Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Mobile Marketing Madness

I thought I had escaped the crazy marketing that goes on in the mobile phone industry but it seems not. In the UK, many of my readers will be familiar with Orange and their odd animal themed offerings; dolphin, camel, racoon etc.. Well here in Bahrain over the past week or more billboards have proclaimed "Zainers, Tick Tock. Tick Tock.. It’s time to make a wish.. Get ready for wonders you don’t want to miss.."

Now all has been revealed and it makes the Orange Zoo seem almost sane. With fantastic artwork (see the photos on the Zain Bahrain Facebook page) the earthlings at my mobile supplier have spoken:
"Attention Zainers..

The time is here, and everyone is wondering.. In our wonderful world, a simple word can fill the heart with the greatest joy.. It’s a world where wonders come in all shapes and sizes.. You are all invited to celebrate days and nights of fun, prizes and surprises..

Zainers.. You are wonderful, and to us, you are the world..

Zain Family"

Sadly I have to admit I'm more than tempted to check the WonderPlanner , dial *555# and take them up on one of the events on offer. It certainly beats Orange Wednesdays

Leisure Activities?

Indoor Greenery Required
Back in the UK I've always had a garden, all be it at times a very small one. Even on the boat I managed to keep some herbs growing but here in Bahrain there's no balcony and no house plants provided so shortly after we moved in I promised myself a house plant or two. Before I set off for Oman I'd purchased some herbs in pots for use in kitchen but by my return they'd long been consigned to the bin. Neither the basil nor the rosemary were actually very healthy when I acquired them, reduced price in the supermarket, probably having not survived the long journey from Holland but at least they contributed some flavour to a few meals.

I had also visited several flower and chocolate shops that seem to be Bahrains version of a Florist but was not inspired by what was on offer. Mostly Devils Ivy, Diffenbachia and Yuccas. Then I tried the garden centres on eitherside of the Manama end of Budayia Highway. Nice plants but very few ornamental pots to put them in and I didn't fancy the black plastic look.

Plant Hunting
On my return from Mumbai I was determined to track down an attractive plant or two and some pots I was ld willing to give houseroom to. I asked several of my new girlfriends and other acquaintances (sorry guys, no sexism intended but I just don't think this was a topic you'd be able to contribute on) and was recommended a garden centre further out in Budayia itself by the librarian at the Brit Club.

Today Kevin had meetings in Qatar so I could have the car as long as I made a 5:30am trip to the airport to drop him off.  It was worth the effort. Jassim Trading and Agriculture is an Aladdins cave, not only a varied selection of house plants but garden furniture (not that we need any), a large range of pots and much of the selection of garden tools, seeds and potions you'd find in the average UK DIY store. After browsing and much indecision I choose two plants, one big and one more suited to a table top plus two pots with trays. The staff were extremely helpful, finding a trolley and saying "Choose a pot style you like madam and I'll find you the right size pot". Then offering, for a small price (2 BHD) to pot the large plant directly into the decorative terracota container I'd choosen. Both plants were carried out to the car and safely ensconced behind the front seats for me. Service with a smile. Ok the plants cost a bit more than in the UK but the pots were cheap and smiles are free. I'll definately be going back.

So let me introduce you to Boris - a zamioculcas zamiifolia or ZZ Plant, apparently the latest thing in office decor in the UK. Boris likes dry, slightly shady conditions and prefers winter temperatures to be above 65 degrees F / 18 degrees C. I don't think that last requirement will be a problem even outside here. The other new resident is an asparagus fern which when it gets a little larger, I hope to pot up in an "amphora" style pot on/in a stand, similar to the attractive display of pots outside the Intercontinental here. For now though its new home is on one of the sofa tables.

Kevin remains a sceptic and claims anything will die in the extreme heat, the chill of the aircon or the combination of both that this flat cycles through most days as we usually turn the aircon off when we are out. Lets wait and see, I'll let you know how Boris and co are fairing from time to time.

