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Voyage of Traveler / Blog » Indian Ocean

Voyage of Traveler / Blog

January 16, 2012

Voyage of Traveler: A Three Year Circumnavigation 2007-2010

Voyage of Traveler: A Three Year Circumnavigation 2007-2010
Part 1 of 4 (Click the Play button on the screen and then the video will begin after 40 seconds.)


Part 2 of 4


Part 3 of 4


Part 4 of 4


April 13, 2009

Another Traveler Postcard From Aden, Yemen

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:02 pm

View Barbara’s Photo Album of this area on

Hi, Everyone,
I never would have thought we would still be stuck here in Aden, Yemen.  We arrived on March 24 and now it is April 13, the day after Easter.  We had planned a quick stop for only two or three days to buy food and fuel.  But we are still here, having fixed the water pump and now waiting for our new starter motor.  The mechanic said it cleared customs in Sana’a (the capital) yesterday morning and was trucked down to Aden (a six hour drive) yesterday afternoon and evening, and he will install it this morning, “God willing.” Once the engine is running, we will motor over to the fuel dock, then we are outta here, headed up the Red Sea.

More Pirate News. I’m sure you all are following the big news story about the pirated Maersk Alabama and the brave captain who gave himself up to the pirates as a hostage to save his crew and ship. He and the pirates are still drifting around in the lifeboat, out of fuel, while the USS Bainbridge circles around them. The pirates are demanding a $2 million ransom while the FBI negotiates his release.  We all hope for a quick, peaceful and safe (at least for the US captain and FBI/military) resolution to the ordeal. What you may not have heard is that the number of pirate attacks is at an all time high, averaging a little over one a day now, and extending from Kenya out to the Seychelles, the east coast of Somalia out hundreds of miles, the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen, and also well up into the southern half of the Red Sea.  We are very much relieved to have made it through the Gulf of Aden without incident, but we are not out of harms way yet.  Plus we read reports of pirate attacks in the Med, the Caribbean, and both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Central America. Piracy is truly a world wide problem. Yesterday, I saw in Google News that those Newport Beach pirates, who posed at a yacht buyer and dumped the owners’ bodies overboard tied to an anchor, were just convicted and sentenced to death. At times, it is even in our own back yard.

Largest Mosque in Yemen

The Side Trip to Sana’a. Since we had several days to kill waiting for the starter motor to arrive from Japan, we decided to fly (45 minutes, $110 round trip) to the ancient capital of Yemen to do some site seeing and visit the US Embassy.  We stayed in Old Sana’a (Google it for photos) for two nights in a castle-like 15 room hotel that was hundreds of years old.  It was a six story walk-up with steep stone steps (no elevators, and our room was on the fourth floor).  We arrived at 10 pm during a power outage (nearly a daily occurrence) so there were candles lighting the stairway as we climbed up to our room. The doors were ancient, with a huge skeleton key that turned an old lock to open our room.  The thick, wooden doors are all very old and very short, only about 50 to 55 inches high. Most of the buildings in Old Sana’a, which is a World Heritage Site, are 1200 to 1400 years old, and most of them are out of stone and bricks made with mud and straw.  The streets are very narrow and winding, making it very easy to get lost. The windows in all the buildings are arched with colored glass, and at night their beauty is astounding.

Michael at the donkey auction

The Donkey Auction. In our first morning, spent walking around and exploring, we came across a crowded marketplace with a donkey auction going on.  There were dozens of donkeys, men in their traditional dress, the bidding was lively and the scene was a colorful spectacle. Women walked by on their way to market, all dressed in black burkas. Nearly all the men are dressed with a large dagger they wear prominently tucked inside the front, held by a huge belt. The dagger is a symbol of their honor and virility (sp) and the larger the dagger. . . bb here, once Michael found that out, he had to trade his small dagger in for a larger one!! (-:


