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2006 Cruising fleet approaches Pirate zone

by Ian Potter/Sail_World Cruising on 1 Mar 2006
Pirate Zone . .
In spite of world-wide reporting of the vicious attacks this time last year on the two American-flagged boats Mahdi and Gandalf, there are over 70 boats headed now for the pirate zone in the Gulf of Aden.

Sundancer II and its crew, Australians Ian and Helen Potter, are part of this contingent. They set out from Phuket in Thailand, and are now crossing the Arabian Sea from Ulugan in the Maldives, headed for Salalah in Oman.

To date they have visited Galle in Sri Lanka, where about 50 migratory sailing boats have called in so far, and Ulugan in the Maldives. The Maldives report that so far 41 boats have passed that way. A small contingent of boats were also headed for Cochin(Kochi) in India.

Salalah, however, is the port where yachts generally rendezvous to collect stores, gather US Dollars (the currency of preference up the Red Sea) and decide on their strategy for getting through the pirate infested waters ahead.

Whether a boat is safer travelling in a contingent or going it alone has long been the subject of debate. However, there are several maxims for enhancing chances of escaping the attention of pirates who operate in the area. (These were deduced by recording all past pirate attacks, and looking for patterns.)

1. Most pirate attacks have occurred over the weekend days of Saturday and Sunday – avoid these.

2. All pirate attacks have occurred in a known zone of the Gulf.Therefore approach this zone (approximatelhy E49.00 to E46.00) at sundown and get through the zone overnight.

3. For the same reason, travel without lights(brings its own problems).

4. Travel through the zone only on moonless nights.

5. Do not use the VHF radio - arrange HF scheds for communications.

6. Stay away from both Yemeni and Somali shores.

7. It is thought that the Yemeni pirates are usually fisherman out for an extra catch, so 50 miles is far enough off that shore. It is thought that Somali pirates are usually people smugglers. They are considered more dangerous, so stay at least 100 miles from that shore. This leaves a confined channel of ‘safe’ waters.

We’ll be following the progress of the yachts as they make their way, and will bring frequent updates.

For those further interested, full details of the planning by a contingent of sailing boats which transversed the zone in February 2004 are on this LINK.


In the meantime, here is the story so far of Sundancer’s journey from Phuket across the Bay of Bengal and into the Arabian Sea, including valuable practical descriptions of Sri Lanka and the Maldives for sailors intending to visit these destinations in the future.

‘We departed Phuket 27 January bound for Galle Harbour in Sri Lanka. The trip took just over 7 days. It was a pleasant trip except for squalls and much rain on the second last night out. We also had good current with us most of the way.

‘However, the salt-water pump died so we had no engine. The beers were getting warm and batteries were getting low – and this was after repair work to the water pump in Phuket. While there, we had had a new shaft machined – the splines were too big and they couldn't get old impeller off. We actually think they must have used a sledgehammer to get it on- many Ozzie words about quality of work. In addition, the bimini we had made leaked like a sieve so more comments (anybody who would like to know suppliers please contact) I guess this means I've changed my mind about some of the work we had done in Phuket.

‘Anyway we drifted into Galle, finding about 20 yachts there. We had the water pump repaired with the original shaft and it seems ok now.

Galle & Sri Lanka:

‘Galle and Sri Lanka were fantastic to visit.
We were well looked after by the agents (Windsors), and the shore agents (Dee Dee Yacht Service) for repairs, tours and general assistance, and Mikes Yacht Service for food and fuel (jerry jugs about USD 0.50/litre).

‘Large quantities of fuel or water can be delivered to main dock, and there are plenty of ATM machines. In Galle city the mobile phone network is cheap. Galle Harbour is a little bumpy either tied to floating pontoon or dock (sometimes 2 to 3 deep) and there can also be a lot of cement dust floating around.

‘There is a great colonial hotel (the Closenburg ) just up the hill from the harbour gates entrance which itself is quiet a long walk especially from floating pontoon.

‘Port fees are USD$170 if you stay a day or a month and have to go through an agent (most use Windsors - contact on VHF69 on approach). The harbour is closed every night because of the constant Tamil Tiger scare, and most nights two or three small depth charges are let off.

‘Customs officials are keen for some back shish - we gave them a cheap bottle of Thai whiskey and 2 packs of smokes. They got really sad with one US boat – the crew were non-smoking and non-drinking and they ended up asking for some soap for their kids.

‘We had a five night tour up to Kandy, a great train ride through the
highlands, and seeing National Parks and Temples – the only place we didn't like was Colombo. Plenty of Tsunami damage is still evident on the bottom of west coast around Galle - not sure what has happened to all the relief money!


‘We departed Galle on 20 Feb bound for Ulugan in Northern Maldives (about
450 miles). It was a quiet trip and we motored about half the way. Mostly current was with us, but we had a counter current for about 20 hours about 180 miles out from Ulugan.

‘We were the 41st yacht to call this year and so far another 4 have
arrived.

Ulugan:

‘Uligan has about 400 inhabitants. It is a full port of entry. Port dues
are USD$5 for up to 15 days. Officials are very friendly and helpful -
they clear vessels in even on Fridays or Saturdays, their holydays. It’s a great spot for a few days rest before heading to Oman, Aden or Djibouti.

‘Anchor just outside reef in about 18 - 20 metres although some shallower spots can be found. We went for a day tour to 3 other islands in the group, which was interesting. Fuel is easy to obtain via jerry jug at USD 0.85 per litre. Some drinking water is available. Food is fairly expensive compared to Asian countries. There are no restaurants but a local dinner can be arranged – as it is a Muslim country there is no booze - mobile phone service is here just like every other country we have stopped at.

‘There are a lot of yachts in front of us now – the first boats are already arriving in Djibouti and quite a few are in Salalah with a bunch getting close. My estimate now is that there are probably 70 plus yachts who are heading up through the Red Sea this year.

‘It’s now the 28th Feb and we have just departed Uligan for Salalah

Regards Ian (Bugs) & Helen Potter
SY Sundancer II

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