Is There A Bank Holiday Coming?
Meanwhile there may or may not be a "bank" holiday in Bahrain on Sunday (as I've mentioned before Sundays are like Mondays in Europe). This was mentioned to us yesterday by a fellow ex-pat. And today's  Bahrain Tribune states "... May 1 falling on a Saturday.. and with the expected announcement of Sunday as a day off for all government workers..." So that's it then; there may be a holiday on Sunday but not for banking staff only for civil servants. The official government tourism website lists dates for 2005/6 and the central bank of Bahrain lists Saturday so I've no idea how this info will be communicated to the public at large, presumably you have to know someone who is a government employee to find out.

Apparently we can expect a huge increase in traffic as the Bahrain Tribune article is headlined "Causeway traffic plan in place for Labour Day weekend" as everyone (who has the day off) will be driving across to Saudi and on to the other Gulf States to visit family. Quiet weekend in Bahrain then? I somehow doubt it and anyway Kevin is flying out to Dubai on Friday night so is currently trying to juggle things to ensure he gets at least some sort of "weekend" this week. Meanwhile the official poster for Labour Day shows a seedling cradled in some hands!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Yacht Club Life

You would think that an island nation would have a tradition of sailing but there is very little here. For a Brit used to the cold waters of the Solent & English Channel though sailing here is magic. On Saturday we crewed on "Tradewind" a 26 foot American built yacht with a lifting centreboard.

Initially the plan was to meet early at the yacht club and sail north between the mainland and the off lying reef to Amwaj where the Bahrain Boatshow was open each evening between 5 and 11pm over the weekend. The first part we all managed. Dom & Lola owners of Tradewind met Kevin and I at the yacht club around 7:30 despite having had a late night there on Friday for a Cruisers Dinner. Listening to the weather forecast and looking at the actual conditions convinced us that something was up. The forecast was for near gale force gusts, the sky we could see looked like dusk, red-yellow with sand, visibility falling all the time and little wind. It felt stormy so the concensus was not to embark on the five or six hour trip but rather to head out into the bay for a "bit of a sail".

Provisioning was done by having bacon & egg toasted sarnies for breakfast and ordering sandwiches, some chicken satay and a plate of salad to go from the yacht club kitchen. Bottled water and ice to cool the beer were added to our provisions and off we went. The fifth crew member was Eammon who we'd convinced not to sail his own boat and the sixth Jango, Dom & Lola's dog.

At first we alternated drifting with some slow sailing as the wind blew gently from one direction, stopped and then came back from a different one. The refineries and smelting works slowly disappeared in the dust haze. It wasn't too hot, just pleasant. The water was milky-white rather than pale blue. Tradewind navigated the reefs off the yacht club with everyone trying to explain to me as the first timer the route out. I think you simply need to follow the red and green posts and then keep the rest of the posts on your port side to avoid the reefs.

After an hour or so we reached Tadpole, a small coral reef and sand bar resembling its name a few miles off Bahrain. The anchor went down in water we could stand up in. Just as I'd always imagined its great having a shallow draught boat! A friend and myself back in the UK always said we'd like a Cornish Shrimper so we could dry out in muddy creeks - this was one step better with warm water and sand underfoot. A shallow dive or a few steps down the ladder and we were swimming in the warm sea. Lola caught up on her sleep in the forepeak as she had recently worked a night shift at Gulf Air and the previous night's exertions had caught up with her. The breeze was chilly so once we'd tired of swmming Kevin, Eammon and myself lounged in 18 inches or so of water on the sand bar and chatted until Dom had completed scrubbing the bottom of the boat.

Lunch was a little odd as the satay came with, by then, luke warm chips which we dipped in the pots of satay sauce. Just as our feasting was drawing to an end two other boats we'd watched sailing out of the yacht club arrived. Anchors down either side of Tradwind and then rafted together. Jango eyed up George the dog but decided it was too difficult to reach him on his boat to continue doggie relations, I gather they are not best mates.

A few beers later and it was time to leave, the crews returned to their correct boats, the raft pulled apart and anchors hoisted. Now three boats heading in the same direction will always turn into a race so in the by now stiff breeze all three boats piled on sail reaching back at a smart pace to the yacht club. Tradewind, leaving the anchorage last was unable to quite catch the other two. Touch and Go flew her spinnaker for part of the trip back.

