19 January 2009

We made it halfway to Aden

Right country, wrong port. We left Salalah intending to go all the way to Aden, a leg of about 600 nautical miles. (For those knot in the know, a nautical miles is approximately 6076 feet, or 1/21600 of the circumference of the earth, measured through the poles in an arbitrary great circle.) So why did we only make it half way, and end up in the beautiful port of Al Mukalla? This is a question worth exploring, but after some preliminary comments on Al Mukalla: This is a traditional first port of call for boat transiting the Gulf of Aden heading westwards, and besides being equipped with very friendly and English speaking customs/immigration agents, is spectacularly beautiful. The town itself occupies a small strip of land, perhaps 300 yards, sandwiched between sheer cliff walls rising at least 1,000 feet – and lined on the ridge with ancient looking military outposts – and the sea, with a convenient wall to protect from waves. Not a tree or sign of shrubbery in sight from the boat, but it seems a true desert/seaside outpost, complete with an old town that conjures up images if traditional Arabic culture, which makes sense since the Arabs claim (wittingly or no) Yemen as their original stomping grounds. I intend to do some exploring while here… but how did we end up here? Oh yeah…

We left Salalah with minor difficulties until we were about 200 yards from where we were docked, when we discovered a small exhaust leak into the main cabin from the engine – we were much relieved to discover that it was not an electrical fire – which was solved by opening the cover for the engine and letting it vent. No worries, until the Lemco generator started showing a decreasing voltage and had to be replaced. (Note that the engine was fine, but extending from the engine is a drive shaft which rotates a series of magnets across a set of brushes creating electricity. This unit is called a commutator, which can be used as either an motor (when supplied with electricity causing it to rotate) or a generator (when supplied with rotational force, creating electricity, as in our case.) The replacement was pretty straight forward, and since we had put in the inferior spare and saved the better one for a backup, all worked well. Oh before this we ran over a crabbing line, which got caught in the prop and necessitated me going for a swim with a knife, luckily it was daytime and the sea was so cool and refreshing… but that can happen to anyone (who doesn’t look out for such things…not me.) While replacing the generator, the wind picked up, and after setting sails we were making 8-10 knots with the wind on the beam, which I thought was a spectacular start to a first leg. We took some waves over the bows, as can happen in 20 knots of wind and 8 foot steep seas, which due to a poor forward cabin hatch design, got my bedding wet, so I moved one bunk aft, only to hear a fantastic cracking sound as I was lying down and combating a small bout of seasickness.

By the way, seasickness is a bummer, but a good shot of adrenaline can make it go away in a flash. Point in case, the cracking turned out to be our port daggerboard breaking in half at the water line and taking part of its support with it, which can excite even the most stoic sailors. No compromising hull damage was done, but we soon afterwards developed a strange rotation point for balancing the boat…which was remedied the next day when the starboard daggerboard broke in the exact same fashion, although this time we were under calmer wind and sea conditions. No big deal, we just can’t go to windward, which is lucky because the trades in this region at this time of year are aft of us, until they aren’t, which not only already happened for the first 100nm outside of Salalah, but will happen again soon enough, in a serious way. So we decided to make for Al Mukalla, hoping that here we could fashion some sort of repairs that would enable us to use our older and shorter daggerboards, which we held onto. No luck though, the only thing that we can hope to get here is an interesting scenic view and the loss of a crew member, Paul, who has come to the justifiable conclusion that the boat is no good. Perhaps it was the daggerboards, perhaps the sail plans and sailing characteristics, the steering failures, autohelm problems, electronic issues, but I think it is because he got a small stomach issue…

Regardless nothing can be done here, so I will stay on and help Rad limp along to Aden, another 300 nm to the west, and upon arrival there we will see what is in store for the boat.

On a positive note, no pirates! Yet. Or winds greater than 25 knots...

Oh did I mention that the port holes in the forward port cabin (Abhi’s, the Indian Navy guy’s) were stove in and the cabin flooded? Because that happened, and I am now well versed in applying emergency porthole plugs, a minor piece of equipment that while often overlooked, can for damn sure come in handy.


  1. btw. your trip is way cooler than mine. minus the pork factor.

  2. I think that you are experiencing the opposite of huzzah.