bb_yemin_dress_shop.JPG  bb_yemin_ml_sana_gate.JPG

Barbara’s Princess Jasmine Dress. Later in our walkabout in the old marketplace, we came upon a dress shop, and I spotted a full length lavender beaded dress that looked like a cross between an Opera Ball gown and a costume from a Disney production of Aladdin, in three pieces: a long skirt, the top and a veil.  None of the shop keepers spoke English, but another lady shopping with her husband (she was in a black burka and you could only see her eyes) volunteered to help.  Her English was very good and she used to work for Yemenia Airlines, but her husband spoke only Arabic. We exchanged cell phone numbers with the couple who helped us at the dress shop and promised to call to get together the next day. The dress was actually just fabric and had to be sewn into a dress at another shop, which we managed to get done in less than 24 hours. The tailor’s shop was tiny, with no dressing room, but Barbara needed to try it on to make sure it fit well, so the three tailors had to leave their shop and I helped Barbara zip up the dress.  It needed a few more minor stitches here and there, which they did quickly while we waited, with a growing crowd of villagers watching every move and trying to get our attention to practice their English: “Good morning” (even though it was well into the afternoon), “Where are you from?” “Oh, America.  Obama good.  Welcome to Yemen!”

Everywhere we go, the local Yemenis are very warm and friendly toward us.  They seem surprised when we tell them we are from America–there are so few tourists from any country here and American tourists are extremely rare.  With many people we meet or say hi to on the street, we get the feeling that we may be the first Americans they have seen. The children are especially amazed to see a woman unveiled with not even her head covered!

The US Embassy.  We needed to get extra pages added to our passports because they are full with stamps, and for traveling Americans that must be done at a US Embassy. Because the Embassy in Sana’a was bombed a few months ago, with a few killed (Yemeni people, not Americans) and many injured, security was incredibly tight, with vehicle barricades, soldiers with machine guns everywhere, and several checkpoints. I was dressed in a typical Yemeni outfit that I bought as a souvenir, which went over well. The Embassy is huge, with many buildings spread out to the point where a bus is used to get people around.  There must have been over 1,000 employees, with about 20% of them in security.  Almost without exception, an advanced appointment is required, but we managed to be the exception and, after waiting nearly two hours and filling out forms, including a list of countries visited and that we plan on visiting (it’s over 60 countries), we got 20 pages added to our passports.


Women in Yemen.  Life is tough for the women in this country.  Although things are improving, change comes very slowly.  Nearly all of the women wear black burkas, and many wear gloves, covering every square inch of their body and leaving only a narrow slit for their eyes. Up until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive (we still did not see even one women driving), vote, own real property or inherit.  At a father’s death, all of his property is passed to his sons only, with nothing inherited by the daughters. An international women’s rights organization recently ranked the 130 countries of the world as to the quality of life and other women’s rights issues, and Yemen came in last place.
bb_yemin_ml_sana_gate.JPG  bb_yemin_ml_tea_hotel_window.JPG
Locusts Swarming.  We have not seen any yet, the Yemen Observer newspaper is reporting swarms of locusts over much of the agricultural land in this country, with densities estimated at 100 locusts per square meter.

Land Mines.  Good thing we are not shepherds wandering the countryside here. Yemen is loaded with land mines, the local paper reported.  Hundreds of thousands of them, scattered along back roads and the outskirts of 592 villages, spread over 923 million square meters, the product of multiple civil wars. In a nationwide effort to clear land mines, in just a few months 165,000 were found and deactivated. Over the past few years, 4,500 victims–many of them shepherds–have died or been severely injured (not counting all the sheep) from land mines here.

Qat.  At the US Embassy, in the room where Yemenis wait to get their visas to visit the US, there is a large poster warning that qat is illegal in the US and cannot be imported, even in small quantities.  It describes qat as an addictive psycho-tropic drug. Qat is a tobacco-like leafy shrub, and about 80% of the men and 25% of the women chew qat, usually daily.  They get a big wad of it going over several hours, growing to the size of a golf ball, and keep it off to the side of their mouth causing their cheek to bulge out. Shop keepers, taxi drivers, even gun-carrying police officers on duty–it seems everyone not only does qat but gets whacked out on it. The Yemeni believe one of its many qualities is it acts as an aphrodisiac.  It is sold openly in the marketplaces, right next to the fruits and vegetables.  It is the major crop, by far, with nearly 80% of the agricultural land here in Yemen now devoted to cultivating qat.  Barbara and I both tried some and got a little buzz going, but we didn’t like it and it just upset our stomachs.

Shisha Pipe.  Another Yemeni tradition is to smoke a water pipe called a shisha. That is not too surprising. But what is surprising is what is smoked in the pipe.  It’s not hashish, pot or even tobacco.  It is fruit, in a rock hard, crystalized form, with the favorites being apple and grapefruit. It is usually smoked after dinner, and a shisha is offered at the finer restaurants. Barbara and I tried some, took a few hits, and liked it, sort of.  Maybe we just liked trying something so different in such a different culture.

