Gladlee of Guernsey
Friday 8th November, approaching Mina Raysut (Salalah), Oman
It’s an hour after sunset (ever earlier), and we are nearing Mina Raysut after three and a half days at sea since Al Mukalla. We should have been there earlier today, but just as Nigel was going off watch at 02.00 this morning we discovered a steady leak of water from our ailing heat exchanger. This was one of those problems which could have taken an hour or so to fix - after all, we have plenty of experience in this particular area as well as a spare of sorts (the one we bodge-repaired at Suakin). Perhaps it didn’t help that Julie had just got up and Nigel hadn’t slept, but in any event it took six hours and some five abortive reconnections of the heat exchanger to the cooling circuit before we finally got it working again. In the process we knackered the spindle and gasket of the original unit, so at least we can throw something away at last! Fortunately the weather was calm, and there was only the occasional lurch in the slight swell as Julie fiddled components into their right (or occasionally wrong!) places and Nigel crouched at the bottom of the locker grappling with nuts, bolts, washers and spanners. It was a beautiful calm morning by the time we fitted it all together for the last time - Sod’s Law dictated that having got everything else in place Nigel had left a gasket off one of the pipes - and got under way again. Quite what we’d have done if we hadn’t fixed it (no wind, no engine and drifting backwards and inshore on the current at over half a knot) really doesn’t bear thinking about, but it was vaguely reassuring to be able to report our predicament by radio to Tony Britchford in Kenya - just ten minutes, as it happened, before we got the engine going again.
Apart from this mishap it’s been a pleasant enough passage, with some gentle sailing for a few hours every day except today, when we’ve had a steady light headwind. The current’s headed us most of the time and made for slow progress over the ground, but apart from some lumpy sea on Wednesday night we’ve had quite comfortable conditions. We’ve seen some whales in the distance, but the most memorable sightings on the passage have been of dolphins, which seem to congregate in large droves off this coast, and on two nights running groups of half a dozen or more have come to swim off the boat. In moonless starlit conditions the sea is startlingly phosphorescent when disturbed by the boat’s passage, with individual droplets of water in the bow wave sparkling like fairy dust in a cartoon film. Each dolphin is silhouetted in phosphorescence as well, and as they shoot about the boat they leave a silvery wake like a torpedo trail for ten or twenty metres behind them. To watch these trails weaving round the boat behind the larger “haloes” of the dolphins themselves has been pure magic, all the more so since we have had very few such close encounters with them since we left the Mediterranean.
Oh, and to put our problems in perspective, “Before the Wind ” have run on a reef 20 miles east of Suakin and bent their rudder stock - rudder jammed, so can’t steer. An Australian boat is on the way to lend a hand, but they’ll have to get the rudder off somehow and then presumably improvise a repair at Suakin or Port Sudan.......... It’s at such times (as we realised earlier today) that radio contact with fellow-yachties can make all the difference between possible disaster and a mere problem to be solved.
Tuesday 12th November, Mina Raysut
We finally dropped anchor here on Friday evening, completing formalities the following morning before going ashore to phone Eugene of Costain’s, with whom Phil had left our visas and charts. Having got a phone card from the small shop in the port we returned to the quay to discover that Eugene had just got a lift out to “Gladlee” in the Customs launch! Back on dry land he handed over our charts, together with our passports with visas already stamped in - we’d have liked to thank him somehow, but he obviously didn’t want to hang around. Meanwhile Julie rang Phil and got the excellent news that he would meet us in Salalah the following day, bringing our new heat exchanger, water pump and mail with him (as well as a case of beer......). We hitched a ride into town from the commander of the police unit at the port and went to the “New Souk”, a complex of small shops and an open food market area which has been purpose-built off a large main road but didn’t seem to be doing much business. We found some passable-looking beef rib and some excellent veggies, bananas and dates, returned to the boat to cook our first roast dinner for a long while - and found that we had scarcely any pressure from our last gas bottle! After ten increasingly despondent minutes we discovered that the gas tap at the cooker wasn’t full on, so all was well (the beef was tough, but good roast spuds and cauliflower made up for that). Next morning we got a lift from an Omani speaking excellent English, who turned out to be the local Coastguard commander and took us all the way out to the Holiday Inn, with a detour to see the Sultan’s palace complex on the way. There Phil joined us with all our goodies, bought us lunch and ran us back to Mina Raysut before driving several hours back to work (we tried unsuccessfully to contact him on Rees Geophysical’s SSB frequency later, though someone else in Muscat heard us and evidently knew who we were).
