Voyage of Traveler / Blog

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

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