September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye

September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation

September 1, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing

August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez

August 1, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind

July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

July 1, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec

June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico

June 1, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua

May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

May 1, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica

April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There

April 1, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money

March 1, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal

February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal

February 1, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific

January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week

January 1, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2

December 1, 2011

November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise

November 1, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question

October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers

October 3, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World

September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come

September 1, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work

August 1, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish

July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books

July 1, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas

June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

June 1, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise

May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now

May 1, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala

April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas

April 1, 2011
At Last in the San Blas

March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

March 1, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!

February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2

February 1, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1

January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude

December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane

December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba

December 1, 2010
Stuck in Curacao

November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing

November 1, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks

October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe

October 4, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal

September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

September 1, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea

August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao

August 1, 2010
Bonaire Diving

July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire

July 1, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles

June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent

June 1, 2010
Right Place, Right Time

May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle

May 1, 2010
To the Grenadines

April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon

April 1, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II

March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1

March 1, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing

February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations

February 1, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands

January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa

January 1, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............

December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing

December 1, 2009
Moving On To Morocco

November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med

November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone

October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol

October 1, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise

September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles

September 1, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well

August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca

August 1, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast

July 1, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa

June 1, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

May 1, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia

April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy

April 1, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles

March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling

March 1, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports

February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta

February 1, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

January 2, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time

December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear

December 1, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend

November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise

November 1, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz

October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman

October 1, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

September 1, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story

August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

August 1, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians

July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca

July 1, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe

June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece

June 1, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey

May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey

April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living

April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip

April 1, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget

March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi

March 1, 2008
Home Sweet Home

February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising

February 1, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World

January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free

January 1, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni

January 1, 2008
About Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Voyage Itinerary

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

By Tom Morkin

Lately you can’t sit down in a yachtie watering hole without talking about piracy in the Gulf of Aden. For good reason. Just last night, it was reported that in 2008 there were over 100 pirate attacks emanating from Somalia alone. In the last week I’ve talked to two yachties who want to sail from the Med down the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aden to Malaysia and Australia, but they’re hesitating. Friends in Langkawi, Malaysia, report that Malaysia and Thailand are filling up with west-about circumnavigators reluctant to transit these pirate-infested waters to get to the Med, and don’t really want to round South Africa to get back to North America or Western Europe.

Liz and I sailed through the Gulf of Aden (“pirate alley”) in February of 2007. Prior to making the trip we were hungry to hear about other cruisers’ trips, experiences, opinions, strategies, and any ideas that might be helpful in:

A. deciding if that route or the African route was the one we wanted to take, and
B. if we went via the Gulf of Aden, what was the best way to do it

“Whaddya reckon, honey, fishermen or pirates?” said Roy to Margrit aboard the New Zealand boat Barnstorm, which went through the Gulf of Aden in March of 2007.

In the remote likelihood our story could be helpful to those considering the trip or to those who might be interested in our experience in that part of the world, I offer the following.

Circumnavigators have generally agreed that the 600-mile corridor leading to the south end of the Red Sea, officially the Gulf of Aden, is considered the most dreaded transit of their world cruise, and that was before the Somalian pirates ramped up their efforts. It certainly was for Liz and me. After reading and hearing way too many accounts of attacks and incidents, we harbored more than a healthy respect for this segment of our trip.

Other areas infamous for pirate attacks such as the Columbian coast or the Sulu Sea in the Philippines can be given a wide berth just by staying further offshore. The Gulf of Aden is bordered by Somalia in the south and Yemen in the north. Only about 120 miles wide by choosing a course in the middle of the Gulf, yachts are still well within range of the bad actors from either country.

Liz and I had spent two years cruising Thailand and Malaysia beforehand, we had had lots of time to talk to yachties who’d come from Europe via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden as well as the westbound yachties who were bound for the area. Whenever cruisers gathered for more than 30 minutes, the full gamut of “Pirate Strategies” was discussed:

Feel Free sailed through the Gulf of Aden in Feb. 2007

— To be armed or not armed
— To trail 100 meters of super strong monofilament line or light wire to foul the propeller of a following vessel
— To stay close to the coast or stay as far from land as possible
— To run navigation lights at night or not
— To strike sail by day and raise them only at night
— To maintain VHF or SSB radio silence or not
— In the event of contact, resist or comply?
— To convoy or not to convoy(strength in numbers or is an unarmed convoy just a bigger softer target)?
— If you do convoy, how big and where to rendezvous?