There’s not a lot going on at the port - one or two ships have come and gone, a clutch of dhows move on to the quay every day and anchor off at night, and there are four other yachts anchored here. One is a big old gaff-rigged wooden ketch (“Maria Gilberte“) belonging to a French organisation which takes difficult kids off on adventure cruises (we saw them first at Al Mukalla), and there is another wooden yacht (“Salvia”) belonging to the same organisation - “L’Association Vagabondage” - hauled out on the quay having various problems attended to. Anchored surprisingly close together are “Ten Eleven“ , a large catamaran with Frenchman Daniel and Thai girlfriend aboard, and “Ophira”, a handsome 20m Dutch sloop being minded in the owner’s absence by skipper Yanni from Indonesia. The Omani Special Forces occupy half the nearby quay and occasionally speed about in large Avon RIBs, while at the far end of the harbour is an Army camp from which we can hear a pipe band practising every morning. Everything seems pretty well organised and, not surprisingly, there’s a distinctly British look about the local military and police presence (there was quite an organised game of cricket in progress on the commercial quay this evening, but that presumably involved Indian or Pakistani ships’ crew!).
We had a frustrating day yesterday after a useful first chat on the phone with Hugh Clark, the Naval Attaché in Muscat, who’d sent us a lot of useful information before we left Turkey. We set out rather late in the morning to find the Shell depot, up the hill from the port, to enquire about refuelling. We were also carrying three empty gas bottles; having understood (we thought) from “Companion” that someone at Shell could arrange refills. Having slogged up the hill we were courteously received and given coffee, but it was fairly soon clear that Shell could neither supply the small quantity of fuel we needed nor sort out our gas - we did, however, get directions to a place in the industrial zone where gas was available. We got a lift there and spent an hour or so wandering round, finding only a depot with large bottles and staff with no idea of how ours might be filled. Given directions to another depot we walked a long way before pausing gratefully for an excellent curry lunch at a local workers’ café, which we extended to a couple of hours while watching the one-day cricket tournament from Sharjah via satellite TV! The second depot turned out to be another “falsie”, though: more helpless shrugs of the shoulders before we finally gave up and found a cab to take us back to the port. This morning Daniel stopped by for a coffee and told us exactly where to get Camping Gaz bottles refilled (!), and later on a naval petty officer picked us up in his minibus and dropped us at the shop......... It was altogether a much more successful expedition, finishing up at an excellent supermarket just before closing time, where we got a leg of New Zealand lamb, Stilton and Red Leicester cheese, and a lot of other goodies at not excessively outrageous prices.
Having now explored it further we can say that Salalah is never going to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, nor (with miles of coastal plain to expand on and a largely car-owning population) is it very convenient for the pedestrian. The long wide main streets are lined with small, mostly Indian-run shops and businesses, housed in low-rise and generally nondescript buildings. Public offices, on the other hand, are rather handsomely designed and built, without any of the flashy vulgarity that put Nigel off Kuwait so much during his brief visit there in 1991. Rather like Ashkelon the city has no clearly-defined centre, since even the Sultan’s rather elegant palace complex is out of the way - and so discreet that it doesn’t appear as such on the latest city map! No complaints about the facilities, though, which is all that concerns us at the moment, and it is nice to be somewhere where almost everyone can communicate to some extent in English.
