Carelbi from Sri Lanka to Egypt - the" Pirate Run"

Wed 3 Jun 2009 15:20



                        CARELBI FROM SRI LANKA TO EGYPT

                                      “THE PIRATE RUN”


                                                 February – March 2009

                                            Photos from Anders Laursen






Carelbi left Sri Lanka and headed for Uligamu, the northern most atoll in the Maldives, with Anders, our young Danish "sailing-son" who has now done well over 20,000 nautical miles with us, and Stephen St Paul, who joined us in Thailand, as crew. Fiona left to visit her relatives in South Africa since her back no longer copes with long pasages.


Unfortunately we do not have any photos of the Maldives since Fiona had our camera and I have not been able to get any of this part of the passage from either Anders or Stephen. Uligamu was a fascinating spot. The people were extremely friendly and very pleased to see us. The water was crystal clear, indeed the first clear water we had seen since the Pacific. The snorkelling was good, even around the boat in the anchorage and occasionally we caught glimpses of manta rays circling Carelbi.

Unlike Galle, the customs and immigration were honest, a refreshing change.


After a relaxing six day stay in Uligamu we reluctantly made sail for Oman. The passage was a fast one with a reasonable sailing breeze most of the way, which was a good thing, since one day we were followed by a fishing boat and managed to creep away at 8 knots under both engine and sail.


















The Queen of Sheba is reputed to have had her capital in what is now Oman, and we visited the remains of her principal trading port on the Arabian Sea.









 Rumour and legend insist that Job travelled around this area and his tomb is one of the tourist sights in the hills behind Salalah.

The photo shows Anders admiring the decoration and colours.










The photo opposite shows Carelbi (the small red pencil shape) heading at 6.3 knots towards the separation zone just as a convoy of around 12 ships (containers, tramps and large tankers,  (shown as red triangles) head into the protected zone lead by a naval frigate. The position of the boats are visualised in real time on our computer screen using our  AIS system. Nowadays all large ships are obliged to have an AIS transmitter which provides information to other vessels around it, such as its name, course, speed etc. This has been an extremely useful device for us particularly in restricted busy areas like Singapore, the pirate run, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.














The screen opposite shows Carelbi as the small red pencil shape. A coalition warship is the black triangle just to the right of Carelbi. It had just completed several perfect turns around the separation zone (black track on screen), where it is investigating a Japanese container ship, disabled by engine problems a very dangerous situation in a pirate infested zone.











Heidenskip, a beautiful 65 ft Van De Staat, was just behind us in the convoy.






On our first day Anders and I were carrying our empty jerry cans looking for a petrol station. A man in a pick up stopped and offered to show us around. He arranged to change some US dollars, without cheating us – very rare in that country, arranged to fill our cans and then took us to one of the "best" restaurants in town. He could not stay to eat with us. When we had finished our meal and called for the bill, the owner said our “friend” had already paid for us. We could not even say thank you to him, we didn't even know his name. 


Most of the rally disliked Djibouti. We enjoyed it. Anders’ father had a Danish friend who worked for the World Food Program based in Djibouti. He was a fascinating person and visited us on Carelbi and entertained us in town. He told us about some of the problems the UN faces trying to feed the millions of starving people in the region. All the food comes through Djibouti and he is in charge of the port logistics.





The first part of the Red Sea was very enjoyable with strong favourable winds and good fishing. Anders has landed a barracuda here, not a fish that is good to eat. Unfortunately, one has to get it on board and kill it,  in order to remove the hook without having a hand bitten off by its large snapping jaws with their incredibly sharp teeth.









Prew of Holland ran out of water and is seen here, on the right, closely following Carelbi as we drag water containers behind us for them to pick out of the water with their boat hook. Not quite as easy as it might look...





As we progressed up the Red Sea the passage became more difficult. The winds were strong and generally contrary. We found ourselves having to motor most of the way as we wanted to get to Southern Egypt as soon as possible, for Fiona to rejoin Carelbi, and for Anders to return to Denmark to begin his career as a medical doctor. Our latest news from him is that he is loving his work, and has already been promoted. 








































Most likely all they wanted was to sell us fish but all the boats in the rally were so keyed up about pirates that it seemed wise not to find out. It is indeed a shame that we react this way, but that is the reality of today’s sailing in the Middle East.



Salalah, Oman, was a very efficient and very large container port. There was a sort of English pub nearby where we had various rally meetings and watched the Six Nation Rugby. A great treat after several months out of Europe.

The Omanis are the most likeable Arabs in my opinion, they actually work, and are fun to talk to. The country is very pro-British since the SAS effectively set up the current Sultan many years ago and he has done a marvellous job of bringing the country into the modern age. The same cannot be said for some of the other countries in the area. There are still some restrictions on the locals but as a foreigner it all seems very relaxed, efficient, modern and friendly.


The coastline is rugged and mountainous with the occasional waterside village and the hinterland is desert, which you can see on the photo opposite, and which merges seamlessly into the famous Rub Al Kali (Empty Quarter) which Lawrence of Arabia was famed for crossing.  


Behind Salalah are small mountains with numerous “Sink Holes” which are huge openings which disappear deep down into the earth and connect to the aquifers, providing water to towns many, many miles away






Detailed guidance was provided by the Blue Water Rally organisers for the transit past the pirates to Djibouti, and the boats left Oman in small groups.  Unfortunately Stephen had to return to New Zealand leaving just myself and Anders to set off nervously towards Djibouti. The first 100 miles we motored in the company of “Lady in White” (seen opposite), after which we met up with the four other boats in our group and proceeded in strict convoy. We would have preferred to sail, but there was very little wind and we had to keep to an agreed, predetermined speed.










You can see four of our convoy in the opposite photo. The pirate problem was much worse than we had expected. The public only hears when a ship is successfully attacked; in most cases the attacks are headed off by the coalition warships. For the three days of the transit we heard distress calls on Channel 16 VHF sometimes three times a day. On one occasion we heard a tanker captain calling for assistance from a warship saying he was being chased by 13 fast boats. The warship immediately sent off its helicopter gunship and the 13 small boats gave up the chase and resumed their pretence at being innocent fishing boats – with 400 hp outboard motors and AK 47s ! It is a perfect example of a ridiculous asymmetric fight. The rules of engagement do not allow the warships to fire as required. As soon as a vessel is boarded the warships can do nothing because of the hostages. One of the groups heard live firing 12 miles ahead of them.







Some of the warships were impressive. This “stealth” frigate barely showed up on our radar, and its radar image at 2 miles from our sailing group made it appear like a small wooden fishing boat. This is what it actually looked like at 2 miles distance. 






We were delighted and relieved to reach Djibouti. I had expected a quaint, ex-French, colonial style town. In fact, it was an extremely poor and relatively uninteresting place. But there are always nice people to be found anywhere.




















We slipped quietly out of Djibouti one night to avoid the attention of pirate spotters, together with 3 other boats. The following afternoon we passed Bab El Mandeb and were sailing up the Red Sea with a nice following wind and dolphins to accompany us.









We did seek shelter on one occasion behind a reef off Sudan together with Prew of Holland, seen opposite and Lady in White, where we spent the major part of one day repairing both our headsails.





Anders' last fish; a wonderful, large, yellow fin tuna, most of which went into our freezer and three months later, as I write this in the Greek islands, we still have three portions left to eat. Each de-frosted portion has provided us with copious amounts of sashimi, which we dip in a mix of soy and washabi, and also tender steaks, marinated in lemon, ginger, soy and sesame oil. Delicious!