It was in Salalah, Oman, where we really finalized our plans for the 600 miles of the Gulf of Aden. There, we started our networking in earnest and found three other couples of like mind who agreed to form a four-boat international convoy. According to some we were simply providing any would-be pirates a bigger soft target because none of the boats were armed with anything more lethal than flare guns. However, until that time, pirates had not actually attacked a convey of yachts. They’d followed and even threatened but not actually struck a convoy of sailboats.

Our convoy if not well armed, was certainly international. It consisted of Luigi and Latzia of the 38-foot Out from Italy, Ray and Brenda of the 47-foot Sunchaser II from Australia, Terry and Debbie of the 47-foot Wings from the U.S., and Liz and me on the 51-foot Feel Free from Canada.

Out with Luigi and Latzia aboard, was one of the 4 boats in our convoy

After a number of meetings and an even greater number of beers aboard Sunchaser we came up with the grand plan. The first matter of business was to decide if we’d go along the Yemeni coast or head offshore and stay as far as possible from both Yemen and Somalia. The coastal option was the shorter route and we were told that the Yemenis were given patrol boats by Western governments for the express purpose of patrolling their shores. They patrolled close to shore so they’d only help boats within about 15 miles of the coast. More attacks have been reported close to the coast than offshore, so relying on the Yemeni navy, an unknown commodity, required faith we didn’t possess. We decided on the longer offshore route, more or less up the center of the Gulf as far from land as possible.

We carefully chose four key waypoints for the 636-nautical-mile passage. These waypoints were decided after reviewing the history of attacks over several years. Debbie on Wings provided us with a map showing exactly the locations of past attacks. This illustrated that there definitely were spots that were hotter than others and our routing was not to be a straight line. We came up with four waypoints. The 323 miles from Salalah to the first waypoint were considered to be safe miles, so we were on our own to waypoint 1. This meant we just had to decide when each of us had to leave Salalah in order to arrive at the rendezvous point on time. Our four waypoints were:

Ray and Brenda, seen here in Istanbul, were the crew of Sunchaser

1) 13 07.71N, 50 00.48E, 323 n m from Salalah Oman
2) 12 40.86N, 49 00.33E, 64 n m from #1
3) 12 30, 46 42.11, 111 n m from #2 (#2 to #3 is the section with highest incidence of piracy in the past)
4) Aden - 12 43.91N, 45 00.04E

At waypoint #1 all boats would form a diamond formation, with boats about 1/2 a mile apart. Since the 64 miles from waypoint #1 to #2 were not considered to be “high risk” miles, we’d rendezvous at #1 at dawn so we could cover those miles in daylight with sails up. The 111 miles from #2 to #3 was the area of greatest concern and we wanted to cover most of the distance in the dark trying to maintain a speed of 5.5 knots over the bottom. Clearly we wouldn’t be able to cover all the “high risk area” in darkness but we wanted to cover as much as possible so we would move as fast as the slowest boat with all canvas flying. If there was ever a time when all of us wanted to be caught out in a gale it was then!

It was agreed that while in the high-risk area no navigation lights were to be shown. Dim cockpit lights or small lights were to be displayed low. Depending on one’s position in the diamond, the light would be mounted on the appropriate side. Feel Free, for example was on the starboard side of the diamond so our light was displayed on the port side, Wings was the lead boat and had a light at the transom. The lights were for our benefit only!

The American boat Wings sails out of Oman

The American boat Wings sails out of Oman.

Communication was through VHF and SSB. Our VHF radios were all to be on dual mode — 16 for monitoring other traffic and 17 low power. To communicate, we’d use SSB radios on a preselected channel, in our case 4146 at scheduled times: 0900, 1200, 1500, 1800. To communicate at other times, we’d use channel 17 low power and said only “switch switch” which meant switch to SSB 4146.

At night each boat was assigned a three-hour radar watch. Any outside boats that entered a perimeter of five nautical miles in radius triggered an alarm and we would be put on alert. Should traffic enter the two- nautical-mile perimeter, the diamond was to be tightened to a couple of hundred feet. If the traffic continued to close on the convoy:

— All lights would be turned ON, on all the boats
— All flood lights would be shown on the approaching boat
— A call on VHF would go out advising the boat to stay clear (Go Away)
— If that went unheeded, MAYDAY would be put out on VHF and 2186 SSB and parachute flares displayed and the convoy diamond would close to effectively create a four-boat raft.
— Should the would-be attackers continue their advance (heaven forbid) we all agreed to raise our arms in surrender and offer no resistance after all four EPIRBS were deployed.

So that was the plan. What actually happened? Come back in two weeks time to find out.