Life is full of Surprises. A delivery job has popped up, delivering a ship from Bahrain to Trieste in Italy.
As I am in the area, its an easy hop from Dammam in Saudi to Bahrain, I have accepted the job and have changed my plans for return to New Zealand.
The drive across the causeway from Saudi Arabia was a first for me. Some years back I drove from Bahrain to Saudi across the causeway, but I have never done the reverse trip.
The border crossing is an artificial island in the centre of the causeway. Entry formalities into Bahrain are simple, the friendly immigration official issued me a visa for two weeks and welcomed me into Bahrain.
I first stopped in Bahrain as a cadet when flying out to Singapore to join a ship. The airport was not much more than a hut at that time. But one thing I remember is that there was a fish tank (couldn’t call it an aquarium) in the waiting area. It was the first time I had seen tropical fish in a tank – a goldfish was exotic in England at the time.
In 1974 I visited Bahrain again and lived there occasionally when working offshore Saudi Arabia. At that time Bahrain was the jewel in the Gulf, an informal place you could relax with friendly people. We used to have a wonderful time, eating, drinking, swimming and parties, a great social life among the expat community.
Now I am struggling to find old landmarks and recognise the place. The pace of development, building and roading has masked the Bahrain of old. But, from what I have seen so far, the relaxed and informal atmosphere remains, all the people I have met seem happy and friendly.
I am now perched up fifteen floors in a new hotel overlooking the American naval Base and Harbour. Although I can’t see much detail as there is a lot of sand in the air making it hazy.
Soon I will be preparing for a new voyage ahead. Once again through pirate waters, then up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. The weather for the trip should be good and the Mediterranean warm and calm at this time of year. The rest of the crew should arrive in a day or two – I wonder who they are?
I am in Saudi Arabia for a short job, inspecting a couple of ships. Its quite warm and everything is covered in sand, not really my type of place but I should be able to top up the boat fund and carry on preparing for next summer.
Anyway, I went offshore yesterday and got marooned on a ship overnight. With not much to do I started flicking back on the laptop through old photos. I was surprised to see that I was in Pelican, Alaska on this date – TWO years ago!
Pelican was an interesting place, the sort of place not many people get to as it’s off the beaten track. I remember interesting and friendly people, a library with good WiFi, fresh salmon and good beer. Very enjoyable.
Flicking forward in time to one year ago I found a photo of the underside of the mast where it exits the coach roof, with bits of wood smashed up to make makeshift mast wedges. At the time I was on my way from San Francisco to Hawaii, it was a bit disconcerting when some mast wedges dropped out and creaks started emanating from the mast. I think the change of climate may have caused the wooden wedges to shrink a bit as we headed south. I was happy to have fixed the problem and arrived in Hawaii where I made a more permanent fix once in port.
This year I find myself offshore Saudi Arabia. I haven’t been in these waters since I was a young man working on a pioneering SBM project to service the super-tankers of the day. We managed to achieve amazing things with very little equipment – maybe because we didn’t understand we could fail. There are far more platforms, barges, rigs and workboats around than the old days – it’s a very busy place now.
By this evening I should be back onshore and writing up my reports. Then its back on the plane in a couple of days, back to New Zealand and the winter weather.
21st June and the shortest day of the year. Its wet and cold in Auckland and work on Truce has declined to a snail’s pace. My casual job at Burnsco, travel for Marine Consultancy work and the short daylight hours all conspire to keep me off the boat for days at a time.
From now on the days will get longer and hopefully more productive. I have a long list of maintenance jobs I want to complete this winter before my next summer of adventure. The boat needs painting inside and out, the mast needs refurbishing, the rigging needs replacing and there are a thousand and one small jobs on the radar. One of my major tasks is to skim off the top layer of the deck and apply new epoxy and glass fibre cover.
To keep the decks dry and protected I have put a plastic shrink wrap over the boat. It cost a few hard-earned dollars but is a lower cost option than hauling out into a shed and allows me to work on the boat at the dock.
So far this winter I have refurbished the toilet area or head to give the correct nautical description. Everything looks nice and clean with crispy new white paint and sanitation pump. I am also in the process of painting the inside of various lockers and cupboards, a very time consuming, messy and convoluted process. A small leak in the filler hose for the Dickenson cabin heater had caused the outside of the ply tank to become saturated with diesel. I will replace the old tank with a new aluminium one and the previous lingering diesel odour in the wardrobe will be no more.
Next week I will be travelling to Saudi Arabia for a short job, it should be quite warm and put some heat into my old bones.