Saturday 16th November, Mina Raysut
We’ve had a relatively fine day after some distinctly unsettled weather (overcast skies, a fresh wind and even a few rain showers!), and we spent much of the morning organising fuel for our forthcoming trip up the coast to Muscat. What would have been a laborious process (with leaky dinghy) and perhaps an expensive one (taxi fares) was made relatively easy with the help of Yanni, and Laurent of “Salvia“ - Laurent gave us a lift in his hire car to get fuel and pick up our gas bottles, and we borrowed “Ophira” ‘s RIB to shift 30 gallons of diesel in assorted jerrycans out to “Gladlee”. Yesterday Yanni returned our dinner invitation the previous evening (roast lamb!) with interest, helping us to jerrycan 50 gallons of water to the boat from a tap in the ablutions block in the morning, then cooking us an impromptu Indonesian meal on board “Ophira“ in the evening - fascinating to see round a 65 foot luxury yacht and to talk more to Yanni, who’s worked on the same owner’s yachts for the past seventeen years! Also this morning we’ve had a very useful session with Tony Smith of Omani Special Forces, who gave us some good pilotage advice for our forthcoming trip as well as producing a repair kit for the dinghy. It looks as though we shall have a fairly hard slog up the coast: we talked on the radio yesterday with Casey on “Retriever”, who was stuck at Masirah Island with 30 knots of NE wind.
Wednesday and Thursday are best forgotten, on the whole. Wednesday started well enough, with lovely weather and an unexpected visit from Daniel of “Ten Eleven” for coffee and a chat. After that we started on the fresh water cooling pump, soon discovering that we’d have to disconnect the heat exchanger yet again in order to get the pump off. Having done that, one of the mounting bolts on the pump sheared off and it proved impossible to extract the broken end, so Nigel took it over to “Maria Gilberte”, where Christian has a well-equipped workshop. It still took over an hour (and a broken drill bit) to solve the problem, by which time there was just enough daylight left to fit the new gasket into the pump - we didn’t, after all, need the bearing and shaft we’d paid so much for, let alone two (we couldn’t have got the old ones out anyway!). We were just about ready to reconnect the heat exchanger when we realised that one bolt wasn’t properly in place - so the whole lot had to come out again. We gave up for the day and resumed next morning, when it was soon apparent that the bolt Christian had found to replace our broken one wasn’t long enough. Our luck was in - Christian happened to be passing in his dinghy and eventually dug out just one bolt of the length we needed, and we had everything back together in fairly short order. Unfortunately one pipe obstinately refused to seal (we eventually located a corroded joint), and it took a frustrating couple of hours before we managed to bodge it up and stop the leak. Then we changed the fuel filters, and it took three starts and a great deal of messy bleeding of the fuel lines before we finally managed to get the engine running properly again - a repeat performance of the last change at Ras Anfile in Eritrea, but we haven’t yet worked out why.
Tuesday 19th November, Bandar Qinqari
Since clearing out of Mina Raysut yesterday morning we’ve had to struggle almost all the way here against a fresh E to NE wind. Our original plan was to do one overnight passage to the Kuria Muria Islands, but as darkness fell yesterday evening we had made less than 40 miles and were butting into 20+ knots and a nasty sea off Marbat. We decided to put into Marbat to get a night’s sleep and pick up more fuel, couldn’t locate the breakwater (light not working), but eventually anchored comfortably enough off the town in virtually calm conditions. Early this morning we got our bearings and re-anchored in the small harbour.
Julie rowed Nigel ashore, and for a small consideration the driver of a water truck took him to the Shell station on the main road to get three jerrycans of diesel - picked up some bread on the way back, and by 09.30 we were on our way again. It was still calm as we headed round Ras Marbat at well over 5 knots, but once we left the lee of the cape we ran into the real wind again - this time gusting up to 30 knots on the nose. Our next possible stop was this large sheltered bay only 20 miles east of Marbat, so we pushed on into an uncomfortable sea for the next five hours, taking spray over the cockpit at intervals and having a thoroughly miserable time. It was slightly less demoralising than last night’s experience, though, which had our spirits at a lower ebb than they’ve been on the entire trip. We’ve been so looking forward to going to Muscat, and it was bitterly disappointing to be set back so soon after setting out from Salalah. After today we can be reasonably hopeful that present weather conditions are exceptional - if we’re patient we can hope for a calmer spell from time to time, when we should be able to make better progress even against the prevailing wind. The 550-odd miles we still have to go to Muscat do look a bit daunting just now, though!