After showers back in Juffair the four of us finally caught up with our plan and headed to the boat show. It was mostly large motor boats but none-the-less had drawn the crowds and so we hope the show will improve the locals desire to get on the water. The Pindar team were out in force. One yacht club member had actually managed to sail there - his boat dwarfed between two motor boats on the outer pontoon of the marina! An hour or so later saw us having pre-supper drinks at BYC member Rob's Floating Island house (a waterside location on  reclaimed islands of Amwaj on the north east coast of Bahrain) and then onto a nearby resturant which will remain nameless for an evening of poor service and ok food...

Me to waitress "we'd like a bottle of this white wine please?" Waitress "ok", ten minutes later, "sorry we don't have that one". Me, selecting the next one on the list of three bottles, "Can we have this one then?" Waitress disappears, ten minutes or more she is collared as she walks past "Excuse me we ordered some white wine too". Sometime later she informs us that they don't have that one either but how about the last one in the list, this is more than twice the price at 34 BHD (£60). Me "no way, can we have a bottle of house white please?" A long wait later and it finally arrives, Dom & Kevin didn't fare much better with their order for red. Paul & Janet (Touch and Go's owners) who had joined us couldn't understand it - they had visited the bar here the night before and the service from the bar staff had been fine. It seems it was the waiting staff as the food order was similarly slow and our meals not as impressive as the menu and prices might imply. One to avoid in future which is a shame as the decor was great, slightly funky modern with mostly glass walls giving onto a magical setting by the water at night. However like the low table of almost burnt down candles and wilting flowers in individual glass vases on the way to the loos it's a great idea but lacks attention to detail.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Indian Ocean Voyage Part II - My First Ocean Crossing

Tuesday 6th April 05:40am
Dawn beaking on our first night at sea. It’s been uneventful since our departure. Sailed until sunset with the cruising chute up and again for a few hours in the night. Most of the fleet are ahead of us now despite us being the first to leave Salalah. Cobble , Easy & Free and Eldemer (a catamaran) are behind us. Everyone is more or less within the two mile radius requested by the rally leader Lo.

Misty mountains come down to the sea and a small sodium lit village nestles in the join. There’s a little high cloud, dirty yellow in the dawn rays and the moon is high above us. An ideal time for pirates, they struck again yesterday some 200 nautical miles ahead of us off the Omani coast – a sobering thought for all. We’ve kept virtual radio silence as we hug the coast, which we only leave as we cross the wide bays. There were a few nets or pot buoy floats off Salalah but nothing reported during the night. Some 40 nm to the Islands where we hope to spend the night at anchor before heading along the coast a little further. Once we’re above the high pressure we plan to turn east for India – I can’t believe we are actually sailing to India!

Wednesday 7 April 08:00 am
Sailing away from Ras Hallaniyah, everyone left at 7am as arranged. By 8am the gennie (short for genoa, the large sail at the front of the boat) is poled out and a preventer on the boom to stop it swinging about which makes the mainsail slap this in turn can over time damage the sails – prevention is better than cure. Others in the fleet are motoring so we are last but one for now.

Yesterday we arrived at 14:00, welcomed by the local fishermen. Once the cockpit tent was up, essential to provide shade, we swam off the boat in warm water so clear we could see the anchor on the bottom in more than 5 metres. Then together with Div and Ant (Divanty) went snorkelling off the rocks close into the beach. It was like swimming in an aquarium so many varieties of tropical fish. Tony found a large octopus which he wanted to poke with a stick – fortunately he’d not brought one with him – the octopus was huge, bigger than any I’d seen on a fishmongers slab in Spain. Supper was rum (dark and stormies) with pickles as we couldn’t be bothered to cook!

Thursday 8 April
By 07:25 we had done 113nm over the ground and 95 odd nm through the water – lots of current pushing us along then. We managed just 5.5 hours of motoring and are still moving up the Omani coast, mostly sailing inefficiently to stay with the rally fleet in a loose convoy. Rhumb Do had engine problems during the night and Roger & Astrid on Stormdodger stood by, both boats are now slowly catching up.

Friday 9 April 07:48
One hundred and five nm (through the water) in past 24 hours (6.6 hours under engine), some 750 nm to go to the next waypoint!

Wind seems to die in the morning, builds again late afternoon to blow F2 most of the night roughly from the west to North West but swinging around a lot. Probably because it’s late in the year and we are between the two monsoons. The NE Monsoon is almost over and the SW Monsoon which brings all the rain to the Indian sub-continent and Southern Oman has not yet arrived.

