Gladlee of Guernsey
The visit to Muscat was a great success, though we might have found several weeks of the place a bit too much. It is far smarter, faster and more sophisticated than Salalah, but after a while there is not a lot to keep a casual visitor amused. We paid a couple of visits to Bandar al Rowdah Marina as well: although it seemed comfortable enough we should have been very isolated there, almost as far away as we are here from shops and other facilities (and with less chance of a lift into town, except perhaps from the British Ambassador, whose residence overlooks the place!). We did well to settle for the Al Falaj Hotel, which cost about half what we’d have paid at one of the top-class places but gave us a very comfortable room, plenty of hot water, and lots of TV channels to play with when we hadn’t anything better to do.
The two evenings we spent with Phil gave us a taste of the expat lifestyle again: the first with draught beer, Premier League football (via satellite TV) and dinner at the Costain’s club, the second at the InterContinental Hotel bar (an amazingly authentic reproduction of an English pub) and an excellent Mexican restaurant afterwards. The third evening featured Julie’s nostalgic return to the Mutrah Hotel for a lobster dinner, which fortunately was well up to expectations. Meanwhile we learned our way round the “three cities” of Greater Muscat, much developed since Julie last saw them twelve years ago: freeways lined with grass, trees, flowers and modern buildings provide a striking contrast to the barren rocky hills round which the city has expanded over the years, though the old forts perched on many of the central heights are a reminder that Muscat has been an important centre for several centuries past. We didn’t have a lot of business to do, though we did manage to track down OHI and arrange for the batteries we wanted to be charged and sent down to Salalah (we also replenished our stock of dollars at a good rate and laid in some more stores). Otherwise we did a lot of “exploring” of some of Julie’s old haunts as well as of the newer parts of the city, and Hugh Clark took us (and his visiting sister-in-law) off on a fascinating tour down the wadis to the lovely bays of Bhandar Khairan. Altogether a perfect break, though we almost didn’t manage to get back into the port last night (new shift of police on duty didn’t recognise us)!
Sunday 22nd December, Mina Raysut
We were originally intending to leave today, but we’ve had a lot to do over the past week and decided to give ourselves another 24 hours to get organised. Meanwhile we’ve got a patch of bad weather, with heavy cloud and occasional rain showers, which may put us back another day. The wind has been pretty consistent all week, pushing a sloppy swell into the harbour, and we haven’t yet managed to give the hull a pre-departure scrub. There’s no particular hurry, of course, though having planned for Christmas Day at sea it would be quite nice to get going!
The week’s been fairly evenly divided between getting the boat ready (and stores in) for the passage to Kenya, and meeting up with Phil, Alison and the children, who checked in to the Holiday Inn from last Wednesday for three days.
We “completed” our stores today, turned in the hire car and settled up with Leo the agent, which left us with 1 rial in hand for emergencies. The farewell to Leo was not an entirely happy one, since he and his unknown seamstress had contrived to make yet another botched job of our sheet, and we declined to pay him anything for the floorboard job. However he had at least delivered our new dinghy quickly and at reasonable cost: it will take a little getting used to as far as deck stowage is concerned, but it is vastly more spacious, comfortable and efficient under power. Our first try at using the outboard with it brought a temporary crisis yesterday afternoon, though: the starter flywheel had seized up after its immersion at Aden (thanks to the steady disintegration of the old dinghy we hadn’t used the outboard for weeks). We had a vain search round the industrial estate for someone to take a look at it before heading down town to OHI Marine, who directed us to a Yamaha workshop just round the corner - problem fixed in about 15 minutes, no charge. The other minor drama occurred on Monday, when the old dinghy came adrift from the stern (again) and disappeared, leaving us effectively stranded. Luckily the onshore breeze had taken it behind Special Forces’ dhow parked 50 metres away, where the good Sergeant Leslie had hauled the soggy thing out of the water. There remained the problem of getting the air pump to the dinghy, so in the interests of Islamic propriety Nigel swam ashore with it! Meanwhile a (the?) squadron of the Omani Navy had come into port - a smart and powerful-looking flotilla of frigates and gunboats with a large support ship as mother hen - and earlier in the day the three French yachts finally left (though we’ve heard that “Ten Eleven” had to put in to Marbat shortly afterwards, why and with what result we have yet to learn).
Tuesday was notable only for the installation of our new batteries, which soon proved to be vastly more efficient than the old, Wednesday for the collection of the new dinghy and Nigel’s visit to a charming Syrian dentist for repairs to a broken tooth. Meanwhile work on the boat and finishing touches to letters and articles for “Yachting World” kept us busy until we set off to find Phil and Alison on Wednesday afternoon. We spent the evening with them over a scratch supper and were making sandwiches next morning for a family picnic, when a young copper turned up in the Coastguard launch and indicated that we ought to reanchor further out from the SF jetty. We still have no idea who or what prompted this, but we duly moved a token few metres before leaving for Mughsayl to meet the family. The outing didn’t get off to the best of starts when we gathered at the Mughsayl blowholes and realised that it was low tide, so no show, but we managed to secure a cabin along the spectacular beach, and the kids enjoyed splashing about in the surf, Simon and Sebastian getting involved in a game of catch with our old tennis ball and a bunch of local kids. Later on the blowholes did perform for us before we headed back to Salalah (we’d scrapped plans to take the boys out to the boat on the way - too choppy for comfort). We stopped off at Raysut to pick up some utensils and other bits and pieces to help with Alison’s planned roast chicken dinner, but when we got to the hotel we found there’d been a change of plan - the chickens hadn’t thawed out, and the menu had changed at short notice to Toad-in-the-Hole! Unfortunately this didn’t go quite according to plan either, and with food on the table much later than usual everyone got a bit fractious - not the happiest of evenings. We volunteered to do something with the chickens for Friday’s dinner and spent the morning cooking, writing and sorting out fuel and oil before joining the family for an afternoon excursion to the beach at Khor Rouri - this went off well enough, as did our chicken casserole dinner. On the way back to Raysut we called in at the Old Souk and bought Omani dishdashes and hats for the boys and a pretty Pakistani outfit for Madeline, which may or may not go down well on Christmas Day! We called in briefly yesterday to deliver our presents and say goodbye, after a busy morning tidying up various loose ends in town. After a curry lunch at the restaurant in the industrial estate we headed home with a boot-load of shopping and fuel, wondering whether we might just catch Salalah HHH’s weekly run later in the afternoon - the outboard put paid to that idea!
