Three Times through Pirate Zone for Dogged Sailor

Sailing boats in Port of Salalah
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The Oasis Club is busy these days with the clamour of Yachties having their last touch of ‘civilisation’ before heading up Gulf of Aden towards the Red Sea. Rick Everest is one of these, but with more than his correct share of misadventures, it’s only by sheer doggedness that he has made it at all.

Situated in Salalah on the southern coast of Oman, the Oasis Club has been put there by the Port of Salalah as a token of hospitality to passing foreigners. Standing at the noisy bar, television screen blaring behind, diners at their tables quaffing red wine and enjoying Vienna schnitzels, it feels like a scene from any of a thousand western cities. But it has been named well – it is truly an oasis.

Veiled women
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Outside the slim walls is a very different world. Alcohol is taboo in this Muslim country. The women go veiled here, swathed in black to the ground, only the eyes visible. On the crowded streets there are no women, except near the mosques, or in the supermarkets. And no girls – the boys play ball and shout, the men stride and stroll, watching and chatting. So strict is the community that when Muslim women dine out in restaurants as the meal is being served waiters hurry to bring mobile screens. These are to surround each table so that the other diners cannot see the faces of the women as they remove their veils and expose their mouths in order to eat.

Rick Everest is standing at the bar, waiting for a table. He’s become a bit of a legend in the cruising world - He’s the guy that hit an Indian Navy ship with his sailing boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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Things were already not going well for his round world cruising journey when his wife of many years decided that enough was enough, and informed Rick she was leaving him. So in Cochin, in India, he took on a crewmember, sight unseen, and they set off for Salalah towards the end of 2002. Not far from the coast of India, Rick was resting below, when his crewmember called out. By the time Rick arrived on deck, the giant Navy ship was looming over them. Rick took a breath and said, ‘Iif he just keeps going, I think we’ll miss him.’

But the young officer on the bridge of the Navy ship countermanded his superior’s instruction and took evasive action. The ship turned, too late, and the stern collected Rick’s Peterson 44, Sir George, bringing the mast down and inflicting other damage on the sturdy boat.

I met him a year later. He was still in Cochin, berthed at the Navy wharf there, where the Navy had, in fits and starts, been assisting him with his repairs. Wife gone, boat unserviceable, he was nevertheless trying to be pretty cheerful and philosophical about it. Fate however hadn’t finished with him yet. The stress was telling, and not long after he suffered a major stroke and ended up in an Indian hospital. But by now, and before the boat repair was finished (new mast had to come from Europe), his Indian visa had well and truly run out, and the authorities were ‘keen for me to leave’.

He departed and sailing back to Thailand with English schoolteacher David Whitehead as crew. In Phuket he met a new lovely partner, and luck was finally running his way. They have made their way across the Indian Ocean again, visited the remote Chagos Archipelago, and the Maldives, and have finally reached Salalah – three years late.

However, Rick doesn’t know how to stay away from adventure. What’s worse than having to transverse the ‘pirate zone’ to get to the Red Sea? The answer is: having to transverse it three times.

When Sir George set out with a convoy of boats in February 2006, all, he thought, was finally going well for him. However, they had just transversed the pirate zone, when his engine collapsed. Faced with little help in the ports ahead, Sir George decided to go back to Salalah. Now, he is about to try again, making it his third crossing this year.

‘The coalition warships are really on the ball though,’ he said over a drink. ‘I was sneaking back to Salalah, no lights, trying to be unobtrusive, when they (a Coalition warship) called me on the radio. When I explained, they sent a helicopter to check on me and more or less gave me an escort back to Salalah.’

A convoy of sailing boats that has reached Djibouti has also reported back by radio to their colleague boats that they received an escort from a Coalition warship right through the worst pirate area.

All is going well in the Gulf of Aden in 2006 – so far, so good.

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