Friday, February 27, 2009

Arrival in Mukalla

This blog is written in a sleep-deprived, post-passage, alcohol fueled celebratory state, so the usual cautions should apply.

Tonight the five boats in our convoy are all safely anchored in Mukalla. Our overnight sail/motor was through a beautiful calm phosphorescent sea. The phosphorescence, was so bright that the luminous green light produced, frequently lit up the sail and a couple of times had me scanning the darkness for the ship's light responsible for the sudden light.

We had one worrying incident during the overnight passage. Early in the morning Risho Maru were leading our group, which by that time was scattered over a mile. They called and asked us to close in on them as soon as possible. A fast motor boat had sped towards them, onboard were five crew armed with guns. They didn't look like coast guard officials and didn't respond to calls on the VHF. Antares was the first on the scene and as fast as the speed-boat had arrived it turned and disappeared into the NE. Later we learnt that we were sailing past an oil terminal and these were guards tasked with defending the terminal from terrorist attack. Worryingly the oil tankers heading for the terminal steam at night without lights. It was a tense 30 minutes which otherwise marred a straightforward passage.

As we approached Mukalla the port captain took our details and gave us the friendliest greeting I've experienced:
'Welcome to Mukalla, you are most welcome. This is your second country.'

Mukalla gradually revealed itself as we headed towards the city in the faint light of dawn. On a narrow strip of land between the sea and mountains is the small city of Mukalla with narrow streets fenced-in by five/six storey apartments, all finished in white. After anchor faff using bow and stern anchors to attempt to keep the boats facing into the swell, and soon after we'd anchored successfully, officials visited each boat in turn, pleasantly surprising us with the efficiency of the check-in procedure. The Kika boat stamp had another outing, giving extra validity to my signature on the multiple forms.

We'll probably stay here for 3-4 days, giving us a chance to explore inland.

Mukalla anchorage (27/2/2009): N14deg 31.7' E049deg 07.9'

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Land ahoy

What a difference a few hours rest makes. Yesterday's high drama seems a world away.

Last night we managed to remain remarkably close to each other throughout the night. This added its own challenges as some of us veered around more than others - at one point Astrid calmly called to ask if I'd seen the boat directly behind me - Kika's stern was 10m from Antares bow; the wind vane had taken me directly across Antares' path and we'd narrowly missed a collision. Apart from some other close-calls, though no other narrow misses, it was a quiet, calm night. We sailed half the night and motored the remainder over a flat sea.

Soon after dawn we caught our first glimpse of land and my first sight of the Middle East. Today's big adventure was to stop for a few hours at Palinurus Shoal, a sea mount eight miles off the Yemen coast. The chart showed a patch of 4.5m depth, on which we planned to anchor, snorkel and fish. As we approached the shoal, the horizon was filled with small wooden fishing boats - we estimated over a hundred. Soon each yacht had at least one inquisitive fishing boat greeting them.The fishermen were incredibly friendly and offered us decent size tuna and asked for little other than water and snacks in return. However after a while it was hard not to feel mobbed by them and our search for the 5m patch wasn't going too well. With local help Afriki found a 15m spot and anchored, but the rest of the fleet felt they needed a break from inquisitive fishermen so headed slowly off.Ian quickly fulfilled his blood lust and with a speared trevally rejoined the group. One reason for taking a break on the shoal was to ensure we'd arrive in Al Mukalla in the light. As our stay on the shoal had been briefer than anticipated we gave our engines a break and very slowly sailed SW. Early in the afternoon a sea breeze kicked in and we were treated to another perfect sail across calm seas.
A couple of times the radio has burst into life, the brief broadcasts carrying the fear of ship crew travelling along the patrolled corridor as they call the coalition forces for help with rapidly approaching small boats. I imagine most are false alarms, but some are undoubtedly real hijack attempts. After our positive encounter with the fishermen today, speeding fishing boats no longer cause as much concern as they did yesterday and the tribulations of big shipping feels less relevant; I hope it stays that way.Tonight is our final night at sea before we reach Al Mukalla. We're motoring 10 miles off the coast, nearly far enough out to avoid most of the inshore fishing, but occasionally we'll have a boat in our path. I guess it ensures we'll doubly enjoy our first night at anchor.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+4), 26/02/2009: N14deg 55' E050deg40'
Distance to Al Mukulla: 90

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dark shipping

It's been an eventful 24 hours. At times stressful, certainly tiring, but ultimately enjoyable and has seen our little convoy at its best; reassuring, supportive and generally watching out for each other.