Caught two tuna (one identified as a yellow-fin) yesterday on the lines we’re towing behind us, not large but Tony served up some carpaccio-style with lime juice along with some home-made fish fingers made from the tuna and the flying fish caught the day before – tasty lunch.

There’s little shipping around. Each evening and morning the boats have a “net” via VHF at a set time when we receive any information from Lo, the weather forecast and the boats can ask advice on any issue they are facing etc. Lo is in regular contact with UKMTO who are co-ordinating the multi-national anti-piracy effort. On last night’s net we learnt that a possible pirate scare head by some boats on VHF channel 16 probably wasn’t as UKMTO had had no reports of any activity in our area.

Saturday 10 April
124nm in 24 hours, 11 engine hours.

No fish yesterday or today so far (dawn and dusk are best times). The forecast is good with mainly south westerlies in the west and west F3 or 4 in the east. The spinnaker is up, that the large coloured sail flown in front of the boat. We’ve sailed mostly through the night after yesterday’s marathon engine session. Whilst the engine is on we make water as well as electricity. With the spinnaker up we can make more than 5 knots in the current light breezes. And as we have water, hot water showers were in order however you are hot and sticky almost immediately. It was damp all night but not at all cool, all the cockpit cushions are soggy to sit on and our t-shirts and shorts feel clammy. It’s a bit like having the flu – hot, clammy and sweaty! 518 nm to the OADS (a buoy off the Indian coast and our next waypoint) plus about 120mn (a day’s sail) from there to Mumbai.

We’re mostly in the company of Anthea (Jean-Claude & Monic’s Ovni 40) and Divanty now with just radio contact with the rest of the fleet. Ant reported a fishy smell in Divanty’s forward heads (bathroom) yesterday morning and whilst sluicing the decks down later he found a decomposing flying fish in the dorade vent above said heads – yuk!

Dhows and fishing boats causing minor “pirate scares” but so far all have been as wary of us as we have been of them. Occasionally their curiosity gets the better of them and rather than halting on the horizon to let us pass by, they alter course for a better look – whatever they do it always seems suspicious to us.

Sunday 11 April
126nm in the last 24 hours with only 1.9 under engine but no fish. It was downwind rolly most of yesterday and all night. It’s difficult to describe just how uncomfortable this can be to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Everything seems be in motion mostly towards you ready to catch you unawares, bruises are easily come by when moving about the boat. It’s good not to be liable to seasickness in such conditions.

We managed a spinnie wrap late in the afternoon and got the large blue and white sail twisted like a wine glass around the forestay (the wire from the bow to the top of the mast that holds the mast up). Two billowing lumps of sail threatened to rip even though it wasn’t that windy. Altering course slightly so the unruly mess was blanketed from the wind by the mainsail enabled us to give one corner a good tug and the whole lot slid slowly out much to everyone’s relief. My “racing experience” saved Tony a potential trip up the mast. More ships as we approach the magic 60 degrees east, some without AIS just appeared over the horizon without warning. AIS is an automatic recognition system that broadcasts position speed and course, its mandatory for all commercial shipping, software Full Flights laptop provides an inventory of all AIS signals within range and calculates the time and range of the closest point of approach (CPA), anything greater than a couple of nautical miles is fine, any closer and we keep a careful eye unless the CPA is some 12 or 18 hours hence!

The VHF channels are full of chatter, even the hailing and emergency channel 16. Japanese tuna fishermen? Anthea and Divanty were mostly in sight during the day and within half a mile of us this morning, seems weird but comfortable to be so far from land but in the company of other yachts. Divanty are threatening another go with their cruising chute after the Net this morning.

During the night we had charging problems with a light on the engine panel flashing to warn us. Tony assessed it and decided that a splitter that routes charge into the two battery systems (one for engine starting and one for domestic use) was playing up. This morning he moved the domestic input to a third output on the box which seems to have fixed it for now.