We spent our last afternoon in Sana’a with that couple (names not included for their privacy, Barbara is insisting . . .) we met in the dress shop the day before. We went to lunch together, which was interesting because, after a privacy screen was placed around our table to keep other guests and even the waiter out, our friend dropped her veil.  Obviously she needed to do that in order to eat, but it is a very strange custom, and for the first time we saw the face of the person we have been talking with and trying to get to know for the past few hours.  Throughout the Muslim world, and particularly in this country, we were told that it is a huge taboo for a single woman to be with a single man so, when we first met this couple at the dress shop, Barbara introduced me as her husband. After spending a few hours with this couple, first over lunch then touring the town, next chewing qat and finally smoking a shisha together, our female friend asked us to tell her about my marriage proposal to Barbara, as our first date in Hawaii had been so amazing. Barbara came clean and told her that we weren’t really married.  I thought they would be insulted that we were not honest with them and offended that we were pretending to be husband and wife. They were not shocked as actually they have a few skeletons in the closet themselves. Barbara just deleted the details as she had promised them nothing private about them would go on the internet since they are a private people/country as a whole.

Got to go.  The mechanic should be here any minute.  God willing.

Michael and Barbara

April 4, 2009

Traveler’s Post Card From Aden, Yemen

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 4:22 pm

April 4, 2009
Aden, Yemen

The Good News is we safely ran the gauntlet and sailed right through the Somali-pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden without incident, thanks to the multi-national Coalition Forces and their high-profile security patrols, although during the same week two ships and two yachts in the area were not so lucky.  It took four days to make the 620 mile passage, and we saw over a hundred ships. Some were lit up like the Christmas Boat Parade, with fire hoses spraying over the sides to act as a deterrent to pirates trying to board. For our own defense, we trailed 100 feet of 1/8 inch nylon line thinking that if we were attacked by pirates they would approach us from our stern and I could maneuver Traveler so that they would foul their prop on the trailing line and become disabled.  We also reported our position twice a day to the Coalition Forces via email, and spoke with three ships via VHF radio on Ch 16.  A highlight was getting buzzed by a military plane on Day Three.

The Bad News is that we, once again, are having engine problems.  On March 24, as we approached Aden Harbor, we had trouble starting the engine, just as we did before as we approached Oman.  I eventually got it started, but burned up the starter motor in the process. In our previous port of Salalah, Oman we had the Yanmar mechanic check out our starting problem.  He mis-diagnosed it as a bad battery, and so we bought and installed a new battery that, it turns out, we did not need.  After we had the anchor down in Aden, we realized it was the starter motor, not the battery.  But I also discovered a much more serious problem when I checked the oil and found the level on the dip stick to be nearly an inch higher than it should be, indicating there was water mixed in with the engine oil.  The oil was a milky grey color and there were water drops from steam and grey, oily putty on the inside of the oil fill cap. Even those of you with little mechanical experience would quickly see this is not a good thing.  Thankfully, there is a Yanmar dealer with a mechanic here in Aden, because this should be covered under our two-year warranty. The mechanic has already (although it took five days to do all the work) re-installed the repaired water pump and cleaned out the engine.  Turns out a internal seal (a $15 part) in the pump failed allowing sea water to mix with the engine’s oil.  It appears there was no damage done to the cylinders or other parts of the engine from this water, but we had to change the oil five times to get it all out.  Five days after that work was finished, we are still waiting for a new starter motor.  Also, while we were here, the Honda generator started acting up and would not put out AC at the correct frequency (hertz).  But as soon as I got the marine electrician on board, the sometimes-now-a-problem generator corrected itself and is working well, for now.  We hope to be cruising up the Red Sea to Egypt and the Suez Canal soon and, hopefully, with a reliable, strong engine and generator.  There are almost always 20 knots of headwinds with waves in the northerly half of the Red Sea, so we have to have the engine working well.

The day after we arrived here in Aden, our guest crew Brandon flew home to Canada, and six days later my son, Brian, flew home to Newport Beach. Both joined us in Singapore in early January, three months ago.  They had an awesome experience, and got to see Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Oman and Yemen with us. Traveler is much quieter, and seems bigger, without them.  While we very much enjoyed their company and now miss having them around, we are also glad to have the boat back to ourselves.