Yesterday evening there was much debate about our route. As we approached the security corridor much more focus was given to our intended course and its implications. Our original plan had been to aim for the north-east end of the corridor then run parallel with it keeping a couple of miles north. However recent reports suggested that Chinese shipping had their own lane 5 miles to the north of the corridor and the prospect of being sandwiched between the Chinese fleet, the shipping in the corridor and patrolling warships didn't appeal. So after weighing many options we decided to head for the Yemen coast keeping 10 miles off as we sail towards Aden. We'd received positive reports from friends already in Aden who had sailed this route without incident. With the decision made we set our spinnakers for the new bearing and pressed on into the night.

Antares has an AIS receiver which provides information about nearby shipping and can sound an alarm if a ship enters within a defined area around your boat. Just before midnight Jasper was alerted to a boat 10 miles off heading in our direction. However nothing was visible on the horizon even though it was a clear night - odd. So Jasper called the ship, and rather than answering they stopped transmitting their AIS signal. We could locate the ship on the radar, but it was running dark - not showing navigation lights. This happened a couple more times throughout the night; very unnerving to be heading towards a busy shipping lane with boats deliberately keeping their navigation lights switched-off.

One time Jasper managed to talk to the crew on a "dark" ship. They seemed anxious and initially unwilling to talk, but eventually Jasper managed to persuade them that we were harmless yachts and the radio operator confirmed that they'd spotted us, but thought we looked like pirates and had tried to warn the coalition forces! It seems everyone is suspicious or even frightened of everyone else out here.
Half way through the night the wind died, on went the engines and my first problem surfaced. I couldn't persuade the electronic autopilot to steer a straight course. Recently the pilot had become more temperamental, but I thought I could work around its idiosyncrasies. Not last night, the course swang violently from side-to-side, in circles, anything other than a straight line. Not a disaster, I would have to hand-steer, but for how long? I wouldn't be able to sleep until the wind returned and I could use the wind-vane.

While tired, worried and keeping a look-out for dark and lit ships the second problem hit me. The engine stopped. I radioed the other yachts, who immediately stopped while I investigated. I'd run the tank dry. Again not an immediate disaster, as I had two spare 20l. cans, but not enough to reach our destination with the current forecast and doubly frustrating as I thought I had enough. Somewhere my sums had gone very wrong. After decanting the spare fuel and bleeding the fuel system we were off again.

As the sun rose, we cleared the last of the shipping. I was a mile behind the other yachts when Risho Maru called to ask if I'd seen the fast craft heading towards me. I hadn't but immediately remembered reading about how pirates use disguised fishing boats with powerful engines, which fitted the description of the rapidly approaching boat. The other yachts had already stopped and started back towards me, my rev counter reached new highs as I motored towards the others. Quickly though the threat disappeared as the fast boat started running on a parallel course then turned around and quickly disappeared over the horizon. Phew, but was it a real threat or just us becoming suspicious and frightened of everyone else?

As we ended up within hailing distance of each other, Ian suggested we stop for a swim. A brilliant idea that relieved the tension of the night.With the other boats around I borrowed a couple more cans of diesel and Ian offered to "lend" me his crew Hugh, so that I could get some rest. I willingly took him up on his offer.With Hugh onboard we set off again motoring into a flat sea. While Hugh helmed, I worked on the autopilot problem. The rudder angle feedback wasn't working so the controller would run the motor and wouldn't register any helm movement. Very confusing to its small brain. Eventually I traced the problem - two gears only intermittently engaging. After a few false starts I once more had a working autopilot.

