Collisions, fishing nets, narrow escapes, exhaustion, arguments and tantrums. And that was just the first day! Sailing in convoy with fourteen other boats through the most dangerous waters in the world is enough to turn any sane man into a quivering wreck, excuse the pun. Add to that the responsibility imposed upon the ‘group leaders’ to be the lead boat, allowing for much criticism of seamanship skills from the other ‘more knowledgeable’ sailors in the group (note a smidgen of sarcasm there) and it all adds up to a damn bloody miserable time on the water. Don’t blame the rally though, and don’t blame the organiser. Blame the whinging bloody Poms, and it is always the Brits, who are just never satisfied! As if to prove a point I will now spend a page whinging…
Before I do, let’s start with a positive aspect of the convoy. When there was an incident involving any boat, and there were many, mainly at night, the rest of the boats were good enough to stand by and offer assistance where possible. I’ve always had that kind of faith in the camaraderie of sailors and it had been demonstrated many times on this rally.
Take for example just two hours after leaving Aden. The night had drawn in and we’d left port to cruise up the Yemeni coast past the Aden lighthouse. It was here that ‘Storm Dodger’ successfully got its prop caught in a fishing net. You can hear the whole incident in Part One of our Pirate Alley podcast but to summarise for now it involved Graham from ‘Eeyore’ being picked up by Anthony from ‘Divanty’ to head on over to help Roger out of a sticky situation. Each had to get together their equipment: Graham his dive gear and Anthony lowering his dinghy in the water and putting on the outboard. Remember it was dark so one of the problems was identifying which boat Anthony had to pick Graham up from and which boat was ‘Storm Dodger’. At one point the rib with the diver ended up by Esper because they had lost their own boat! The whole incident took well over an hour as the non-participating boats bobbed around in the dark trying to avoid slow-motion collisions.
I think on the first night at least one, maybe two other boats picked up fishing nets. It became apparent that the inside group (Esper’s group) were closest to land and therefore more at risk of picking up nets.
In another incident one boat picked up a net, stalled, and another boat ran into the back of him. No one was quite sure how it happened or who was at fault but it was unsurprising, given the close proximity we were all sailing in. I think Lo was disappointed as he has never had a collision on the rally before but sh!t happens.
There’s more. ‘Anthea’, who once upon a time towed ‘Cobble’, developed his own engine problems and had to be towed by ‘Mistral’. Amazingly Jean-Claude was able to repair his engine whilst being towed. He became a bit of a mechanical hero on that trip. ‘Rhumb Do’ lost a hose fitting and flooded his saloon. He had to jury rig a solution as Esper stood by and prepared tow lines. Fortunately Ian and Robbie were able to fix the leak. That was a particularly memorable moment as it all happened in the glare of the most enormous oil refinery that was burning off gas through a chimney that was so bright, it lit up miles of mountainous coast line in the small hours. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings, with Sauron the all-seeing eye casting a foreboding evil glare over his dark empire. That night certainly felt quite evil, at least to Ian who probably had images of his boat sinking in that spot.
The other great thing about the rally was the contact we were having with the relevant authories in the area, from the coast guard to coalition warships to official governmental departments, all of whom were aware of our presence and with whom Lo stayed in daily contact with. There was a very cool moment when a Canadian battleship circled the VdG Rally twice, including a quick helicopter surveillance. It was nice to know the big boys have got your back.
Hoorah for sailing camaraderie. A good thing it is too. But…
One morning, clearly fed up of the confines of the convoy, a number of us took advantage of some favourable winds, broke rank and went off sailing, tacking our way up the coast in a great big zig-zag pattern. We arrived that evening in Mukala to refuel and the next morning the culprits were reprimanded by Lo who was appalled that we had broken loose from the convoy in a hot spot of pirate activity. I’ll admit I was one of the guilty parties.
It was the only time I’d heard Lo really angry but his anger wasn’t just directed at the few of us who went sailing, it was also aimed at the skippers of boats who refused to push their vessels over 5 knots which, remember, we’d all signed up for and agreed to do before starting the rally. We still don’t understand why but a couple of skippers refused to keep up with the convoy by insisting that their boats could go no faster. No one believed them, however, as we’d seen them motor in to Aden a week previously, all doing 7 knots, desperate to get to the bar for a drink!
And then there was ‘Way Point Gate’. Jesus wept…
When I wrote the first draft of this post I went into great detail about this ugly side of the rally, which involved conspiracy, evil plots, espionage and murder. It just came across as an angry rant though, which it was supposed to be, but it wouldn’t have meant much to anyone not on the rally. All you need to know is that I found the level of immaturity and lack of team spirit amongst some adults really quite disappointing.
You see, dear reader, we had all signed up to this rally to take part according to Lo’s rules. Whether we liked the convoy or not, whether we liked doing 5 knots or not, whether we liked following Lo instead of way points or not, the fact remained that this was Lo’s party and we had all agreed to abide by his leadership. To not do so was akin to mutiny, IMHO. We’re all mavericks but sometimes you just have to tow the line. Clearly some people did not like being told what to do. Others convinced themselves that their way was better. I still can’t work out if it was arrogance or ignorance. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Bitter? Me? Nah! I’m just sick of the sight of everyone, that’s all 😉
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