the Deputy. We want to know what the status is with pirates between Aden and Salalah in Oman, and in particular around El Mukallah. This section of coast is notorious amongst yachties and known as Pirate Alley. It’s where the highest percentage of pirate attacks has historically occurred. However as far as we understand it the targeting appears to be more towards the south now that the waters are being patrolled by various countries.

The Harbour Master looks sympathetically at us and says, “What can I tell you?” and shrugs. He doesn’t have any up to date data, or if he does he isn’t going to share it. All he would tell us was that pirate attacks have increased over the last year. When asked whether the pirates tended to target the big ships instead of yachts he again shrugs, “They take what they can get”. He also warns us they use guns and RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades).

His best advice is to travel no more than 10km offshore and the best I can gather from his weaving answers, is that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to deviate in a long low loop around El Mukallah. That’s probably fair enough too. If we go too far south we’re more likely to run into some Somali pirates anyway. Better to stay closer to shore and just run past any Yemeni pirates who we hope are just opportunistic fishermen. A final piece of advice is to visit the Yemen Coast Guard. He understands they escort convoys from time to time.

Wally takes us to the Coast Guard. This requires climbing several flights of cement stairs
and by the time we get up there the cheeks of my bum are aching from the effort. Having been onboard Jenzminc for a fortnight I’m not used to this type of exercise. We’re shown into an office and a couple of high ranking officers come along and sit down in cane chairs with us. We learn they don’t do escorts of convoys but they can supply a team of a minimum five to 10 fully armed men to travel on the yacht with us. This will cost USD$10,000 and will only cover us to the Yemen/Oman border.
“Sorry … but that’s the policy”, the officer says. “If it was up to me I’d be happy to provide escorts (shrugs and smiles apologetically) but that’s from higher up”.
Suddenly he asks, “What’s the name of your yacht?”
Jenzminc”.
“Ahh…” he says moving over to pick up a piece of paper off a nearby desk.
“We have all your details. You arrived from Egypt yesterday”.

Back downstairs. Next on our shopping list is a battery to replace our clagged one. Where ever Wally takes us directly to a shop that just sells batteries. Andy shows them the old
one and we get shown every other kind. Finally, after pulling a few down off the shelves ourselves we find one that seems to be what we want. A closer look and sure enough it’s 12 volts 75 Amp Hours, low maintenance and best of all the same size as the existing one so that it will fit in the battery box onboard.
“How much?”
This seems to provide some consternation. I’m getting the impression that Wally is muddying the waters a bit by getting involved in the conversations but we eventually get our answer, “16,000 Rials” (about USD$80 as far as we can work it out).
We’ve now got our battery.

Off to do some shopping. Pull up at a small shop that has different rooms and fill a trolley. We even manage to find a packet of yeast AND a small jar of Tiger Balm. Fancy that. Outside a group of women wearing black burkhas crowd around holding out their hands. They’re quite pushy about it. Lots of plaintive “my sisters”, “my brothers”, “hungry”, “want food”, “you give money”. Big moo cow eyes stare into ours. Some are quite young, perhaps
late teenagers. Very persistent crowding all around. They even poke their head or hands into the windows of the car as it starts to drive away. Wally tells us they are Somali women who have come as refugees and make a living by begging.

Approx 1300hrs: Shops are about to close and won’t open back up again until at least 1600hrs. Back to the boat. Sleepy time. Offload all the booty. Feels good to have some food back on board again. We’d been getting just a little bit low. Take a rest.

16 17
Windmill next to salt flats
near the airport.
Buildings are built right up
to the rim of a extinct volcano.
18 19
Downtown Aden An old British colonial
building.
20 21
Typical of apartment
accommodations.
A suburban street.

1700hrs: Go back ashore. Wally waiting. We need an Oman courtesy flag, some 20-litre fuel containers and some more shopping, this time for meat, fruit and vegies. Wally takes us to a back street to a tailor shop owner who can make us a flag. A couple of shops down the road I notice a 0-litre white plastic jerry container.
“Do you have 20-litre container like this?” I ask.
Takes a while but he finally figures out what I’m asking.
“Black ones”. He says. “How many you want … two?”
When told we want four of them he takes off across the street. Returns shortly after carrying four black 20-litre jerry containers with good screw caps. He wants 3,000 Rials (about USD $15), at which price there’s no need to bargain, just grab them while we can. We’ll have to return for the flag later.

In Krater District is a huge supermarket known as Lulu’s. We travel around the airfield past large tracts of shallow saltwater evaporation flats dotted here and there by little windmills. None of them seem to be working. Very few of them actually have any sails. Flocks of pink
flamingos are standing around, wading or feeding.