Monday 12 April
7:00am - 123 nm and 5.3 engine hours

According to our various positions, miles to go Divanty and Anthea are around 6nm ahead of us now. Just another day at sea yesterday trying to keep the boat going in fickle winds that variously blow from the port quarter through dead downwind to the starboard quarter. The waves are all at odd angles kicked up by multitude of wind directions meaning that the boat surges forward on a wave and the spinnaker collapses are we outrun the breeze or we simply roll oddly knocking the wind out of both sails. We tried plain whit sails but they simply flap terribly. We try different courses to improve either the angle to the wind or to the waves and by this morning are down on the line that runs directly between our last way point and the next one doing between 4.5 and 6.5 knots in a North westerly F2-3. We were trying to stay above the line by 5 or 10 nm as the weather forecasts tell us there should be more wind higher up the planet.

Cold drinks, shade and suntan lotion required in copious quantities through the day. The bimini doesn’t cope to well with the sun angles so we have to move various awning extensions around during the day. There’s a bit of a pattern – fill in the gap between sprayhood and bimini until mid afternoon then move the screens to the starboard side and gradually move to the port quarter during the late afternoon.

On a boat in hot climes the following are definitely needed; bimini and awnings (Sunbrella net), water maker, solar panels, fans above bunks and galley, sheets for sleeping on/under. Pat and Tony have Turkish Haman towels which dry quickly. A good supply of chilled water with flavours for variation (and increasing salt levels if possible) – Tang powders work well made up in a jug to ensure the crew all drink a couple of glassfuls at a time.

Tuesday 13 April
116 miles to 7 am with 5.3 engine hours – not so good but this reflects the difficulty in sailing in the conditions. It’s difficult to juggle course requirements (we do want to end up in Mumbai not Pakistan or Goa) with light winds and muddles seas. Much of last night had a poled out genie which gives the crew some relief as yesterday George (the autopilot) couldn’t cope with the spinnaker up so we’d had to hand steer to keep the sail full and drawing. Half an hour or so each was often all that could be managed due to the concentration needed to keep wind and waves in a place that made boat and sail happy.

Today the wind has improved in that it is more stable in direction and slightly more of it so now we have the spinnaker up and are going along at six knots rather than three. George is being his usual heroic self steering hour after hour. 240 miles to go to the anchorage in Mumbai by 5pm this afternoon and there is little current (it was giving us a helping hand earlier in the trip but recently seems to have settled at around half a knot against us). Below decks its 34 degrees and hot and sweaty when doing the cooking or washing up or sleeping off watch but there is a pleasant breeze over the deck. Looks like we are keeping on schedule and will arrive sometime on Thursday as we calculated we would before we set off – not bad for a 1100 mile passage.

Wednesday 14 April
At 7am this morning we’d done 125 nm in the previous 24 hours with just 1.6 engine hours. Most of yesterday we flew the spinnaker and overnight settled down to our now familiar routine of poled out genie and reefed main as had more than 15 knots of wind from the North West.

At 08:35 showered, had morning tea/coffee and by 9am was hot and sweaty again! But at least every stitch of clothing I have on is clean and for the moment dry. Having a shower going downwind is fun, mostly done sitting down (Full Flight has a convenient seat in the heads). Washing feet is a bit dangerous even sitting down as soap lubricates your seat and every roll threatens to pitch you head first into the opposite wall. Easiest way is to sit on the shower grating – you can’t fall any further but you still bump your elbows as you slide around!

The genoa makes an ok sunshade but it’s not as good as the much larger spinnaker. We’ve the full main up now plus 95% of the genoa unfurled and we are bowling along (or should that be rolling along?), at 5.7 to 6 knots. 44 nm to the OADS plus another 120nm or so to the anchorage so we could possibly arrive late tomorrow afternoon. At last the waves are at a more favourable angle so not much sail slamming which is good. We’ve a split in the main sail just above the 2nd batten car (the battens are what stiffen the sail fore and aft and the cars hold the sail to the mast). Yesterday we tried to repair it with some tape but it’s too close to stick. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be spreading and the winds aren’t too strong.

The VHF is impossible as every channel is full of chatter. AIS makes the watch keeping easier as from the laptop we can see where to look – the AIS trails are displayed within the chart plotting software that is recording our own wibbly wobbly track to India. But obviously not all ships have AIS or at least have it turned on plus sometimes our rolling means we fail to pick up all the signals so we still need to be alert. During the night we run rolling three hour watches so we can get some sleep (and we catch up with the rest at intervals during the day by mutual agreement). Tony usually has the first two hours after supper off, then Pat or I go off leaving one remaining watch keeper who wakes Tony after an hour and does an hour with him before retiring to bed. Tony does an hour on his own before waking the next watchkeeper. This means the three hour watches go by quickly. Last night though Tony forgot to wake the next watchkeeper throwing the whole system out. Pat and I were quite refreshed this morning as we each had long periods of sleep.

