When two gentlemen turn up at your boat dressed like the bloke on the left it’s very hard to hold back a smirk. In fact there were a few of us on board Esper when JC (pictured) and Mitch hollered over to us “How do we get to your boat?” Having already eyed up these two pasty white Naval officers in their Naval tropical garbs, including knee-length stockings, we were quite shocked that they had wandered over from HMS Chatham, moored at the other side of the port, to come and talk specifically to us.
Terry picked the officers up in his dinghy and delivered them to Esper, whereupon they clambered ungraciously up the side of the boat and plonked themselves in our cockpit, charts tucked under their arms, all hot and bothered. It was a reminder to us yotties that we had acclimatised to this tropical weather whilst others, who spent much of their time in air conditioned rooms, hadn’t! Anyway, the boys clearly needed some refreshment so a good old cup of English Earl Grey was well received, and then the next hour was spent having a fascinating chat with the two officers on the subject of piracy.
It turned out that JC was serving his fourth posting in Pirate Alley, whilst Mitch worked in intelligence. Between them they were able to fill us in on what they had learned about pirate activity over the last few years. There were some useful pointers on actual identification and also on where the attacks were happening, but the most interesting thing was learning how the coalition forces are now working together in a coordinated effort to fight piracy. That was encouraging to learn.
We spent over an hour talking, picking their brains and discussing piracy avoidance tactics. At the end of the chat they invited the rally to join them aboard HMS Chatham for a more formal presentation on piracy, plus a tour of the warship itself. Yeah! Highlight of our stay in Salalah!
I think a number of the rally hooked up with the Chatham boys in the Oasis bar later that evening, and then again in the officers mess the day after. Anyway, we had a little tour of the ship hosted by Tie (or is it Thai?) a gruff-looking red headed chap who made you feel secure that it was he who was in charge of weapons deployment, the sort of man you expect to find in the Royal Navy (he wasn’t gruff at all, by the way, he seemed a very decent bloke).
Chatham’s weapons had dope names like ‘The Goal Keeper’ and ‘Bitch Slap’ (I made that second one up, but it would make a good name for a short range rocket, no?) and you could tell Tie was going mad with frustration at not being able to use these big boys toys. Make no mistake, Chatham is pretty tooled up.
Our fave weapon was a battery powered Gatling-type gun, which we all agreed would be most practical mounted to the side of our sail boats. There was just the issue of budget of course. Not sure how much one of those baby’s goes for but a toy it was not.
The last battleship I went aboard was HMS Belfast when I was seven. Things have moved on since then, let me assure you. It was an interesting tour and great to meet some of the people behind one of the many coalition warships patrolling the area. We got to know Oggie (Graham, pictured right), a sailor from Plymouth who had just completed the renovation of his own 16ft sail boat, and his mate Janet (Nick), who was able to chat for hours with Terry about footie, much to Terry’s delight. In fact it was just nice to hook up with people closer to my age: we didn’t have one single conversation about ailments, bodily dysfunctions or boat maintenance! I think for the few boats who entertained various members of the Chatham crew it was a pleasure to return the favour by entertaining some of these bored chaps.
Oggie turned out to be a star, lugging a whole load of jerry cans in the midday heat over from Chatham to Esper. He’d picked up on a conversation earlier about us not having enough cans for the big journey ahead. Oggie, if you are reading this, they were really appreciated and came in useful. They were the reason Terry and Fiona didn’t have to make a fuel stop further up the coast, so you did us all a favour. Cheers m8.
With people like Oggie, Janet, Tie, JC and Mitch on board it’s nice to know these boys have got your back should the worst happen.
We thanked the crew of HMS Chatham by presenting them with the Vasco Da Gama trophy. If you are reading this boys, thank you very much for keeping us entertained and, more importantly, keeping the waters safe.