Thursday, March 3, 2011

How it really is "out there" in the Indian Ocean this season

Several of our friends have kept us posted via radio email as they made their way north and west across the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden during the past month.  We have not divulged any of these emails or information contained therein because loose lips sink ships -- or in this case loose fingers can cause pirate hijackings.  In this posting I will relate numerous emails -- only for for yachts that are no longer in the danger zones.   In many instances the yacht name and/or person's name will be deleted.

From a yacht at Aden some days ago, forwarded to us by another friend:
"HI _____, great that you're with _______.... and a warship...excellent news. I left Aden last night midnight as mass protests on street and gunfire around. Army out with 50 cal on back of jeeps...I was the only boat there and feeling like the last tomato in a salad. I managed to get my passport back from immigration in the afternoon, and just thought..I'm going...stopped by a port control launch with Kalachnikov bloke on front...port control ordered me back to anchorage 5 times.  I refused, saying that there was gunfire on the street, I'm a uk boat and I want to leave now.  After half an hour he called off the dogs and gave me permission to leave and asked if I would please come back to Aden and its not always like that!!!!  Decided to get on and head N... in bab el mandeb now,...sat 1400 blowing 30 and big waves, 4 reefs main, slip of staysail but fine, making 10-12 on the roller coaster...don't know how far I can get in this window will see. Take care."
NOTE:  This man is sailing single-handed.  We met him in Sri Lanka with his wife and 2 small children.  He dropped the wife and kids in a safe city to wait while he continues to sail onward alone, with plans for them to fly and meet up in a safer area.  We cannot imagine how difficult this has been on him all alone. 
Here is an email last week from the US Embassy in Oman, who had received it from the
US Embassy in Eritrea
.  We had originally planned to stop several times along the Eritrean coast, as other friends had done several years ago.  So glad we decided not to continue and do this:
As promised, here's a link to the U.S. Embassy in Asmara's travel
warning ( and
an article about a boat with a crew of four British/Australians that has
been detained in Massawa since December 24, 2010 and has not been
allowed consular access
d-in-eritrea-20110217-1ax08.html).  My counterpart in Asmara also
mentioned that they had also been informed that four Germans sailed in
and were similarly detained for four days before being released.

As discussed, the U.S. Embassy in Asmara strongly advises American
citizens not to travel to the port of Massawa, and will likely update
their travel warning soon to specifically include warnings against
travel to the ports of Assab and Massawa.  Historically, the U.S.
Embassy in Asmara has never been informed of the detention of American
citizens, nor allowed consular access. It is also extremely difficult to
obtain a visa for Eritrea, and those who do obtain one must request a
travel permit to leave the city.  Often these permits are not granted.

I have not heard back from the U.S. Embassies in Khartoum or Cairo.  I
will pass on any information from them as soon as I get it.

Best regards,


Consular Section
U.S. Embassy Muscat
((+ 968) 2464 3686
2 (+ 968) 2464-3535
+U.S. Embassy Muscat
P.O. Box 202, Postal Code 115 (MSQ)
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Sensitive Privacy Act
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.
And here are several from a friend who is currently in the IRTZ (patrolled corridor in the Gulf of Aden).  He has 2 crew aboard, very brave friends who volunteered to sail with him.  This yacht was in the Maldives when rioting started in Egypt and the sudden increase in piracy attacks became known.  He sailed back against the wind to reach the coast of India (not easily done), up the coast of India well north and avoiding Pakistani waters, an arc over to Muscat (put his wife and kids off the boat in Muscat for their safety), down the coast of Oman, and then back out to the IRTZ patrolled corridor.  By the time he reaches "safe" waters in the Red Sea past all known pirate activity he will have sailed more than 3300 NM.   The direct routes would have totaled 2100 NM.  The direct routes were the routes being followed by the Danish yacht ING when they were captured by the pirates last week.  His family hopes to fly and meet him in Egypt if it is considered safe enough at the time he finally gets that far north.  If not, they will fly and meet him somewhere in the Med.   I will post this emails in date order.  Note that I am not including all his emails to us, but enough that our readers will get a sense of what he has been experiencing:
As we passed Cochin last night, I wonder if we would have given this (shipping) more of a consideration.  As of now, we are taking the long way home...sailing from Maldives over to the coast of India & staying within 15 miles along the coast.  We plan to stop in Bombay to add diesel & get a bit of rest then further north to cross over to Muscat - check out some camel races then make our way down to Salalah.  ______& kids will get off in Muscat, and Mike is still with me and hope to pick up one other crew there.  But who knows, we may sail back down and put _________ along side Bebe!

