December 14, 2006
We raised anchor this morning at 0605 hours local time and set sail for Djibouti on the horn of Africa. This will be a five day run if the weather cooperates.
At 1500 hours local time our position is 16 00 N 053 32 E.
It was still dark as we motored out of Salalah harbor and we had mixed feelings about leaving. Salalah had been a welcome touch of civilization, with grocery stores, gas stations, hotels and car rentals. The people had been generally friendly and on several occasions, had bent over backwards to be more than helpful. The port authorities were described in the cruising guides as "efficient and no-nonsense". This we did not find to be the case and although we are used to being hassled and scammed in Middle Eastern countries, we had not been mentally prepared for the scams and inefficiencies of Salalah port and were exhausted by yesterday's departure dance. By 1030 hours we under full sail with poled Genoa, main, mizzen and mizzen ballooner (staysail). We headed out into the middle of the Gulf of Aden and began to encounter shipping. One tanker cruised slowly down our port side over the course of several hours and then crossed our track. We had "right of way" for several reasons, not the least of which, was we were under full sail and easily observable in the daylight. Nevertheless we were forced to furl the poled Genoa and make a major course change in order to avoid being run over. Unfriendly! The seaway became positively crowded and by 2000 hours we had three different ships within four miles of us and negotiated with them over the radio, as to which way they were going to pass us. Everyone was cordial and cooperative and we weren't hit even once. The winds stayed up into the night and after we passed our first waypoint, we turned west so that they were blowing from directly astern. We ran through the night with poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen and dawn found us 173 miles from Salalah.
December 15, 2006
At 0140 hours UTM on 12/15/2006, our position was 14 36 N 052 22 E.
We are 60 miles off the coast of Yemen opposite the town of Qishn. All well on board.
This morning we sat in the cockpit together and reviewed our procedure, in the event we are attacked or boarded by hostiles. The wind was blowing at 19 to 22 knots from astern and producing a short, steep and choppy roller, that made us feel particularly glad we were not heading into. These are not good pirate conditions. The victims keep falling off the plank, way before they get to the end and this spoils the whole ceremony. We were under full sail with the Genoa poled into position. At 1020 hours we got a radar return, large for a fishing boat but smaller than a bulk carrier or container ship and that was approaching fast. At about eight miles, I identified it as a large wooden Arab Dhow, with a tripod system on deck to unload cargo. It changed course to head directly at us and just as I began to make an evasive course change, I saw a second radar reflection some five miles behind the Dhow. This was definitely a container ship sized echo and I resumed course, on the assumption there would be no funny business in front of witnesses. The Dhow passed down our port side, about three quarters of a mile off and then swung across our stern continuing on its way. The reason may have been that the container ship had also swerved sharply to follow the Dhow and was now four miles away and dominating the horizon. Thanks Guys! The sea conditions deteriorated during the day and the roller from the stern was in the 8 to 10 foot range. Fine for us with our heading! As we headed into the night we were sailing wing-on-wing and had the mast tri-color navigation light lit. Around midnight we came upon some small fishing type boats and noticed that one increased speed sharply and began to move to intercept us. At the same time, a freighter appeared on a collision course from ahead. We turned off our navigation lights and changed course, using our radar to track everyone's position. We passed between the freighter and the intercepting vessel and slid down the port side of the freighter at less than a mile's range. Spooky with no lights on! The smaller radar target passed through our previous position but did not match our course change, thus indicating he had no radar and couldn't see us in the dark. All night long we have kept a sharp watch for vessels both large and small and at 0400, spent over an hour making drastic course changes to avoid a veritable swarm of radar contacts. These coalesced into rain showers, leaving us tired and chagrined. We are approaching the area with the statistical highest number of pirate attacks today and if we have planned this right, will transit the worst area, west of Al Mukalla, during the night of 12/16/2006.
