Sunday, 22 March 2015

Head to the Med thru the Red 2015

The 'Convoy'
Wow, what a trip, our second longest ever, 2507nm, 17days 2hrs 22mins 22secs (but who’s counting), average 6.11 knots, anchor up to anchor down. We had most all conditions you’d ever get, calm flat seas, beating into 15-20, 35-45 gale (behind us) for a night and day in Bab El-Mandeb, etc. And we did this with 3 boats in ‘convoy’ trying very hard to stay within ½ mile of each other, an enormous challenge for so long a trip and boats that weren’t very well matched. We had a motor vessel and two sailing vessels with different characteristics and crew sailing preferences. But the crew’s attitudes were all great and we were committed to making it work, so we did what was needed to stick closely together, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. Imagine putting on sail to settle the roll but dragging warps (lines with big knots in them) to slow down and keep our pace with the slower boats, never heard of before.

Fuel Transfer in the middle of the Arabian Sea
The Highland Duck (or ‘the Ducks’) had a 600 litre bladder that carried extra fuel for us on deck in case we had lots of motoring to do, which we did. So in the middle of the Arabian Sea on a flat calm day we stopped for a couple of hours to transfer fuel to the yachts and fix an auto pilot problem on the Duck as they had been hand-steering for 3 days (imagine that! – we are so spoiled these days) and have a dip to check out our prop as we had a disturbing vibration coming through the shaft. But we soon got on our way with a happy crew on the Duck and no discernible problem with our prop or shaft (though still a bit of shaft vibration).

We decided early on to take armed guards along with us to get through the HRA (high risk area) in the Indian Ocean on our way to the Med. It was an enormous amount of research and planning for a full year to make it happen, but it finally all came together with many ups and downs along the way. That’s a whole other story I’ll post on Noonsite.
Glad we never had to use these

But we did finally did select a security contractor that we thought would be a good fit for us. It wasn’t just about having highly trained commando dudes but guys that fit into our routines as crew aboard our yachts and pro-actively helped with whatever needed doing on the boats. This was extremely different than most marine security companies are used to and took some time to find the right guys. They hadn’t done small yachts either but were enthusiastically willing to give it a go.
Forever Vigilant
It wasn't exactly a fun trip, as there were a number of difficulties along the way but we persevered, learned a lot and made it happen. We always talked about it as a ‘prototype’ trip as our contractor had never done a convoy before nor had we. One of the biggest problems was that our agent (Realseahawks) in Male was a nightmare (talk about pirates). We had worked a deal through him to hire the weapons already in the Male armoury instead of flying them in and the day before we were going to embark them and leave, he added $11,000 to the bill as the weapons company hadn't paid the storage costs and the Defense Ministry wasn’t going to release them until it was paid. It was a very stressful time, but we finally found another much more reputable agent (Antrac) and finally got underway 3 days later.

Bab El-Mandeb, 35-45 knot gale

Oh yeah, Pirates... what pirates?! We never saw anything that even looked suspicious. We diverted around a Yemeni fishing dhow once towing 3 skiffs that wasn't interested in us at all, but that was our only “encounter”. Mostly we saw heaps of ships. The transit corridor through the Gulf of Aden was like the Singapore Straits. But it was a bit strange that we hardly saw any fishing boats. We stayed at least 50 miles from land except going through Bab El-Mandeb, the entrance to the Red Sea, but that was in the middle of the night on a moonless night with big seas (3-4 meters) blowing a gale that flushed into the Red Sea at 8 to 10 knots. That was a wild ride but we made up for the slow going earlier and the boats performed well, particularly the auto-pilots. We love "Ray-Puss"our auto-pilot! No chance of pirate attacks in weather like that. :)

Sunset in the Gulf of Aden
So we finally made the long haul safely and enjoyed our ‘special’ crew most of the time, though glad we have our boat back to ourself. They helped out in many ways we hadn’t thought of beforehand. If nothing else, it’s always good to have extra hands and eyes on-board with a short-handed crew, particularly on such a long trip. So now we are in Port Suakin, Sudan, an ancient trading post in the middle of the Red Sea and looking forward to exploring a bit of the Middle East. At least it’s dry and cool at nights, a welcome relief from a couple of years in the humid tropics.

Convoy crew having safely arrived in Port Suakin 

That’s the news from EQ, where the winds a fair, the seas calm and the crew content. At least that’s our story and we are sticking to it.

With Equanimity and Joy