It was an incredibly tough week or so in Maldives dealing with the daily updates and trying to make the decision.  For us, we felt in the end, this option made most sense.  We'll keep you posted on our progress, and please do likewise.  I guess we'll wait to Turkey to toast the Med together.  Looking forward to that reunion, and getting this all behind us!!!

I sent this email to about a dozen folks - most still in Maldives, and I think it would be a great option & the price seems very fair. 

All the best to you & Judy & hope you enjoy India in the meantime.
We have changed our plans.  We will not go to Salalah.

Yesterday Blue Water Rally boat ________ - who we have convoyed with since Maldives, decided that our speed was too slow for them.  They left us and went on their own to much for the convoy/buddy boat system...

We are doing well, and this afternoon will rendezvous with a friend, US S/V "_________" to continue on to the IRTC that we will follow until we reach Djibouti.  _______ has been enjoying the company of US Warship 84 - Bulkley for the last 2.5 days, and not sure what 84's next task will be, but heard them on VHF this morning.  Very encouraging.

Sadly, we learned that another yacht has been hijacked by pirates. (Danish yacht ING)

(Note:  The warship was accompanying this yacht (actually 3 yachts) because one yacht had lost its propeller and was being towed by the others to Salalah.  They were less than 100 NM from the Danish yacht when the hijacking took place.  The disabled yacht notified UKMTO and MARLO and the warship was dispatched to accompany the disabled yacht.)
At 0630Z we reached the corner of the IRTC.  The corridor is 490 miles long, so we will be in this zone for the next 3.5 days or so.

________- our new convoy partner has brought with them good juju.  Not only did ________ & _______ come with a US Warship escort, later in the day we had a US Navy Helo give us a fly by last night and better yet, for the first time since leaving the Maldives - some 2500 miles ago, we no longer have wind on the nose! We are happy sailors for the moment. And, as I write this, we have just had another navy plane fly by.  At the very least we feel that someone knows we are out here.

Our plans at the moment will be to sail to Djibouti, refuel and move on from there.  Some have asked why Djibouti and not other spots and I offer commentary by fellow cruiser & friend ________ with his report below on stopping in Yemen(hope you don't mind that I share this ______, but it's good intel & great writing)........ (see story above about Aden)

I've said that trying to make it through this region of the world...It's a shit sandwich and no matter how you slice it, still tastes the same.  And yes - oddly as it sounds to folks back home, we'll be thrilled to get to Egypt.

One last note: _______ on ________ is far more sophisticated than I am when it comes to updating their blog (yes Seth, I know we haven't updated since last year!).  You can check out their commentary & follow our progress at:

(NOTE:  click on right side for future and past postings in date order)

Thanks to all for the notes of encouragement.  We all appreciate your assistance, thoughts & prayers.
Moving slowly along the IRTC - about 360 miles to the end before we veer off towards Djibouti.  All is well on board.  Had Japanese Helicopter pay us a visit and also a Japanese Warship.  We asked the warship to check on a radar contact we both had on our screens and they reassured us that all was clear on our rear after visual, infrared, and I'm guessing a more sophisticated radar system than we have.  So we slept well for a while.

Fair amount of shipping in the lanes and we are just on the northern edge to keep a good distance from the traffic, but close enough to find the psychological comfort in the company of others.  Early this morning we spotted a fishing dhow towing a skiff and ______ on _____ called UKMTO, but unlike the movie version, we had no blackhawks appear instantly over the horizon to check it out for us.  We did contact a freighter who was coming up from behind, and he did confirm the sighting of 'a typical fishing vessel'....Fortunately the dhow (aka mothership) and skiff carried on towards Yemen - no doubt smuggling Somalis to Yemen - at least that's my version.
Warship activity last night included contact with Indian, Greek/European & US Warships.  Also have aircraft in area checking in via Ch 16.  At one point Indian Warship identified 2 suspicious vessels at our exact coordinates...glad they did not take a shoot first ask questions later approach, and glad they are out here.  The Greek warship appears to be staying on our course from the center lane of the IRTC.  Wind picked up slightly and we actually turned the engine off for the first time since leaving Muscat - it lasted a whole 1/2 hour....