Dawn found us on a empty sea, sailing along at six knots with a light wind from the stern. Our distance run over the previous 24 hour period was 170 miles.
At 0320 hours UTM on 12/16/2006 our position was 13 00 N 049 43 E
December 16, 2006
Lighter winds today as we head west through the Gulf of Aden. We maintained full sail all day with winged main, poled-out Genoa and mizzen, averaging about six knots over the ground, with winds of 10 to 16 knots from directly astern. We would probably have done a little better with twin headsails but the forecast had indicated more wind shifts than we have actually experienced. Unlike yesterday, we have seen large commercial vessels to the north of us but have had no "close encounters" during daylight hours and have seen no native vessels. Around 2200 hours a freighter approached us from head on and we turned on our deck level navigation lights when he was within six miles of us. He did not respond to our VHF hail but changed course abruptly when he was about three miles off. We have not been showing anylights at night and as the sky has been partly overcast and moonless, we are invisible, except to those with radar. The new moon rose at 0330 hours local time but added very little extra light. We have been heading back south again, as we follow the course of the Gulf of Aden to the west. The Southern Cross still hangs above the horizon but on the opposite horizon, the Dipper and Polaris remind us that we are heading home. The nights have been cool since we crossed the Arabian Gulf and sweat suits are again "de rigueur" for night watch.
At 0240 hours UTM our position was 12 17 N 047 18 E.
We are 25 miles beyond the prime hunting grounds of the Yemeni and Somali pirates, although we have another full day of running the gauntlet. Djibouti and our first African landfall still lie 255 miles to the west. We should arrive sometime on Monday evening.
December 17, 2006
This morning we measured a 152 mile run in the previous 24 hour period and at 0730 hours were "bracketed" by a container ship and a small freighter. They approached us from directly ahead with the container ship altering course to pass down our port side and the freighter to starboard.
At 0820 hours we heard US Warship "Laramie" talking to another vessel over the VHF and negotiating how they would pass each other. As we headed into our third day of pirate dodging, it was nice to hear an American voice on the radio and to know they were most certainly armed.
1010 hours and the sea boiled in a line about fifty yards off our bow. A tide rip? Surely not in the Gulf of Aden. We soon realized we were looking at a line of fifty or so dolphins. They ignored us and tore off across the ocean towards Yemen.
1350 hours and we heard the sound of an aircraft. The radar confirmed that a large military four-engined turboprop was making a pass over DoodleBug. Annette waved frantically and the plane waggled his wings in response. How friendly!
1515 hours we passed a radar target that indicated a small, fast boat three miles off. As we drew level and the vessel could see our sails, they stopped dead in the water for four or five minutes, still three miles away. They then began to move away at speed in their original direction. We were flying poled Genoa and poled red, white and blue paneled Ballooner at the time and must have stuck out like a sore thumb, even 10 miles away. The small boat was always hull down to us and we never did see them visually.
At 1630 hours the wind died and I started the engine to motor-sail. I checked the engine compartment a few minutes later and saw that there was what looked like sea water below the engine. A fast examination showed that the hose clamp holding the rubber end-cap on the transmission heat exchanger had broken in two. I shut the engine down and had a replacement hose clamp on within a few minutes with only a mild quantity of cursing. I consider this component as a design weakness on Doodlebug. It is held with only a single hose clamp, as there is not space for a second. All of the other connections use a double hose clamp. We were fortunate to spot this clamp failure before the rubber connector had fallen off the heat exchanger and while it was still just leaking. This cooler is in-line with the main engine seawater supply and the failure of the part would have swiftly flooded the compartment, probably overwhelming the bilge pump, while simultaneously causing the engine to overheat.
2130 hours and the radar shows a very fast vessel approaching Doodlebug directly. I turned on the low level navigation lights as we had been running "darken ship". The track of the object entered the sea clutter zone around DoodleBug and disappeared. I was thoroughly shaken and only upon reflection, realized that we must have been seeing some kind of aircraft, perhaps a helicopter. At the time, we heard nothing over the sound of our own engine. We passed other small craft in the night but they did not change course or give any sign of having detected our presence.