Yemen is not a safe place, and we are anxious to move on.  In reading the local paper, the Yemen Observer (, we learned:
1. Twenty terrorists were arrested in a major offensive by Yemeni security forces.  “The Jihadists were involved in a number of vicious acts, including the murder of citizens because they were drinking alcohol, homosexuals or failed to pray at the appropriate time.”
2.  The former head of al-Qaeda for Yemen and Saudi Arabia is in police custody and giving up information, including that the Iranian government is, and has been for many years, financing and in many cases directing al-Qaeda operations in Yemen. It is unclear if this includes the bombing of the USS Cole nine years ago.  The Cole was on a mooring to take on fuel directly next to where Traveler is anchored now.
3. Yemen extradited five terrorists to its northerly neighbor, Saudi Arabia, including one on the List of 85 Most Wanted Terrorists in the world.
4.  Of the 241 terrorists held in Guantanamo, 100 are from Yemen, making it the country with the most number of terrorists held in custody by the US, by far.
5.  The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda and the Saudi branch of al-Qaeda just merged and renamed themselves the Jihadist Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, under the leadership of amir al-Wahashi, with the approval and blessing of al-Zawahiri, the number two man in al-Qaeda behind Osama Bin Laden.  By the way, Bin Laden’s ancestral home is in Yemen, and it is no secret he is personally dedicated to keeping the US out of Yemen and other countries in the Middle East.  The Jihadist Qaeda announced as their goal to disrupt and destroy foreign interests in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, including assassinations.
6.  There are 154 members of al-Qaeda identified as high risk terrorist in Yemen and their names and photos are being widely circulated, with police checkpoints everywhere to try to capture them.
7.  The US State Department issued a new travel warning on March 26 (two days after we arrived here) warning US citizens about the high-level threats in Yemen resulting from terrorist activities. The Department urges that all Americans defer travel to Yemen. This replaces the earlier warning issued on September 17, 2008 following the bombing attack on the US Embassy in Yemen in which several people were killed and many more seriously wounded.  Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that terrorist attack.
8.  From where we are at anchor, we heard gunshots in the nearby city last night, just as we were trying to get to sleep, and again another gunshot this morning.
9.  A few days ago, Brian and I were in our dinghy going from Traveler to the shore and, I guess, we swung a little too close to the nearby Yemen Coast Guard patrol boat–just 100 yards away from us.  A uniformed coast guardsman on one of the boats gave us the finger, with both hands, and waved for us to go away.
10.  The day before we arrived, a 26 foot boat arrived with 104 Somali refugees crammed in it.  They had been at sea for a couple of weeks, and the last several of those days without food and water.  As they approached the dock, just 75 yards from where we are anchored, they all rushed to the starboard side to jump off the boat. With all that weight on the rail, the boat capsized, sank, and four people drowned.  The next day the boat was raised and it is still tied to the wharf, where we have inspected it.  It is amazing that so many people were crammed into such a small boat, and they were all out in the ocean for so many days.  There are a lot of desperate people in this part of the world.

What a place to be stuck with engine problems.

In spite of all the risks, Barbara and I walked through town the other evening, shopped at some stores and ate at a locals restaurant.  We were greeted warmly by many, of not most, of the locals.  We felt like celebrities, as not many Americans show up here anymore.  We have had some nice moments here, but we are so ready to move on.  Yemen used to be a British colony, but the Brits pulled out in the 60s, and it has been both declining economically and decaying physically ever since.

A British-flagged Tayana 58 that we visited with in both the Maldives and Oman anchored next to us.  As the sun set, Barbara and I dressed in our pirate costumes, raised the pirate flag on Traveler, and boarded their boat, demanding only that they have a drink with us and celebrate sailing through the Gulf of Aden safely, and just making it through another day in Yemen.  Arrrrgh!

Michael and Barbara
Livin’ the Dream? …not!

March 23, 2009

Traveler in Gulf of Aden, Day Four

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 7:48 am

Hi, Everyone,
It’s Monday, March 23 at 0400 and now the beginning of Day Four for us on our passage from Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen, through the notorious Gulf of Aden’s pirate-infested waters.