It feels like the worst is behind us, even though we've only just entered "pirate alley" - we've certainly experienced more, in the last few days, than I was anticipating over the whole trip to Aden . We're planning to head for Al Mukalla on Saturday for a rest and refuel before pressing on to Aden.

As I write this we've just enough wind to sail, which after a small sail vs motor debate, came down in favour of giving us and our engines some rest. It's very relaxing to be sailing across a calm sea, in near silence with the reassuring mast-head lights of our little convoy all around. I'm even steering using the wind-vane...

Position @ 12:30 (GMT+5), 25/02/2009: N14deg 48' E052deg35'

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pirate radio

After days of little or no wind, we're finally having a fantastic spinnaker run into the setting sun.

The day started with very little wind and some debate about whether to motor or try to sail. Those worried about diesel carried the day. Initially it wasn't looking promising, we were making 2-3 knots with a 2 knot favourable current, but as we'd motored through the night most were happy to persevere and have a break from the noise and heat of the motor. However by mid-morning you could hear the frustration on the radio as sails flapped impotently and recalculations were made to see how many hours motoring each boat thought they had left. Fortunately the wind slowly increased allowing a more respectable 5 knots though still with a favourable current.

There's been a definite rise in tension in the group as we approach "pirate alley". A couple of emails have cast doubt on our original plan and a ship called to advise us to minimise our use of the VHF, as there were a number of thwarted pirate attacks close to our position. The theory was that the pirates had a mother ship close by and we shouldn't draw attention to ourselves by using the VHF. After this sobering news we rapidly regrouped, our differing speeds had strung us out over 5 miles, which suddenly felt too much.

Although the piracy threat seems increasingly real, it should be tempered with emails we've all been receiving from boats who have made it to Aden without incident.

Our twice daily SSB net has developed a certain pattern. It opens with a musical introduction from Richo Maru and finishes with a poem from Afriki. This morning's crafted verse, alludes to difficulties with collaborative decision making:

Some want to sail; perhaps the majority,
Others want to motor; maybe the minority,
The problem on this ship,
With each extra day on the trip,
Means I need to keep coming up with new poetry.

Copyright 2009 Ian (Afriki)

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 24/02/2009: N14deg 26' E054deg19'
Distance to security corridor: 77
Engine Hours: 16
Daily run: 57

Monday, February 23, 2009

Motoring in a flat sea

With brief lookout snapshots of the lights of the other boats between bouts of sleep it took some time on each lookout to work out my relative position to the other boats; was I gaining, heading too far south etc? Even motoring our progress was slow as we were caught in a 1-2 knot adverse current.

Happily in the morning we were all still with sight of each other and over the next hour moved together. The wind had been non-existent through the night, but a gentle breeze picked up first thing in the morning. Antares led the way when they hoisted their spinnaker, so not wanting to be left out, I struggled with lines and the pole and eventually managed to launch the cruising chute as a spinnaker.

Unfortunately the wind started to die around noon and much talk over the VHF ensued about whether to motor or continue sailing. The collective decision was made more complex as the weather forecast showed little wind over the next four days and three of us doubt we've enough diesel to motor all the way. We opted to motor and hope for more wind later. As we motored we entered a area of brown water, I tried to convince myself it had a red tinge and perhaps this is what gave the Red Sea its name. The other weren't convinced, but denied pumping out their holding tanks. After an hour we escaped the brown water and adverse current - all very strange.

It's a shame that worries about diesel mar what looks to be a calm few days as we enter the Gulf of Aden. I finished the day catching a small mahi-mahi - I was starting to think I'd lost the knack.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 23/02/2009: N14deg 16' E055deg48'
Distance to new security corridor: 89
Engine Hours: 16
Daily run: 75

Sunday, February 22, 2009

International Armada

It's been an eventful day. All the boats started in a line spread over 20 miles, tonight we're motor-sailing within a couple of miles of each other.

We'd always planned to converge, but after two unsettling visits from a couple of over-inquisitive fishing boats, we decided it was time for a mid-ocean rendezvous. The fishing boats approached disconcertingly close, then stayed close-by even after course changes by the yacht. Despite the fisherman's reassurance "I fishing boat not terrorist", their behaviour put us on-guard.