2345 hours I saw the streaks of torpedoes, passing at high speed under DoodleBug and my heart skipped a beat until my brain identified them as dolphins, stirring up the bioluminescence in the water. The pod of dolphins played around us for the next fifteen minutes or so and their antics could be seen by the tubes of light in the water as they streaked back and forth. They occasionally breached with a milky explosion of bioluminescent spray, while we could hear the huff, huff of their breathing. Really cool! Dawn brought small rain showers and has us motoring in very light winds, just under a hundred miles from Djibouti and after another 24 hour run of 154 miles.
December 18, 2006
The winds died away and we motored the final miles to Djibouti (formerly French Somalia). We have seen no shipping of any kind, an empty ocean. Even the mindless chatter on the VHF died away, as we left Aden in our wake. The most exciting happening was we saw hundreds of reddish brown crabs, swimming in the ocean. They were in 1,200 feet of water and 25 miles from the nearest land. I didn't know crabs could swim! They were about four inches across and waved their pincers threateningly as DoodleBug passed. As darkness fell, we could see the lights of Djibouti on the horizon. We anchored at 11 36.1 N 043 08.0 E at 2100 hours local time. The Djibouti Navy met us in a small boat and guided us to an anchorage that was within 100 feet of the position I had previously selected when we were in Salalah. We chatted to the Security folks before we went to bed and noticed that the cockpit was already swarming with mosquitoes. We have started taking our anti-malaria prophylaxis medicine this evening, washed down with a beer that the security folks gave us. DoodleBug is in Africa!
December 19, 2006
When we arrived in Djibouti last night, the parting words of the security chief included a warning to put everything away, as there might be "swimmers" in the night. We did indeed scour the decks and secured everything that was loose, before rigging a motion detector alarm in the cockpit that faced the stern of the vessel. This is a battery powered unit and we bought it the Post Office in Darwin for about US$20.
At 0300 hours, Annette was awakened by the scream of the alarm and she woke me up, as I was contentedly and deeply sleeping through this racket. She opened the window in the stern cockpit and found a slightly built man, crouched in the corner behind the dinghy. Using her biggest, deepest Vivian voice, she yelled, "You! Go! Now!". He replied several times, "I am sorry madam, I am sorry madam" before disappearing into the night. We had been told to call VHF CH13 if we had security problems and we tried this without response, before calling the port control on CH16. (The security chief told me the following day, "You should have called CH13". "I did but nobody answered". "Well my guys didn't answer because they don't speak English but I have already talked to them about that"."Right...".) Of course by the time the naval patrol showed up, the intruder was long gone and had left behind a grimy piece of string and two plastic bags. The M.O. is to place the loot inside a doubled plastic bag and then tie this to his body for the return swim.
The rest of the night was undisturbed and we arose to complete the check-in formalities. The first step was a dinghy ride to the dock. The ride passed the main animal loading area of the port and there were lines of dhows and larger ships taking on a cargo of camels, cattle and goats. The harbor wall we approached had the requisite rusting iron ladder and Annette scaled this and discovered that the sloping concrete dock was about and inch deep in animal shit, which she had just placed her hands into.
She started whining about washing her hands and "Wet One" wipe up tissues and I sympathetically reminded her that she was supposed to use the left hand and shake hands with the right. (HRH was not amused).
The port captain was a delight, friendly, and chatty and we were on our way to Immigration within 10 minutes. At the Immigration office, they wanted US$40 for visas (Just as the cruising guides stated). I handed over two twenties and was informed that one twenty was OK but the other was the wrong series. Huh? Apparently, in an effort to thwart the North Korean flooding of the world markets with high quality forgeries of US banknotes, the Djiboutian authorities will accept no US bill issued prior to 2001. I changed a "new" $100 bill in the nearby duty free shop, thereby solving our Immigration visa problem and defining the source of replacement alcohol aboard DoodleBug. At the dinghy dock we had been pounced upon by a Djiboutian lad who said he would look after our dinghy. The port captain said this "service" would cost us at least US$5 and we should have negotiated. On our return, I gave the guy 2 bucks and he seemed happy enough.
