They're off!

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Mon 27 Feb 2012 03:26
There’s a fair bit of moderate tension in the air.  We understand that about 80 boats are hoping to dodge the pirates on four freighters leaving this part of the world within the next few weeks.  The first is due to start loading yachts off Phuket on March 4.  As it happens this ship has already been hijacked once, with a full load of yachts, but our friends are assured that there will be armed guards and razor wire round the rails this time.  Of course crews fly to Turkey independently so it is only their homes that are at risk.  There have been farewell suppers and big hugs all round.  Some boats and their owners have been here for years and whereas there might have been an argument for hanging on for another year to see how things turned out, with the advent of the freighter facility there seems no reason not to grasp the nettle – if it can be afforded.  The going rate for a boat of about JJ Moon’s size, not untypical, is $35,000.  It is clearly a pretty severe wrench to cast off the familiar, comforting pontoon and head for an entirely new experience.  Ships’ schedules are uncertain, the agents notify numerous small changes and until the yachts are finally strapped down on deck crews cannot book airline tickets.  Will cheap flights be available; will hotel accommodation be expensive?
One boat was on its way to meet the freighter in Singapore when its engine “blew up – the overhead cam snapped in two places”.  They are stuck.  They have paid their money and the shipping company says that unless they can swap their berth and sell the place they will lose the money.  What a nightmare!  A huge sum gone and still in SE Asia.  With an engine to be re-built.  What to do next?  They are spreading the word by every possible means trying to find a crew preparing to sail across who can be tempted to change their minds and climb aboard ship.
In the meantime those of us preparing to paddle our own canoes are working up a fine head of steam (sorry).  It is always the same when a group is gathered together contemplating a more than usually challenging passage.  We play on each others’ nerves until we are all in a fine old lather.  Strong winds and swell are the chief worries and the blogs of those who have gone before are dissected assiduously.  Some tell of discomfort and breakages; members of the crew who have “had enough,” will be flying long passages in future.  Others offer welcome assurance, convinced that those who have suffered did so because they failed to heed proper advice.  You pays your money and takes your choice.
While in Phuket last time we shook hands and wished bon voyage to a skipper who had released his wife for a trip home and recruited three friends still at work. They were about to dash straight to Mauritius in three weeks.  They turned up here last night – little wind, minimal progress, forecast calms and no chance of reaching port before their time ran out.  This in a fairly light, fairly fast boat with a strong crew. The skipper says he thinks he’d better think it out again.
Other friends in a fine heavy-displacement steel cruising boat are planning to leave for Sri Lanka tomorrow.  They seem quite relaxed but they are not under any time pressure.
Meanwhile brokers are about and “For Sale” notices are pinned to bow pulpits. The friends who almost persuaded us to cross by the northern route (a swing through the northern Indian Ocean and down to South Africa) this January set a “very realistic” price and have achieved a sale giving great satisfaction all round - vendors and purchasers as pleased as Punch. There has been a “car boot sale” of much food and equipment not now wanted on voyage.  We have bought their comprehensive medical kit, stowed in a large hold-all.  I have been told of some of the stuff contained therein.  Terrifying.  I am much too frightened to delve deeply.  Other owners on our pontoon are keeping their asking price well up. They remain very happy in Rebak and rather hope not to achieve a sale for another year.
The shippers and the “northern route” people are leaving now. The “southern route” (Singapore or Sumatra, Sunda strait, Cocos Keeling, Mauritius etc.) contingent will set off any time between April and August depending on what they want to see on the way south and how long they want to spend seeing it.  Some will do more work in Phuket, some want to shop in Singapore, others plan to go as far east as Bali before turning west for the Sunda strait and Cocos Keeling.  As far as we know NO-ONE is prepared to risk the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
We think we should not leave Cocos too early.  The SE trades are often brisk in July and August with big cross swells coming up from the south.  There is no point in getting to South Africa before summer is well under way in November.  Anyway, that’s what we think today.  I must get on the web to see whether I can find some more worrying blogs!