Other ominous events today were a couple of VHF distress calls from the Gulf. Ian was particular spooked as he'd never heard his radio issue a distress alarm before and for a moment didn't know where the alarm was coming from and then didn't know how to cancel it.

Forming the convoy was an event. I quickly caught up with Risho Maru and finally "met" them in daylight, then we drifted together until mid-afternoon when three sails appeared on the horizon and gradually formed the distinct outlines of Antares, Afriki and Helen Kate.

In my excitement at seeing everyone again, I motored slightly too close to greet them and narrowly avoided severing two boats' fishing lines. Fishing and particularly quantity of fish caught has been one of the reoccurring topics of our radio net, so to sever a fishing line, could easily be misconstrued as a provocative act, analogous to the 1970s Icelandic cod war.

The English/Austrian/Dutch/Canadian/Norwegian Armada is complete and hopefully our numbers will discourage any piratical acts.

Tonight I feel like a child at Christmas, almost too over-excited to sleep. It's a beautiful calm star-lit night with four reassuring mast-head lights close-by; normally sailing is enough to keep me occupied, tonight I'll be busy ensuring I don't fall behind, race in-front, wander off to the south or become entangled in another boat. Hopefully we'll still be friends in the morning...

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 22/02/2009: N13deg 57' E057deg03'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 99
Engine Hours: 2
Daily run: 95

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dolphins in the sunset

The moon isn't making much of an effort to raise itself during the night, making for very dark nights and stunning phosphorescent trails. I know I've mentioned phosphorescence once or twice before, but last-night was one of the most spectacular shows I've seen. Sometimes the boat seemed to cause a large "blob" of luminous organism to glow, leaving bright circles, a metre across, swirling in our wake. A recovered trailing rope was transformed into a magical glowing tube - definitely worth braving the pirates for.

The brisk wind overnight moderated to a gentle breeze this morning, requiring vigilance to keep the sails full and boat moving more or less in the intended direction. For the first time in many days, I was able to leave the hatches open and air the sheets and pillows.

The full rendezvous with the other boats hasn't happened yet - I'm ahead of them by about 20 miles - but it's the first time we've been able to talk over the VHF radio ad-hoc, rather than the HF radio (SSB) at the set times for the net.

I spotted Risho Maru, one of the members of the convey, just after midday. They've been slowly catching up all day and not that I'm competitive, but I've been busy tweaking the sails all afternoon to try to avoid being overtaken. Finally at 7.30 they caught-up and overtook. Great to see another boat briefly, and I'm looking forward to the full rendezvous in a couple of days.Just before sunset, I spied some dolphins jumping in the distance. It was the acrobatic troupe again performing cartwheels, back flips, high jumps and belly flops, though this time it seems they were doing it for their own amusement, not appreciative sailors - I was too far away to count. Perhaps they were having a practice session and they'll give the full performance off the bow tomorrow.
Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 21/02/2009: N13deg 30' E058deg36'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 194
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 107

Friday, February 20, 2009


The bumpy close-hauled sailing of the last few days has been worth it. Just after 2pm today I crossed the projected track of the other boats, 30 miles ahead of them and hove-to to await their arrival. It's been a wet trip to make the northing, but has its compensations; a couple of times last night the breaking waves brought some luminous drops with them, the phosphorescent blue splodges standing-out brightly in the dark star-lit only night - stunning.

The alarm on the radar worked fantastically well last night, alerting me to ships I could barely make out through the spray. Perhaps I should have opened the instruction book earlier; who said real sailors don't need instructions? I think I've made it to the north side of the shipping lane - there's definitely less shipping, though the radar is still checking for ships every 5 minutes. I'm hoping for a quiet night tonight.

We've changed waypoint - just as the previous one was in reach. The new waypoint is more down-wind, resulting in more relaxing sailing, so the change of course was agreed unanimously by the convoy committee.

I've finished off the last of the tuna with a large dish of cheviche. Tomorrow the line is out again with a new yellow/white/pink squid allegedly enticing to mahi-mahi, we'll see.

