Indian Ocean Voyage Part II – My First Ocean Crossing

Tuesday 6th April 05:40am
Dawn beaking on our first night at sea. It’s been uneventful since our departure. Sailed until sunset with the cruising chute up and again for a few hours in the night. Most of the fleet are ahead of us now despite us being the first to leave Salalah. Cobble , Easy & Free and Eldemer (a catamaran) are behind us. Everyone is more or less within the two mile radius requested by the rally leader Lo.

Misty mountains come down to the sea and a small sodium lit village nestles in the join. There’s a little high cloud, dirty yellow in the dawn rays and the moon is high above us. An ideal time for pirates, they struck again yesterday some 200 nautical miles ahead of us off the Omani coast – a sobering thought for all. We’ve kept virtual radio silence as we hug the coast, which we only leave as we cross the wide bays. There were a few nets or pot buoy floats off Salalah but nothing reported during the night. Some 40 nm to the Islands where we hope to spend the night at anchor before heading along the coast a little further. Once we’re above the high pressure we plan to turn east for India – I can’t believe we are actually sailing to India!

Wednesday 7 April 08:00 am
Sailing away from Ras Hallaniyah, everyone left at 7am as arranged. By 8am the gennie (short for genoa, the large sail at the front of the boat) is poled out and a preventer on the boom to stop it swinging about which makes the mainsail slap this in turn can over time damage the sails – prevention is better than cure. Others in the fleet are motoring so we are last but one for now.

Yesterday we arrived at 14:00, welcomed by the local fishermen. Once the cockpit tent was up, essential to provide shade, we swam off the boat in warm water so clear we could see the anchor on the bottom in more than 5 metres. Then together with Div and Ant (Divanty) went snorkelling off the rocks close into the beach. It was like swimming in an aquarium so many varieties of tropical fish. Tony found a large octopus which he wanted to poke with a stick – fortunately he’d not brought one with him – the octopus was huge, bigger than any I’d seen on a fishmongers slab in Spain. Supper was rum (dark and stormies) with pickles as we couldn’t be bothered to cook!

Thursday 8 April
By 07:25 we had done 113nm over the ground and 95 odd nm through the water – lots of current pushing us along then. We managed just 5.5 hours of motoring and are still moving up the Omani coast, mostly sailing inefficiently to stay with the rally fleet in a loose convoy. Rhumb Do had engine problems during the night and Roger & Astrid on Stormdodger stood by, both boats are now slowly catching up.

Friday 9 April 07:48
One hundred and five nm (through the water) in past 24 hours (6.6 hours under engine), some 750 nm to go to the next waypoint!

Wind seems to die in the morning, builds again late afternoon to blow F2 most of the night roughly from the west to North West but swinging around a lot. Probably because it’s late in the year and we are between the two monsoons. The NE Monsoon is almost over and the SW Monsoon which brings all the rain to the Indian sub-continent and Southern Oman has not yet arrived.

Caught two tuna (one identified as a yellow-fin) yesterday on the lines we’re towing behind us, not large but Tony served up some carpaccio-style with lime juice along with some home-made fish fingers made from the tuna and the flying fish caught the day before – tasty lunch.

There’s little shipping around. Each evening and morning the boats have a “net” via VHF at a set time when we receive any information from Lo, the weather forecast and the boats can ask advice on any issue they are facing etc. Lo is in regular contact with UKMTO who are co-ordinating the multi-national anti-piracy effort. On last night’s net we learnt that a possible pirate scare head by some boats on VHF channel 16 probably wasn’t as UKMTO had had no reports of any activity in our area.

Saturday 10 April
124nm in 24 hours, 11 engine hours.

No fish yesterday or today so far (dawn and dusk are best times). The forecast is good with mainly south westerlies in the west and west F3 or 4 in the east. The spinnaker is up, that the large coloured sail flown in front of the boat. We’ve sailed mostly through the night after yesterday’s marathon engine session. Whilst the engine is on we make water as well as electricity. With the spinnaker up we can make more than 5 knots in the current light breezes. And as we have water, hot water showers were in order however you are hot and sticky almost immediately. It was damp all night but not at all cool, all the cockpit cushions are soggy to sit on and our t-shirts and shorts feel clammy. It’s a bit like having the flu – hot, clammy and sweaty! 518 nm to the OADS (a buoy off the Indian coast and our next waypoint) plus about 120mn (a day’s sail) from there to Mumbai.

