TRUCE HAS A NEW HOME

Since arriving back in New Zealand at the end of September last year Truce has temporarily been moored in Bayswater Marina in Auckland.  A perfectly good marina and close to the city – but more of a car park for boats than a local spot with character.

Westpark Marina at Sunset. Photo Ray Penson
Westpark Marina at Sunset. Photo Ray Penson

Truce always looked a bit out of place among the mainly modern plastic boats moored around her.

Early in February we moved further up the harbour to Westpark Marina or Hobsonville Marina as some call it.  Where, I have finally bit the bullet and bought a marina berth.  Truce in now happily moored among boats of all shapes, sizes and vintages, she seems more in place.  Westpark also has a haul out and yard facility which I will need in a few months when the time comes for hull cleaning and painting – which is already overdue.   Even more convenient there is a ferry direct to downtown and a pub onsite for those times when a beer is needed to assist problem solving.

Now that Truce is securely moored in her own berth I can start to plan for the future.  Before the next adventure Truce will need some work done to bring her back to top form.  The hull and topsides are looking tired and in need of a new coat of paint.  The rig has had a hard couple of years and really needs new standing rigging.  The mast paint is showing sings of fatigue – I will need to take the mast out and do a complete overhaul.  So quite a bit of work to be done in addition to all the other general and preventative maintenance.

The sails are in pretty good shape.  I have had the jib and staysail patched up with the local sailmaker.  The staysail probably only has another campaign left in it – a pity, its my favourite sail.

It’s a little strange how the individual sails seem to develop their own personalities.  The jib is like a stroppy female factory worker, when she is trimmed correctly and the working conditions are just right, she works hard and doesn’t complain.  When the wind drops or the trim isn’t correct she shouts, flutters and flaps about making a great commotion, upsetting everything.  The staysail is a bulldog of a sail, never complains no matter how badly its trimmed.  It just wants to work and pull – nickname is Billy after the tank engine.  The mainsail is the boss, he calls the shots and when the jib and staysail get their act together he drives everything along in perfect harmony.

Map showing Hobsonville Marina

The next adventure – I am thinking about exploring the south of New Zealand.  Stewart Island and Fiordland in particular are areas where visiting and exploring by boat are the only real options as they are so remote.  I am thinking about it.

SUEZ TO INDIA

Cruising down the Red Sea, beautiful weather and a gentle following wind.  Such a relaxing ride after the bumpy Mediterranean and chaos of the Suez Canal.  Time to catch breath and take advantage of the weather which is set for a couple of days more

Route, Suez to India Ray Penson
Route, Suez to India

The crew are also happy to have good weather and are setting about preparing the ship for the upcoming transit of the piracy area.  Razor wire is being strung along the ships side and measures are taken to prevent any unwanted persons gaining entry to the ship.  Anti-piracy and security drills are carried out and systems tested.  Most of the crew have been through this procedure before many times – a sad element of modern seafaring.

Towards the bottom of the Red Sea we have a rendezvous to collect a couple more security guards and weapons before heading through the Bab el Mandab (Gateway of Tears), the narrow strait between Yemen and Djibouti that leads to the Gulf of Aden.  Due to the current conflict in Yemen Bab el Mandeb is now considered a high-risk area.  I planned to transit this area in daylight, but adverse winds and head seas slowed us, we passed by during darkness instead.  Pirates in their small boats can’t operate during bad weather so a night-time transit didn’t have much risk involved.  Warships, helicopters and military activity aplenty in this area.  In the past I have spent time in Yemen, both on the coast and in Sana, it’s a strikingly beautiful country.  It’s very wrong that a few people’s greed and thirst for power is causing so much suffering to the already poor people.

Picking up Security Personnel and weapons. Photo by Ray Penson (1)

As we headed out into the Gulf of Aden the wind backed around to the West and headed us again, slowing our progress.  The headwind and head seas continued all the way to Ras al Hadd in Oman.  The windy weather reduced the chance of any pirate attack, but we maintained all anti-piracy measures in place with double lookouts.  In the history of recent piracy in this area no attack against a merchant vessel has been successful when armed security has been on board and no boarding’s have been recorded on any ships that can travel at 18 knots or over.

We continued up the coast of Oman, past Salalah where as a young man I had delivered stores onto the beach for the British Army as local bandits shot ineffectually at us from high ground.  Salalah is now a big town with an airport and large container port.  Past Masirah Island where we used to drop supplies for a small Royal Air Force contingent who were based there.  I remember the anchorage at Masirah for the fantastic fishing, the poop deck of our ship resembled a trawler, we quickly filled the freezers with fresh fish.