We’d decided not to try and clear out of Mina Raysut and do our final food shopping on the same day - just as well, since we didn’t get finished in town until 1400 on Sunday. Earlier we’d remembered our radio sked with “Decibel” at the last minute - they had just cleared out Al Mukalla and were thinking of heading for Kenya. Francis asked for pilotage information on Lamu, and we arranged a further contact in the evening, but unfortunately we couldn’t raise them again on any of our prearranged frequencies. Later we went ashore for beers with Daniel on board “Ten Eleven”, which had been hauled out the previous day (an astonishing amount of growth on the undersides after only three or four months in the water) - enjoyable chat with a well-travelled man who’d spent most of his working life in Thailand and Vietnam. It was nice to be starting off again, but we’d enjoyed meeting Yanni and our French friends at Salalah, and it’s somehow strange to think that when we come back none of them will be there - at least we hope they won’t be!
Sunday 24th November, Bandar Qinqari
That last remark may have tempted Providence too far: we haven’t moved since Tuesday and it looks increasingly likely that we shall have to give up and head back to Mina Raysut. The wind has got up to 20 knots or more every day, easing a bit only late at night, and it has remained firmly in the east. For the first few days here we had a lot of unsettled-looking cloud about, but this has more or less cleared away and there is still no sign of a lull. To add to the frustration we haven’t been able to get any weather forecasts (cf Ras Banyas), nor have we even been able to raise Phil on Rees Geophysical’s SSB frequency, so we have no idea whether any change is on the way (“Retriever” hasn’t checked in with Tony Britchford since Wednesday, when he was hove to north of Masirah in 30 knots of wind!). With over 550 miles still to go we’ve now virtually given up hope of getting to Muscat, but if the wind eases a bit later tonight we’ll take a look outside and see whether there’s any reasonable chance of at least pushing on to the Kuria Muria Islands, 60 miles further up the track.
It’s inevitably been rather depressing to sit here with hopes of further progress dwindling, but we’ve tried to keep ourselves busy with reading, writing and various chores (in the breezy conditions we haven’t even considered trying to row the leaky dinghy ashore). We have at least been able to keep in touch with Tony Britchford, and Francis on “Decibel” also came up on the radio yesterday: they are well on their way to Kenya. The local weekend brought various visitors to the bay, and three shell fishermen swam out to us to pass the time of day. Otherwise our only visitors have been a cormorant (dubbed Charlie) who settled on our cross-trees two nights running, and his mate (Camilla, of course) who joined him on night three. The two of them had a rare time judging their landing approach in 18 knots or so of wind, and each needed several circuits before getting it right. Unfortunately they eventually had to be ejected: the mess Charlie left on deck was bad enough, but with the two of them.......... Meanwhile a tern took up residence briefly on the solar panel, and there are dozens of turtles swimming in the bay all day, with heads popping up everywhere we look.
Friday 29th November, Mina Raysut
Back at Salalah, and we’re in the middle of a four-day public holiday, so the port is at a standstill and the only activity is provided by local fishing boats. Otherwise the scene is much as before, except that “Ten Eleven” is back in the water and should have left for the Seychelles yesterday. However Daniel didn’t reckon with the place shutting down so early for the holiday, so they can’t now clear out until Monday. Frustrating for them but nice for us, since we had Daniel and Ten over for drinks and onion soup yesterday evening, and they’ve asked us back for a French/Thai supper this evening. The other boats still aren’t ready to move on (Yanni is expecting his boss out in a week or so, and the two “vagabonds” are still completing repairs), and we had one of the kids from “Maria Gilberte” on board yesterday to see what a small cruising yacht looked like. Otherwise we’re getting on with “boat jobs” as usual, and Nigel’s almost (touch wood) succeeded in stopping the leaks in the dinghy - at least getting ashore isn’t quite such a ridiculous exercise as it has been up to now. Still, our main concern at the moment is to acquire a new dinghy: Phil’s enquiries in Muscat have virtually ruled out getting one there (available, but at an outrageous price), so we’re hoping to get one shipped from UK within the next three weeks. Setting this up has brought us into contact with a local agent who can also arrange to get our bar restocked, so come next week we should be virtually back to normal. We’ve been in touch by telephone with the local Hash and diving fraternity, so we might find ourselves with a few more local contacts before too long, and we’re also hoping to meet the helpful Hugh Clark, Naval Attaché in Muscat, who is apparently coming down to Salalah over the weekend.