On arrival at Lulu’s we pick up our meat, fruit and vegies. Impressively large place. Really modern including air-conditioning. Upmarket shops. Lots and lots of women out shopping, many with kids and husband. Idly wonder how the kids manage to find their mothers if they get lost. They all look pretty much the same dressed in their black mini tents. I suppose they just run from one to another until one pats them on the head.

Return to pick up the flag but it won’t be ready until 2100hrs. Wally will pick it up later tonight and give it to us tomorrow. Pick up our laundry which costs the grand total of 3,000 Rials for all of it.

23Left: Sun sets on Aden Harbour

Approx 1900hrs: Back at the Prince of Wales pier. Get all our goodies out to the boat. Andy installs the battery and runs the motor to charge the batteries up again. Late sundowners.

Approx 2030hrs. Dinner cooked onboard by Andy. The Sailor Club is having a disco tonight. The music is incredibly loud. It’s the usual Arabic style; quavery voices that don’t seem to match the distinctive middle eastern music. Unfortunately we’re only about 100 metres from the club so we get the full benefit. No one is dancing. Don’t have to put our own music on because we can’t hear it anyway.

Leaving Aden

 

Clearing Out of Aden

Mon 4 Jan 10

0320hrs: The music is still going with a reasonable size of crowd dancing over there at the Sailor’s Club. No jitterbugging, it’s mostly swaying and waving the arms around though one or two couples are waltzing. The music thankfully finishes shortly afterwards.

0800hrs: It’s a little bit blowy from the east this morning but not too bad. There are still a few odds and ends to do that Andy wants to finish up. Today we’ll visit an Internet shop, post a DVD disc, get a few last minute shopping items and then start to clear Customs, Immigration and the Harbour Master. We’ll also want to fix Wally up for his services and then leave Aden tomorrow for our next stop at Salalah in Oman.

Our plan is to follow the coast up to 10 miles off, travel as fast as we can and don’t stop. With the extra jerry containers plus the 320-litre fuel bladder already on board we’ll be able to motor all the way if we need to.

1000hrs: Take the dinghy ashore to meet up with Wally. Drive out to Lulu’s again and get a few more grocery items. Wally takes us into Krater where we find a plumbing type shop in a back street where we got a 12 metre length of drain hose and a plug to fit the fuel bladder inlet. Andy gets a haircut. Go to the post office to post the DVD with a copy of the Jenzminc journals and photographs. For some reason they won’t accept it right now and we’ll have to return at 1600hrs.

24 25
street scene Aden a model on a road roundabout of an ancient bridge which no longer exists
26 27
Aden is 99 percent Muslim. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the Tawahi district is one of only a few Christian churches,used sometimes by foreign workers and some refugees. downtown Aden
28 29
street vendors downtown Aden public water stand with a standard taxi

1400hrs: Back onboard. Lunch. Rest.

Late afternoon: Back into the dinghy. Meet up with Wally who is waiting patiently as usual at the pier for us. Clearing out procedure requires going to the Immigration Office first, then the Harbour Master to get a certificate then back to the Immigration Office. Before returning to Immigration we go into the little shop at the Port Control Office which happens to be a mini post office. The young man in there can’t find an envelope big enough for the DVD case so we cut up an old brown envelope and wrap it up using wide belts of sticky tape. He promises to post it in the morning for me.

We pay off Wally (Wal-Id) with USD$100. I think he’s almost in tears as he stands staring at it. That’s a lot of money for a Yemini but it doesn’t stop him asking for more. This is expected so we give him another 5000 Rial (about USD$20). Without his reliable and ever friendly services our stay in Aden and getting things done would have been exceedingly difficult. To us it’s worth it especially as its split between the three of us.
30
Left: The Immigration Office

The next important thing to do is to email the next updated part of the Jenzminc Journal. Wally drives us into the local market area and drops us off at an internet shop. Say our goodbyes to him there. The internet shop is full so we wander around for a while looking for another one. As usual internet shops are everywhere until you are looking for them and we can’t find another one. Return to the first shop and wait … and wait. Eventually manage to get a computer. Have to get the guy to change it to English first. Send the email off while Roger and Andy stand outside eating an ice cream.

Return to the Immigration Office where the man reaches into one of those small two-drawer steel office cabinets and pulls out a small package. Our passports had been wrapped in a piece of paper with Arabic writing on it and held together with a rubber band. After some fussing and fiddling with ledgers and papers the man finally gives them back to us and tells us we are free to go.

