30 December 2008

A Gravitational Reaffirmation

No broken bones! In a foolish test of the accuracy of Newton's gravitational constant, I discovered that a participatory observer is my no means qualified to make accurate observations. My face, knee and left pointer finger provided poor clues, and all that I can ascertain is:

1) Newton was a pretty clever guy, he used apples instead of himself; and

2) A nine foot fall headfirst onto the asphalt hurts.

A physician friend of mine here, who is connected with the Indian Embassy, was able to arrange for an x-ray (at the cost of 2 rials or $5.00) and then took me to see the premature baby (8 weeks) that he operated on for 6 hours yesterday, reconnecting and/or removing the disjointed parts (11) of it's small intestine. This same doctor may also be able to help us buy booze for our voyage, since as an established ex-pat he can apply for a drinking license! Three times three huzzah!

We launch after several delays tomorrow, which in coincidence with the new year will be a cause for jubilation. Happy New Year, a holiday we can all believe in. (Granted that we share the usage of the Gregorian calendar...)

26 December 2008

Some Pictures


Christmas Presence

Some may dream of a white Christmas for purely aesthetic reasons: a light dusting of snow conjures up dreams of being inside, huddled around a fire and sipping hot coffee or something more potent. For me, being around any unnecessary sources of heat would prove unbearable; indeed I pine for only a brief respite from the tropical sun that would be adequately provided by some good old sub-zero temperatures. The only chance that I have had for this sort of pleasure today was running the air conditioning in the car during trips to the “ablution block” to fill up 30 liter jugs of water. They were used to fill a small water tank so that we could test our newly reassembled outboard engine, which after an air intake and flow chamber fix, fired up beautifully and needed only a small engine idle speed adjustment. Talk about gifts that keep on giving! This 30 hp engine will be needed when we transit the Suez Canal, which has a minimum speed requirement of 6 knots, which our twin electric engines are not equipped to deliver.

Besides that unique satisfaction that comes from slowly but surely crossing off to-do items on a preparation for sea checklist, we received a humble gift from the INS (Indian Naval Ship) Mysore consisting of extra flares, that need to be fired out of a flare gun of a size which I can scarcely comprehend. It would be the equivalent of say, a 00 gauge shotgun that could handle the diameter of these flares. Or a cannon, perhaps. We do however have the past director of an Indian research institute aboard, so we could likely find an only somewhat hazardous way to discharge these flares, which may be able to alert some of the planets around Betelgeuse that we are requiring assistance.

There have also been other things on my mind besides the boat and whether we will be ready to leave before Rad’s visa expires on Dec. 31, thoughts more in tune (perhaps…) with the holiday spirit. No, I am not speaking of the, as my father once put it, “miracle” of the virgin birth (to quote: “There is no such thing as immaculate conception” said over an x-mas eve fire in order to remind us children to accept responsibility for our actions) but rather of the much more believable commercial aspect! Who can possibly forget gift giving, especially when so much energy is spent trying to find the perfect gift for that second cousin of yours, who you see perhaps thrice a year? In my perhaps heat stroke induced musings, I have come up with the only acceptable gift that can ever be given, besides books. New underwear. I came to this realization when a prominent Indian physician, whom I recently of had the pleasure to meet, noted that the Omani’s do not wear underwear beneath their dishdash, which is I believe the name for the one piece dress worn by the followers of the Islamic tradition. The disturbing part about this dress code violation is that 90% of the dishdashes are colored white…so if we are to truly believe that our western notions of (blank) are superior, we should all join together in celebration of new, clean, and present undergarments, and make sure that everybody that we care for will never have to worry about a lack thereof.

(For those of you who may protest that I am not being faithful to the spirit of christmas, I am presently enveloped in a cloud of frankincense, which was incidentally one of the trio of gifts that resulted in us all getting new underwear at this time of year.)