Our position is 13 03 N, 048 34 E.  The Yemeni coast is 56 miles off our starboard side, and Somalia is 103 miles off our port side.  We are transiting the Gulf of Aden through the Maritime Security Patrol Area.  The west bound and east bound shipping lanes are each five miles wide, and between them is a two mile wide separation zone.  Cdmr. Bancroft of the British Navy, who is coordinating the multi-national coalition forces here, has asked us to stay in the middle of the separation zone, so we will be easier for them to watch, won’t get run over by faster ships passing us and supposedly safer from a pirate attack.  We have ships of all sizes, from smaller cargo ships to super tankers, and lots of them, on both sides of us, passing us at full speed just two to three miles away.  It makes for some choppy seas with all their wakes.

Many of the ships have an armed security team on board for this leg, usually retired military, to deal with the pirates if they are attacked.  Also, many of the ships have their fire hoses on full blast all the time, day and night, on both sides of the ship and off the stern, to repel pirates from boarding. Most of the ships travel in a convoy, close together, in a line.  At night especially, with all their deck lights on and fire hoses running, it is quite a sight–sort of a cross between a Somali pirate boat parade and a midnight walk through a graveyard on Halloween.  Much like the wildebeast migration of the Serengeti and the hungry crocodiles waiting for them in the Mara River, the pirates are out there, under the cover of darkness, in their high speed dinghies with their AK-47s and RPGs looking to pick off a ship.

There are several warships patrolling the area, including from the US, Britain, Greece, France and India. They give “securite” announcements on VHF 16 every few hours for all ships to be vigilant in watching for pirates and to report any suspicious boats or activity. Just now I had one call me on Channel 16 and ask if I have seen anything unusual.

For anti-pirate defense, we have a flare gun and parachute flares in the cockpit and we have a “May Day” script ready to go and taped to the nav desk next to the radio with all our info (because, we’re told, in the excitement of a pirate attack you might forget what to say or not give out all the needed information for help).  Barbara and I have trained both Brian and Brandon to use the VHF and Single Side Band radios and the satellite telephone, light a flare, activate the EPIRB, and to take other emergency measures, just in case.  We also are trailing lines in the water behind Traveler about 75 ft long off both our port and starboard stern cleats, that hopefully would foul the prop and disable a pirate’s boat, keeping them from boarding us.

Other than all that, it is just another quite, typical night aboard “Traveler”.

We expect to arrive in Aden tomorrow (Tuesday) at about 4pm local time, if everything goes well.

Michael and Barbara
Brian and Brandon, too

March 21, 2009

Traveler in Gulf of Aden, Day Two

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 5:08 pm

Hi, Everyone,
This is Saturday, March 21 and Day Two of the most dangerous and dreaded leg of our voyage, that through the notorious Gulf of Aden’s pirate-infested waters.  So far, so good.

Our position at 1100 local time is 14-57 N, 052 54 E, on a heading of 210 at a speed of 7.0 knots motoring in calm seas. The engine is working very well and we have no boat problems (yeah!)

There is not another boat in sight, yet, but we expect to see much traffic soon. We are headed to the Maritime Security Patrol Area, with 35 miles to go to the eastern entrance.  The MSPA is a recently established shipping lane for vessels of all sizes–from super tankers and container ships to cruising sailboats–to group together to make it easier for the coalition forces to keep a watchful eye over them.  All vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden in the MSPA must pre-register with the coalition, and the warships keep track of each vessel closely on radar, with twice a day fly-overs by military planes.  Each vessel must give a daily check-in via VHF with their noon position, course and speed. Local fishing boats must stay well away from the shipping lanes.  Any bad guys would be spotted and dealt with swiftly–at least that is the idea.

In spite of all this security, we just heard that two nights ago an eastbound Greek ship, I believe while in the MSPA–not sure, was boarded by pirates and the crew is being held hostage.  I would like to know more about this, if any of you can find out the latest info, please.

We had quite the dolphin show right after breakfast this morning.  A pod of ten bottle nose were jumping as high as ten feet high right off our bow. Hopefully, the Blessing of the Dolphins will bring us good luck.