We heard briefly from Divanty through the busy airwaves, they are 11 nm ahead and sailing. They plan to arrive tomorrow around 4pm – they are still at heart motor boaters, forgetting the consequences of wind and tide on a sailing boat, bless them! We might catch them before then as Full Flight, lighter and nimbler is sailing faster in the winds we both have.

Thursday 15 April

By 7am this morning we had done our best days run of the trip, 134nm in 24 hours (9.9 hours under engine).

Sea snakes (look like yellowy brown branches asleep on the glassy sea surface), oilfields and ships – what more excitement does a crew need? Plus a few dolphins and a fish that got away due to gear failure as it was hauled into the boat. Today we heard that Roam II and Esper were boarded by the Indian Navy possibly as they approached the oilfields although we are uncertain of their exact position and it may be some other area that the navy was claiming was restricted. Esper suffered some damage to her rubbing strake when the navy boat approached too close without warning.

Land Ho! The faint outline of skyscrapers and hills can be seen ahead. We find the first light house and follow a big ship up the channel. Suddenly 28 nm on from this mornings log recording we are entering Mumbai harbour, busy busy busy with fishing boats, cargo ships, oil tankers, tugs and more all either moving or at anchor around us. You can see examples of very type of ship here including a huge fire fighting ship with a large heli platform above its bows and little sailing boats we later found out were Seabirds and Lightenings.

Mistral (Lo, the rally leader’s boat), Anthea and Slammat (who had left Oman before I arrived) are all at anchor off the Gateway to India which is a mile or more to our left. Divanty and Full Flight arrive together and anchor close by. The choppy waters of the harbour mean the boats are bouncing up and down with the muddy water slip slapping up our sterns. The tide is running hard and it’s quite breezy. Its 12:30 just under 10 days since we left Salalah. Across the harbour you can smell India – hot and dusty, we just have to wait for our port clearance so we can go ashore (tomorrow maybe).

Indian Ocean Voyage Part I - Joining the Boat

Thursday 25 April = Kicking Our Heels in Port
Hot. Hot. Hot. Its 9:45pm, there's hardly a breath of air, there's hardly air to breath it’s so humid. The generators are running on both the naval ships moored across the harbour as they have been since I arrived on Tuesday evening. My friends Pat and Tony (Puttock) on their boat Full Flight arrived a week or so ago together with the 14 other boats taking part in the Vasco De Gama Rally. The fleet left Turkey in September last year and having come down through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. They had just traversed the coast of Yemen, motoring through "Pirate Alley", some 500 (nm) in a frustrating but safe convoy. Now I've come to join as crew for the voyage from Salalah, Oman to Mumbai, India, some 1000 nautical miles (nm) across the northern Indian Ocean, more precisely the Arabian Sea.

Stepping off the plane at the airport late on Tuesday night I was met by a wall of heat much hotter and more humid than Bahrain with its gentle sea breezes. Down in the port the fleet is sheltered by a rocky rise topped with the coastguard station and some palm trees, coconuts here rather than the date palms of the Gulf. During the night and until the sea breeze kicks our corner of Port Raysut is uncomfortably warm. In the forecabin with the hatch open, mosquito net in place, fans going in the saloon, I lie a sticky melting mess on a sheet. Perhaps I can view it as acclimatisation for the Bahraini summer. The heat and humidity has made my hair go curly!

The Port Cafe
An excellent curry supper in the Port Cafe tonight cost 6.950 Riayals for the 5 of us, this could become a bit of a habit. Earlier this afternoon Pat, Tony & I drove into the mountains. Here in Oman its arid but unlike Bahrain there are trees and plants growing wild. Dhofar becomes a tropical paradise when the monsoon arrives in April or May. A herd of camels were being moved along or across the road by a couple of young men. The adult females had their udders covered to prevent their offspring drinking the milk. In the morning Pat and I had washed the boat tent that provides shade in the cockpit during the day by treading it in the shower tray of the ablution block. The canvas was covered in red dust from the deserts of Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen and most recently Oman. When we'd finished the ablution block was cleaner than when we arrived and much of the dust was gone from the canvas.

