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.
MORE TO FOLLOW