We abandoned our attempt to get to Muscat on Sunday night, after setting out from Bandar Qinqari in less than 10 knots of wind and running into 20 knots and a short sea as soon as we came out of shelter. Though we’d more or less resigned ourselves to not making it to Muscat it was still bitterly disappointing to have to turn back after making plans for our stay at the marina, Christmas with Phil and family, and so on. With 550 miles still to go it just wasn’t worth trying to battle on, though - we’ve since heard from Casey on “Retriever” that he did make it to Muscat, though he had to spend two days hove-to near Ras al-Hadd (and he’s 40-odd feet) in some of the worst conditions he’d ever encountered. The trip back was easy enough, though the sea was quite unpleasant until past Marbat, where the wind miraculously died and eventually turned into a light offshore breeze! Our return caused some confusion on the part of the Coastguard who came out to collect our passports, and next morning Customs and immigration turned up but decided at the last minute that we didn’t need to be checked back in after all! We’ve got over our disappointment about Muscat, and we shall see Alison and the family down here for a few days before Christmas - meanwhile the weather is lovely and we’re actually rather enjoying the enforced break from travelling.
Wednesday 4th December, Mina Raysut
The holiday weekend passed remarkably quickly - we’d finished designing our Christmas card/letter and had it photocopied, so Nigel dealt with all the further-flung friends on our list while Julie was patiently sanding in the cockpit. On Saturday we had a serious go at cleaning down the rigging, and we were in the middle of this (Nigel up the mast, both of us in maximum scruff order, deck filthy and a shambles below decks) when we saw the police launch approaching with two unmistakeably European passengers, who surely had to be Hugh Clark and his wife. Fortunately he’s an experienced yachtsman and was very understanding about catching us on the hop, but the purpose of the visit was to invite us out to have a look at the surrounding countryside, so we changed hastily into shore-going clothes (Rosie - not his wife, as we subsequently discovered! - was most impressed with the transformation) and “borrowed” Ten with “Ten Eleven” ‘s dinghy to get them back to shore. We first drove westwards to the “blow-holes” at Mughsail, then on through magnificent scenery via Balfour Beatty’s spectacular “white elephant” of a coast road to a scratch picnic lunch on a bluff overlooking the surprisingly calm sea. We returned through Salalah, stopping briefly at the bird sanctuary (Julie’s appetite whetted for a return visit), then headed out the other side to the ruins of the old frankincense trading town overlooking the inlet of Khor Rouri. From there Hugh headed up the escarpment on to the plateau south of Salalah, a gentler moorland landscape with small farms, and dozens of handsome camels wandering about (frequent stops as they strolled on to the road). As dusk fell we had a brief visit to the small park which surrounds a spring (Ayn Razat) feeding the Sultan’s farm on the outskirts of Salalah. We hadn’t expected quite so much variety, and we shall certainly go and have another look with a hire car in a couple of weeks’ time. Hugh and Rosie dropped us back in town, and by the time we got back to “Gladlee” it was far too late to start on our planned roast lamb - fortunately it kept well for another day.