After that I am looking forward to getting stuck into the refurbishment and planning for the next seasons trip to the South of New Zealand. At the moment my idea is to sail up the East Coast and around North Cape before heading down the West Coast to Golden Bay. From there to Fiordland and Stewart Island before returning up the East Coast to Auckland. My plans are pretty sketchy at this stage but one thing I don’t want to happen is to have any deadlines or schedules – just go with the flow.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
My arrival back in Auckland was a quiet affair, the wind disappeared and I motored into the harbour in sunny calm conditions. Truce is now berthed in Bayswater Marina where she will spend a couple of months until I find a more permanent berth in the New Year.
It was good to settle back into New Zealand life, especially as the summer weather is on the way and days are long and warm. As usual there are a heap of odd jobs to do around the house and garden, but no hurry, I am just taking it easy after my Pacific crossing.
However, it wasn’t too long before I was packing my bag for another trip overseas. This time for a ship delivery from the Netherlands to India. In mid-November I left Auckland in sunshine and arrived in a wet, cold and dark Amsterdam – quite a shock to the system. A taxi ride took me to a hotel in Rotterdam where I joined the rest of the crew, a mixture of Dutch, Belgium and Indonesian.
The next day I headed out with the other crew to join the ship and prepare for the voyage ahead, 7,000 miles to India which will see us spend Christmas at sea and arrive at our destination before the New Year. The ship is fresh out of the shipyard and as usual everywhere was buzzing with technicians doing final installations and testing of systems.
The ships crew started the task of preparing for the upcoming voyage, receiving provisions, preparing the voyage plan, getting familiar with the ship and its systems, safety training and drills and of course the volumes of paperwork and certification that are part of modern seafaring. After two days on board we were ready to sail – but not before a good night’s rest.
The next morning the Pilot boarded, the gangway was sent ashore and we let go the mooring lines. I carefully manoeuvred the ship away from the berth into the Nieuwe Mass River, very aware that a lot of people were watching from the shipyard. Taking a new ship for the first time is always interesting and a steep learning curve to establish quickly how she responds to engines, rudders and thrusters.
Before reaching the sea we had to pass three bridges in Rotterdam. This involved lengthy waits in the river for bridge opening times – which are coordinated with traffic conditions to avoid more congestion than usual in the city. After an hour wait we passed the Van Brienenoordbrug and then had a lengthy wait in the river for the second bridge, the Koninginnebrug, to open. During this wait we were passed by the old tug the ‘Spanje’ with Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) on board. Zwarte Piet is a traditional Dutch Christmas character – who in recent years is becoming controversial with his blacked up face and curly wig.
The next bridge we passed was the Koninginnebrug before entering the Koningshaven. We waited in the confined area of the Koningshaven for half an hour before passing the Erasmusbrug (nicknamed the Swan bridge) and finally being free to head towards the Hoek van Holland and the North Sea.
By late afternoon we dropped the pilot at Maascenter. The weather forecast was not too good for the southern North Sea. After the pilot departed we spent some time securing the anchors and double checking all was secure on deck before picking up speed and heading off to start the voyage to India.
After a couple of peaceful days in Whangarei whilst the wind blew outside I sailed this morning, passing under the lifting bridge at eight forty-five – the first opening after the rush hour. I rode the ebb tide down the river, past Marsden Point and out the shipping channel, passing the fairway buoy three hours after departing the town basin.
The south westerly wind was blowing at fifteen to twenty knots and we could sail close hauled on starboard tack at between six and seven knots. The sun came out around mid-day and we had a great sail down the coast past Cape Rodney to the north channel by Kawau Island.
Just after six this evening we anchored in Mansion House Bay on Kawau Island – good sheltered anchorage from the south westerly wind. There are six other yachts sheltering here – there is plenty of room for everyone.
Tomorrow I expect to make the final hop down to Auckland, now less than thirty miles away. As I write this I realise this is my last night anchored out and solo. Tomorrow I should be sleeping ashore in a static bed.
Truce is tucked up in the Town Basin at Whangarei. A secure spot right in the centre of town close to all facilities, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. This must be one of the best temporary stops in New Zealand. He forecast is for high winds – I have put out a couple of extra mooring lines.
Ngozi arrived just after nine and it was great to meet up again. The last time we were together was early June in San Francisco. We went up into town, had a nice brunch, watched a bit of the predictable match between the All Blacks and Argentinian Pumas, filled up my empty gas bottle and generally caught up on what’s been happening since I been away.
Later in the day the previous owners of Truce came by and stopped for a drink and a chat. So, a nice social day in Whangarei.
In the evening, I was opening a glass jar and the whole thing shattered in my hand, cutting the top of my right index finger quire badly. I used some steri-strips to close the wound, wrapped plaster around it to hold it all together with a finger stall on top. Cutting that finger is particularly annoying – it’s the finger that does everything.
The weather forecast is quite horrendous. Very strong south westerly winds with speeds up to fifty knots. I will hunker down in Whangarei until conditions outside are more favourable to continue down to Auckland.