We moved our dinghy to the nearby Djibouti Navy dock and walked towards the port entrance. On the way, we passed by the US Laramie (a coalition warship) and shook hands with the soldiers guarding the gangplank. Annette thanked them for what they are doing and told them to stay safe. They in turn asked her, "Why in God's green earth would you want to sail up the Red Sea?". We gave them our cruising cards with our website information and began walking into town to check out the sights.
I tried an ATM at one of several Banks but the computer screen kept showing a message to the effect that my bank had declined the transaction. We then asked two ex-patriot French ladies, where we might find an ATM that was more friendly. They maintained that Djibouti banks like to pretend that they provide ATM services but that there are no ATM's in town where you can access overseas funds. Back to the first bank and I got an advance on my Visa card. We now had lunch money and found a nearby Bar / Restaurant. Our first two beers were small and nowhere even close to filling the glass. We had a second round and asked the waiter to fill the glasses this time, to which he smiled. Lunch was pleasant but not the best French cuisine we have enjoyed, although the bread was great as usual. The beers cost US$6 each.
Thus fortified, we decided to make a pass at the big downtown Supermarket. Everything was now closed up tighter than a drum and would remain so until late afternoon. The whole town sleeps from about 1300 hours until 1700 hours.
We schlepped six cases of emergency beer (US$20 / case) back to DoodleBug and "Said", the Port security officer, showed up just as we were unloading it. We invited him aboard for a beer and he said he had time for just one. After he had drunk three beers, we heard five or six times about his six children and the sad story of an English yachtie sponsoring his children through school but the Englishman has now inconveniently died. "Damn. What a bummer!". He has two wives but one just looks after the camel herds back at his village. Then he told us that out of his own pocket, he had paid the other marine police 2,000 francs (about US$12) to look after our dinghy today. (blank look on our part). He clambered back into his boat. We made arrangements to meet him on the dock in the morning and he will have arranged a car and driver for us for the day.
December 20, 2006
This morning we awoke to pouring rain but we had an appointment to meet Said on the dock at 0800 hours with the car and driver, so off we set. At the dock there was no Said, no car, and no driver. The other soldiers insisted he would be back "tomorrow" and we negotiated a 1000 franc price, "to look after our dinghy" - half of Said's quoted price. We had not yet paid our port dues, so we walked down the dock to the finance office and performed this task. Then we went across to say "Hi" to the GI's on the US warship docked nearby and Said showed up. "What happened to the car?". "You want car?". "This afternoon we need a car to pick up diesel". "OK, car this afternoon".
Yesterday as we walked into town, we were plagued with taxis every few seconds. They would draw alongside us as we walked and honk their horn, as though it had never occurred to us to stand at the curbside and just flag down a taxi. Today in the pouring rain, there were no taxis to be seen. As the rain got heavier, we took shelter under the awning of a conveniently closed restaurant and waited till a cab came by. We then rode to downtown and found the tourist office. The tourist office was actually open, had posters on the walls touting the wonderful diving and sealife off the Djibouti coasts and little else. The girl behind the desk confirmed that there was no museum, no art galleries etc. and recommended a nearby cafe for breakfast. We had breakfast at the Beverly Cafe, an establishment on the fourth floor of the building that also contained the "Planet Hollywood" restaurant/bar. Annette had gone into the latter to ask for directions but as they were negotiating an employment contract with Luca Bratzie (the Godfather's "heavy") in the dim reaches of the booths, she left.