Rantings and ravings aside, I would like to extend a warm greeting to all of my friends and family. In talking to my family this afternoon, I learned that I missed a collective showing last night of my favorite family of four brothers (and now two sisters), so to (briefly) Bob, Dave, Bry and Drew (Diane as well) I wish a Merry Christmas. Same goes for everyone else.

17 December 2008

1000 synonyms for nothing.

The boat is slowly starting to come together properly: The generator that runs the twin electric engines is almost in good shape, needing only slight wiring modifications and a commutator swap; the standing rigging has all been inspected and the turn buckles refurbished; and the outboard engine, which we will need in order to maintain the proper speed through the Suez Canal, is being awoken from its days of storage. The food has also been excellent. Sasi is an excellent cook, preparing traditional Indian fare with whatever we can get. Today for lunch we had curried fish and mackerel, which was caught fresh in front of our boat. At first this change of palate was unsettling, but I am growing accustomed to this food. I don’t foresee enjoying pickled mangos anytime in the near future, but the rest of the stuff is pretty good.

We have had some problems with crew for the ship, which we have all but resolved. Two Indians were supposed to join us for the Red Sea transit, but both have backed out. One reneged because he had to take care of his ailing father, and the other was scared of pirates and did not think that it would be responsible. Wimp. The EU and US have both put ships in the area, and an Indian warship will be in the area as well. Besides, holding the lowly crew of Eldemer hostage could only potentially net a guffaw and some wampum. On the plus side, we have received word that the Indian Navy will be sending a Lieutenant Commander to do some sea training on board for a number of months, and we have also convinced another to join us. Now dear readers, please take to your seats, because with some of you the much despised by me phrase “Oh, it’s such a smaaaall world!!” may pop into your head. Please, spare me the shit.

The mystery member of the crew goes by the moniker “Paul” and is a Canadian sailor who has been circumnavigating with his wife for some time. They currently reside in Colburn on Great Lake Erie, and Paul teaches basic keelboat courses in the summertime, as I myself have been known to do. He also sits on the board of the Toronto Sailtraining Association (or something like that), which operates two Tall Ships on Lakes Ontario and Erie, one of which is called the Pathfinder. STV Pathfinder stopped in Erie this summer, and I had the pleasure of helping the Captain forge a number of belaying pins by skillfully combining shovel handles with dowel rods. Such seaworthy, skillful workmanship has not been seen since, I would assume, the invention of the wood lathe some several thousand years ago. Anyways, my improvisational skills aside, Paul will be a great temporary addition to the crew, as all Lake Erie sailors are predestined to be. He will depart us somewhere in the Med, which he had planned on transiting in his boat before his engine tragically decided to disassemble itself from the inside out, resulting in the need for a large scale rebuild. In the mean time, his wife decided that she has had enough of the cruising life, so Paul is leaving his boat here, to return later and sail his boat to Thailand. (The soon to be NE monsoon would be highly prohibitive of such a voyage at this time.)

On a more somber note, I have recently been exposed as a diesel fuel smuggler and threatened with imprisonment, heft fines, and having to listen to Arabic music all day. Not that the music is tragically horrible, some of it is quite nice. For about five minutes, ten max. Then the foreign keys start to get to you, and the unceasing singing makes the situation no better. Returning to the story, I was helping a South African fellow fill up some jerry cans for his boat, because the man at the port (There are no women here. At all. Period.) quoted us at something around three times the price that you can get at the gas stations. Having read that it is acceptable to transport small (400 liters) of fuel in this manner, I proceeded to take ten of his cans and return through the main gate with 200 L of diesel. As we were loading the fuel into the dinghy and John, the South African, was motoring off, a tall man in the traditional white robes and cap (think Laurence of Arabia) started taking pictures of both of us and proclaiming that “This is Shit! I am going to the police and they will come and arrest you and you will be in trouble, he (John) will be in trouble, the boat you are on (Rad’s) will be in trouble, and whoever rented you the car (Mohammed the Prophet...I mean port agent, who has helped us tremendously with all of our problems) will be in trouble!!” He was pissed, and no amount of explanation and pleading of my ignorance would console him. Turns out, that this is the guy that was supposed to supply the fuel for his wonderfully low prices, and by bypassing him we had stripped him of his commission and such. Figures, he was just some greedy asshole trying to make a quick buck by conning the white guys. We eventually talked him down by promising that he could supply the remaining 200 L of needed fuel, and he left after explaining the hurt that he as an Omani citizen could not bring diesel through the main gate, but we just did, and by explaining the reasoning behind this law. Apparently, some boats were found to be supplying a group of Somali pirates with fuel…

