24 February 2010

Al Mukalla in Yemen

Approaching the coast we see large sand dunes: the end of the desert. Closing in you see small white buildings with open windows, this is the beginning of Al Mukalla, a medium sized town halfway the south coast of Yemen. In the small harbour the American yacht 'Bingo' and us are directed to the once yellow Q(uaranteen) buoy. An agent is waiting to organize the customs and immigration formalities (very friendly and easy). From immigration we get a shore pass to visit town. It takes a short taxi ride and first thing that attracts attention are the women that are dressed up completely in black: a large burka inclusive gloves so that only the eyes are visible. The men wear nicely woven sarongs and light coloured shirts, we also see several turbans. Making pictures of people is 'not done', so we restrict ourselves to some impressions taken from the taxi and walking along the boulevard. In the supermarket there is an ample choice of foods and outside the building is a stall with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In the harbour you find all sorts of small and bigger boats and specially in the morning it's a busy and lively spectacle. In the harbour mouth there is always a patrol boat with machine gun, checking incoming and outgoing traffic. But the water is not very clean in the harbour, it smells and we don't like the bird's droppings on our deck. So our next anchorage is 15 nm further on the coast in an bay in a beautiful piece of desert. Some women are chasing a small herd of goats and we see people walking on the beach, they turn out to be bedouins.

Slideshow Mukalla

19 February 2010

Indian Ocean

February 10 we leave the Maldives and our heading for the moment is the harbour of Solalah in Oman. There are 14-20 knots from NE, but the sea is very unsettled, so life on board is not comfortable. In the night there are big and dark clouds but not a drop of rain, although 'Alexandra' can use a good flush. We make excellent progress. The Indian Ocean is big and empty, just a distant trader now and then. All at once there is a pod of about 30 dolphins next to he boat. They are racing and jumping to catch up with the bow, always great fun! And alomost every evening there is a slow and colourfull sunset.

After a week on the high seas we are hailed by a warship of the coalition forces and we give our destination and ship's data. We have entered the area where pirates have their field of activity. If we should see anything suspect we are requested to report position etc. to one of the warships. But it stays very quiet around us and also the wind is dying out, so we have to start the engine.

Once under the coast of Oman we decide to proceed to Yemen because of the crowded harbour of Solalah. Both on the day as by night we hear regularly via the VHF the communication between the ocean going traders and tankers and the warships. As soon as a captain has spotted a suspect vessel or has a suspicion of a pirate mothership, he'll report that to one of the warships and they mostly send out a plane to investigate more close. We hear two times of an attempt to board a tanker and also then there is a lot of ommunicationa and action. Till now not one of the attempts to hijack has been successfull. The suspect 'skifs' are mostly seen in the traffic routes for the ocean going trade and they are 80 nm south of us. Along the coast of Yemen we come across some fishermen and an odd small trader.

Slideshow Indian Ocean

9 February 2010

Uligan island in Maldives

In the most northern atoll of the Maldives in front of Uligan island we've dropped the anchor. February, 1st around 9 a.m. a motorboat with six officials is approaching and when all are aboard 'Alexandra' we can do customs, immigration and quarantine at the same time. Ship's papers and crew lists are asked in 4 to 6 copy and preferable provided with ship's stamp and signature of master. But everybody is very helpful, so within half an hour we are officially welcomed in the Republic of the Maldives.

Next to the boat the reef begins and the snorkeling is excellent with good coral and heaps of fish that are nog shy at all. In the morning we see the tips of a manta ray that is swimming on the reef. Next minute we are in the water and the manta ray is passing several times really very close, what a majestic and graceful sight!

Uligan village looks a bit dull with sandy roads and high walls around the courts next to the houses. There are no cars, but we see a lot of shiny motorbikes. A small harbour with breakwater is under construction and we can moor our dinghy on the sturdy cay that is finished already. Alongside one of the sandy roads is 'the office' and here we can ask and arrange everything we want. Opposite the office they have a plastic garden table and chairs where we can use internet for free and fill in papers for departure etc. It's a meeting place for the yachties and for the local guys who have a great service to bring new diesel on board the yachts. The Maldives are an Islamic country and the women wear head scarfs, also the girls leaving the school are dressed in white trousers, white skirts, white blouses long sleeved and white head scarfs.

During our stay we make a trip with the local motorboat to two other islands in the atoll where we visit a school, the local boat builders and have a lunch in a small and cosy restaurant. On one of the beautiful beaches of Uligan we have a potluck dinner: the boys have fish, chicken and beef on the rack over the wood fire and the yachties have prepared a dish from their own country: pasta, salads, pancakes and chocolate cookies.

Slideshow Maldives

3 February 2010

Bay of Bengal

The leg from Thailand via Sri Lanka to the Maldives (SW of India) is 1550 nm (nautical miles) long, ca. 3000 km, and our first experience with the Indian Ocean. In Thailand we've spent two days in the Nicobar islands, a very commercial happening with over 50 live-a-boards and other dive companies, hopping daily along the several dive sites (almost queuing). Not an attractive place although the water is clear, the coral is colourful and there is quite a lot of fish. To pick up a mooring in one of the against swell protected bays to spend the night is a (too) expensive experience, so time to leave!

Going west there is initially just a little wind, but with some extra sails it is possible to get a speed of 4 knots and we can stop the engine. In the nights there are several 'squalls', short fierce pouring's with a lot of wind, they last about 30 minutes and then all is getting back to 'normal'. On approach of Sri Lanka the wind is getting stronger and we have to make two reefs in the main and reduce the headsail. The hours last long and there are also a lot of container ships and tankers around. We are happy to use our new AIS system where we see on the computer screen which boats are near to us, what is their speed and when they'll pass us on what distance. If the big ships are too close to Alexandra, we have to adjust our course because the container ships never change their direction and we don't know if they have seen our small yacht on their radar. Also a call on the VHF radio is never answered, is our experience.

Past Sri Lanka we sail a few hours in the lee of the island, but then the wind starts blowing again through the strait between Sri Lanka and India. The sea gets rough and unsettled, we tack 70-80 degrees to the wind (20-24 knots) and it is a quite unpleasant trip. Happily we have in the night the light of the full moon and after 24 hours the wind is dying out and we can relax again. In a few hours we can shake out the reefs and in the late evening of January 31st we motor into the most northern lagoon of the Maldives and anchor in front of the (small) island of Uligan. In the morning we see that there are about 20 other yachts anchored around us.