Petit Dejeuner (breakfast) at the Beverly Cafe was fine and we gazed out over the soaking rooftops of Djibouti as we ate our cheese omelet and croissants. Next stop was the money exchange where I was offered 65cs on the dollar to exchange our surplus Omani Rials for local currency.
We spent the rest of the morning walking the now flooded streets and market places. In spite of the rain, most of Djibouti's 750,000 residents seemed to be out and about, as did their dogs, goats, camels, beggars, trucks, buses, vans, motorcycles bicycles, hand carts and donkey carts. An incredible mélange of sounds, smells and colors. Although the Djiboutians are predominantly Muslim, the women are dressed in a more African style of bright, colorful robes, with their heads covered but their complete faces showing. The market places were a sea of mud and we picked our way carefully through the shallower spots. This was definitely an African experience and light years away from Oman.
Said had invited himself to lunch with us at a local Djiboutian restaurant. We called his cell phone and he showed up about ten minutes later, in a truck driven by his friend. We ate baked fish, with a type of Indian "Nan" bread, grated bananas in bread, grated dates in a kind of cous-cous base and bananas in "Nan" type bread soaked in honey.
The fish was beautifully cooked and very tasty. For us westerners, the biggest problem was the Djiboutian custom of eating everything with the fingers from the plate. We opted to use forks. After lunch, Djibouti closes down anyway, so we rode back to the port and took our port dues receipt from this morning to the Port Captain to ask for an exit permit. This took about three minutes versus the five hours in Salalah! What a contrast!
As we left the Port Captain's office, we ran into the port radio controller of our arrival, who asked if we were "DoodleBug". He walked down the dock with us and we chatted as we walked towards a ship that was loading camels and cattle with a crane. Annette began to take pictures when the animal handlers got irate and aggressive. The port controller told them to cool it, that we were just tourists and faked at head butting the nearest drover. This looked like a confrontation that might escalate. We decided to abandon our controller and walk down the "other" side of the animal yards. There we met the Port Technical manager, Joseph Davies. He invited us to have a coffee with him at the nearby and recently opened 5 star hotel. A delightful visit and Joseph delivered us back to the dock where he reluctantly returned to work.
At our dinghy, our dinghy guard was missing, as was the safety engine stop cord from the outboard motor. Crap! We returned to Doodlebug with me physically holding the engine "off" switch into the "on" position. About an hour later, our dinghy guard showed up at Doodlebug to receive his payment. Now of course since it had rained, he needed an additional 1000 df fee (about US$6) for bailing out our dinghy after the rain and also for fendering the dinghy off the dock. I paid him the extra "fender" squeeze without a moment's regret, as I now had my safety cord back.
That evening Said astonished us by showing up as promised with the truck. We filled up our diesel cans, bought stamps at the Post Office, and shopped for groceries at the downtown supermarket. The prices were three times US prices but it was a nice clean store. They had a selection of goodies and they played Christmas carols for us (in French of course) while we shopped. Back to DoodleBug and we paid off Said for his assistance at less than the outrageous fee that we had expected.
December 21, 2006
Today we readied DoodleBug for the passage up the Red Sea. We have checked engine and batteries, serviced the generator, pre-cooked several meals and were close to departure readiness.
We made a final run to the duty free for a last couple of cases of beer and Said, the security chief, showed up to say "Goodbye". We had arranged that we would be in mid-generator-oil-change and mid-cook when he arrived, as he obviously planned to settle down and drink our beer all afternoon. His requests for monetary assistance for the education of his children was now expanded to encompass "all" Djiboutian children. I think perhaps he is a branch of UNESCO. Finally he got discouraged with the slow flow of beverages and zero flow of cash from us and I dinghied him back to his dock. I have no idea as to how long he had arranged before his own skiff was scheduled to return.
At 1520 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Massawa in Eritrea. We were soon under full sail and heading for the narrow strait of "Bab-el-Mandeb" that guards the access to the Red Sea.