Anywho, we asked around the next morning, contacted the Port Captain, Customs & Immigration, the Police and the gate guards, all of whom assured us that we could bring the fuel in. So we did. Oh, and I almost hit a camel driving to the gas station the previous night. The buggers blend in well with a desert backdrop, and their ergonomical shape hides their profile at night. But, come to think of it, most things are difficult if not impossible to see at night until they suddenly appear in your headlights.

Till next time. Pictures will be forthcoming, as soon as I start taking them.

11 December 2008

Salalah, Oman


Any spelling and punctuation errors are not the responsibility of the author, whose spelling and punctuation is always correct. The responsibility for comprehension falls entirely on the reader, who should know how to spell as the author does.


My arrival here has occurred without due ceremony, and I have quickly fallen into the familiar routine of preparing a boat for an ocean voyage. With only the slight mishap of lost baggage, which was recovered the day after my arrival, and a small (17 hour) layover in Muscat, Oman, my flight was unremarkable. I have, however, discovered the cure to jet lag: becoming completely engrossed in learning the ropes of a boat armed with technology that only a team of Indian PhD’s can fully grasp. No matter though, once my electrical engineering skills are up to par I believe that I will find the boat only slightly mind boggling and incomprehensible. But more on the boat later, after I have been at sea for a sufficient amount of time.

I have been able to find a reliable internet connection at the local watering hole, ironically named the “Oasis Club.” I use the term local loosely, as it is the only place to get a drink in the entire city of Salalah. As a Muslim community, alcohol is forbidden, so the term “dry climate” does not only apply to the desert environment. There are, however, other things to keep the mind sharp in Salalah, such as avoiding camels while driving from the main town to the port area. This is actually quite the serious concern, as the camels are private property that have been granted grazing rights on either side of the freeway. Perhaps vehicular camelslaughter is viewed as the equivalent of theft, which is traditionally punished by the removal of one hand by a sharp piece of metal otherwise known as a sword. Regardless, I have no wish to discover these perhaps insignificant ambiguities of Omani jurisprudence.

The boat, a 50 foot catamaran named Eldemer, is currently on the hard in the port area of Salalah. It is the first time that I have ever had the opportunity to wander around the grounds of a cargo port. There is a persistent hum in the air emanating from the myriad of cranes and other equipment used to unload large cargo ships on a 24/7 basis, and the exposure to the lives of the personnel that operate these ships has been eye opening. A dhow directly in front of us is the temporary home to what can only be called modern day slaves, workers from India who are contracted for a two year period, stripped of their passports to keep them in the port area (one must show their passport to venture outside), and paid about 80 rials or $200 per month. Oh, they also receive a bag of rice and a tank of cooking gas. They have, however, taught me some of the intricacies of squid fishing, which is about the only thing that they are able to do when they are not involved in the transit of a small ship to some of the various outlying islands to provide supplies for the rare visits of Omani or Saudi royalty. Their situation is quite disheartening, but fortunately Rad’s assistant Sasi is from the same region of India, and is able to keep them company and contract them to do such things as painting the hull for some extra money, which Rad is happy to provide. (Rad owns the boat.) Also, I have recently eaten more squid in the last four days than in my entire life, and with a bit of salt and pepper, it tastes quite similar to hard boiled egg whites, albeit more chewy. As in rubber chewy. But digestible!