Michael and Barbara
Brian and Brandon, too

March 20, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Oman

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 7:00 pm

Hi Everyone,
We arrived here in Salalah, Oman four days ago.  This is our first Middle Eastern country.  Nearly 100% of the country is Muslim and so there are no bars.  The only place to get a drink is at the Hilton or the Crown Plaza hotels or a private club called the Oasis. Lots of sand dunes and date palm trees.  Barbara has to have her shoulders and legs fully covered to go ashore. Many of the women here wear burkas, where you can only see their eyes. I bought a full length long sleeved Omani-style cardinal and gold beaded dress for Barbara so she would fit in and be more comfortable walking around town. And I bought myself a full length Omani-style white robe and a men’s shawl that I wrap around my head. We make quite the couple, walking through a fruit market. This country  opened its borders for tourism only a few years ago.  There are only a handful of foreigners and we are the only Americans here.

Driving down the road that connects the harbor to the town, we saw three wild camels walking along in the desert, about 100 yards from the roadside. I stopped the car and got close enough to them to smell them and got some great photos.  Pretty cool.

We enjoyed the museum, especially the nautical exhibit, and the archeological site of the 1000 year old ruins of the citadel and old Salalah, which is listed as a World Heritage Site.  Historically, this is where frankincense is grown and so this was a very important trading center for hundreds of years.

We are checking out of Salalah about noon today and headed for the notorious Gulf of Aden between the countries of Somalia and Yemen.  This is the stretch of troubled waters where all the pirate hijackings have occurred that you’ve been hearing about.  It is about 650 nautical miles to our next port, Aden, and it should take us four days.  Because of all the pirate attacks on ships in the past few years, there is now a multi-national coalition of ships, patrol boats, helicopters and planes to protect the huge shipping traffic and a few yachties like us now and then headed to or from the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Still, the pirates from Somalia are attacking two or three ships a week, successfully capturing about half of the ships they try to seize and then hold them for ransom.  If we get kidnapped, I’ll just write them a check.

Wish us luck.

Michael and Barbara
Brian and Brandon, too

Traveler’s Postcard From the Maldives

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:58 pm

Mar 8, 2009 6:33 AM

Hi, Everyone,
As we departed this morning (March 8) at 0700 from the small atoll now known as Uligan (formerly known as Uligamu) in the northern Maldives, a huge manta ray swam by the boat to say aloha. His wing span was at least eight feet, maybe nine. I grabbed a mask and fins, dove in, and swam with the manta for two to three minutes, at first a few feet above him, then side by side.  It was so cool. Barbara, Brian and Brandon watched from Traveler, just a boat length away.  We then turned to head for the Middle East.

Our six-day visit to the Maldives was full of snorkeling for all four of us, and one tank dive for Brian and me.  The water is so clear, warm and full of coral and a ridiculous amount of gorgeous fish, including dolphin (we snorkeled with them too–amazing!), eels, barracuda, reef sharks, grouper, and literally hundreds of other species.  At one atoll, Barbara and Brandon snorkeled around the whole island, which was about a two mile swim, taking about two and a half hours to do it, and were just amazed at all the sea life–yes, they got to swim with a manta then, too.

We island hopped, with a different anchorage and island each night. We saw only a dozen or so of the 1100 islands in the Maldives.  There are 100 resorts spread out over the archipelago, which runs north and south for 250 miles.  The resorts are all near capacity, so they are building more. The islands have full employment, with many from India and Sri Lanka coming here looking for jobs at the hotels.  We had dinner ashore at one of the new five star resorts, The Beach House at the Maldives (you should Google it for photos) and it was fabulous.  Their largest room, which we got a tour of, is over the water and goes for $9,000 per night, but only $7,000 in the off season.  (What depression?)

We bought fuel, but it was not easy.  We had to anchor out, dinghy in, and make several trips filling our five-gallon jerry jugs. But that is fairly common in these smaller island.  No fuel docks to pull Traveler up to.  We were able to buy some provisions here, but the selection was very small in this tiny market, only about 10 ft. by 12 ft., with no fresh produce or bread, only canned goods.

The people are friendly, the islands are gorgeous and the diving is some of the best in the world.

Our next stop is Salalah, Oman, 1255 nautical miles to the NW, across the Arabian Sea.

