Miss Cath: Cochin, India to Aden, Yemen

Kerry and Fletch left Cochin with Miss Cath for the run across the Arabian Sea. The pilot reports this passage as one of the best in the world – broad reach with winds rarely over 15 knots. We decided to head for Salalah in Oman, and maybe meet up with some company for the leg across the Yemen coast where pirate activity was a concern.

We did motor a little for the first couple of days where the Indian continent shelters against the prevailing winds. Then eight days of very pleasant sailing with a little shipping for interest, followed by two days of 15-20 knots on the nose. While not any cause for concern; we were a little put out after the assurances by the pilot. In all a good run of 1400 nautical miles in 12 days.

We spent six days in our first Arab country. Oman is quite wealthy so facilities were good. The local people were very very friendly – we received gifts from strangers, we hitched rides into town or were often offered lifts before we could ask. There were no worries of theft or any other criminal threats so our time was relaxed. Food was great, but being a strict Muslim country alcohol was not prevalent. A private club near the wharf did cater for our needs though not overly cheap.

There was not a lot to do in Salalah so we were ready to leave after six days, though we did enjoy our stay.

No other boats were heading our way so we set off alone. We were running earlier than most boats – tight time schedule as we had to get back to work, cruisers were about two weeks behind us.

All yachties were talking pirates. A yacht we met in Salalah had been robbed two weeks before by a boat load of about 40 people, well armed. The crew were unharmed but they lost plenty of equipment. The recommended tactics to avoid an attack varied. Culprits seem to be Somali vessels, some say part time fishermen, some say people smugglers, some say professional pirates.

We chose to stay around 30-40 mile offshore of Yemen, our logic being that pirates would be more likely to be looking near the coast for yachts. Some cash and a GPS was hidden in a nook, and my watch of sentimental value only, I put in the water tank. We had no trouble, but of course most don’t. A few weeks after we went through two yachts were attacked, our report saying one was “badly shot up, and a woman had a knife put to her throat”.

The pirate problem is real, and it not only causes yachties a lot of worry, but results in reduced numbers of yachts using this route. Some friends went through in a convoy of ten yachts. This does appear to be a safe option.

We motored in calm conditions much of the way to the port of Aden in Yemen taking about five days at around 100 mile per day. During this five days the motor did more hours than it had done in the previous three years.

Yemen, also an Arab country, has spent much of it’s oil income in civil war and so is poor in comparison to Oman. Still great food, colourful markets, friendly people, but run down and war ravaged buildings and taxis in an alarming state of un-roadworthiness. Yemen is also a strict Muslim country. A local night club did cater for our addictions, and it was interesting to see local woman dressed neck to toe in black revealing some very trendy fashion clothes under their blacks in the confines of the night club.

Here we first met “baksheesh”. This is a gift or payment that facilitates things to happen, particularly when dealing with officials. To us, having officials openly ask for bribes or gifts is abhorrent and we avoided it where we could on principal. However at times it was necessary or you could get no fuel, or your papers could not be processed for several days, or the boatmen would “accidentally” bump your gelcoat. Despite the anger and frustration it sometimes caused us, it is part of their culture and interesting for us to experience it. They say it is better to give than receive. Many officials are doing a stoic job of seeing us yachties. constantly bettering ourselves!

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