From the pen of sterling crewmember Grant Williamson
I’m currently in the port town of Salalah which is Oman’s second biggest city and the ideal spot for all the yachties to resupply and rest up for the next big voyage. We leave tomorrow morning on a route bypassing Yemen to the Gulf of Aden, Straits of Bab-Al-Mandab, Eritrea and finally the Red Sea. So far we have spent one month on the ‘Star of the West’ and traveled from Langkawi Malaysia, via the Maldives (south west of India) to Oman - around 2900 nautical miles or nearly 5400km!!!
The journey so far has really been the story of two halves.
The first half of the trip from Langkawi to Maldives was smooth sailing with fair winds – glorious sailing with the crew of Skipper Kim, his wife Ratna, her cousin Tanti and myself all enjoying the excellent conditions. I spent most of my time trying not to go red with a decent case of sunburn, Ratna and Tanti were more concerned about preventing the deepening of their tans with the sun’s effects and I think Kim was slowly going grey with his jobs ‘To Do’ list and dealing with his relatively inexperienced crew!!!
The Indian Ocean was amazingly blue and clean, the sun was shining and occasionally we would get a group of dolphins frolicking on the bow wave and around the yacht. We caught a couple of huge tuna on the voyage, so BBQ tuna steaks were the order of the day and they tasted beautiful!!
The only real drama we had in the middle of the Indian Ocean was when I was called from my bunk at 1am one morning to help deal with a jammed halyard. The only real problem was that to release the sail and fix the situation was to hoist someone to the top of the mast (43 ft above deck level and in a rolling sea) to get it sorted. This job fell on my shoulders and I can tell you, swinging around half way up a mast in the middle of the night certainly woke me up quickly!!!! I scored a few bumps and bruises while being flung around the rigging but managed to release the block and we could continue. Next morning I was back up the mast with a new block which was even more scary – in the cold light of day you can see exactly how far up you actually are!!!!!
After 13 sailing days we anchored in the Maldives. The Maldives are a large group of islands/atolls with beautiful white sandy beaches, amazingly blue, crystal clear waters with colourful fish darting around the offshore reefs. We spent a week working on Skipper Kim’s ‘To Do’ list, resting and resupplying for the onward journey.
The second half of the journey from the Maldives to Oman differed from the first part of the journey. Rather than the following winds we experienced on the trip to the Maldives, we had moderate to strong winds (up to 25 knots) from pretty much front-on and quite rough seas!! Often the yacht would crash through a wave and the spray would whip horizontally across the foredeck – occasionally we even had the crest of a wave crash through into the cockpit, drenching whoever was on watch if they weren’t quick enough to duck beneath the protection of the dodger! So it was bang/crash for most of the 8 days we were at sea!!!!
Due to the rough conditions, Ratna and Tanti stopped worrying about their tans as they spent most of their time going pale and then green, I wasn’t so concerned about getting sunburnt, but I had a good case of white knuckles while holding on to the cockpit’s handrails for grim, bloody death!! And Kim? He just continued to go grey with the battering that the ‘Star of the West’ was taking, the size of his ever increasing ‘To Do’ list and dealing with his relatively inexperienced, (tired, wet, cold, scared and sick) crew!!!! Still, we made it!!! And now all that seems a distant and fading memory.
So finally to Oman. It’s an interesting place and the locals are friendly. The Omani guys all get around in white robes, sandals and turbans, looking like they all just got out of bed and washed their hair! And the women?? They all walk around town in full purdah - black robe, headdress and veil that only reveals their eyes. They look more little like swarms of black cloaked ninjas on the loose!!!
Salalah is surrounded by dusty, brown hills with the occasional low-lying wadi forming a little oasis for the rather wild looking camels and goats that dot the scene. The town itself has numerous mosques and seems to have just about everything we need (excluding beer and rum) and I thought that, while I was here, I would take the opportunity to buy a suit. However, I haven’t been able to find a taylor called Giorgio anywhere, (you know, those stylish suits from Giorgio the Omani???). All that was on offer were robes from a whole heap of Mohammed’s, Ahmed’s and Saleem’s!!!! Maybe the suit can wait until I get home and get a real job!
Anyway, got to go. We leave for the Red Sea tomorrow and still have some jobs to complete. I hope everyone is happy and safe in your part of the world. And remember…..
‘The wise make life happier by lightening their troubles with remembrances of their blessings, whereas most people, like sieves, let the worst things remain and stick to them while the best slip through….And as for the things which are not by their nature evil but are made painfully wholly and entirely by sheer imagination, we should treat them as we do the masks that frighten children – bring them near, put them in the children’s hands and turn them over until we accustom them not to mind them. So by bringing our trouble close to us and using our reason we may discover how ephemeral and flimsy and exaggerated it is.’