I'm experimenting with connection to different stations for sending and receiving emails. Today I received an email via the station in Belgium. This transmitter was the first station we used when we set-off, so it really feels like I'm closing in on Europe again.

The closest boat was 15 miles from my position at 18:00, I decided to sail through the night then meet-up with the others tomorrow, rather than risk missing or hitting the convoy in the night! It'll be great to be sailing in company - just hope their wind-vanes, hold a similarly "straight" course to mine. Time will tell...

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 20/02/2009: N12deg 50' E060deg19'
Distance to Gulf of Aden (previous waypoint): 176
Distance to Gulf of Aden (new waypoint): 301
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 113

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Signs of life

The radar detector has been busy beeping today, but frequent scans of the horizon revealed nothing with a radar. Finally late this afternoon I spotted a container ship. The first boat since leaving Male' over a week ago. A little later the VHF burst into life, one ship calling another to negotiate who would give way. Confirmation that I'd reached the shipping lanes. It gave me the chance to experiment with the radar to make it sound an alarm if another boat is heading too close. I've rarely use this feature as I'm normally worried about the power drain on the batteries, and besides I don't want to discourage my crew from keeping a vigilant look-out. However without crew I might as well make use of all the technical back-up I can, and the combination of the solar panel and wind generator, especially as I'm beating into the wind, are providing surplus power.

I'm slowly making my way through the monster tuna. Hopefully with a midnight feast tonight and second breakfast tomorrow I might be able to put the line out again and hope for mahi-mahi.

I'm currently holding my own and keeping about 50 miles ahead of the convoy, there are still a couple of days to go before we converge, so plenty of time to slow down.

Position @ 12:15 (GMT+5), 19/02/2009: N11deg 27' E061deg41'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 289
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 143

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Delayed gratification

What a difference a day makes; yesterday's tranquil sailing, overnight changed into a tiring beat into a sloppy sea. A couple of times Kika has flown off a wave causing a heart-stopping crash as the briefly airborne boat fails to defy gravity. One such moment seems to have caused the toilet lid to sheer off its plastic mounting studs. Normally a loose toilet lid wouldn't cause any major distress, but on this particular design the lid seals and is integral to the flushing mechanism. Until the wind calms down and I have a chance make good a repair with some trusty epoxy resin I guess it's going to be "bucket it and chuck it".

I'm still slowly converging with the others - I'm 50 miles closer to the waypoint than the fleet, though still over 100 miles from the closest boat.

Having quickly consumed all the pineapples I set sail with, I've been eagerly waiting for my mangoes to ripen and today I could wait no longer. What a treat, a perfect juicy tasty mango - now the race is on the eat the rest before they over-ripen.

On the fishing front it's been a day of much excitement. The first bite occurred soon after dawn just as I started downloading my email and discovered I had bumper inbox - thanks to all those who have written. I thought the fish could wait while I fussed over the slow connection, but by the time I'd finished downloading, the line was slack. With the second bite I must have hooked a monster; all the line raced out before I could make it to the reel and took the lure with it. Third time lucky. I'd just started giving my position on the evening radio net, when the line started whizzing out. Determined to not miss this time, I excused myself and landed a nice fat tuna, making it back to the radio in time to hear the weather and wind speculation.

Overall the day has passed surprisingly quickly, I guess when everything takes twice as long to do, time vanishes twice as fast.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 18/02/2009: N9deg 55' E063deg33'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 432
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 113

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Indian Ocean relaxation

It is another beautiful sailing day in the Indian Ocean, though I'm not setting any speed records. The others in the convoy are slowly catching up, they've gained 10 miles over the last 24 hours, but I'm still 80 miles ahead; I figure it'll be easier to slow down, than to speed up if I need to.

I still seem to be south of the shipping - the radar detector has been incredibly quiet since leaving Male' - I've never known such an empty ocean. Even though my daily plots show I'm getting close to the Gulf, I feel like I'm so used to seeing nothing but ocean stretching out to the horizon, that it's going to be strange seeing land or even ships breaking into the otherwise flat vista.

