The crossing from Eritrea, through the Bab El Mandeb, to Aden was done in flat calm waters, so that was one positive. Another was that as we exited the Red Sea, so ticking off another ‘ocean’ on the list, we were entering the Gulf of Aden with up to 3 knots of current behind us. It was as if someone had popped the cork in celebration of our progress and the boats were being jettisoned off into seas unknown.
However whilst entering the Bab we were approached by many, many fishing boats with fast outboards. Were these pirates? Fortunately not, they were friendly Yemeni fishermen looking to deplete our valuable stock of beer and sugar. I was able to deter them from coming alongside by pointing to my own fishing line out the back of the boat. I like fishermen and don’t mind them coming alongside normally but the mouth of the Bab closed to half a mile wide and we were still in formation. I didn’t want to be bartering with a fisherman whilst in close proximity to the other boats.
Fishermen generally have been exceedingly friendly. In most cases they are also very poor so the wise yachtsman should always carry stocks of t-shirts, jackets, cigarettes, sugar and other food ready to give away. We don’t normally ask for anything in return as we catch our own food but they’ll always offer fish.
Anyway, that’s fishermen, but how do you know if they are pirates? In our case we had Lo leading us so he could relay back any suspicious activity ahead. No sooner had we cleared the Bab and were in the Gulf of Aden, ‘Pirate Alley’, did Lo come on the VHF and order the group to close in. Ahead of us were a number of skiffs motoring very fast across our path. On both sides we had skiffs appearing to follow us too. Chaos ensued. Lo and Group One continued to motor at the same speed. Esper, on her own, tried to catch up with Lo. The remainder of Esper’s group, Group Three, regrouped together, half a mile back along with Group Two. We were now two convoys with Esper in the middle, or so it felt. At that moment we overheard on the VHF a coalition warship having a conversation with another boat that had been attacked by pirates!
I think it must have been the culmination of a tiring couple of days of convoy motoring, the relief at having completed the Red Sea, the trepidation of entering Pirate Alley, reports of piracy activity on the radio and my vivid imagination that all culminated in me sh!tting my pants. The last time I felt like this I was 12 and the school hard nut tried to take me out in the playground.
Needless to say it was a false alarm and we were in fact passing a fishing village where there were many fishermen tending to their nets. Lo knew this and I wondered if this was a ‘test'; it wasn’t and Lo was just being cautious. As for the ‘test’, well that was yet to come…
We made Aden at dawn on the 29th February and dropped the hook in a very tight anchorage and drank all day out of sheer relief.