Trip Reports

A Fissiparous Fleet (02-Mar-2002-10-00):
10:00 AM local time, Saturday, March 2 (0700 March 2 UTC) 15 39 N 039 27 E. Temp. 84, Humidity 73%, Cloud Cover 100%. At anchor in Massawa, Eritrea.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We left the harbor at Raysut, Oman, about midday on the 18th, in the company of four other boats, having joined up for the safety of numbers for the duration of the pirate zone.

The passage we faced to get from Oman through the Suez Canal is the part of sailing around the world that has the most unpleasant reputation, unless you go around the horn. The first part, through the Gulf of Aden and between Yemen and Somalia, is renowned for pirates; and during the week we were getting ready in Oman there were three pirate attacks against merchant ships, right on our route. The Red Sea itself is characterized by anywhere from 500 to 900 miles of strong headwinds, with short, choppy seas and dust storms. If world cruising just involved a nice motorsail to the next anchorage and cocktails with Hubert and Henrietta, we probably would have stayed home. But Mr. Shrode and the Captain had, back on the safe waters of San Francisco Bay, decided that these challenges were just the things that, for us, would make the adventure, and now we were anxious to get on with it.

It didn't exactly help our confidence that, about five miles out, Maverick's engine burst an oil hose. This meant that we had to sail back into the anchorage without using the engine, and our companions also had to return. We called the port captain, who was generous enough to allow us to come back without going through formalities in order to complete the necessary repair. Although the Captain considers himself a reasonable mechanic, Mr. Shrode has, I'm not proud to report, the better of him in this regard. Within two or three hours he had us on our way again.

The trip started benignly enough, in light air. It quickly became apparent that Maverick would have to be reefed down, in eight to ten knots, to not get too far in front of the rest. In fact, Maverick, since it was never the slowest and rarely not the fastest boat in the fleet, was sailing slower than normal 100% of the time.

About three or four days out the wind built to 25 knots and the seas picked up to 10-12 feet. In these conditions one of the skippers needed to reduce speed because his boat, the smallest boat in our group with probably a full keel and barn door rudder, was beginning to broach and jibe out of control.

(Note: For the following account we will provide new names for the individuals involved, so that the character of one of them can be sullied with abandon, for the amusement of our readers.) The skipper of a larger boat, Colonel Mustard, became, as the conditions continued, increasingly frustrated with the slower boat and started to berate its owner, Mr. Green, as his boat was stable and he didn't want to slow down. (Maverick, need I say, had slowed down as well.) Mr. Green, trying to be accommodating, attempted to sail as directed by Colonel Mustard, and said he'd do his best to keep up. Colonel Mustard had no shortage of ideas about how Mr. Green could speed up by using some different sail combinations, except he kept leaving out the correct one, and that was to reduce sail. A boat that is sailed out of control is a very slow boat, even if safety is not considered.

An attempt was made by Colonel Mustard to enlist your Captain as an ally. I politely declined, because, as I said, no one but the skipper should be involved in making any determinations about how his boat should be most safely sailed. The problem, I said, was not the skipper but the conditions, and what we needed was a little patience until the seas quieted down a bit, when we could all comfortably be on our way. I did not mention the fact that others had had to slow down for Colonel Mustard in different conditions that he had now apparently forgotten, that he had been the most forceful in our meetings in expressing the opinion that the slowest boat sets the pace, and the much more important point that he was helping to create a danger to Mr. Green's boat and by extension to all of us who would have to assist if something bad happened to his boat through a bad jibe, etc, in the heavy seas.

Colonel Mustard seemed not to notice that the slower boat was sailed mainly by one person, while his wife stood watches and called him when something happened, not an uncommon arrangement among cruisers. So in effect Mr. Green was having to sail the boat 24 hours a day to satisfy Colonel Mustard. Later that night, Mr. Green reported, in a matter-of-fact tone, no whining, that they were taking waves in the cockpit (Colonel Mustard's response to this was that "that's what scuppers are for"), he had gotten no rest, and couldn't get the boat under control at those speeds. Maverick's skipper, somewhat to the irritation of Colonel Mustard, immediately returned his call and said to slow the boat down until he was safe and we'd come over and stand by at whatever speed he set. When we had taken up a position on his hip, your Captain retired.

Come morning, I awakened to the news, reported by Mr. Shrode (his real name), that Colonel Mustard and another boat, a catamaran, had left the fleet, right in the middle of the worst pirate area. Although she was sailing fast now, the catamaran was another boat we had slowed for, since she wouldn't sail for beans in light air. Colonel Mustard had told Mr. Shrode it had been a "nightmare," and had again tried to enlist Mr. Shrode in his effort to get Mr. Green to speed up. Mr. Shrode declined, but gently suggested, after many forceful "hints" by Colonel Mustard, that if he felt he must go ahead with the other Judas, then he could do whatever he thought best; but that the two of them should discuss this with Mr. Green. Colonel Mustard agreed, and used this opportunity to further berate Mr. Green and tell him that he, Mr. Green, had been a danger to the fleet and he hoped this had been an "educational experience" for him. Mr. Green remained cool. A boat crewed by a wonderful Dutch couple had already peeled off for Djibouti as planned, so this departure left just Maverick and Mr. Green, who, by the way, has still never spoken ill of Colonel Mustard, in our group. He says, "life's too short." Fortunately for our readers, the Captain feels his life is going to be long, so he will not forbear.

Colonel Mustard and the skipper of the catamaran had reneged on a serious agreement, joined in not for convenience but for mutual safety, and had put impatience above seamanship. In another fleet, faced with exactly the same situation, a J-44 (which for cruise boats is a rocketship) from the Richmond Yacht Club, named First Light, doused their headsail, double reefed their main and sheeted it amidships, sailing back and forth along the course to maintain a slow enough speed to accommodate boats that were having problems; Maverick had slowed way down; it wasn't a "nightmare."

Mr. Green and Maverick arrived in Massawa on the 27th; the catamaran and Colonel Mustard's boat took four and two days longer, respectively, despite their frustration with Mr. Green's pace. After the other two boats went off on their own, we encountered wind in the high 30's with the consequent seas, and Mr. Green had no problem keeping his boat under control, sailing at pretty good speed, with no coaching from anyone.

Unfortunately, Colonel Mustard and his wife, self-described humanists, are people I like. The Colonel himself had in fact helped us with our diesel in Oman. It's going to be awkward seeing them.

Next report from this location: The Bab Mandeb and a Sunset Over Africa

Back to the Progress Chart | Back to Trip Reports
Progress ChartTrip ReportsPhoto GalleryAbout MaverickThe CrewGlossary & Technical Weather Check