OMAN TO THE RED SEA
We pass by Socotra Island (Yemen) at some distance off. This is a high-risk area for piracy. We are now heading out of the Arabian Sea and into the Gulf of Aden where we sail (as advised) between the piracy risk areas off Somalia and Yemen. Somalia is top of the DO NOT VISIT list. There is still no legitimate government there so the country is still in a chaotic and anarchic state. We have both just read the "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirshi Ali, which certainly gives us a greater insight into Somalia and Islam.
FRIDAY, 4 APRIL 2008
Today is a pleasant and uneventful day. On night watch tonight I feel my nerves are tested somewhat. A small fast boat appears and settles off to the starboard side of our group. The plan is we sail no further than 1/2 n.mile apart and in some kind of formation. Also, we just have our low deck navigation lights on so we can see each other clearly, but other boats can't see us more than 4 n.miles away. We speak boat to boat on an agreed radio station, which we don't give over the radio. Neither do we discuss our whereabouts or waypoints over the radio. If there is a pirate attack we are to let off flares, let them know we have channel 16 operating, and set off the Epirb if necessary. We have all hidden precious articles, computers etc., and just left not so important items of interest and cash (U.S.$) in more accessible and obvious places. None of our 4 boats carry arms.
This vessel then moves across behind the group directly in line with us. I increase our speed and close in behind Mike. Sometime later he radios us and asks for more room to starboard as he needs room with the huge cargo ship coming towards us. Both sails are up so this is a difficult manoeuvre for Impulsive but there is no choice. Of course, the flapping sails wakes Ross, but I am pleased to have his support to get us back on track. The smaller vessel behind is now moving out to starboard again and is pulling away from the group.
Later, during this same watch, another vessel came near us, but not for long. By now I am thinking this is just about enough, and I am pleased to go below to sleep.
SATURDAY, 5 APRIL 2008
Our worries of the previous night are probably well founded. Ross hears the coalition warship on the radio this morning and calls them up. There were two pirate attacks last night within 10 n.miles of our position off Al Mukalla in Yemen. The same night the large French luxury yacht was taken for ransom off the Somalian coast (apparently they were traveling much closer to the coast than advised, but they were taken in International waters and dragged into Somalian territory).
We start to see many more large cargo ships now and this is comforting.
Later this afternoon Mike, who is ahead, radios us to say he can see a large tow vessel coming directly towards us and advises us all to close in together. This vessel comes quite close but turns in different directions and sometimes circles, which is quite strange. Mike then spots a large, latticed hatch cover floating by and surmises the boat is simply looking for this.
We have some good sailing through the Gulf of Aden up to the Red Sea with the headsail poled out. We pass reasonably close by the coast near Aden, as this is considered a safe area, but north of the high risk area near Djibouti.
U.S.A. yacht in the flotilla
We pass through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb at 1600 hours and are very excited as we have now crossed the Indian Ocean, some 3,900 n.miles. Now we are looking forward to more relaxed times ahead, and no more long sailing until later next year when we head out across the Atlantic.
We pass by the naval station on the island off Yemen some distance off, as you can be arrested if you venture too close to their waters.
We cross over to the shipping channel to the west side. This is the major channel to and from the Suez Canal. It is extremely busy with large cargo ships and they all appear to be traveling at high speed. All care is taken with this 7 n.mile crossing.
The radar is a great help here so we can judge a good break in the constant line of vessels to make the crossing. Now we are on the Eritrean side and just see glimpses of the dry rugged coastline.
During the night we have a strong following sea and when a sudden, unexpected, squally gust comes up the boat speed is increased, and the auto-pilot cannot hold its course, so the boat rounds up. This puts too much pressure on the pole's connection to the mast, so it breaks. (We are so frustrated because we feel this would not have happened if the Ray Marine auto-pilot had been working). This is not fun to fix up, especially when the gear lever then jammed. Again, Ross is woken from a deep sleep but is able to get us underway again. He is very tired and will benefit from a few good sleeps when we arrive at Massawa.