Sailing Oman to Aden 2010 in a small group
Joost Jager’s evaluation of the Super convoy he led from Salalah to Aden has inspired us to tell our own quite different story of traveling through “pirate alley” in February 2010.
Setting out from Thailand in January, our preference was to cruise the coast of Yemen - much as we had other countries. By the time we reached Salalah, nothing had happened to change our minds. There has not been an attack on a yacht along the Yemen coast in recent years. This is not to say we dismissed the risk of piracy but we believed it to be very low. We believed if we took some sensible precautions we could transit this area safely AND enjoy the marvellous sights it has to offer.
This was our experience and we would recommend it wholeheartedly to other cruisers.
Word of our plans got around the Salalah anchorage and soon there were 5 other yachts wanting to join us. We were a group of 7 yachts – 3 Kiwis, 2 Swedish, 1 American and 1 British (single-hander). A Dutch yacht (another single-hander) caught up with us at Ras Sharma to make a total of 8 - probably a maximum number unless we wanted to become a convoy ourselves!
As a group we decided on a few basic requirements:
- Stay in sight especially during the day.
Worked well. Did not have to have regimented formations (100 m apart) or monitor cross- track error as in the convoys.
- Stay approx 10 miles off the coast.
Many times we were closer inshore which created no problems. A few more visiting fishermen only.
- VHF channel to call and talk on same channel.
We had to change our channel after we realized we had chosen one the warships used for their convoys.
- SSB 4 or 2 meg channel call twice a day.
This was stopped after the first day as we were always in VHF range and in sight of each other. Also, 1 yacht did not have an HF radio.
- Position report 6 hourly on VHF.
This was also stopped but if we saw someone was a bit behind, we checked on them and slowed the group until we closed up again.
- VHF on low power.
- Position report - add 1 degree to correct positions both lat and long.
Stopped as always in sight.
- Night lights at deck level.
- Travel at 5-6 knots, sail as much as possible.
We motor-sailed between 4 and 5 knots when the current was against us and 5 to 6 knots at other times (faster approaching Aden with a good current push). We sailed as much as we could - both convoys motored non-stop in close formation.
- If any yacht had unwanted visitors, group to close up and give aid.
This did not happen. We had fishing boats come close but there was no need at any stage to close up to help another yacht.
- Do not refer to planned stops by name but as “destination”.
After Ras Sharma we gave this up and used our destination’s correct name.
- Reporting to the “Indian Ocean net” can be done but don’t give position just say if okay, sailing, anchored etc.
We didn’t give position, said we were on South Coast of Yemen, when anchored we named the place where we were.
- Use satellite phone to contact Coalition Forces with position.
Largo Star, had a sat phone which was used to report our position and our destination/progress when we were on the move. In return, we were told if there were any security issues in the area. During our 10 day trip there were none. The use of the Sat phone was excellent, gave a good feeling of security.
Good stop after an overnighter from Salalah. Visited by local officials to check papers. Didn’t go ashore.
- Ras Sharma
Beautiful anchorage, lovely people. Took longer to get here because of adverse current. Arrived at 10 pm so stayed 3 nights, 2 days - could’ve stayed much longer. Fish given to us here as a welcome to Yemen.
- Al Mukalla
Anchored in Khalf Harbour, fascinating ”old town”. People were very welcoming and friendly. Never felt unsafe ashore or on board. Stayed 3 nights.
Al Mukalla to Aden – non-stop as this is reputedly the most dangerous part. In hindsight we could have stopped but there was no real need to.
During the journey some boats had mechanical problems. These were fixed along the way only stopping us for an hour or two. No yacht needed to be towed. The legs took longer than we expected mainly because of adverse current.
Our yachts were not all the same size or speed - occasionally we got too far apart. We compromised and adjusted to the slowest boat on the day. This was at times a little frustrating for the largest boat but it was important to stick together. Two boats left their AIS transponders on for all but the last leg to Aden. After the first couple of days, we talked openly about our destinations and positions on VHF.
In short, we broke some of the rules for “safe sailing” in this area – but that just shows how at ease we were with our situation.
As we left Al Mukalla a Yemen navy vessel called asking about our group. He told us to call at anytime if we needed help and wished us a very warm welcome to Yemen. About an hour or so later a Navy helicopter flew over us and the Coalition warships were frequently heard on VHF 16.
The fishermen along the way often approached either out of curiosity or wanting to trade or sell fish. Several of our group bought fresh fish as many of us had no luck catching our own. Any yacht that has cruised through Indonesia will find the fishermen of Yemen no better or worse than fishermen there. Along with all the Yemen people we met they were very welcoming.
Our group left Salalah on 21 February and arrived in Aden on 4 March - better friends than when we started. At our celebration party we all agreed that we had absolutely done the right thing in having a small group and stopping along the Yemen coast. We all have memories of interesting, beautiful places and welcoming people - not to be found anywhere else.
Jean and Alan
S Y Tuatara
Vivienne and Alastair