arriving in Salalah
Port Ghalib wasn't an option, so I had to put Luxor. We arrived safely to Egypt a few days ago, I will copy and paste what I wrote about the past couple weeks now.
Ok it’s been a while since I wrote, so I’ll try to piece things together the best I can. Our passage from the Maldives to Oman was pretty uneventful. We all lost track of the days, I think maybe we were out about nine total but I can’t remember. We had great wind for most of it, and sailed as often as we could.
The only thing that sticks out in my mind was a sketchy run-in we had with another boat, but even now looking back I don’t worry about it, I think all our nerves were just high strung. About two hundred miles away from Oman we noticed a large boat on the horizon and radar, heading away from us, or at least not for us. But soon the boat changed course so it came within a very short distance, slowed down, and hung around for about ten minutes. This alarmed us, so we mustered everyone on deck, changed tacks, and basically sailed away from it. But instead of continuing on it’s original course, the boat just motored really slowly away from us and we had it on our radar screen most of the night. We had all sorts of theories as to what it was doing, but the reality is that nothing happened.
containers being loaded
We were fine. But we did keep an extra careful lookout for any boat and made early attempts to get far away from all of them. The night before we arrived in Salalah we started hearing lots of English radio chatter, and it became clear that there were a bunch of other sailboats around us. When everybody called for port clearance in the morning we could hear where everyone was from, how many people onboard, length of boat, last/next port, etc. It was pretty interesting. There were a mix of Australians, Americans, Irish, and English and all seemed to be coming from either India or the Maldives. Unfortunately the most obnoxious ones on the radio were a family of Americans, who started arguing on the radio with the port control about getting an agent, fees, etc.
all the other cruising boats
I wondered how they could possibly be so clueless and still be alive out here. On a side note, they had distinctly Midwestern accents, and I pronounced them as definitely from Michigan, which it turns out they were. So my watch was the watch that brought us into Salalah, and it was a very interesting morning. Besides the surreal English radio chatter from other sailboats, the landscape stood out as being pretty new. It was a bit hazy/dusty, so we couldn’t really make it all out, but the areas surrounding the port appeared to be desert, with big stone mountains rising up behind the small villages. The port itself was as industrial as you can get, with multiple container ships being loaded along the sides. We passed by all of them and anchored with a bunch of other sailboats in a little corner of the harbor.
sunset over Salalah
We weren’t sure about any of the clearing procedures so we started a big BA while Boomer talked to various immigrations officials. Eventually by the afternoon we were cleared in and found ourselves invited to a BBQ with other sailors that night. At least that’s what we thought. We could all understand only about every third word said to us, we just knew we were supposed to be on the dock at 6:30 that night. So we all show up on the dock, along with all of the other boats that came in that morning, which was cool. I enjoyed talking to some of the older cruising couples about their trip, although it felt a little weird to be giving them advice on where to go. They weren’t all traveling together, just sort of all happened to be coming from the same places and going to the same places at the same time.
the view just to the right
We had a little while to talk on the dock, as there was only one car carrying four people that was making trips to the BBQ. It was only a five minute drive away, a non-descript building of what I would soon think of as local architecture- a white cement block building. But as soon as we stepped inside, it was literally a different world. We were in an actual English pub. The bar ran the length of one side, with ornate taps for every beer imaginable, there was a ping pong table, two pool tables, darts, video games, a three lane bowling alley, and two huge flat screen TV’s playing MTV. And imagine typical pub décor, with banners of British soccer teams everywhere. And then you step outside onto a large patio that overlooks the desert and an amazing beach.
It was crazy. We spent a couple hours there hanging out before dinner, and I spent the majority of the time at the ping pong table. The dinner itself was pretty good, but I just liked sitting on the patio (with one of the best diet coke’s I’ve ever had) looking out at the lights on the horizon and thinking how crazy it was where we were. So that was a cool night. The next day the staff split up so some could go ashore while others watched the boat, and Mike, Chantale and I headed off to do some errands. Our first stop was the hotel that we had a package coming to in a couple days to make sure that that was all set. The taxi ride there was pretty interesting, it really is a desert area with just a few random buildings and villages spread around here and there.
The hotel again was like another world though, an oasis in the desert if you will. It’s part of the upscale branch of Holiday Inn’s called Crowne Plaza, and could have been anywhere in the world. The architecture had middle eastern influences and I really liked the big open reception area, but outside was grassy, with tennis courts, playgrounds, multiple restaurants, three pools, and a beautiful beach. We all checked our email in their business center and then decided to get some lunch. We sat out on a sort of promenade deck of tables and umbrellas overlooking the pool area and had a pretty good lunch. I went all out and had a cheeseburger, fries, and crème brulee. It was deeeeelicious! We were hoping to go into town to explore a little but it had taken us longer to do everything, and we were told the town would be closed anyway as it was the Muslim weekend, so we headed back to the boat.