We’re mostly in the company of Anthea (Jean-Claude & Monic’s Ovni 40) and Divanty now with just radio contact with the rest of the fleet. Ant reported a fishy smell in Divanty’s forward heads (bathroom) yesterday morning and whilst sluicing the decks down later he found a decomposing flying fish in the dorade vent above said heads – yuk!

Dhows and fishing boats causing minor “pirate scares” but so far all have been as wary of us as we have been of them. Occasionally their curiosity gets the better of them and rather than halting on the horizon to let us pass by, they alter course for a better look – whatever they do it always seems suspicious to us.

Sunday 11 April
126nm in the last 24 hours with only 1.9 under engine but no fish. It was downwind rolly most of yesterday and all night. It’s difficult to describe just how uncomfortable this can be to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Everything seems be in motion mostly towards you ready to catch you unawares, bruises are easily come by when moving about the boat. It’s good not to be liable to seasickness in such conditions.

We managed a spinnie wrap late in the afternoon and got the large blue and white sail twisted like a wine glass around the forestay (the wire from the bow to the top of the mast that holds the mast up). Two billowing lumps of sail threatened to rip even though it wasn’t that windy. Altering course slightly so the unruly mess was blanketed from the wind by the mainsail enabled us to give one corner a good tug and the whole lot slid slowly out much to everyone’s relief. My “racing experience” saved Tony a potential trip up the mast. More ships as we approach the magic 60 degrees east, some without AIS just appeared over the horizon without warning. AIS is an automatic recognition system that broadcasts position speed and course, its mandatory for all commercial shipping, software Full Flights laptop provides an inventory of all AIS signals within range and calculates the time and range of the closest point of approach (CPA), anything greater than a couple of nautical miles is fine, any closer and we keep a careful eye unless the CPA is some 12 or 18 hours hence!

The VHF channels are full of chatter, even the hailing and emergency channel 16. Japanese tuna fishermen? Anthea and Divanty were mostly in sight during the day and within half a mile of us this morning, seems weird but comfortable to be so far from land but in the company of other yachts. Divanty are threatening another go with their cruising chute after the Net this morning.

During the night we had charging problems with a light on the engine panel flashing to warn us. Tony assessed it and decided that a splitter that routes charge into the two battery systems (one for engine starting and one for domestic use) was playing up. This morning he moved the domestic input to a third output on the box which seems to have fixed it for now.

Monday 12 April
7:00am – 123 nm and 5.3 engine hours

According to our various positions, miles to go Divanty and Anthea are around 6nm ahead of us now. Just another day at sea yesterday trying to keep the boat going in fickle winds that variously blow from the port quarter through dead downwind to the starboard quarter. The waves are all at odd angles kicked up by multitude of wind directions meaning that the boat surges forward on a wave and the spinnaker collapses are we outrun the breeze or we simply roll oddly knocking the wind out of both sails. We tried plain whit sails but they simply flap terribly. We try different courses to improve either the angle to the wind or to the waves and by this morning are down on the line that runs directly between our last way point and the next one doing between 4.5 and 6.5 knots in a North westerly F2-3. We were trying to stay above the line by 5 or 10 nm as the weather forecasts tell us there should be more wind higher up the planet.

Cold drinks, shade and suntan lotion required in copious quantities through the day. The bimini doesn’t cope to well with the sun angles so we have to move various awning extensions around during the day. There’s a bit of a pattern – fill in the gap between sprayhood and bimini until mid afternoon then move the screens to the starboard side and gradually move to the port quarter during the late afternoon.

On a boat in hot climes the following are definitely needed; bimini and awnings (Sunbrella net), water maker, solar panels, fans above bunks and galley, sheets for sleeping on/under. Pat and Tony have Turkish Haman towels which dry quickly. A good supply of chilled water with flavours for variation (and increasing salt levels if possible) – Tang powders work well made up in a jug to ensure the crew all drink a couple of glassfuls at a time.

Tuesday 13 April
116 miles to 7 am with 5.3 engine hours – not so good but this reflects the difficulty in sailing in the conditions. It’s difficult to juggle course requirements (we do want to end up in Mumbai not Pakistan or Goa) with light winds and muddles seas. Much of last night had a poled out genie which gives the crew some relief as yesterday George (the autopilot) couldn’t cope with the spinnaker up so we’d had to hand steer to keep the sail full and drawing. Half an hour or so each was often all that could be managed due to the concentration needed to keep wind and waves in a place that made boat and sail happy.