Once around Ras al Hadd the wind reduced and calmer weather remained with us all the way to India.  It was interesting for me to go around Ras al Hadd, but disappointing that we couldn’t get close to see the coast in detail.  The traffic separation scheme around Ras al Hadd now takes the northbound ships out over twelve miles distant – too far to see anything interesting.

Around 1997 Ngozi and I toured Oman by 4WD, we visited Ras al Hadd on our way to a turtle beach to the south, where we camped.  During the night we were able to watch the turtles coming ashore and lay their eggs – and by day see the spectacle of hundreds of hatchlings struggling to get to the sea as birds picked off the many unfortunate ones.  A memorable experience and we have many fond memories of Oman and the friendly people we met there.

Our voyage continued past Muscat and up to a rendezvous off Fujairah in the UAE where we dropped off our security guards and their equipment.  Then it was the final leg to India with just the eight ships crew on board.  During the next days we celebrated Christmas and made sure the ship was shining like a new pin for the new owners.  Pre-arrival India there was also a mountain of paperwork to complete – multiple forms, frequently requiring duplicate information.  The obsession in India for needless and mindless paperwork is world leading.

 The arrival in India went well and we were securely berthed by mid-morning, engines shut down and formalities underway.  Once the formalities were complete it was time for a beer – but – Gujarat state is dry, I had to wait a further two days until Delhi Airport  to taste the amber nectar.  Everybody on board was happy to have finished the job, 3,600 miles from Suez, and to get home before the New Year.

Safely alongside - Job Finished. Photo by Ray Penson
Safely alongside – Job Finished. Photo by Ray Penson

ROTTERDAM TO SUEZ

The trip from Rotterdam down the English Channel was quite nostalgic – we passed the old familiar headlands of North and South Foreland, Dungeness and Beachy Head.  Pre GPS, these were significant navigational marks, committed to memory – now they are just names on the chart for the majority of large commercial ships.

The weather was typical winter channel weather, grey overcast, cold and a decent sea running.  There is no heating on the ship as its destined to operate in a warm climate, watches on the bridge are chilly affairs with only a small portable heater to supply warmth.

Delivery RouteAfter three days we are clear of the channel and heading across the Bay of Biscay.  Its still cold and the Bay is giving us a bit of rock and roll – but not too bad and I have certainly had worse crossing the Bay of Biscay.  The ship has now switched from Diesel to heavy fuel for the main engines as we are out of the European Emission control area.  With each mile I imagine the temperature will rise as we get further south, but it remains cold.

Passing down the coasts of Spain and Portugal are now longer scenic affairs.  The modern traffic routing splits the north bound and south bound ships into lanes and separation schemes.  The southbound lane is now so far offshore that land, when you can see it, is just a distant smudge on the horizon.

After a week we reach the Straits of Gibraltar early in the morning for a spectacular sunrise.  The weather is a bit warmer now and the sea has calmed down for the first time.  At Gibraltar we are sending a service technician, who has been on board for the trip down from Rotterdam, ashore.  We slow down to rendezvous with a service boat coming out from Gibraltar.  The transfer only takes a few minutes and we are back up to speed an on our way again.  I look back at Gibraltar slipping astern and wish I could go ashore for a few hours.

The Mediterranean Sea turned on a strong northerly wind.  We had a nasty bumpy ride and rolled all the way along the North African coast.  People think of the Mediterranean as being sunny and calm – in winter it can be an unpleasant place.

The evening arrival at Port Said to transit the Suez Canal was the usual chaotic event.  Lots of ships calling on the VHF radio and everyone fighting to be first.  Luckily, we didn’t have to anchor and joined the early morning convoy.  As this is the ships first Suez transit there is a mountain of paperwork to complete.  As we enter the canal the pilot boards.  Followed by the agents, boatmen and their boat, canal electrician with his light and security personnel.  We also receive additional security equipment for the piracy areas ahead, which must be loaded with the ships crane.  A period of very intense activity before we can settle down to the canal transit.

Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson Yacht Truce
Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson

At the Bitter Lakes we anchored for a few hours to allow a northbound convoy to pass.  The weather is warm at last and its flat calm.  A very welcome rest and time to catch up on sleep before we head off again.

A few hours later, in the small hours we reach the pilot station at Suez.  Here we disembark our Egyptian visitors and their equipment and pick up a security guy who will be with us as we pass the piracy area.  Finally, with a sense of relief the canal is behind us, we can head down the Red Sea with the first 3,400 miles behind us.

Our next stop will be at the bottom of the Red Sea to pick up two more security personnel and their arms.  Until then it looks like we will have good weather for a few days with following winds for a change.  So nice to be warm again and switch the portable heaters off.