The next day was my turn to stay on the boat, and I had a nice relaxing day finishing up some work that I’d been meaning to do (and watching more Grey’s Anatomy of course). The next day was our last full day in Oman and Boomer set up a tour for the shipmates. I was really bummed that I had to go provisioning at the same time, as I really wanted a chance to see more of Oman than the inside of a Holiday Inn, but oh well… grocery shopping is always fun and you get to see a different side of a place that way. So that next morning we all got to the dock bright and early to go our respective ways. The bus to pick everyone up was a little late, but I didn’t mind, because there were dogs!!!!!!!!! I had seen them both on their boats over the past couple days, but finally we crossed paths onshore.
cute dog on the dock
One was a little five month old lab/retriever who was just so excited to see people and play, and the other was a large Doberman that had much better business to attend to and wouldn’t stop running around sniffing things to pay attention to anything else. They were both on Spanish boats that were traveling together and were good friends, but it still was a funny sight to see a little puppy bounding around playfully with a sleek, Greyhound like Doberman. The Doberman was pretty funny though, it rides around on the front of the owner’s dinghy into shore, practically quivering with excitement, until the boat reaches the apparently previously designated spot near the dock where the dog launches himself off the bow of the dinghy and swims into shore, the owner motoring up slowly behind him. Eventually the bus came and Eliot and I got a ride into town where the grocery store was.
playing in the water
The store itself was huge, a big department store with a supermarket in the bottom floor, and we took our time shopping around for everything. But there wasn’t anything new and exciting, which was disappointing. No fun meals for me to surprise people with. I take that back, they had feta cheese, which made me really excited. But I was surprised by the lack of other little things like that. The Maldives grocery store, which was about a fifth of the size, actually had a better dried food selection (but not as good fresh food, so it evens itself out I guess). We were supposed to call our agent (each boat is assigned a local agent to arrange things for them) when we needed to be picked up, but he took about a half hour to come, so we sat outside with all our food in carts and had to tell at least twenty cab drivers that no, we didn’t need a taxi, yes, if our friend didn’t show up we would ride with them, and yes, we’re sure your brother has a truck as well, but really, we are all set.
the doberman hunting for crabs
It was quite a scene. Also while we were shopping half of the population of a cruise ship that had pulled in in the morning showed up at the grocery store. Apparently a prerequisite for a world cruise is to be British and over the age of seventy five. They were perfectly nice and friendly, but it seemed a bit weird that they chose to spend their shore time in a grocery store. And none of them were really dressed appropriately for the area, which is always disappointing. I hardly think that an elderly British woman is going to be the target of sexual assault, but apparently as recently as five or six years ago women were beaten with sticks if they showed their arms in public. No local woman shows anything, they are all covered head to toe in flowing robes, the men too pretty much.
street sign in Oman
We wouldn’t let our shipmates (or ourselves) even up on the deck of the boat at anchor in anything less than long pants and long sleeves. It reminded me of traveling with a head scarf when I was a kid, which I actually packed last spring when I thought we were coming here but I guess didn’t make it into the second round. Most of the shipmates were good though and bought local head scarves. I was however impressed by seeing the family of cruisers from Michigan in full long sleeves and head scarves at the grocery store. After Eliot and I got back and put the food away I had another relaxing afternoon on the boat but it was a little surreal having no one there (the tour didn’t end until 8 or 9 pm). It sounds like they had an amazing day though, including a stroll on some sand dunes in which a shipmate lost her passport when she was doing somersaults (it was recovered a couple hours later).
me at the helm (my hat protecting the side of my face exposed to the sun, in case you are wondering)
The next day we got the boat ready to leave, which was a bit of a process because we were still waiting on the package to come from the office. I taught first aid in the morning to take up some time, and by lunch we had the package and everyone onboard, so that was good. At three thirty we pulled up our anchor and got on the dock to be ready for our fuel truck that was supposed to arrive at four. Only it didn’t actually show up until six, so we held off dinner until that was finished and we could get underway. So finally, at seven at night and in the dark, we were underway to Egypt and eating dinner on a very rolly deck. Now we’re on day three I think of passage, and it’s been pretty exciting so far. Last night the watch before mine heard a distress call over the radio from a tanker saying that they were being pursued by five speedboats.