Christmas Day, at sea south of Salalah
We finally got away this afternoon, a couple of hours later than eventually planned. With F4 over the quarter we are making good progress with just the genoa up, though a slight swell is making life a little uncomfortable at times. Checking out was easy enough this morning, but last-minute jobs seemed to take an age, and it was a relief to get away at last. Unfortunately we missed our chances to clean the propeller and the underside of the hull, with the result that we are seriously slow under power, and/or the log’s under-reading by a knot or so - with luck, though, we shan’t have to motor much over the next couple of weeks,
Despite the unsettled-looking weather we had hardly expected the downpour of monsoon proportions which lasted most of Monday afternooon, but at least it gave the boat a good clean and caused us to revise our plans again. We got quite a few jobs done on board, but even with weather conditions back to normal it was going to take us another day to get ready, so we decided to do one final food shop, try to find another turkey and have a proper Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. This worked out very well, and we had an excellent meal last night (turkey with stuffings, sauté potatoes, braised turnips, Brussels sprouts; Christmas pudding with brandy butter) after “J.J.” and Nicky from “Tento” had come over for a drink and we’d listened to “Carols from King’s”. “Tento” stopped by for a day to refuel en route from UK to Bombay: all but the cook (Nicky, young Scots girl on her first voyage) of her delivery crew had walked out at Aden, and “J.J.” (portly middle-aged Indian) had flown out to take over. They made a curious couple, but they seemed to be getting on well enough! Later on we went ashore and happily managed to speak to parents and James in Germany before our last phone card ran out.
New Year’s Eve, at sea 350 miles SSW of Socotra
Half-way through our sixth day at sea, and our first experience of a really long passage has been a considerable disappointment so far. In most respects conditions have been excellent: we’ve had a good following wind all the way, the weather has stayed fine, and until 12 hours or so ago we had current with us as well. We actually covered 150 miles during our second 24 hours at sea, which is good going by any standards. We’re struggling a bit at the moment with what seems to be some flow against us, though in principle we ought soon to be picking up the south-running Somali Current (at least, so the Admiralty Pilot tells us: Tony Britchford in Kenya doesn’t seem to think it’s set in yet). None of this is a problem, since time is of no great consequence. What has caught us by surprise is the sea, which has made life thoroughly uncomfortable since our first day out. Instead of the regular long swell we had expected we’ve had a mixture of big rollers and an irregular short cross-swell which never settles down for more than a few minutes at a time. The general direction is from our quarter on either tack, which tends to produce a corkscrewing motion, to which the cross swell adds unpredictable lurches and rolls. Steering is hard work: it requires constant concentration and considerable effort to counter the boat’s tendency to slide sideways off the bigger rollers, while the autopilot can barely cope with the motion and uses a lot of power in doing so. More of a problem are our own living conditions - hardly desperate (we’re warm and dry at least), but difficult enough. It’s a bit like a ride on one of those fairground contraptions that whirls you about through several different planes at once, except that also have to move about, feed ourselves and sleep. The motion has been getting slightly easier (at least typing is a bit less haphazard today), but it’s impossible to move without bracing oneself or hanging on somewhere, and everything loose has to be secured so that it can’t slide about. It is difficult to relax or get enough sleep, and Julie is finding it desperately uncomfortable in spite of her Sea Bands...
Since we rounded Socotra (where we had up to F6 and the worst of the sea) we’ve been running on genoa alone. This hasn’t been made easier by the loss of our whisker pole on Friday night, a few hours after we turned downwind: the pole broke in the middle when Nigel was slow to correct a lurch and got into a bad gybe. Otherwise we’re managing reasonably well, if hardly enjoying ourselves. We check in with Tony on the radio every morning, and on Sunday we made contact with “Decibel” again, who are also in Kilifi Creek and will be there for another few weeks. We’ve sighted the occasional ship in the distance, one school of dolphins, a few noddies (two of which spent a couple of nights on board) and a tropicbird - a couple of flying fish have expired on deck, but they were hardly big enough to give Lucky a snack!
Not a very happy note to end the year on, but let’s hope tomorrow brings better things. Incidentally we logged over 5000 miles this year (or would have done if the log wasn’t under-reading on this passage!), as well as passing the 20,000 mile mark in “Gladlee” off Yemen somewhere - a far cry from that first crossing to Calais!