Running Pirate Alley

 

map-pirate-alley
Map of the Gulf of Aden – Yemen/Oman Coast
aka Pirate Alley

Tues 5 Jan 10

0630hrs: Rise and shine. Fenders out. Dinghy lifted up onto the foredeck, placed upright on a bed of fenders and lashed down securely. The empty fuel bladder is placed inside the dinghy ready to take on fuel.31

Right: Local catamaran “Eldermer” anchored in Aden Harbour. Never saw anybody on this boat.

0730hrs: Motor over to the ABC Bunkering Company to fuel up. Wait while one of the workers uses a workboat to bang and clang against a steel hulk barge, pushing it out of the way for us to get alongside the pump. It’s necessary to order and pay for the fuel before getting it, so Roger steps ashore and goes to the office while Andy and I finish securing Jenzminc. Lots of standing around waiting while Roger travels back and forth between various clerks in different buildings. Lots of mucking about but at least they’re all very polite and friendly.

Roger returns and we’re able to take on fuel for seven jerry containers and 200 litres into the fuel bladder, plus top up the main tank with 210 litres. That makes 560 litres of fuel taken onboard.

1000hrs: Fuelling completed and we’re on our way. Call the Harbour Master at the Aden Port Control Office to report our departure on VHF radio Channel 16. They wish us a good voyage.

32 33
fuelling dock dock worker filling the fuel bladder stored in the dinghy

1030hrs: Clear of Aden Harbour, still in the main channel.

35 34
leaving Aden’s Inner Harbour local fishermen

1145hrs: Clear sunny day. Blue-green sea, bumpy. Wind easterly at 12 knots. Heading NE at just over 6 knots. Small pod of dolphins come by to visit. Open up our previously identified hiding places and put our most valuable items away as a precaution against piracy. “Bait” wallets with old credit cards and a little bit of money are left “hidden” where they can be fairly easily found. 590 miles to go. Both sails put up.

1630hrs: Heading NE to follow the coast at 7.3 knots. Winds easterly at less than 10 knots. Sea is that grey colour again. Coast at 10 miles appears as blue mountain ranges, dimly seen through the haze behind thin flat coastal strips and the occasional small town.

36Left: Last view of Aden

2300hrs: Andy finally goes down for a sleep in the saloon so he can be handy if we suddenly need him up on deck.

Weds 6 Jan 10

0615hrs: Uneventful night. Not many fishermen – at least going by the absence of any kind of light. Making good time. Seas slight for the most part but a little bumpy sometimes. Wind is up to around 15 knots. Half moon around midnight makes for pleasant sailing. There’s two of us on watch at a time to keep a sharp lookout. The VHF radio Channel 16 is completely silent. Not a squawk. No radio traffic means no shipping and probably no help if we need it. Check it a couple of times anyway just to make sure it’s actually still working.

With the dawn come the fishermen with their nets. Have to watch carefully and hand steer to avoid running over their nets they’ve already set out. Occupants of at least one of the little boats are just young lads. We’re running close enough to the coast to see the sun glint off cars as they travel along. Mountain ranges are giving way to low, flat coastal country with low ranges further inland.

0700hrs: Lots of birds of different types. Several flocks of little white bellied ones skimming over the waves with their wings pumping a thousand miles an hour. Andy has had two and a half hours sleep in the last 24 hours and talks about going to bed, but starts cleaning up the cockpit instead.

0900hrs: Town of Al Mabrak abeam to port. The sea is a minefield of fishing nets mostly unattended. Some have a small flag marking one end and there’s usually two floats marking the other end, but not always. Couple of times we run into a dead end where the net has been laid in a large “U” pattern and we find ourselves surrounded by floats. We then have to turn around, retrace our route to find the end of the net and get around it. Wind still easterly but less than 10 knots. Seas slight. Making good time around 6 kits.

1000hrs: Log at 145 miles. Distance Made Good for the 24 hours is 120 miles. It could have been more but it took time to get out of Aden Harbour and bypass all these nets, sometimes having to go way out to sea to get around clusters of them. Deeper water here at five miles off the coast but at least there’s no nets. Slight seas. Wind coming from the ENE which happens to be our desired heading.

1400hrs: Lots of nets again as we draw closer towards land. 180 miles from Aden. Low ranges have given way to isolated hills with just sand. It has a strange beauty of its own with light coloured sand, almost off-white but it’s just desert. Township of Al Irqah coming up. 145 miles to Al Mukallah marking the central point of Pirate Alley. Course 070 degrees True on a broad reach hitting around seven knots. Fair seas, not smooth but not choppy though there’s plenty of whitehorses.