I understand the confirming reports of the hijacking of the Danish S/V 'ING' are in the news.  We haven't heard further details, and we are keeping the family of 5 with crew in our thoughts & prayers.
We just received word that yet another yacht may have been pirated - this one a _______ flagged vessel according to a ________ gov't source. I am hoping this is not the case, but rumors we are hearing unfortunately are turning out to be true.  Any word from any of your contacts - I'm concerned about the location.  I've always felt we are a soft target out here!

Unfortunately, we have had 4 incidents along the Corridor in less than 24 hours.

Last night we saw a ship being attacked not 5 miles from our position. Flares going off and then a fast moving boat with a red light headed in our direction - then light went dark.  Enough for us to call MARLO who got US Warship to speed in our direction.  We had Helo's and an escort the rest of the night.  Incredibly scary.  Then today we spotted a dhow with 2 skiffs in the middle of the corridor again 6 miles from our position...and even though they get reported, the resources are too thin to respond in time!  And at 12:30 sailing yacht _____ (USA) & yacht sailing yacht ______ (USA) reported a merchant vessel was being attacked again in the corridor only 38 miles ahead of us. It is NOT good here.  It is very very bad.  We are ditching plans for _________ and going north to ________...Yes, I have the report on gun fire and rioting in the Port of _________..that IS how bad it is here in the Coalition Corridor.
  (Note from Judy to all those people following in our wake who are insisting that the government should provide them with a military escort through this dangerous area.  IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR A NAVAL ESCORT TO PROTECT A CONVOY OF PRIVATE SAILBOATS OVER A DISTANCE OF 2500 NM.  Even if that were possible to effect,   the military assets are already stretched too thin for their assigned duties.)

A few emails from the 2 boats we had originally planned to buddy-boat with through the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.  They are now safely well north in the Red Sea.  

Received several weeks ago:
Our silence has been mostly a function of being constantly occupied with watching the radar and the horizon the other routine tasks of passage-making.  We were also running low on Sailmail minutes, as I have still not solved the Iridium/Sailmail mystery. 

__________ and we arrived yesterday afternoon in Al Mukullah, and what a strange and different place it is, although thus far very friendly and welcoming.  We will stay only a few days here before moving on to Aden, where we will pick up some spare parts including a new forestay for _________.  The passage was marked mostly by the inability to easily distinguish a good guy from a bad guy on radar, but only once did we have evidence that a vessel was moving at us for about an hour, and then they abruptly turned around and we left them astern.

Your plan to ship BEBE to the Med will definitely save you a few gray hairs.

Position 14*58'N 41*34'E headed for an off shore island Harmiel, then to _______. 
Aren't buddy boats great.  The two Blue Water Rally boats we left the Maldives with were a disaster.  We stayed with them until 125 miles south of Salalah then we headed west.  They did not like it, but it was a stated possibility from the beginning. 

__________ and I are still together, but it is not easy.  I lost my screecher to damage, so I have a 135 Jib and a spinnaker.  ______ has a 150% jib and nothing else.  Sooo, we are constantly juggling to remain together. 

There was continuous war ship communication through the IRTC.  However in the Red Sea we have heard nothing.  Hopefully the bad guys are to the south.  We are pushing north.  __________ must stop in ____________ to receive some rigging parts.

And several long and sometimes emotional emails from another boat we know, also in chronological order:

We are almost out of the high risk zone...should be another 36 hours when we are in patrolled shipping zone that runs west towards the Red Sea Entrance and we are headed for __________to refuel.

At 11 pm last night...only time we can only send and get email and weather...We read the news report that Geoff sent us about the vessel QUEST and our dear friends Scott and Jean and their crew being brutally murdered. It was a tough night on us, to say the least. I broke down from grief and tension and ________ has never longed for a jet and bombs so much since 9/11. Our tax dollars paid for him to respond that way with his old flight training but it's understandable. He is also distraught but his anger came first! We look at these fine fellow cruisers as martyrs to the cause of our right to sail the free oceans in relative safety. They will not be forgotten by any of us cruisers and for those of us who were friends, we really know what a loss their deaths are. Our hearts go out to their friends and family at home.

We loved talking religion and movies with them...what fun we had going out several times in Phuket and planning to see them again in the Med. There aren't too many Christian's a secular bunch...but they were fine examples and we had similar views. Scott was one of the directors of the movie "Deliverance" and James Dickey, the author, was a client of _______, about the same time years ago. Our hearts are heavy with thoughts of the violence and terror that our friends endured. We hope this initiates the most aggressive retaliation possible. We have to do something, sometime...this just can't keep up.

