Thurs 24 Dec 09
1200hrs: Day clear, hot and humid. Wind down to 10 knots.
1430hrs: Still motoring. Light winds. Headsail flapping. Try goose-winging the sails but there’s not enough wind for them to hold their shape. Hot. Shirts off all round. Sea’s abating more. Andy tries to send off some SailMail messages but is unsuccessful. On each of these occasions either Roger or I must take the helm since the HF radio affects the auto pilot, but it’s no big deal.
1530hrs: Getting cloudy with some black clouds hanging around, otherwise there’s no change in the weather. Still motoring. Wonder if it’s the calm before a storm?
1700hrs: Sea almost flat except for very low swells heading south. Motoring. Bugger all wind. Pull the headsail in and the mainsail to amidships. Speed four knots. Seems slow compared to what we normally do. There’s a big thunderhead above and another nasty looking rain system out to the west. Cloud bands hang about the edges of the horizon.
1815hrs: A bird has been visiting all afternoon. Lands for short rests in various places, usually on top of the bimini covering the cockpit. It’s been sitting on the starboard deck amidships in the dark for the last hour and pretty much just ignores us.
Midnight: Due for watch but I’m dead to the world. Roger can’t wake me so lets me sleep on for a bit more. Kind of like a little Xmas present.
Fri 25 Dec 09
0900hrs: Our little bird took off early this morning leaving a little “thank you” deposit on the deck. Andy has been trying for three days to get some SailMail emails out over the HF radio but unable to do it. He’s only been able to get contact with one SailMail station and that’s the infamous Abu Tig.
Southerly headwind comes up. Here we go … this is what we’ve been expecting but not looking forward to and this might be the start of them already. Still got 221 miles to go to our waypoint, then around 90-100 miles to Strait of Bab El Mandeb before we can turn easterly along the coast of Yemen towards Aden.
Winds are just variable up to six knots for now but we know it will get much, much harder later … unless we’re lucky. More likely we’ll get winds up to 20 knots or more, with waves up to two metres or more. It’ll be hard on the boat, uncomfortable for us and expensive on fuel. And strong headwinds also mean delays because we’ll probably have to take shelter behind some islands or reefs till we can get a break in the winds to push on.
Both sails are up and we’re motoring. Sea is an unusual grey colour that’s normally associated with bad weather not bright sunshine. Ships travelling to and from Port Suez are starting to appear more from astern than the port side, as has been the case.
1500hrs: Hallelujah! Andy finally manages to get all our SailMail messages out with our Xmas wishes to families. Received an email from my family wishing me a Merry Christmas.
1600hrs: Still motor sailing. Tacking slightly on occasion to stay fairly close to our rhumb-line. Our waypoint is at Jabal Zuqar Island which belongs to Yemen and has a maximum height of 200 metres so is quite large. It’s 197 miles away but may as well be South America for us right now. It’s really beginning to look like a hard slog to get there.
1645hrs: Close-hauled on starboard tack at 158 deg True getting around 4.5 knots motor sailing. Wind has dropped to 3.5 knots and the sails are flat. Roger calls us to Christmas Dinner. This is going to be good. Roast peppered and garlic chicken with seven vegetables; roast onion, potato, honey carrots, cabbage, zucchini and sweet potato. No gravy. Andy forgot it again. We thought we had some tinned fruit but it can’t be found. Each man opens a Xmas present which my wife had included in my luggage, with strict instructions not to open the packages before Xmas.
Music on. Eric Bibi singing about something deep in his soul in true southern blues fashion. Half moon. Flat seas. Red wispy sunset. Shipping has increased so that we are seeing ships most of the time. Position is roughly 16 deg 45 Mins North latitude, 41 deg 00 East longitude and 190 miles from waypoint. Everything going well. Morale is good with no tensions onboard.
2100hrs: Slow going. Speed around 3.5 knots. No wind. The needle on the wind gauge instrument hunts around the dial looking for something to report. Unwilling to increase speed and use more fuel.
2300hrs: Wind starts coming up consistently to around four knots and slowly increases to 10 knots, giving us a better speed. Overall observation for Christmas Day is that the day was spoiled a bit by headwinds slowing us down for the first time below four knots average speed.