1730hrs: Sun sinking in a big red ball into a haze. Log reading 195 miles. Wind and seas eased. Wind at less than 10 knots with only a few whitehorses around. Quite pleasant. Little bit cool.

Thurs 7 Jan 10

0100hrs: Pass a large oil drilling platform abutting an unmarked island on the chart. There are two of those big fires commonly seen at oil rigs. It seems to take forever before its astern and sinks below the horizon. Even then it leaves a high orange loom lighting the sky.

0200hrs: Pass our waypoint at Al Sikah Island. This island is charted but unlit, its high shadow sitting out there rising out of the sea like some big prehistoric animal.

0330hrs: Come around a headland and the island of Barraqah is about one mile off our port side. Rises in a sheer bluff out of the water shining whitely like a huge iceberg in the moonlight. Can see the Southern Cross constellation for the first time including the Pointers. Latitude 14 degrees 35 minutes North.

0800hrs: 25 miles from Al Mukalla. The coast is jagged mountains again but no change to anything else. Following the coast between five and 10 miles off. There’s been no phone signal since Aden but we suddenly get one. Andy and Roger phone home while they can to use up the credits on the Yemen simm card. By the time I’d woken up after my last watch the signal had dropped out again. The boys had refilled the main tank with about 150 litres of diesel from the fuel bladder. Took about 20 minutes to drain into the tank but there weren’t any problems.

1100hrs: Al Mukallah sighted about 10 miles off the port bow. A fishing trawler with outriggers comes past dragging its net behind. This is the biggest fishing boat we’ve seen so far.

1230hrs: Motor off. Under full sail up to seven knots with the wind abeam on the starboard side. Al Mukallah abeam to port. Lovely sailing. Andy manages to download a weather grib file from SailMail and tells us we have nothing to worry about. Prophetic words. Coast still rugged mountains.

Right: A small town with dust storm overhead37

1730hrs: Dusk. Motor back on. Off watch and half asleep when Roger suddenly calls me to take the radio. Part of our response plan in the event of pirates is for me to issue a Mayday on the VHF and HF radio so I rush topside. Visions of balaclava’s and turban heads storming alongside fill my mind. A Yemen Patrol Boat is sitting about 20 metres off our stern. They directs us to change to Channel 12 where the make the usual enquires; last port of call, next port, name of yacht, details of crew etc. He then asks if there’s anything we need. Thank them kindly for their check on us. Nice to know these blokes are in the area. They pull away with a cheerio wave and head towards a large ship nearby.

Fri 8 Jan 10

Midnight: Quiet and calm. No moon yet. No shipping. Boring. Flat sea. Motoring.

0400hrs: Wind gradually comes around the bow to the port side. Andy still on watch. Roger has been on watch for the last hour. Wind suddenly starts blowing hard from the north at 30 plus knots on the port beam. Double reef the mainsail and pull in the headsail and we’re soon scooting along at seven plus knots but the sea is rough. This lasts for a couple of hours and leaves very disturbed seas.

0700hrs: Seas still very disturbed probably because the sea bottom has been shelving up from around 120 metres to about 50 metres. Wind has dropped off and now coming from the NE at around 20 knots. Our speed is up to just under eight knots. At least the waves have a bit more form to them now instead of the washing machine stuff we’ve just been through.

0830hrs: Wind gusting back up to 30 knots on the port beam again. Still got the two reefs in the mainsail and headsail pulled in. Big dust storms can be seen along the coast. Whitehorses everywhere in the sea. Speed around seven knots.. A large bird settles onto the water trying to take a quick rest but a much smaller bird darts by and plucks it on the head.

0900hrs: You wouldn’t know we were in the same ocean. Wind has dropped below five knots and the seas have flattened with no whitehorses. Clouds of dust drift along the coast ahead and behind us but not directly abeam. Must be in some kind of wind shadow from the shore.

0915hrs: Back into it again with 20 plus knots from the NE swinging to north. If the wind drops below 20 knots we consider it a bonus. This one lasts an hour before it drops enough to be confident in rolling out the headsail a bit. Dust storms continue all along this coast. Some are isolated like mini tornadoes rising high into the sky. Others are spread out for some hundreds of metres. 86 miles past Al Mukallah.

1130hrs: Calmer conditions. Sail sighted to seaward at about four miles heading west. No contact made.

1530hrs: Motor stops. Andy finds a loose clamp which may have been allowing air to be sucked into the system. Hopes that’s all it was. On our way 15 minutes later.