Today the wind has improved in that it is more stable in direction and slightly more of it so now we have the spinnaker up and are going along at six knots rather than three. George is being his usual heroic self steering hour after hour. 240 miles to go to the anchorage in Mumbai by 5pm this afternoon and there is little current (it was giving us a helping hand earlier in the trip but recently seems to have settled at around half a knot against us). Below decks its 34 degrees and hot and sweaty when doing the cooking or washing up or sleeping off watch but there is a pleasant breeze over the deck. Looks like we are keeping on schedule and will arrive sometime on Thursday as we calculated we would before we set off – not bad for a 1100 mile passage.

Wednesday 14 April
At 7am this morning we’d done 125 nm in the previous 24 hours with just 1.6 engine hours. Most of yesterday we flew the spinnaker and overnight settled down to our now familiar routine of poled out genie and reefed main as had more than 15 knots of wind from the North West.

At 08:35 showered, had morning tea/coffee and by 9am was hot and sweaty again! But at least every stitch of clothing I have on is clean and for the moment dry. Having a shower going downwind is fun, mostly done sitting down (Full Flight has a convenient seat in the heads). Washing feet is a bit dangerous even sitting down as soap lubricates your seat and every roll threatens to pitch you head first into the opposite wall. Easiest way is to sit on the shower grating – you can’t fall any further but you still bump your elbows as you slide around!

The genoa makes an ok sunshade but it’s not as good as the much larger spinnaker. We’ve the full main up now plus 95% of the genoa unfurled and we are bowling along (or should that be rolling along?), at 5.7 to 6 knots. 44 nm to the OADS plus another 120nm or so to the anchorage so we could possibly arrive late tomorrow afternoon. At last the waves are at a more favourable angle so not much sail slamming which is good. We’ve a split in the main sail just above the 2nd batten car (the battens are what stiffen the sail fore and aft and the cars hold the sail to the mast). Yesterday we tried to repair it with some tape but it’s too close to stick. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be spreading and the winds aren’t too strong.

The VHF is impossible as every channel is full of chatter. AIS makes the watch keeping easier as from the laptop we can see where to look – the AIS trails are displayed within the chart plotting software that is recording our own wibbly wobbly track to India. But obviously not all ships have AIS or at least have it turned on plus sometimes our rolling means we fail to pick up all the signals so we still need to be alert. During the night we run rolling three hour watches so we can get some sleep (and we catch up with the rest at intervals during the day by mutual agreement). Tony usually has the first two hours after supper off, then Pat or I go off leaving one remaining watch keeper who wakes Tony after an hour and does an hour with him before retiring to bed. Tony does an hour on his own before waking the next watchkeeper. This means the three hour watches go by quickly. Last night though Tony forgot to wake the next watchkeeper throwing the whole system out. Pat and I were quite refreshed this morning as we each had long periods of sleep.

We heard briefly from Divanty through the busy airwaves, they are 11 nm ahead and sailing. They plan to arrive tomorrow around 4pm – they are still at heart motor boaters, forgetting the consequences of wind and tide on a sailing boat, bless them! We might catch them before then as Full Flight, lighter and nimbler is sailing faster in the winds we both have.

Thursday 15 April

By 7am this morning we had done our best days run of the trip, 134nm in 24 hours (9.9 hours under engine).

Sea snakes (look like yellowy brown branches asleep on the glassy sea surface), oilfields and ships – what more excitement does a crew need? Plus a few dolphins and a fish that got away due to gear failure as it was hauled into the boat. Today we heard that Roam II and Esper were boarded by the Indian Navy possibly as they approached the oilfields although we are uncertain of their exact position and it may be some other area that the navy was claiming was restricted. Esper suffered some damage to her rubbing strake when the navy boat approached too close without warning.

Land Ho! The faint outline of skyscrapers and hills can be seen ahead. We find the first light house and follow a big ship up the channel. Suddenly 28 nm on from this mornings log recording we are entering Mumbai harbour, busy busy busy with fishing boats, cargo ships, oil tankers, tugs and more all either moving or at anchor around us. You can see examples of very type of ship here including a huge fire fighting ship with a large heli platform above its bows and little sailing boats we later found out were Seabirds and Lightenings.

Mistral (Lo, the rally leader’s boat), Anthea and Slammat (who had left Oman before I arrived) are all at anchor off the Gateway to India which is a mile or more to our left. Divanty and Full Flight arrive together and anchor close by. The choppy waters of the harbour mean the boats are bouncing up and down with the muddy water slip slapping up our sterns. The tide is running hard and it’s quite breezy. Its 12:30 just under 10 days since we left Salalah. Across the harbour you can smell India – hot and dusty, we just have to wait for our port clearance so we can go ashore (tomorrow maybe).