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara,
Brian and Brandon, too

February 28, 2009

Traveler’s Postcard From Sri Lanka

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 5:31 pm

View Barbara’s Photo Album of this area on

Hi, Everyone,
Part of the reason I wanted to go to this country is its name.  SRI LANKA!  It sounds so exotic to say, so other-side-of-the-worldish. And it is.  Here are some highlights.
For two of our five days here we toured the island from Galle to Kandy with a professional driver, which turned out to be a great idea because the driving here is so dangerous.  We saw many sights, including:
1. The Elephant Orphanage. In the interior highlands, in the rain forest during the dry season, we stopped at a village that has about 60 elephants, including a dozen babies, and arrived during their daily afternoon bath in the river.  Quite a sight.  We got up close enough to touch one, a pregnant female who seemed friendly.  Another one lost the foot off his right foreleg from a land mine–an unintended, but nevertheless real life, casualty of the decades-long civil war by the Tamil Tiger Rebels. He hobbled around on three legs fairly well, using his trunk at times as a crutch. Also here we saw a snake charmer play a flute for a king cobra. I have a picture of Brian holding the basket with that coiled cobra standing up at full attention, while Brian has another snake, a python, around his neck.  We also saw lots of bats sleeping in a tree and a large monitor lizard.
2.  The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  This is the largest and most holy temple in all of Sri Lanka, and one of the largest and most sacred Buddhist temples in the world. They have two of Buddha’s actual teeth here in a temple within the temple.  There is a constant stream of devout Buddhists making their pilgrimage to pay their respects, and put a little something in the offering box “for good luck.”  It is like the Sri Lankan’s Vatican. At first we were not going to be allowed in because Brian and I were wearing short pants and Barbara had on a short dress, but we covered up well with sarongs, which we happened to have with us.

On another day, we self-toured the historic walled old town in the Fort of Galle. It was first established by the Portuguese in 1502, then invaded by the Dutch in a bloody battle in 1655, and later ruled by the British, up until 1947.  There are maybe three or four thousand people jammed into about ten acres, living in two or three-story homes that are one or two, and maybe even three hundred years old, on narrow lots, with jewelry shops, cafes and bed and breakfast inns sprinkled around.

For souvenirs, for about $30 I bought a matched set of four Dutch coins dating back to 1720.  I also got a nice blue topaz bracelet for Barbara.  Barbara bought Brian a Sri Lanka Cricket Team jersey and a Sri Lanka souvenir t-shirt with elephants for me.

The six hour drive from Galle to Kandy, and then back the next day, was exhausting because the driving here is so crazy.  Imagine thousands of tuk tuks (a three wheeled motor scooter with a max speed of maybe 25–but it takes a full minute to go from zero to 25) weaving in and out of traffic. The “traffic” is everything from an ox pulling a cart to over-crowded and speeding buses, with children playing and adults walking in or very near the edge of most streets, and stray dogs and bicycles darting around too. The roads in the larger villages are so crowded it takes great effort, and lots of luck, to go just 10 MPH.  And the roads between villages are so narrow that in many places two cars could not fit side by side on the pavement, what there was of it.  Yet somehow you have all this chaos of traffic passing one another and honking their horns, narrowly missing each other.  At home in the US if you had one of these near death driving experiences you would have to stop, collect your thoughts and calm your nerves before moving on.  Here in Sri Lanka you have a very close call–like just missing a head on collision by inches–every half mile or so. It is quite common for speeding busses to drive down the middle of the road, passing tuk tuks on its side of the road and forcing opposing traffic off the road all together, with one hand on the horn.  Oh, and the busses do not stop to let passengers on and off, they only slow down some.  I do not know how the elderly manage to board and exit these busses here.  Needless to say, we saw countless wrecked and abandoned vehicles along the roads plus, sadly, two dogs and a cow–recent road kill, on the edge of the street.

The Customs and Immigration officers all have their hands out, demanding bribes.  On check in, the Customs officer required us to put all of our liquor out on the dining table so he could “inspect it,” then helped himself to a bottle of Chivas Regal and a bottle of Malibu Rum.  The Immigration officers were slightly less bold, but still insisted on a “compliment”, asking for cigarettes.  We bought a couple of cartons of Marlboros at the duty free shop in Langkawi, Malaysia just for this purpose.  We gave the two Immigration officers a couple of packs, and then they asked for a couple of beers, which we also gave them, just so we could get our passports back and get them off our boat. From what we hear from other yachties, there is a lot more of this to come, all throughout the Red Sea countries, especially with the mandatory pilots in the Suez Canal. We call this “light pirating” from guys in uniforms.  It is just part of life here in this part of the world.