We were sailing north about 3-400 miles off Somalia as this whole Navy thing was taking place just about 100 miles closer to shore than we were. They were towing QUEST west and kept a close look out for anything strong on the radar. We now sail in the moonless night with our lights off but checking AIS and radar often. Today we don't know if we are safer with the "blessed" USN ships off the coast or if some maniacs will come along and blast us dead out of spite and revenge. These aggressive, drug charged people [loosely called that] are uncivilized, caveman-like, irrational maniacs. We have both prayed a lot and kept going on our route north/northwest to the shipping channel in the Gulf of Aden. And we will not remove our flag!!! So many of our relatives have fought for it and it's a big emotional issue for us. Had we known this before we left the Maldives, we still would have come...we damn well have the right to be here! Perhaps more stupid than brave! If we were deterred by high risk situations, we wouldn't be here! But this may be adrenalin talking!

The sailing and seas here in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea have been wonderful ...mostly going 5-7 knots in better than expected winds, and this voyage could have been great if it weren't for this burden of sorrow and taste for revenge.

We just had to share our thoughts and conditions with you all. We know that you are wondering about us.

Love...and we hope to write soon from a safer location to say that the worst will be past.

We feel we are about 90% safe now we are entering the patrolled corridor through the Gulf Aden about sundown tonight. I guess we will consider ourselves pretty safe when we are well into the Red Sea. Last night, we were traveling without lights or AIS and encountered an unlit ship on a moonless night on my was so weird and too close for me at 3 miles...I could hear his engines. We decided to turn on the AIS since then and we have been keeping very close eyes out. We plan to travel just to the north of the patrolled corridor to avoid the coastal fishing boats and nets off Yemen and to stay close to traffic but out of the way.

Imagine me, ______, standing watch in this tension, quietly reading on a dark boat and being suddenly joined by a 8" flying fish flapping on my arm...that was alarming. He flapped around until he finally flapped his way to the water!

This just in...Terrific news...just now as I write...listening to a European P3 aircraft talking to a warship heading to
Aden as we are 500 miles away to our ears. He is telling everyone to report anything suspicious and reminding us that it's being patrolled on radio channel 16. He is now talking to 2 of our little group of 6 boats and we are a few miles behind. We think he is headed towards us next and I told _____ to get some clothes on!!! God bless all the military and patrol vessels!

Of course all these military and big ships think we are idiots to be here...and we sometimes wonder ourselves. We can laugh and kid a bit more now but not relax....not yet.

When you get a chance look up the Navy story of Stephen Decatur and the battle of the Philadelphia in 1804. It's a most fascinating story and we need some of his techniques for fighting the Barbari Pirates in the War in Tripoli. Similar situation...Should be a movie! Try Wikipedia. We read it aloud from ______'s copy of Sea Power from his Naval History course in college that we carry to read about historical locations we encounter. We used to live right near Decatur GA named after him!

Write us now only using the Sailmail email now since we can't get Winlink...and I gotta say I have cried a bit with every warm, loving sentiment that has been sent our way with all our recent emails. You have no idea how your warm thoughts and love has helped us. I am trying to write everyone just a small note in addition to these updates. Please understand if it takes a while.

Yea!! _______ is now checking in with the P3 plane...they know we are here and who we are! For me this is the best news yet! And the Captain has just upped our safety factor to 95%!!!

That is our good news...we know of 2 other "aggressive incidents" but we will look for more info before commenting further. We 3 boats are pretty secure now with helicopter fly-overs and NATO warships staying in contact. Last night we learned about s/v ________ leaving Aden without checking out due to gunfire and some people were killed by student uprising against the present admin...we think. We heard this AM from _________ on S/V_______, who is getting stocked in __________, Yemen, that he saw similar unrest there and was locked in a market for a while. We also hear that our other alternative stop, Djibouti, is also  recently known for robbery attacks and other crime. It is also another 100 miles out of our way. We have also been warned about 3 locations in Eritrea [in the Red Sea], that are usually ok stops in previous years, are now off limits due to holding crew and not allowing consular contact for various time periods. This is making it a tough decision about where we can provision and get fuel before going into the Red Sea. We are still getting info on _______, but are now thinking that stopping there as a group will probably be ok or worth the risk. We are sure getting TOO used to risk!!! You have to be accompanied by an agent for everything and everyplace you go but the prices are cheap even if the ATM machines themselves take an extra tip out of the each deal!!