About an hour later when we came on things had calmed down and the boats had left, but the radio chatter that evening was something else. It was pretty much non stop babble in Arabic (?) with some English thrown in here and there, and the favorite thing to do seemed to be swearing at each other. Somebody was singing songs in swears, this one really creepy guy was laughing maniacally, and I swear that they were all referring to each other as pirates. I heard one boat demand to board another, to which presumably someone onboard to him to “stick it up his ass.” It was interesting, and only not as scary as it could have been because we knew they weren’t that close to us (relatively speaking). We are technically “running the gauntlet” right now, as the passage between Yemen and Somalia is referred to in the yachting world.
My dispatch training is coming in handy right now, as I can understand the radio chatter better than most people purely because I’m used to dealing with scanners and ten different agencies calling me on the radio. The bummer though is that I got a cold just as we left Oman, so I’ve been feeling like crap most of the time. The cold itself isn’t that bad, but I just feel so exhausted that any time I am not on watch or eating/cleaning I am in bed, sleeping. Luckily the watch schedules allow for a lot of sleep, even if it’s not all at one time.
Ok now it’s a few days later, and we’re in the Red Sea! It’s pretty exciting, even if it doesn’t look any different.
We made it out of the gauntlet fine, but our nights were spent listening to pirates swear, yell, and sing over the radio for hours at a time. The closest we heard to pirating after that initial suspected attack was a guy in a really creepy voice say over the radio “I am going to hijack your vessel.” I think they are just bored out there and say things to mess with each other, but I feel lucky to have not run across any of them on our way through. The Red Sea has been pretty heavily trafficked so we are always on a sharp lookout for tankers coming across the horizon, but the most exciting thing that has happened was a couple days ago. We had heard “coalition warships” on the radio the past day or so and at about eight in the morning we made out a big one on the horizon.
yes, I have a funny hat
Soon we identified it as an aircraft carrier and watched jets take off from it’s deck and fly away, only a couple miles from us. As we were watching them, one of the jets turned and headed straight for us. I knew what was coming, as I’ve had planes buzz Ocean Star while I was onboard before, but it was still an exhilarating and frightening moment. The jet passed no more than a hundred feet from our masts, no more than a hundred feet off the water, totally banked on it’s side and it’s roar woke almost the whole boat. We were all cheering and waving after that, hoping it would come back, but it didn’t. Boomer thought it was an Italian ship and nicknamed the pilots “Mavrico and Gooselini.” It was pretty cool, and I’m pretty sure all the guys can die happy now. I was chef that day and had fun cooking cinnamon rolls, gumbo, and chicken pot pie. I don’t think anything else of note has happened though, except for an exciting dolphin show that lasted about ten minutes. There were about thirty of them all diving and jumping really close to the boat. We should be arriving in about four or so days to Egypt, which is pretty exciting. I’m feeling much better now and am off to read a bit now before dinner.
It’s about a week later by now, and I guess a lot has happened since then! Right after I wrote about us almost getting there, when we were about three hundred miles away, the weather took a turn for the worse and we found ourselves headed straight into the wind and a big swell. It was uncomfortable more than anything, an annoyance for cooking and moving around, but the weather itself was actually really nice. It was sunny and clear the whole time. We averaged about two knots for a day or so and then put some sails up when the wind allowed it and tried to sail, with some success. We ended up being out there about three or more days longer than expected, which was fine, we were all excited to make the two week mark, but unfortunately our fresh water pump also broke at the same time, so we were all very salty by the time we finally arrived. I didn’t mind not having fresh water all the time, it was just a pain when you did want to wash your hands or something because you had to pour little bits of water from your water bottle while the boat was tossing around. We filled up our water jugs directly from the watermaker so we always had water to drink, just not for anything extra. So we definitely felt like we got the total sea experience from this last passage. I really liked mealtimes because the boat was rocking too much and there was too much spray to all line up for food like normal, so we put the pans in the cockpit and served everyone and passed it around. It was very cozy and funny to try to eat like that. The other big news is that it got cold!! And I mean really cold! Ok, for any New Englanders reading this, maybe it wasn’t thaaat cold… but to me it was freezing. At night I wore fleece leggings under my foul weather pants (and wished for another layer sometimes) and six layers under my windbreaker. So they were pretty light layers, but still. Out of stubbornness I refused to wear my foul weather jacket (it may or may not have had someone else's vomit on it) and boots, but maybe I’ll need them for the next passage. Our last day the weather calmed down quite a bit and we arrived in Port Ghalib in the mid morning. It’s a pretty crazy place. I guess it is being developed as a resort town by the guy who owns Atlantis in the Bahamas, and is trying to attract yachts and royalty. It’s just in the building stages right now, so it looks a little funny- all sorts of colorful Egyptian architecture buildings basically in the middle of the desert. The only thing up and running right now is the five star hotel, and even that is at 30% capacity and has super low rates right now. I think in a few years it will