Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sauvie Is.Yacht Club

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


We leave the anchorage at Massawa Monday April 2nd with Cap d'Or. Stopping for the night at Sheikh el Abu Island, we re-anchor several times. Not good holding. We are actually able to sail our course for several hours the next day. However, the following two days are a struggle, beating to weather in 17 to 23 knots and sometimes motorsailing into short steep seas. On Friday the wind dies and we motor, picking our way through the reefs of Shubuk Channel and into the lovely desert anchorage of Marsa Esh Sheikh Ibrahim. On shore we see a couple of tents, perhaps belonging to fishermen and nearby a few camels. Beyond them an occasional truck stirs up dust on the road that runs along the coast.

We arrive at Suakin at noon the next day passing the small port on our way into the well protected anchorage. We anchor just off the island ruins of Old Suakin and soon are greeted by the charming agent Abu Muhammed who relieves us of many U.S. dollars to cover port fees, customs and shore passes. He also exchanges some of our dollars for Sudanese pounds.

We dinghy ashore the next day to explore Old Suakin which was a trade center for centuries and has the dubious distinction of being the last outpost of the slave trade in the world--not ending until the close of World War II. Wandering through the rubble of crumbling buildings built of coral we find much of an old hotel still standing, also part of a mosque and two minarets.
A large brick building which was possibly the customs house is still in pretty good shape.

Across a short causeway lies the village of El Kaff where the people live in small shacks and use donkey carts for hauling water and goods. The odd car or small truck makes its way along the dirt roads in town. We are able to buy fresh produce at the outdoor market here as well as eggs and bread. Many of the women we see are wearing colorful robes of burgundy, gold or blue-green. Their hair is covered but not their faces. The men wear the traditional white robes but sometimes western dress.

Wanting to see Port Sudan we take a local bus for the one hour trip. The desert along the way is studded with juniper bushes and a small spreading pepper-like tree. We pass small shacks and tents. Blown up against these obstacles are piles of the ubiquititous plastic bag. We see herds of goats and camels and on the highway, many large trailer trucks. We find Port Sudan teeming with people. Along with the motorized vehicles there are still donkey carts. Walking around the market area we pass a row of shops with men outside sewing up white robes on treadle sewing machines. Everyone says ¨welcome to Sudan.¨

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bab el Mandeb to Eritrea

Just before sunset March 24 we leave Aden and head for the Red Sea. We reach Bab el Mandeb which translates as "gates of sorrow" early in the morning. We have decided to go through the small strait to avoid the shipping traffic. With a SE wind of 25 kts, a strong current and big following seas we have a wild ride as we are swept through the strait. Once we are into the Red Sea the current stays with us as well as ESE winds of 20 to 30 kts. On the 3rd day the wind dies and at about noon we motor into the port of Massawa on the African coast. It has been a very tiring passage.

In recent history Eritrea was recognized as an independent country by the United Nations in 1993, following about 40 years of troubled governance by Ethiopia. Conflict with Ethiopia is ongoing. The port of Massawa does not see many ships. Eritrea is a very poor country with little to export. The remains of buildings bombed during war with Ethiopia dot the small city, including the palace of former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

The day after we arrive a cruise ship "Peace Boat" comes in with 600 Japanese tourists who are on a 6 month cruise. We say "kanechiwa" (hello in Japanese) to them and chat with a few who speak English. A good part of the day is spent getting Eritrean visas and travel permits which will allow us to visit the capital city of Asmara.

The next morning, along with Roger and Pam from Cap d'Or, we get on a small bus with about 30 local people and a booming stereo system and head off up a winding narrow road into the mountains. Along the way we pass small villages of dwellings constructed of any available scrap material. Herds of goats nibble at anything that looks edible. On one steep stretch of road we come upon a group of baboons who run alongside our bus. Someone tosses food out the window to them. We stop at military checkpoints along the way where our travel permits are examined. Looking out across the mountains and valleys the scenery is spectacular. We have a rest stop at the village of Ghinda where women are selling fresh vegetables including some county fair sized squash. Roasted ears of corn tempt us but turn out to be quite chewy. We see very few cars here, mostly busses passing through, camels and carts pulled by spindly legged donkeys or small horses.

After 4 hours we arrive at Asmara which at 5500 ft is a more comfortable temperature than Massawa. Although part of Asmara has rutted dirt roads, donkey carts and traditional markets, in the thriving downtown there is a European atmosphere of tree lined boulevards, sidewalk cafes and a large cathedral. A community of Italians live in Asmara, a holdover from the years when Eritrea was an Italian colony.

