TTT Convoy - 2011 Red Sea Convoy from Thailand to Turkey - A Summary
Dutchman René Tiemessen and his family (wife Edith and 2 year old daughter Devi) aboard their yacht Alondra, had transited the Red Sea in 2007 to Thailand with the Vasco de Gama Rally. On this trip they had experienced different convoys, so Rene took the initiative to organise a convoy for the return trip to the Med in 2011.
A dedicated website was set up by Rene and by the end of September, 13 yachts had signed up for the Convoy. In the end, more than 35 boats applied for the limited number of 30 places.
The initial plan was for the convoy to leave Phuket on or around the 15th January, and end in the Med in May. A meeting was organised in the middle of December in Phuket for the yachts that had joined up. At this meeting it was agreed that all boats would make their own way to Uligan, Maldives, for a February 10 departure to Salalah, from where the official “convoy” through the GOA would begin.
Rene also stressed how important it was that every yacht considering doing this passage should make sure their yacht was tested and in full working order.
En route to Uligan, several TTT yachts, including Alondra, developed mechanical problems and had to divert to Galle in Sri Lanka.
Towards the end of January, the TTT yachts already in Uligan, were contemplating leaving for Salalah ahead of the February departure date, nervous of the increase in pirate activity and the mechanical problems the lead boat was experiencing. This was exacerbated by the Maldives regulations that only allow visiting yachts a stop of 72 hours before being charged $620 to remain or even move one's yacht to another anchorage. Fortunately, the authorities in Uligan were sympathetic of the waiting yachts’ situation and breakdown excuses were permitted to remain there, however time ran out for many.
Rene strongly advised everyone departing Uligan to go North and not cross the Somali Basin direct. Instead he recommended skirting the “danger zone” by following the Indian coast north to at least 20 degrees before crossing. This would add miles and difficulty, but he felt was a necessity based on the pirate activity at the time.
At this stage there were TTT yachts anxious to complete their repairs still stuck in Sri Lanka, others wanting to depart for Uligan but held back due to strong winds (including the lead boat Alondra), and of course those that had made it to Uligan wanting to be on their way but getting more and more apprehensive about the current situation by the minute.
Inevitably, this resulted in a great many yachts that had “signed up” for the TTT convoy to pull out. Some returned to Thailand or Malaysia, others decided to transport their boats and others left Uligan early, before the scheduled departure date for the TTT convoy, to make their own way across the Somali Basin in smaller groups.
From Uligan, 6 TTT boats departed together, however on departing Uligan Alondra once again developed mechanical problems and had to be towed to Cochin in India. They caught up with the rest of the boats as they were transiting the Omani coast.
The group arrived in Salalah late, however there were several other TTT boats waiting for them. Almost 3 weeks later than originally intended, the much-reduced convoy of 9 boats safely transited from Salalah to Aden.
In Aden 1 more yacht joined the convoy making 10 boats going through Bab al Mandeb and travelling together up the Red Sea, to Massawah, Eritrea and beyond.
Following safe transit of the 9 TTT boats to Aden, several cruisers have been in touch with noonsite about their experience with the convoy, both those that chose to leave the convoy before it departed Salalah and those that stayed with the convoy and are still with it en route to Turkey.
Various points were raised, both positive and negative, however the following two are two very important factors to take into consideration if you are planning on joining something similar in seasons to come.
Several of the yachts who initially joined the convoy communicated using Sailmail and Winlink. The lead boat communicated with gmail and for some reason could not get information through to most of the Sailmail and Winlink users. Nothing was done to rectify this situation which left many people feeling ill-informed and out of the loop.
The Convoy website also states that convoy communications were to be via SSB, however the lead boat did not have an SSB on board so was unable to communicate with the majority of the group.
Whilst at all times it was stressed that this was not a “rally” but a group of like-minded skippers travelling together, many felt there was not sufficient communication amongst the group and too much of being “kept in the dark”. This was only worsened by the fact that the lead boat experienced break downs and was out of the picture at times.
All yachts paid a 250 Euro fee for joining the convoy, regardless of the number of crew. The Convoy Website stresses that the convoy was a non-profit organisation and that the fee charged was to cover expenses for prints, phone, organizing and negotiating transits, fuel, agents, harbours, local transport, convoy etc. Any money left over was to go to a charity to be named in due course. This fee was non-refundable.
Those that are still involved with the convoy and reported to noonsite feel they have had value for money, however, many of the yachts that withdrew from the convoy prior to its departure from Salalah, feel the organisers did not deliver what was promised and that they should have had a partial refund, or at the very least an explanation of expenditure. To date none has been given and no charity named. The organisers say an explanation is not possible until the group arrive in the Med.
René Tiemessen had intended for the TTT Convoy to become an annual event, however he has informed noonsite that he is now thinking about stopping organising it.
This report was compiled from a great many emails we received from cruisers who joined the TTT rally. Some had withdrawn, others still participating. Graeme Mulcahy was the first cruiser to contact noonsite, and he has had a report on their experience published by Sail-World.com – see Cruising sailor tells: How we survived the Somali pirate zone.