Once again from the pen of sterling crewmember Grant Williamson
The voyage of discovery aboard the ‘Star of the West’ continues……………….
After our stay in Oman, the crew of the ‘Star of the West’ continued our journey through the Gulf of Aden towards the Red Sea. Due to the fact that the nearby Yemeni coastline is infamous for pirate attacks, we sailed in convoy with 5 other yachts, maintaining close visual contact with each other and traveling in radio silence, completely bypassing the coast.
However it seemed the biggest danger we faced during this time wasn’t some renegade fisherman with an AK-47, but the possibility of someone in our own closely-knit flotilla of yachts doing something unpredictable in the middle of the night resulting a 6 yacht pile-up!! Every night of the 7 day journey saw a couple of near misses – unexpected gybes, autopilot malfunctions and/or generally people just OUT OF CONTROL!!!!! The couple of fishing boats we did spy quickly got out of our way – I think they were more scared of us that we were of them!!!
We caught a 90cm yellow-fin tuna (yummy!) that fed the crew for nearly two weeks, had mast-height, low-level fly-overs by the patrolling French Air Force (viva la France!!) and a close encounter with HMS York, which seemed to drastically alter its course to bisect our small fleet, but seemed ever so friendly, well spoken and polite on the 2-way radio when they called to check we were OK (jolly good eh-what!!). Anyway we all survived the voyage into the Red Sea without a scratch after more wild weather in the Straits of Bab-Al-Mandab and finally to a nice secure anchorage along the Eritrean coastline.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start people – believe it or not, the Red Sea, isn’t actually RED!!! It’s true!! Although the initial reasoning behind the naming of the ‘Red’ is unclear and lost in the depths of history in this ancient land, most suggest it is due to the surrounding red dusty landscape. The Eritrean and Sudanese coastline is a red - brown, dry windswept place with little vegetation and the angular mountain scenery often obscured by raging, late afternoon dust storms – and it’s still only early spring!!! Many of the islands consist of old shorelines and limestone reefs, partly covered with struggling scrubby saltbush.
However, in contrast to the land, the colour of the sea varies from blue, to green, to steel grey, (depending on the weather conditions) and seems full of life!! Thousands of sea birds including terns, gulls, osprey, cranes, pelicans and spotted boobies are everywhere. We have seen the water ‘boil’ around the yacht as schools of yellow-fin tuna work themselves into a feeding frenzy. (Yes – we did catch another one; No - we didn’t measure it or use it for a photo opportunity, as ~60cm tunas don’t rate anymore!!! Yes – it was yummy, but I’m starting to get a little bored with eating tuna steaks every night!!!). A pod of around 20 dolphins play around the bow, jumping out of the crest of the wave into the following wave trough as the ‘Star of the West’ pounds slowly northwards. One dolphin in particular was having a great time – leaping completely out of the water, twisting onto its side and doing big ‘belly flops’ back into the water. (There has to be one show-off in every crowd eh???).
Anchoring in the late afternoon in a sheltered bay along the coastline or in the lee of the offshore islands to escape the seeming ever-present moderate to strong northerly head winds we are encountering, gives everyone a chance to go for a swim. All the islands have multicoloured fringing reefs with great coral bommies with delicate coral fans and numerous large blue-lipped clams. The brilliant reef fish range from small iridescent blue minnows, to green-finned parrotfish, red bass, black/gold/white butterfly-fish, mean-looking groupers and I’ve even seen the occasional sting-ray. The snorkeling has been excellent and I even had the chance to go for a scuba dive – it was great!!!!
So finally we have arrived in the town of Safaga Egypt. Things seem a little more civilized here as they actually have roads, towns and shops and possibly even internet cafes! As yet we haven’t (officially) been to shore so I will tell you all about our up-coming adventures with the camels, the Nile, the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids and the Suez Canal when next we chat.
Take care everyone and remember….…….
‘As our functions come to be eroded by the accumulated wear and tear of life, it is all too easy to grossly overestimate the degree of the resulting deterioration and give up. There is an insidious tendency to assume that just because some activity is harder than it was, [or the perception that commencing a challenging new activity might be beyond our capabilities].……we should therefore, simply ‘give it away’. The only way to be certain if we’re up to it…....is to periodically test our limits. Invariably, we will then find we can still do much more than we had thought possible.’
David Lewis ‘Shapes on the Wind’
Cheers for now G