be interesting to see what it looks like. The hotel is really beautiful, very sort of mid-eastern design I guess you could say. Tons of intersecting low buildings with terraces and sun shades and swimming pools. The people are all really friendly and all want to know where we are from. There are only a couple other boats here, a few cruisers and one yacht, but I think it’s a steady flow in and out because the immigration system is pretty easy here. We’re tied alongside the dock right now, which really is just a concrete pier that runs the length of the whole town. We can walk five minutes through a mud pit of a construction site and then we’re at the hotel. The day we arrived we had a big clean, which was a bit difficult without running water still, but we had the hose on the dock and it felt great to wash all the layers of salt off everything. That night we all went out for a buffet dinner at the hotel, which I think was the highlight of everyone’s week. After eating a lot of rice and pasta combinations over the past couple days, it was like kids in a candy store with all the different types of food laid out elegantly before us. We all made a point to absolutely stuff ourselves, and I ate and ate and ate without regret. Except for when I was too full to try the new desserts that were coming out, then I regretted it. But mmmmmmmmm it was good! I had some delicious diet cokes and it was just really fun. I also checked my email (for $15, yikes!) and found out all sorts of fun news about friends getting engaged and having babies. It was a good night, and I was more than ready to collapse into bed at the end of the day. The next two days have been sort of off days for everyone, like no classes scheduled. Yesterday we did some boat maintenance in the morning and then I spent from 1:30-6 making pizza from scratch for dinner. I still hadn’t provisioned since we arrived, and adding the extra days we were at sea it was like 17 or so since I’d last been shopping, the longest by far and the food on the boat was getting pretty low. The pizza turned out pretty well so that was good. When we arrived we found out there was no grocery store here, and to get food I would have to fill out an order form to have food shipped from the hotel’s supplier. That was pretty cool in that all I had to do was fill out a sheet and then voila, the food would show up, but also a totally scary experience because it was all by weight. I had to write how many kilograms of all of the fresh food I wanted. I don’t know kilograms!!! I don’t even know how many pounds I wanted! I do my shopping by piece, like I want 90 tomatoes. And then if I get to the store and they are really big or really small I adjust that number accordingly. And if I see something cool I buy it to add to a meal. So this list was especially intimidating because I had to get it right for the food for the next week. A lot of stuff I just guessed at, and a lot of the stuff on the list I didn’t even understand what it was. So today when the food arrived I had a few surprises. Where I had written ten kilos of butter blocks, I was picturing the normal butter blocks we get that are individually wrapped and are half a kilo each. But no, I got two plastic bags that someone had just scooped butter into and then weighed. I also got half a pumpkin, three quarters a container of yogurt, and some packages of cheese spread. My favorite though was the chili peppers. I asked for .5 kilos but they didn’t see the decimal point and I got five kilos of peppers. We have four hundred and two chili peppers to eat over the next week. Should be interesting. So that was my morning this morning, putting all the food away with some of the shipmates. Oh I almost forgot about last night. We were allowed to go to the hotel again last night after dinner for a belly dancing show that they were putting on. I wasn’t expecting much, I mean it was set up for tourists, but it was quite entertaining. The belly dancers themselves were good, but the best part was this guy who wore this big colorful dress and stood on the stage spinning in it for at least fifteen minutes. I mean it was incredible, I don’t know how anyone can possibly spin that fast for that long. I’ve seen whirling Dervishes or however you say them when I was a kid, and I feel like they whirled for a long time but at sort of a steady pace. This guy was dancing to this really fast music and did all these elaborate things with the big skirts that were coming off of his outfits. He could undo each layer and twirl it around by his head and over his head and on it’s side… it’s really hard to explain and I’m soooo bummed that I didn’t have my camera with me. The belly dancers would periodically grab people from the audience and make them come up to the stage and dance in front of everybody, which was pretty entertaining when it was members from our group, but one time when they dragged me up there I was traumatized and ran away as soon as I could. Dancing on stage is not my thing, especially when really having to pee. But it was a funny night. I spent this afternoon working on the menus and putting my laundry away, etc. Tomorrow we are here again, just waiting for our water pump to arrive in the mail, and then the next morning we are off to Port Suez. From there the shipmates will take a day trip to Cairo to see the pyramids (I’ve offered to stay back as I’ve already seen them), and then we transit the Suez canal. I’m looking forward to that a lot. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to see a lot of the things in the part of the world we’re going to already, even if it was a while ago. I remember a lot from our trips and feel less pressure now than at places that are new, to like see everything and experience everything. We’re about to have dinner here in a little bit, and then we can go to the hotel if we want. I might try to go tonight and send this, we’ll see.
Ok it's the next day. We got our water pumps today in the mail and should have running water by tomorrow! We leave early for Port Suez, I have to get to bed now!
p.s. have added a few pictures to the Maldives entry