38Left: Dust storms along the coast

1600hrs: Motor stops again. Andy finds a small speck of crud in one of the fuel lines and clears it out. Back underway and motoring 30 minutes later.

1800hrs: Almost fully dark and working our way around a headland named Asses Ears. To us from a distance it looks more like a crocodile’s head. Conditions uncomfortable with 15-18 knot winds coming from the starboard side throughout the afternoon making it quite bumpy. Looks like its going to be a long night. Andy has had only one hour of sleep since midnight last night.

1900hrs: Conditions easing to 10-15 knots. Have worked clear of the Asses Ears headland and out into open water beyond.

Sat 9Jan 10

0300hrs: Turn the corner at Ras Fartak after midnight and start heading north, still following the coast at 10 miles due to the pirate threat. Situation becomes really boisterous. Winds swings from northerly to come around abeam from the west at up to 30 knots, making for very hard and rocking sailing. Impossible for anyone off watch to get any sleep with all the shaking and bumping. Usual sailing rig of two reefs in mainsail and headsail pulled in. Speed around seven and a half knots. Lots of spray coming over the boat with waves breaking over the bow. Spumes flood across the deck and under the dodger thoroughly wetting everything. Andy sits on the windward side determined not to leave anyone alone to deal with these seas alone. Time to get into our wet weather gear again.

0500hrs: Light enough to see a little. Turn the boat easterly a bit. Boat starts corkscrewing about in the following seas, but it’s much more comfortable sailing than before. Motor off. No change to the sails and still getting around seven knots using only the mainsail with two reefs.

0600hrs: Change course directly for Salalah bringing the wind and seas more astern. Still sailing at around seven and a half knots.

0715hrs: Turn the motor on and speed jumps to nine knots but it’s still highly bumpy and corkscrewing along. 43 miles to the Yemen and Oman border and 100 miles to Salalah to go.

0730hrs: Throttle the motor down. Move up to the bow and empty water out of the dinghy. Replace two fenders under the dinghy which had come adrift. Ropes had come loose due to deflation of the pontoons so tighten them up again.

0800hrs: Wind and sea abating. Wind coming around to the north. Heading around 060 degrees True.

1600hrs: Crossed into Oman 15 minutes ago and out of Pirate Alley. 42 miles to Salalah. Sea is flat with a slight wind. Motoring. A fisherman in a 20 ft dinghy holds up a large fish offering to sell it. 15 minutes later a huge pod of dolphins appear off the port side. Scores of them are leaping around out of the water feeding on a school of fish they’d rounded up. There’s a clear line in the water marking where they’ve penned the fish.

1630hrs: Pass a shark lazing on the surface right beside the boat with its dorsal fin sticking out of the water about 30 cm or so. Quite large. Disappears and resurfaces about 100 metres behind in our wake.

1700hrs: Pass a couple of good sized whales about 50 metres off the port side both spouting away. Probably a mother and calf given how close they are travelling together.

1830hrs: 24 miles to go. Orange lights of Salalah ahead emerging from behind a headland.

1930hrs: Lights of Salalah stretch out along the coast off the starboard bow. Breakwater ahead. We have to go around it to enter into the port. Pull out a star chart given to me by my wife Delma as a Christmas present. Identify the Pilaedes cluster sitting right above the mast and the topmost star of the Southern Cross as Crux, which won’t appear over the southern horizon until the early hours tomorrow.

2130hrs: Approaching the outer side of Salalah Harbour and breakwater working our way past several ships anchored offshore. It’s a blaze of orange lights inside the harbour. Can count something like 18 or so huge cranes all lit up along one of the terminals. Constant sounds of heavy machinery.

2200hrs: Call Salalah Port Control on VHF Channel 12 for permission to enter the harbour. They take all our details as usual. Tell us to proceed into the harbour and they’ll direct us from there.

2230hrs: Enter the harbour but it’s a bit confusing with the blaze of lights in there. Hard to make out the red and green flashing channel markers. Call the Port Control who tell us to watch for a pilot boat returning from outside the harbour and then follow it to where we will have to anchor up. Spot the boat, follow it and arrive at the mooring area. There’s another yacht anchored with a long stern line run to a rock seawall. We’re told to anchor up but to keep the area open so that a nearby Navy boat can get clear. Dinghy over the side. Andy drops the anchor and reverses to the seawall. Rope taken ashore and stern tied to a large rock.

2400hrs: Anchored in Salalah Harbour. We’ve completed the 605 miles in just over four and a half days. Local time is 2400hrs midnight – GMT plus four hours. Motor off. The boys enjoy a well deserved celebratory drink in the cockpit and I’m just happy to get to bed.

END PART 6