On Wednesday we lunched at the Oasis Club just up the hill from the port gates and in the evening had a trip into town to find the fruit and veg market which is by the bus station. The latter seems to be an empty plot of land where buses stop rather than a formal building. 23rd July Street, the main shopping area in Salalah. I love the late evening shopping - all the lights from the shops, all the activity, brightly coloured clothing and children’s’ toys hang around every inch of the shop fronts making walking on the narrow pavement slightly hazardous if you are over five foot six. As well as stocking up on fruit and veg I bought some beads in a haberdashery store – silk Chinese knots and some 10mm round glass ones covered in tiny coloured glass spheres rather like cake decorations.

On a more serious note we heard there were several pirate raids on Tuesday night, more than usual activity and some “successful” attacks. A Turkish freighter with 21 crew was taken by the Somali’s not far from our planned route, some 30 miles off the Omani coast north of Salalah. Everyone is worried. The convoy here was a bad experience – nets around props, engine problems and the shear concentration needed to keep yachts varying in size from 38 to 50 odd feet on station in their groups in the convoy hour after hour plus the stress of knowing that you cannot defend yourself against the pirates as Chandlers on Lynn Rival found last year.  The rally fleet is a mixture of boats from pure sailing yachts to heavier motor sailors. The crews are mostly couples, Stormdodger has two children on board and the two singlehanded boats have acquired crew in an earlier port. There’s a good community spirit with people very willing share their skills and help others out. Some of the crews headed off backpacking when they arrived in Oman so I’ve not met them yet.

With this spate of pirate attacks the fleet feel trapped. Most people need visas for India, passports and application forms were sent off to the Indian Embassy in Muscat soon after their arrival and until they are back we can’t go anywhere anyway. We wait for the coastguard to meet with the rally organiser Lo on Saturday and meanwhile discuss our options every time we meet up with the other crews. Tony thinks day sailing eastwards along the Omani coast until we are two or three hundred miles further north. Then head off to Mumbai would work as it would keep us close under the coast and be less fraught than motoring amongst the fishing nets and pot buoys at night and give us a good angle to the forecast wind for the actual crossing. So difficult decisions have to be made over the next few days.... each skipper has to decide whether to look after themselves and head of directly to Mumbai or to go with the group for safety – loyalty and peace of mind versus frustration of moving at the pace of the slowest.

Thursday 1 April - The Routine of Life Afloat
A whole week has gone by its still hot and humid and the days are blending into one another. We get up around 7am, read our books over a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit. Do a few tasks before it gets too hot – today we sorted out the grib files downloaded yesterday to ensure the content is what we will need (these provide the weather forecast and will be downloaded via sat phone at sea), arranged the printing of the boat insurance certificate (needed by the port authorities when we check out) and sorted out clothes to be washed. Then it was time for breakfast – cereal & fruit or fried egg sandwiches or toast and peanut butter.

Yesterday there was some excitement during the morning when our stern line which was tied to a rock ashore wore through and Full Flight deftly slipped between her neighbours to swing to her anchor in the middle of the basin. A few minutes later and we’d motored her back on station and two lines port and starboard now hold the boat in her place between “Divanty”, a 52 foot Nauticat and “Easy And Free” a 40 foot Beneteau First.

Out And About
In the afternoon the crews of Full Flight and Divanty squashed into our hire car for a drive along the coast eastwards. Arid mountains on the left, sand dunes and blue seas on the right once we’d left the lengthy sprawl of housing and banana plantations that is Salalah. We reached Mirbat a small fishing town some 70 kms away. Many of the buildings in the centre were crumbling and the roads unsurfaced – it appeared an abandoned place. However there is a newish quay with many fishing dhows alongside and the beach is covered in the long narrow skiff-style craft favoured by fishermen and pirates alike in this part of the world with a fortunes worth of large outboards (pirates apparently have two outboards per boat whereas fishermen only have one!). After watching some young lads unloading the catch by picking the large catfish-like fish out of the net they were hauling up onto the quayside from a GPR skiff we found some teas in the cafe at the root of the quay and then drove back to the boats.

