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

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