Trip Reports

The Bab Mandeb and a Sunset Over Africa (02-Mar-2002-10-30):
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.

The skipper of Maverick had often opined that our best protection against pirates would be 30 knots and 12-foot seas. The theory was that Mrs. Pirate would have nothing to do with her man going out in weather like that in a small, open boat, even if the kids were crying for computers to play games on. In real life, so the Captain surmised, pirates are weenies. He has little to base this on.

In any case we got pretty lucky in this regard. As previously described, conditions got suitably rough the day or two before we passed Aden. Besides the protection of the elements, some folks ran without lights in an area full of big ships (creating, in your Captain's opinion, a greater risk to themselves than the pirates), maintained radio silence on VHF, and gave their whereabouts on SSB relative to waypoints identified by name only, so that someone listening on the radio, if they could even find them on the high frequency bands, wouldn't be able to figure out where they were. I guess none of the cruisers remembered that both surveillance planes and ships will often hail on VHF 16 as follows: "sailboat at position -- (giving our lat and long), on course---, at ---knots, this is container ship India Princess on your starboard bow." This of course announced our carefully encrypted position to anyone listening within a diameter of forty miles. The French navy flew over us and identified us thusly, causing Colonel Mustard of the previous missive to give them an earful about their "mistake" as if they knew what our precautions had been, and as if his complaint would change military procedures. Whether his attitude was a factor or not, they never came back. We were hailed a few times by ships in this fashion, though, and apparently the pirates didn't have their ears on, because we were never approached. Maybe they forgot to steal the instruction book with that GPS they got.

After we passed Aden the weather calmed down, but lo and behold, warships of several nations became plentiful. For the day we went through the strait at the bottom of the Red Sea, the Bab Al Mandeb, we were scarcely ever very far from someone with very large guns. Then, after we got through the strait and the warships thinned out, the wind and seas came back up. There seemed to never be a good opportunity for pirates to make their move. Or maybe there weren't any pirates, who knows. They hung some guys last year for piracy against yachts, and for all we know they were doing the lion's share of the robberies.

According to Tristan Jones, whose Arabic is better than the Captain's, Bab Al Mandeb means "Gate of Tears". I'm not sure which direction makes you cry, though. We were happy to get through the strait, about ten miles wide, with Yemen on our right and Djibouti on our left. Even though we weren't technically out of the danger zone for pirates, we were past the area of most attacks, and finally in the Red Sea proper. We hoisted a beer to celebrate, as we watched the sun set over Africa.

The wind blew a solid thirty-five that night, with gusts to forty, but it was behind us and the seas not too rough. After a day and a half the wind was down to a pleasant fifteen knots, and then died and turned around, coming from the north. In the Red Sea in this season you hope for southerlies for as far as four or five hundred miles, but it seemed that two hundred might be all we'd get. In addition, this meant we wouldn't make it to Massawa that night and would have to anchor ten leagues away at Shumma Island in four fathoms, a cable from shore.

We arrived in Massawa before almost all the boats in the two fleets ahead of us, as they had made rest stops along the way after they passed the strait, since they were now in, they said, "cruiser mode." Massawa is a dusty, third world port, with lots of bomb damage and bullet holes from the ten-year war with Ethiopia. We'll get some fuel, water, and provisions, do a few repairs, and change down to our smaller headsail. If we have time we'll make a trip to the more metropolitan city of Asmara. Then we'll set sail up the Red Sea.

ADDENDA: We need a volunteer to alert us at whenever something on Maverick appears in Latitude 38, or their website, so we can pass the word to those of our readers who have finished The Hardy Boys and are looking for something a little less challenging. We don't get Latitude out here, and our friend who normally tells us is, the blackguard, going cruising himself for awhile.

PS to Sandra and Brad: Congrats again. To Robin: Long time no see. Welcome aboard! To Steve, Mac, Norton, Michelle, Sharon, Lance, The Rogers, Doug, Jerry, Hank, the other Doug, and others who've written to give their support: Thanks and keep those cards and letters coming.

Next report from this location: The Road To Asmara

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