We stay overnight at the Central Hotel and return to Massawa by bus the next day. It is a challenge to find the right bus and to guard our spot in the line of people wanting to get on our bus. Back in the anchorage we learn that Greg from the sailboat Faith has been taken to the hospital in Asmara and diagnosed with malaria. He had been seen by a local doctor and the doctor on board the Peace Boat but they were not sure what was wrong with him. The doctors in Asmara decided his condition was serious enough that he could get better treatment in Cairo. Eritrea is a cash only economy and U.S. dollars are not available there. Both the hospital and the airline wanted payment in U.S. dollars and the airline was not at all sure they wanted someone with malaria on their plane. Being seriously ill in a developing country can get complicated. With the aid of the U.S. embassy and help from cruisers Greg got to Cairo and within a few days had recovered sufficiently to return to his family on Faith.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gulf of Aden

Tension mounts amidst the cruising fleet as the yachts in Salalah prepare for the next passage. The Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia, is known by some as "pirate alley". The pirates target ships primarily but a few yachts have been boarded over the years. Most cruisers sail through this area in groups.

We leave Oman March 9 in company with four other boats, heading for Aden--a distance of 640 miles. We agree to a minimum speed and staying within sight of one another, closing ranks at night. This turns out to be very stressful. Five yachts, five captains, five differing ideas of how to proceed. We vow not to do this again.

Ships prove to be a greater danger than pirates on this passage. One of our group spots a nuclear submarine as it surfaces heading in our direction. It is a British sub so a British yacht travelling with us calls them on the VHF. No answer. They want to remain incognito. The sub passes within a mile of us. Later that day an Evergreen container ship passes between Moonshadow and another yacht, less than half a mile from each of us.

Motorsailing one night at about 0400 hours a ship going the opposite direction turns and passes between us and the yacht ahead of us. My perception at night is not so good but I could see that the ship was getting too close. I shout for Richard who is sleeping below. He leaps out into the cockpit and throws the engine into reverse. As the enormous dark shape looms above us and silently glides past we are splashed by its stern wave. When his hearbeat resumes Richard calls the ship on the VHF. The person answering says that they did not see either yacht.

Two days out of Aden I am feeling ill and have a high fever. Fearing malaria we put out a medical emergency call on the VHF. A voice booms in from the Queen Mary II and they summon the ship's doctor to the bridge. He cannot diagnose malaria without a blood test so he advises us to treat the illness as malaria and get to Aden as quickly as possible. Monte Cristo, a French-Canadian yacht, volunteers to cut away from the group and travel with us. We make good speed, helped along by favorable winds, and arrive at Aden just before dark on March 14. By this time my temperature has gone down and I am feeling better. An Australian doctor, travelling with her family aboard the yacht Vagabond Heart, dinghies over to see me and decides that I do not have malaria but probably some kind of viral infection. Over the next few days several other cruisers are down with similar symptoms.

We unwittingly anchor just off the Sailors' Club and Restaurant, a source of loud music lasting until 3 am. We soon figure out that the place is a bordello. Going ashore to clear into Yemen, Richard meets Hamzah, a young man born in Yemen but of Indian parentage. Hamzah is a university student soon to receive a BA in English literature and translation. He is studying Beowulf and Shakespeare. When cruising boats come to Aden he offers his services as a guide or for whatever help might be needed. In the evening Richard goes with Hamzah to Arab town and to a Somali refugee camp. Boat loads of people arrive in Yemen with the hope that soon the violence in Somalia will end and they can return home.

Walking through town in Aden we are greeted with "welcome to Yemen" over and over again. People want to talk to us, perhaps to practice their English. Unlike Oman, we see women on the street here--still covered in black except for the Somali women who wear a headscarf but do not cover their faces. In the afternoons it seems that most of the Yemini men sit on the curbs, sidewalks or wherever to chew Qat, the national narcotic. These green leaves come from a small bush which as a crop takes up valuable land and uses scarce water which would be better used to grow food.

One day I go with Hamzah to the Egyptian embassy to apply for visas. Hanzah does some fast talking to convince them we need the visas today. Richard and I return to pick them up late in the afternoon. We then go on to Aden Mall and a huge Lulu's Supermarket to do some provisioning. In the mall is shop after shop displaying beautiful gowns and party dresses. I ask Hamzah "Who wears these"? He tells me the Yemeni women wear them inside their homes for family parties or for women's parties.

