Voyage of Traveler / Blog

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!


  1. Scary stuff, I’m praying for your safety out…

    Comment by Louise Losson — April 9, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  2. Metro,

    Glad to hear you made it thru the guantlet. Just read about a French family on a 47′ sailboat that wasn’t so lucky. Get the hell outta there! Red Sea, Egypt, Crete, Greek Islands… oh baby!


    Comment by Al-Qaeda — April 10, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  3. Hey Michael and Barbara: I really loved your most recent blog entries. I know it must be trying at times in Yemen but it appears you’re sure making the best of it. It has been absolutely fascinating reading the Yemen blogs. I especially loved the photos this time, wish you did that more often. I shared the photos with some of my co-workers and they are very impressed. Oh my God, I love the dress, Barbara. You are so fortunate, it is gorgeous. I love the color and the applique or whatever it is on it is so so so gorgeous. Bruce and I really enjoyed seeing you dressed to fit in in Yemen, since we were used to seeing you in swim and beach wear in Tahiti, it’s a HUGE difference, yes? I am sure this has been somewhat of a life altering experience all the way around, this trip, but the East must be very educational. I guess what was surprising for me is the diversity between the beauty of the historic and religious places vs. the poverty of the regular stuff. It’s kind of sad but I guess if that is all they know then that’s just how life is for them. Your stay in that hotel with the narrow stairs and all, the photo of Michael with his tea, it looks SO primitive. I would have been scared to death. Sleep with one eye open? All is well here, we have on-again off-again spring weather, snow yesterday and today, then up in the 70’s tomorrow. No kidding, that how our springs are. Well, take care of yourselves and be safe. We’re hoping your boat is fixed very soon and you can move on. You have gotten to spend some enlightening time in Yemen which was surely unexpected but what great exerpiences you’ve had. So, worth in in the end? Have a save voyage to your next port, stay clear of pirates. We can only imagine how nerve wracking that must have beenf or you. Prayers your way for a save passage. Bruce & Denise

    Comment by Bruce and Denise Stelzer — April 15, 2009 @ 6:13 am

  4. Ah yes, nceily put, everyone.

    Comment by Kaylana — August 11, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

  5. UVh8if iooaktinrwtp

    Comment by vzexjjyvtii — August 12, 2011 @ 6:11 am

  6. YUme7r guaocgojwedz

    Comment by ubhbxzyp — August 15, 2011 @ 6:06 am

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