More cleaning and Christmas cards on Sunday, and the crew got their annual wash. “Ten Eleven” cleared out on Monday, but thanks to a very late night with the French “community” on Sunday night they didn’t actually leave until early yesterday morning - next stop Thailand, if the wind is kind. (We had an excellent farewell dinner - prawns followed by roast chicken - with them last Thursday, Bernard and Laurent of “Salvia” making up a very agreeable party). Meanwhile we spent a busy morning in town, first posting off our first batch of Christmas cards, then getting Leo’s help to look into battery availability and to get a fax off confirming our order for the new dinghy. After the calm weekend (should we have tried to get to Muscat again?) it was almost a relief to have 15 knots or so blowing from the NE during most of Monday and Tuesday, though it made getting to and from the quay a little less comfortable than usual. With “Ten Eleven” gone we moved into a better position relative to the quay (also slightly closer to the Special Forces’ enclosure, with an eye on our security once the other yachts have left, probably next weekend), and the choppy conditions made it slightly less disappointing that Leo failed to deliver our booze until this morning. Another trip into town has got Leo engaged in finding someone to remake our bottom fitted sheet and to sand and revarnish the badly-worn sections of the saloon floor: the batteries haven’t we expect turned up yet, but the brochure we’ve seen looks promising. Phil will be paying us a visit tomorrow.
Monday 9th December, Mina Raysut
We’d expected to be on our own by now, but the two “vagabonds” are still here (“Salvia” has not yet succeeded in curing a heat exchanger fault) and “Ten Eleven” came back four days ago with water in the fuel system. Daniel looks understandably fed up and hasn’t been very communicative, but it seems that they left the cap off one of their fuel tanks and now have a faulty fuel pump which may take several more days to replace: they were 200 miles out when they discovered what had happened. “Ophira”, meanwhile, left on Saturday, though their departure apparently passed unnoticed by the Coastguard, who called on us today to enquire how they came to be one yacht short!
We’ve had quite a busy few days cleaning, fixing and finishing off Christmas letters, this amid some oddly unsettled weather, with a stiff breeze getting up almost every afternoon. The anchor windlass started slipping as we left Bandar Qinqari, and after one abortive go at half-dismantling it Julie gave it a thorough service. She’s also repainted bits of the stern where the deck paint had worn off. The boat is looking even more like a building site this evening, since we’ve given all the floorboards to Leo for much-needed sanding and re-varnishing. Nigel’s kept the dinghy afloat (just): it looks as though it may have to serve us for a little longer, thanks to some inefficiency on Telesonic’s part (why don’t people read instructions before doing things). We’re still hopeful of getting a suitable new set of batteries, but communications between the marine suppliers here and their main office in Muscat are extraordinarily garbled: after we’d been given precise specifications of one battery a completely different one actually turned up in Salalah for our inspection! With luck we shall sort this out during our visit to Muscat, which we start tomorrow.
Phil’s visit was a pleasure for all of us, though it was a pity, in retrospect, that we decided to take him out to a rather indifferent Chinese meal in town, made all the less appetising thanks to absurdly slow service. Fortunately he didn’t have to rush off on the morning, so at least we managed to feed him a good breakfast. He brought a good packet of mail as well. Yesterday evening we entertained Tony Smith of Special Forces, who proved to be good company and brought a nice bottle of Spanish red wine to go with our usual excellent roast lamb (and apple crumble, too!).
Saturday 14th December, Mina Raysut
It seems that the fates spared us an unlucky day yesterday just to surprise us with one today. Having got back safely from Muscat last night (even finding a taxi driver at the airport who didn’t overcharge us) we started this morning with a farcical visit from Leo: the floorboards had been given a coat of varnish without any preparatory sanding, our fitted lower sheet had been reassembled upside down, and the repair to the waistband of Julie’s skirt had been incompetently bodged. We gave up on the floorboards and sent the sewing back. Meanwhile Leo produced a fax announcing that our dinghy should have arrived at Muscat the previous evening - but it hadn’t! To crown it all, when we went to pick up our hire car the hapless agent contrived to jam Nigel’s bank card in the franking machine and almost break it in half. We did at least find a conveniently small turkey at Spinney’s, so we shall roast it for dinner tomorrow and pot the rest for our Christmas lunch.