Sat 26 Dec 09
0600hrs: No real change in the weather. Still trying to get the best angle on the available wind but its variable in speed and direction, though it’s generally from the south up to 10 knots. Speed is down to 3.5 knots and we’re motor sailing. A booby flies past and gives us the eye then almost disdainfully turns away. It’s colouring is black and white with yellow feet and legs.
0800hrs: Roger tells us we have 172 litres of fuel for the 304 miles to go. In the last 24 hours we’ve used on average 1.79 litres per hour. In theory it should be enough to get to Aden.
Cloudy day today. Rumpled seas, short and jerky which are slowing us down as they successively thump into the bow. Andy has identified a couple of anchorages to use as waiting areas and marked them on the chart which we can run to if need be. Waypoint is still 123 miles away.
1330hrs: Flying along under sail 5.5 knots on port tack. Have been sailing with various results over the last 1.5 hours, changing directions to keep the wind working to best advantage. Seas short and sharp.
The island of Jazirat at Tair with its lighthouse comes up abeam on starboard side at almost eight miles. It’s a substantial island up to 100 metres high and probably two miles wide. 106 miles to waypoint.
1600hrs: Heading 170 deg almost due South. Motor back on. Both sails still up and down to 4 knots. A navy boat appears ahead off the port beam some miles away moving north.
1800hrs: Conditions not too bad though it’s slow going. Seas and headwinds are building. Working our way to the west side of the Zubayr group of islands with extensive shallows to the north of them.
Sun 27 Dec 09
There is an underwater feature that rises from around 300 metres up to 140 metres. Unfortunately it’s causing turbulence in the water which we can well do without. Seas are bad enough as it it. We could try a starboard tack but that would take us further way from our waypoint and closer to the Eritrean and Somali coasts. Somalia is a clear threat for piracy so we don’t want to go over that way. Nothing to do but persevere and push on for now.
0400hrs: Ship ahead off starboard bow. Lights indicate it is moving to our right. As best I can judge it seems to be on a constant bearing so start to get a bit concerned. Unchanging bearings mean a collision is inevitable. Getting nearer and bigger. Lights are confusing me even more because they definitely indicate the ship is moving across to our right. Change our course by 10 deg to port just to be on the safe side. Watch carefully since we’re still only making up to 1 knot speed. Just as well because the ship slowly comes down along our starboard side at a distance of probably 300 metres. Hard to judge at night. Big bugger.
0500hrs: Conditions unchanged. Getting light in the false light of pre-dawn but enough to see the shape of the sails properly and around the boat. Harden up the mainsail as flat as I can get it and start picking up an extra knot or so in speed.
0530hrs: Starting to draw level with the underwater obstruction and it’s safe enough to make a course change 10 more deg to port. Pick up another extra knot or two up to 3.5 knots. Good to be getting somewhere again. Roger comes on deck early. We put out a handkerchief of headsail using both port and starboard sheets to tighten it flat which improves our speed up to 4.5 to 5 knots.
0900hrs: Seas are what I’d been hoping not to see. They’re around 2 metres and some even bigger and all coming from the front. Constant series of them thump into the bow to slow us down almost to a standstill. We slowly build up some speed and thump, thump, thump and we’re almost stopped again. The mounting pole for the wind generator suddenly slides along the stern rail and leans over at an awkward angle. Straighten it and lash it back upright. Looks like the mounting bolt in the base has come undone.
Fuel is starting to get short. Andy thinks we might be able to get more at a place called Al Mukha further down on the Yemen coast. 37 miles to waypoint where we’ll probably anchor up, get some proper rest and get ready to do it again.
1100hrs: Physical movement around the boat is slow, jerky and grasping as we bounce about on the rough seas. There’s only a slip of a headsail out but it’s giving us 5 knots on average with 29 miles to go.
1400hrs: Land becomes visible in the haze at 16miles rising up high where our waypoint is located.
1500hrs: Wind has dropped to less than 10 knots and seas are abating. Take the reefs out of the mainsail and start motor sailing. 10 miles to go and 2 hours before dusk. Start tacking our way back and forth across the wind towards our intended anchorage. A navy warship about the size of an Australian Patrol Boat is anchored off the coast further along to the west maybe a mile away. Several fishing boats can be seen anchored close in to the shore as we make our way towards the coast. There are shallows to left and right as we head in their general direction.
1700hrs: After two hours of tacking finally manage to get the anchor down into 4 metres depth in the fading light of dusk. Still very blowy but the water is calm enough in the lee of the island.
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