The Royal Navy In Town
Today we were invited onboard HMS Chatham for a briefing on the pirate situation – 14:30 sharp. Maps showed that most of the attacks and hence the focus of the multi-national naval patrols are in the Somali Basin many miles south of us. It’s a huge area to patrol stretching from 60 degrees east westwards to the Africa coast, from Yemen down to Tanzania. Like looking for needles in haystacks for the 70 strong naval fleet supplied by every nation who has an interest in protecting shipping using the routes to and from the Suez Canal – oil, electronic goods, food , clothing – most of what we consume in the west passes through these waters. The pirates can’t go back to Somalia unless they have something to show for their time at sea so often they are desperate, sometimes running short of food and water or fuel.

It’s good to know that HMS Chatham has been keeping a guarding eye on the rally fleet since it exited Suez – they monitor all the VHF channels. After seeing pictures of the pirate’s version of the fishing skiff and hearing advice on what to do if we suspect an approaching boat we retired to the officers’ mess for a few drinks. And then accompanied by our new navy friends we ate in the port cafe.

Finally We Can Go , Maybe
We now believe we may be leaving on Monday assuming the passports and visas arrive back on Sunday and we get port clearance. Mohammed the agent is not so interested in expediting things for us since we found the cost of hire cars and diesel to be cheaper when arranged directly in town and anyway there are other, richer ships in town like a Saga Cruise liner needing his services.

Over the next few days there is water to fetch from the tap ashore, diesel to purchase, dinghies which have been in the water for almost a month to clean off (barnacles and weed grow fast in water well lit waters) and boat bottoms to scrub to ensure a fast passage. Some boats have last minute repairs to make too. Whilst Easy and Free has to remove a crow’s nest of twigs and barbed wire complete with two pale blue eggs from atop their mast. Finally we return our hire car with some logistics issues as our passports are with the port authorities for checking out and our port passes have expired meaning we can’t leave the port but the hire car man doesn’t have the right paperwork to come in... Tony & Ant meet him at the gate and Ant gets permission to drive the car out through the gates and walks back in. One last supper for most of the boat crews at the port cafe, hopefully our clearances and sailing permit will be ready tomorrow. We’d like to leave at 7am but in the event its early afternoon before the boats leave their moorings one by one and after calling port control for permission to leave head up the Omani coast to the islands over 24 hours away.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Home Again!

Home again and coming through the door last night it really felt like home much to my surprise as we'd be living here only about a month or so when I headed off to Oman and I've been away for much the same length of time. The friendly reception staff waved a welcome as we drove in and it was great to stand under the shower for ages without worrying about water usage.

Today has been unpacking, catching up on email, doing the washing (endlessly feeding the infernal machine) and lunch with hubby. The lunch date proved I was definately back in Bahrain; left the flat around 12:30 and 30 minutes later arrived at a destination that wasn't where we were originally heading as the traffic was too heavy around Adliya. Tuna Nicoise at the British Club for me, Steak and Ale Pie with mash and veg for him (it could probably have fed a small family). This and last nights steak supper in "American Alley" made a change from the largely curry-based diet consumed in Oman, on the voyage to India and in Mumbai. The port workers cafe in Salalah Port, Oman is highly recommended for cheap and delicious curries - Chicken Masala, Mutter (Peas) & Meat (mince beef) and occasionally other choices all for around 1 Riayal including chapatis or rice, salad and a soft drink. Unfortunately you need to arrive by boat to be able to sample it, we would have eaten there every night if it hadn't been for the attraction of beer at the Oasis Club just outside the port. On the flight home Gulf Air offered guess what... chicken or veg curry! Still full from my fish curry lunch at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club I stuck to orange juice and water.

In a previous post I ranted about the washer dryer - well while I was away it malfunctioned. Somehow the maintenance guy got it working again and we are apparently first in line for a replacement when/if they arrive. All of the washing machines in the block have developed faults despite being only 5 or 6 months old (thats around 50 identical washer dryers). Hopefully ours will hobble along until I've cleaned up from my trip.

Later today when I've dropped K off at the airport I'll start to write up my travel log - lots of adventures and pictures to share.