Before we leave Aden, Richard pays a visit to the harbormaster. In the port control tower the commander of British forces in the gulf is watching two British warships enter the harbor. He tells Richard that Salalah harbor in Oman is a much more secure port than Aden, which was the site of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Our last impression of the Yemeni people is provided by a money changer. Exchanging our remaining rials into U.S. dollars, Richard is handed a few Yemeni coins. He tells the man we can't use them and he should keep them. The money changer tells him "No, you give them to the street people."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Across the Arabian Sea

We leave Cochin Feb. 17th along with five other boats hailing from Switzerland, Ireland, New Zealand and two from Sweden. One Swedish yacht, Li, we had not seen in years until Cochin. We had sailed in French Polynesia with Boris and Lizabeth in 2002.

The boats spread out after the first day and are no longer in sight of one another. We have calm seas with 8-10 kts just forward of the beam--easy sailing most days. We check into the Indian Ocean/Red Sea HF radio net and one morning learn the location of drift nets to avoid. But Moonshadow is captured by one and stopped cold one evening at midnight. Before long we are able to sail off the net. Our long keel is an advantage here plus we have a metal strap across the opening between the keel and the rudder (thank you Dave King) which keeps nets from catching. Two other yachts were trapped in drift nets, one for five hours.

The steering paddle on our Monitor steering vane broke off one afternoon. The Monitor is close to 20 years old so I guess we have to expect a failure now and then. Fortunately we had a line on it. Richard was able to repair it--not an easy job at sea. It is a bit shorter but still works well.

Flying fish leap aboard just about every night. We try to grab them and toss them back into the sea before they beat themselves to death. One night a flying fish manages to propel itself through an open port into the head. That would have been startling if Richard or I had been in there at the time.

Coalition forces military ships patrol the gulf (Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman) and we occasionally hear one on VHF radio. We are surprised to actually see a U.S. warship when we are two days from Oman. It is reassuring considering the threat of piracy in the approach to the Red Sea.

After eleven days we reach Oman. This is our longest passage since crossing the Pacific Ocean to the Marquesas. As we approach the port of Salalah we are struck by the contrast between the barren brown cliffs in front of us and the tropical landscape we have left behind. The port is quite modern with new cranes for lifting containers on and off the huge ships that stop here.

We anchor off to one side of the harbor. Soon we are approached by a harbor control boat bearing the yacht agent Mohammed, who cuts an impressive figure in his flowing white robes. That evening a group of us go up the hill to the aptly named Oasis Club where we enjoy a delicious BBQ, especially appreciated after many days at sea. We meet several crew members from the Fort Austin, a supply ship for the British navy. Four of us are invited to come for a tour the next morning.

The city of Salalah is a few miles from the port and quite spread out. People here drive cars. Not much public transportation and few motorbikes. We see almost no women on the street here, only men. At Lulu's Supermarket a few women are shopping. They wear the abeyya, a loose black robe which covers them from head to toe. Only their eyes are visable. At the local souq (market) we find scarves, swords and decorative glass perfume bottles. Again we see few women. A shop owner tells Richard if he returns in the evening he will see women choosing perfumes for their bath. We buy frankincense, an aromatic resin which comes from the sap of the frankincense tree which grows in southern Oman.

Sharing a rental car with fellow cruisers we explore the surrounding countryside. Camels roam freely, some near the highway. At the Al Balid archeological site, ruins of the centuries old city of Dhufa are being excavated. We chat with an archeologist who is from Missouri. A new museum is just being completed on the grounds.

Driving through the hills we see make-shift dwellings and lots of camels. There is little vegetation. We find our way to Wadi Darbat (a wadi is a river bed) and see donkeys and more camels, some drinking from the tree-lined river. We take an excessive number of camel photos. The local people must find it odd.

At Ayn Razat, an oasis of natural springs which form pools and then flow into a small river, families are having picnics. Children are playing in the river. In an adjoining park, pathways wind through grass and flower beds. Several young women in abeyyas sit under an enormous spreading shade tree. I don't dare to intrude with my camera. This great photo will have to remain in my mind.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Cochin lies in the central part of the state of Kerala in southwest India. Kerala has a population of about 35 million--a drop in the bucket of one billion for all of India. It is reportedly the only state with more women than men as well as the state with the highest literacy rate (90%). Kerala had a traditional matrilineal kinship system until it was abolished 30 years ago.