We are now (Feb 28 at 1330) on passage to our next country, and are about a hundred miles south of India with 300 miles to go to Uligamu, Maldives at 07 05 N, 072 56 E.

Hook up! We just reeled in a marlin, I’m guessing about 50 lbs, got some photos, then released it.

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara
and Brian and Brandon, too

February 14, 2009

Traveler to Sri Lanka

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:48 pm

Hi Everyone,

It feels good to be on a long passage again.  We departed Thailand’s Patong Beach at sunrise this morning and are headed for Galle, Sri Lanka, 1080 nautical miles almost due west.  Our passage should take about seven days and will take us across the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal and through the Nicobar Islands.  The weather forecast is for favorable winds, generally 12 to 18 knots out of the NNE.  But right now it is still mid-morning and the winds are light, so we are motor sailing with a knot of favorable current. The temperature is a very nice 85. We are already 25 miles offshore and, for the first time in months, there is no land and not another boat in sight. Since we arrived in Indonesian waters, and in particularly around Singapore, we have been surrounded by fishing boats and ships of all sizes, at times more than 50 vessels within just a mile or two of us.

The engine is working very well (hurrah!) and we love the new anchor windlass.  The sails are re-stitched and should be good for the rest of our voyage. Everything is in good shape and working well (knock of wood.) We have enough provisions to get us to the Red Sea, although we will buy fresh produce, fruit, bread and meat at each of our ports of call along the way. And we hope to catch a fish every three or four days to rotate into our dinners. We usually troll a lure or two and have been fairly lucky at fishing.

Last night in Patong, Barbara and I had a nice romantic dinner at Coyote’s Mexican restaurant for Valentines Day.  Even though it was our last night in Thailand, so it was our last chance for Pad Thai or other great local dishes, we were both craving fajitas and margaritas, and it will be quite awhile before we can find another Mexican restaurant in this part of the world.

Brian and Brandon are both having a great time and are a big help to us on the boat–especially on the longer passages for the watch schedules, so we all get a little more, and better, sleep.

We’ve been following the civil war in Sri Lanka closely and it looks to be over now, so there should be a feeling of relief and celebration in that country.  The fighting was almost entirely in the northern end of the island, and we will limit our visit to the southern tip, in and around the old harbor town of Galle.

All’s well onboard Traveler.

Position at 0420 utc on 15 Feb:
07 53 N, 098 16 E
Heading 263 at 7.9 knots

Michael and Barbara

February 11, 2009

Traveler is Still in Thailand

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:12 pm

Hi, Everyone,
We are still at the Royal Phuket Marina in Thailand, even though we checked out of Customs and Immigration over a week ago and started to leave for our next country.  As some of you know and other may have guessed, our engine failed, again, this time as we were departing this marina and heading for Sri Lanka, so we had to drop anchor and have the mechanics dinghy out to the boat. They determined it was (after fixing the boat already twice before) a faulty fuel pump after all and fortunately were able to fix it, but after another three days of delay.  Then, as we pulled up anchor to leave the second time, our windlass failed. It has been one problem after another since Dili, East Timor.  So we bought a new anchor windlass for about $1,500 and it will be installed this morning.  We hope to be on our way today with the noon high tide, and if not today then tomorrow for sure.

Right now I am a cafe with wifi that is one of Thailand’s top 20 restaurants listening to classical music and having a wonderful breakfast at sunrise, while Barbara, Brian and Brandon are sleeping in.  The carpenter and electrician to complete the windlass installation are due to arrive in a couple of hours.  I’m catching up on my emails and then we will do one (hopefully) final provision to buy fresh fruit, veggies and bread.  We love this place–gorgeous islands and beaches, great food, friendly people, fabulous weather–but it’s time to move on, while the NE monsoon winds are still favorable, especially if we are going to see the Med this Spring and Summer.

Our revised schedule over the next six or seven weeks is now:
Phuket, Thailand–hopefully depart today
Galle, Sri Lanka
The Maldives
Salalah, Oman
Aden, Yemen (through the Gulf of Aden where all the pirate attacks have been happening)
The Sudan
Suez Canal, we expect by the end of March

However, as the saying goes for us yachties, “Man makes plans, and God just laughs.”  I don’t know why I even make planned itineraries with expected dates anymore because nothing has gone according to plan yet on this voyage.  Nevertheless, we’re still in Southeast Asia, alive and well, and,
Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

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