Again no exciting fishing news to report - three days now without a bite - could be time for a radical rethink tomorrow.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+ 5), 17/02/09: N8deg 40' E064deg 59'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 545
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 92

Monday, February 16, 2009


I inadvertently broke my self-imposed puritanical ocean passage ban on alcohol today. I made a rice-pudding in which the recipe called for 1 cup of raisins pre-soaked in rum. When cooked, it turned out well, so one bowl led to another and before I knew it I was inelegantly groping for hand-holds out of keeping with the smooth sailing conditions. I ended up laying down for 5 minutes "rest" and promptly fell asleep, waking up an hour later feeling a little steadier. Talking of which, I've passed close to an area of the sea marked on the chart as the "Carlsberg Ridge" - could this be a cunning corporate sponsorship deal with mapping agencies designed to send thirsty sailors' minds spinning, or could it have been that the founders of the namesake brewery were incapacitated with seasickness in the vicinity and recognised similar effects from their brew..

It's been an easy sailing day. There's been a gentle trade wind blowing all day and we've been making 3-4 knots. The great news is the wind has veered to the NE, so I can ease the sails slightly and still make my course. All hatches are open again, and sheets aired. I'm not setting any speed records, but it makes for very relaxed sailing.

I've made contact with boats further north, who are heading in convoy into the gulf of Aden. I'm slowly converging with them, and plan to join the convoy before we enter the active pirate zone. So I've changed my waypoint to match the one they're heading for. The new waypoint is 300 miles closer so it feels like I'm making great progress.

As it was so calm I tried to resuscitate my camera after water leaked into the "water-proof" case. It seemed to work again when partially disassembled, but when a gust caused the contents of my work surface to shift dramatically to the side, I moved onto another project.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 16/02/2009: N7deg 23' E065deg35'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 637
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 85

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Return of the acrobatic dolphins

The days are developing a pattern; check email, organize meals, tune into the radio net, perform boat checks, make essential repairs, listen into the BBC news, interspersed by reading and boat projects if there's enough time. The rhythm is occasionally punctuated by moments of excitement such as today's acrobatic dolphin visit or the whizzing of the fishing reel, announcing a potential change of menu. The dolphin visit was incredible, one dolphin performing back flips and tail slaps until finishing its stunning display with three cartwheels - amazing.

The sea and wind have eased a little making for some of the best ocean sailing I've had, although it would be even better if the wind would veer from NNE to NE or even better the E, allowing me to ease the sheets and sail at a less precarious angle.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 15/02/2009: N6deg 39' E067deg08'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 990
Engine Hours: 0
Daily run: 137

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Arrival of the wind

What a difference a day makes. Gone is the lethargic wind of yesterday and in its place a 15 knot trade wind has finally established itself.

There are a few hours between dusk and the moon rising when there's only star light. What a fantastic display. The southern cross is still visible although it's tilted on its side and heading towards the horizon as I climb the latitudes. After marvelling at the stars for a while I decided I should try to understand my potential foes a little better and what better way than watching a DVD of "Pirates of the Caribbean". The almost total darkness outside and the slow rolling progress of the boat seemed to add to the atmosphere. Almost perfectly timed for the end of the film, the wind picked up and it was time to take the electronics down. Books can dry out - electronics and salt water aren't best of bedfellows as my newly dead camera can attest to after the "waterproof" case leaked.

The wind-vane steered throughout the night at a steady 3 knots and at dawn this morning the wind increased again since when we've been speeding along 6-7 knots almost in the right direction! It's a relief to be making decent progress again - even without a deadline to aim for.

The fishing line is out again as I'm finishing off the Tuna in Ceviche this evening (thanks Mata'irea for the recipe).

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 14/02/2009: N5deg 47.3' E 69deg17.1'
Distance to Gulf of Aden: 1127
Daily run: 95
engine: 4 hours

Friday, February 13, 2009

Waiting for the wind

Almost on cue, as I watched the sunset and pondered which can to open for dinner, out ran the fishing line. The result, a small tuna in the fridge - perfect for a couple of meals. Apart from this dusk excitement, it's largely been a day of inactivity; the wind has died, the sea is almost mirror calm and Kika has been drifting slowly West.