Wanting to see some of the countryside we join a group of a dozen cruisers and with a guide set off by speeding bus to the backwaters. People still live a traditional lifestyle along this network of rivers, canals and lakes. We get into large dugout canoes, each propelled along a canal by a man with a long pole. Passing under a canopy of leafy tree branches we spot an occasional brightly colored kingfisher. Small houses with vegetable gardens, chickens and ducks are set back from the banks of the canal. We pass women standing in the water doing their laundry. We stop to watch women making coir rope by twisting strands together. Coir comes from the coconut husk. At lunchtime we leave the canoes and board a larger motorized traditional boat and are served a delicious meal before exploring the larger waterways. It always seems like the height of luxury to be seved food and drink and be ferried about on someone elses boat.

A trip on an Indian train was also on our list of things to do so we take a short trip to Trichur (Thrissur) considered to be the cultural capital of Kerala. At the railway station we are presented wth a wide choice of ticket prices and accomodations. We economize and go for 3rd class. Large signs posted about the station list at least 20 rules and regulations for passengers. When the diesel powered train pulls into the station the numerous 40-some year old cars appear to be full. A crowd of us climb aboard anyway and we make our way through the train (which includes a "ladies only" car) until we finally find places on facing bench seats. Numerous fans line the ceiling of the car. There are bars across the open windows. Hawkers push their way down the narrow aisle selling snacks, bottled water and hot tea. A man comes through selling books. Beggars shuffle through--a man missing a leg, a young woman with a tiny baby, an old man half blind making a sing-song pitch for coins.

Arriving in Trichur we catch a tuk tuk to the business section of town and wander about before checking into the Hotel Luciya Palace (always there is a grand sounding name). In the morning we walk through the grounds of the large Hindu temple in the center of town. We cannot enter the temple itself because we are not Hindu. But we do find the temple elephants, five of them. They are quite large and each is shackled to a huge shady tree. We also visit the well preserved Sakthan Thampuran Palace, several hundred years old and now the site of a very nice archeological museum.

Before we leave Cochin we are invited to have lunch at Mr. Nasar's house. Mr. Nasar is the local cruisers' helper and will transport you in his water taxi, bring fuel to your boat and assist with anything you might need. Mr. Nasar, his wife and 4 children are Muslim and live in a very small house near Fort Cochin. Forty families of different religions live around a large dirt courtyard-like area and Mr. Nasar says they all get along well together.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cochin, India

After clearing in we proceed to the designated yacht anchorage in the river between Bolgatty Island and the town of Ernaculum on the mainland. Cochin, now called Kochi, encompasses Ernaculum, Fort Cochin and several islands in the harbor area. About 25 cruising boats are in the anchorage which is very peaceful except for the ferries which weave their way through. Some ferries, playing loud music, are carrying tourists who wave and take pictures. We have to be alert when taking our afternoon cockpit shower.

At daybreak each morning several round woven "boats" perhaps 8ft across are paddled through the anchorage, usually with a man and woman aboard and sometimes a small child as well. Spending the day fishing with nets they return in the late afternoon to their camp on a narrow strip of land on the mainland shore. We think they must be the Indian contingent of sea gypsies.

The mainland city of Ernaculum is quite a jolt to the senses. This must be the most busy, dirty and noisy place we have ever visited. The streets are jam-packed with busses, cars and tuk-tuks. The bus drivers seem to own the road and go wherever they please while honking their horns continuously. The tuk-tuks fearlessly dart in and out and around the busses. Crossing the street is a hair-raising experience. The sidewalks are filled with people and when we stop to watch we see a continuous fashion show of women in beautiful jewel tone saris, each one more gorgeous than the one before. I feel rather dowdy in comparison.

Twice we take a ferry to Fort Cochin and enjoy the relative quiet and slower pace of its narrow winding streets. We stop to watch as fishermen operate the huge cantilevered Chinese fishing nets on the waters edge. This method of fishing is believed to have been introduced by traders from the 13th century court of Kublai Khan.

We stop in at the Kaschi Art Cafe and are seduced into ordering a second breakfast. We meet travellers from all over the world. Wandering about, we look at old churches and the 16th century "Dutch" Palace with its beautiful murals. We visit the Jewish synagogue, originally constructed in 1568, destroyed by the Portugese and then rebuilt in the mid 1600's. The Jewish community here is reportedly now reduced to just a few very elderly residents.

Peering through ancient doorways into dimly lit spice houses we are treated to the aroma of cloves or ginger. Men hoist huge burlap bags of spice onto their heads and carry it down the street. Bags are loaded onto long wooden carts, some onto trucks. What we see are remnants of the centuries old spice trade in Cochin, dating back to the 1st century AD.