As of today, we have come just over 3400 miles since we left Thailand 6 weeks ago on Jan 15th. I have been off the boat for only 5 hours shopping in Andamans and briefly in Maldives. I guess another good thing is that we never know how we are going to cope with such stressful situations until we are put to the test and maybe, just maybe, I am more stable than I used to give myself credit for. _______ always says he will tell me when it's time to panic but I haven't had a chance to go into panic mode yet!!!


Finally, I would like to address all the criticism directed toward QUEST for taking the direct route from Mumbai to Salalah rather than going with the Blue Water Rally on the northerly arc and back down to Salalah.  Bill and I would argue that QUEST did the prudent thing by taking this route.  We were not privy to Scott's decision, but it makes perfect sense to spend as little time as possible in a dangerous area.  By going a direct route rather than a long arc route, that is exactly what QUEST was attempting to do.  Below is an image indicating very recent pirate attacks.  As you can see, there have been quite a few pirate attacks on the exact course that the Blue Water Rally boats followed.  No one has the right to question QUEST's decision to sail the direct route rather than follow the Blue Water Rally's chosen route.  Neither is or was safe from piracy.  It was plain old bad luck that QUEST happened upon the pirates or the pirates happened upon them.

As I have been telling Bill daily for the past month, I will be so glad to get out of this part of the world!!! 


  1. Dear Bill and Judy,

    Words cannot express the heartbreak the recent hijackings have caused. But thank you so much for keeping us all informed and for sharing the emails of those closest to the center of concern.
    Your decision was a wise one under the circumstances.

    all the best,

  2. Wow... how about that "You are too slow, so much for our buddy-boat agreement, you are on your own".
    Anyone know just what these hijackings are like... that is, has anyone survived hijacking attempts?
    How large are the skiffs the hijackers use? How many people aboard? What weaponry is involved? Are attacks made at night or daytime? Do these drugged up hijackers have radar or other electronic equipment aboard?

  3. I would expect AK47s and RPG-7s since they are cheap and ubiquitous but I wonder if they have anything more and how many skiffs attack a yacht and how many boarders each skiff has.
    Any nighttime action in those waters? I'm sure the yachts are running with their lights off, but that often doesn't mean much particularly if there is a good moon.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Judy. The news is frustratingly lacking in news on this.

  5. @Flea Stiff -- lots of questions there. Yes, a Dutch couple survived a pirate attack this week. Only because they were accompanied by paid armed escort in separate motor boat that shot at the pirates while the Dutch couple locked themselves inside their sailboat. This is also not always successful because the pirates have weapons easily capable of shooting out the doors and hatches on sailboats. All the answers to your questions can be obtained by research online. Skiffs range in size, usually 20 ft or longer. Pirates typically use 3 skiffs, up to 20 men in each skiff, and they attack with 2 or 3 skiffs simultaneously. Most attacks during daytime, but have occurred at all hours of day and night. Pirates often arrive with their own sat phones. They do have GPS. This season they also have other electronics. They are getting much more sophisticated and better supplied.

  6. Well, its obvious the only solution will be what used to be referred to as Q-ships. In other words, bait yachts actually equipped for immediate and effective action. Nothing else will be anything more than politicians palaver and blustering.

  7. It seems the "pirates" are mere employees of the shore based bosses and that attacking the skiffs would be the nautical equivalent of trying to damage a narcotics trafficker by killing the peasants who work as drug-carrying mules.

  8. These "peasants" are carrying AK47's and RPG's and firing first and asking questions last. Not the same thing at all...and cannot be simplified with some analogy.

  9. I don't mean to over-simplify a very complex issue, I only mean that taking direct and immediately effective action against the pirate skiffs will not be as productive as it might be since there are hordes of replacements at the ready.

  10. FleaStiff,

    If a fly is bugging me, I eliminate the fly, without regard to how many replacements there might be. Regarding the pirates and their equipment, there are far more pirates than there are skiffs, but the additional pirates cannot pirate(vb) without skiffs and guns. The solution is very simple, eliminate them as fast as possible. The complication comes from a complex legal system that does not allow a captain of a vessel to blow them out of the water and/or hang them from the yards.

    These simple-minded thugs are exploiting us, our laws, and values to the extent that if they get caught their worse case scenario is heavenly accommodations with three meals a day and free medical for a very long time. These are things that they have to kill for in Somalia. Until something changes there will be a large portion of the population standing in line to become a pirate.



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