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North Sails 2021 Innovation - LEADERBOARD

Expedition ship Phoenicia sails into the pirate zone

by Blackwattle Studios on 21 Jun 2009
Phoenicia sailing SW
The Phoenicia Expedition, Captained by Philip Beale, an English ex-Navy sailor, is attempting to recreate the first circumnavigation of Africa, accomplished by Phoenician mariners in 600BC, in a replica Phoenician/Mediterranean vessel, called, appropriately enough, Phoenicia. They have just completed a four day sail from Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast of Yemen to Aden on the southern coast.

The passage of 270 nautical miles ended with the ship anchored securely at the inner harbour, Aden, and has has brought Phoenicia to the start point for launching Phase 2 of the expedition to circumnavigate Africa with prevailing winds and currents at the end of August 2009.

Beale and a small crew had made their way back to Port Hodeidah, arriving on 3rd May. It was an international crew. Added to the Yemeni sailors were new crew members Nigel (UK), Richard (Canada) and John (UK). They found the ship in fair condition. There were crows nesting on the mast when they arrived - so a real crows nest!

They set to work immediately to prepare the ship, and departed on the 10th May, sailing in light westerlies due south for the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, the gateway between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, using the services of security firm Drum Cussac for piracy advice.

Here are some exerpts from Philip Beale's account of their journey:

The crew have settles in quite well but it has been very hard work getting the ship up together again after 3 months. We have had the usual cuts and bruises, rope burns and aching bones and muscles. Inevitably not everything works as well as it might and after hours of work from some MAA engineers we still could not get our generator to work and have been left with the power from the solar panels, wind generator and alternator from the engine. So we just about have enough power to keep us gong if we are careful in how we conserve it.

We have two watches, one led by Nigel Fransham, and ably assisted by John Bainbridge, and two Yemeni hands – Ali and Fadh, and the other by me.

Piracy measures:
Apart from the usual sailing routines of watch keeping (lookouts, pumping bilges, helming,adjusting the sails and meal preparations ) quite a bit of time has been spent on anti-piracy measures.

So we have wrapped the ship’s rails with barbed wire, razor blades, fire hoses and have molotov cocktails at the ready to throw at the pirates. Well okay, we haven’t actually done that and we have resisted offers of AK47’s (on sale foe $10 each in Hodiedah) to protect us, believing that if the pirates really want to come on board there is not much we can do to stop them- such is the low free-board of the ship and our relatively slow speed.

Our basic plan is to stay close to the Yemeni shore, darken ship at night and keep a low profile, i.e. no radar and VHF. We have a sonic device on board which may help to delay any attack while we would then alert the authorities to the situation be satellite phone.

We are in frequent contact with the local coalition forces out here as well as our security advisers at Drum Cussac, in Poole, England. We expect to pass the through Bab el Mandeb, the approach to the Gulf of Aden, tonight which is probably better from an anti-piracy point of view.

We expect it to be a bit tense as we pass through the strait as there are numerous fishing boats in the area as well as reports of vessels involved in smuggling people from Eritrea into Yemen. We are looking forward to being in Aden for the weekend-pirates permitting.

Heading through the Strait of Bab el Mandeb:

We headed for the small strait at Bab el Mandeb, which is under two miles wide and restricted to just a mile for small vessels like ours because of a local military base. We had strong winds pushing us through the strait but the tide was against us due we believe to the evaporation that takes places in the Red Sea and means a constant running tide. At times we were doing as little as 1.3 knots and it seemed to take for ever to get through. We seemed so close to the shore because we could see the car headlights on the mainland as they drove along the coastal road.

Eventually we got out of the main channel and our progress began to improve, the winds grew stronger and in no time we were doing between 3-4 knots. Whilst we had expected the winds to change to easterly and southerly in the Gulf of Aden, to our pleasant surprise they remained very fresh westerlies for some further 20 miles which we took full advantage of- even though at times steering was difficult. We have had a few minor repairs to do on route but nothing that we have not been able to handle.

We have seen scores of small fishing boats, one of which came over and gave us two super tuna which made for an excellent Yemeni cooked and prepared meal last night. A key feature being the strong tomato, red chilly and cheese sauce that was accompanied with an obligatory bowl of rice-delicious.

During the night we kept radio silence and for most of the time (apart from in the strait) we sailed without navigation lights to avoid detection by the pesky pirates. We have also discovered that some vast container ships do the same- at least that was our experience last night. A worry if there is not a good lookout in such circumstances. Overall though we have seen relatively little traffic as we are hugging the coast as previously alluded to. Our progress this far has been good and we have less than 40 miles to go now to reach Aden- so we hope to be there by late tomorrow morning. We will then make preparations to leave for Phoenicia until we are ready to sail her later in the summer and Phoenicia will be truly back on track.

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