One benefit of flat sea is any slight disturbance in the surface is easily visible. A school of dolphins broke the calm some distance off, but they remained fishing and didn't seem interested in socialising with boats. As we drifted along lots of small green fish swam along with the boat I watched them for a while expecting to see some larger predators arrive, but their lives remained undisturbed and my fishing line inactive.

Although I don't have an immediate deadline, I could only take so much inaction from the sails and just after midday my resolve to avoid using the engine cracked and on it went. A few minutes later, ripples began to disturb the surface of the ocean. Ah wind at last. Off went the engine, and I set the sails and for a minute or so I had a satisfying sail, only for the wind to die and the sea return to its glassy hue. I repeatedly alternated sailing attempts with motoring, constantly being fooled by a flicker of wind disturbing the surface, and many optimistic attempts to sail only ending in disappointment and the engine. Eventually I'd had enough, I set the autopilot, ignored the fickle winds and let the engine take the strain. Life is so much easier with a working autopilot in light winds.

The little wind there is is blowing from the NNW, not the anticipated NE. The result is I am struggling to make enough distance to the north. If the wind continues in this direction I'll end-up on the east-coast of Somalia. After much effort I managed to download a forecast showing a slight increase in speed and improved direction over the next few days. Here's hoping.

One Maldivian fly survived all attempts at eradication. The spray ran out so I had to rely on more mechanical forms of pest control and finally cornered it in on the chart table. Perhaps I've found my new calling - pest eradication.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5), 13/02/2009: N4deg 49.8' E 70deg34.6'
Distance to entrance Gulf of Aden: 1222

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Setting sail for the Gulf of Aden

I set sail at 2.30pm for the 1550 nautical mile passage into the Gulf of Aden, with near perfect conditions; a flat sea, gentle breeze and clear skies. If the wind had been a little more from the North-East rather than the North the conditions would have been ideal. Still with the sails sheeted in tight, and a full moon guiding me, I cleared the north of Ari Atoll and the last of the potentially treacherous coral a little after midnight and headed into the empty expanse of the Indian Ocean.

I'd intended to set off first thing in the morning, but last-minute pre-passage preparations took up the morning including... spending the last of my Maldivian money, making yoghurt, engine checks, cleaning and stowing the dinghy, finalising a cunning pirate avoidance route, stowing the folding bike, securing all below deck, cleaning out the fridge, checking the weather forecast, emptying the bilge and final attempted repairs to the electronic self-steering. These were just the last minute items, I'd been preparing to leave over the last couple of days; restocking with food, refilling the water tank, downloading podcasts and checking out of the country with help from Amead our agent. As ever there were lots of items that fell off the list, including uploading photos to the blog and writing up our Maldivian adventures. I'll endeavour to complete the write-up over the next few days, but the photos will have to remain unpublished until I reach an internet connection, probably in Aden.

The only other item marring the start of the trip was a sudden infestation of flies as I sailed along the southern coast of Male'. Fortunately I was a little more prepared than last time and liberally fumigated the boat with my Chinese fly spray, reducing their numbers. A few robust individuals appear to have immunity to the spray so guess it'll take a few days until I manage to entirely eliminate my uninvited passengers.

Sadly for David the tourist diversions in Male' ran out after a couple of days and he found the time waiting for our return, trying. So much so that he decided to head home. So I'm starting this trip with a degree of trepidation; I'll be single-handed for nearly two weeks and heading into a renowned pirate zone. Still on a more positive note, the northern Indian ocean is known for its benign conditions, since I left the Maldives the radar detector hasn't located any other boats, and the navies of the world have defined a patrolled safe transit corridor through the Gulf of Aden. What most concerns me however is that I'll return to my feral ways, undoing two weeks of Kristin's civilising influence.

Position @ 12:00 (GMT+5) N4deg 37.2' E071deg 50.2'