Aden - Red Sea
This trip has been so calm it could be titled the, "Look Mum, no hands!" trip. It is so calm that walking up and down stairs without holding on to the rails has become routine although the outside ones can be slippery, so it is done with a certain calculated care - I don't wish to land myself in the Famous Last Words category.
Things tend to be labelled on a ship so there are little tags and notices everywhere. Above the door of my West Wing it says LAVATORY just in case you mistook it for something else (the mind boggles), and above the inside of the cabin door it says CERTIFIED FOR 1 SEAMAN, which amuses me no end. Am I certifiable?As usual we travelled at the centre our own basin of water with even hazy sides all around while above in the blue were little puffy clouds with wispy white mare's tails streaked across indicating high-level wind. There was little wind down here though. This morning the sun was an intense fuzzy-edged orange ball rising through the thick atmosphere as a faint finger-nail moon faded overhead. As I stood alone on the deck, a small land bird arrived to flit about, alighting briefly on stanchions and rails in the manner of a swallow. If that is what it was it differed from ours in having a shorter tail and no red on the head. What it did mean of course was that we were close to land and after breakfast there seemed to be the faintest outline of the southern coast of Yemen but then next time you looked it turned out to be cloud. A lone yacht was heading in the same direction with just enough wind to keep shape in its main. Checking the chart I reckoned we should see Aden in the late afternoon.
Eating breakfast instantly raised my temperature and the morning shower and fresh cloths may as well have not happened. The air-conditioning came on in the late evening to provide air circulation, though not much cooling. Having occasional cold showers was some brief relief even though the water is never particularly cold.
Orders have been posted and the Captain has lectured us on protocol for our stop in Jeddah where it is estimated we will arrive at nine o'clock on Thursday night. Being close to Mecca and because it is a holy city, there are very strict rules to be observed: No shore leave. Absolutely no photography or video filming allowed. No consumption of alcohol, not even an empty beer can to be in evidence. All alcohol, magazines of any description, comics, porn or medications are to be bundled up and placed in the ships locked and sealed bond store for the duration of the visit. A cabin search is unlikely but if that did happen, any infringer would be marched ashore to face possibly drastic consequences and the ship would also be fined, so we were told.
By early afternoon Aden was off to starboard, the mountains forming the heads appearing as separate islands with no hint from our distance of the existence of harbour or hinterland. Then a small Arab dhow motored across behind us with its distinctive raised poop and short, steeply raked mast, sail furled. My father saw similar ones from his troop ship as he travelled through here during the war. I was compelled to copy one of his sketches into this document for comparison. The craft he sketched were simple open boats driven by sail only. His porthole sketch probably shows the western head of the harbour and of course from much closer in that we were. How I would love to get in there and have a proper look.
The Gulf of Aden is shaped like a funnel with the Red Sea as its angled spout. As the day progressed and ships going our way converged on the spout as their courses started lining up. With traffic out of the Red Sea as well, we were treated to more frequent and closer passings. The sea began changing colour too as it shallowed to less than sixty metres, taking on just a hint of green in place of the opaque oceanic blue. Mind you, trying to describe the subtle changes in the blues of the sea is as daunting as trying to do the same with the greens of our New Zealand bush, only possible for poet or artist. I doubted my description so went out to take a second more critical look. What green? It's just a blackish blue isn't it?
The sun set ahead of us as the portals of the Red Sea appeared to either side as soft mounds in the gathering gloom. The winking of a lighthouse on a hill marked the starboard side to which we keep; the lights of approaching ships were to our port. Grills to the lower decks were fixed in place, the outside doors were locked and extra crew again stationed on pirate watch. We sundowners retired to Hermann's office where, after considerable fiddling, I was able to play the movie Genghis Blues through his TV for our film society evening. The regional zone on my computer had to be changed from 4 to 1 to make it work - good grief!
Heading north gave us another hour of daylight saving and a comfortable room temperature for sleeping.
The Red sea isn't red, so working on the theory that it was named after the colour of sun rises, I was out early to capture my proof. The sun rose just a bit north of the island of Jazīrat ta Tā'ir (how's that for a name?) so it didn't quite fit in the picture as I had hoped it would and the new moon above it was too faint to even show up. The naked eye beats the camera every time. I saved one shot only. Hermann has all kinds of reference programmes loaded on his computer and was able to provide an explanation in a jiffy. The sea was named Eritrea by the Greeks in very early times because of a seasonal bacterium bloom in the water that causes the sea to turn red. Eritrea in Greek meant red and remains the name of the North African country on its lower western shore. (I knew that!) You should check my "facts" because you know how reliable I am.
We were sitting around chatting after breakfast and just as the captain was leaving the dining room the lights went out so I quipped, "What! Are you closing us down?" and then to my great embarrassment the ship's engine stopped. Oh dear, I thought as he rushed off to the bridge. Later I apologised but he professed not to be in the slightest concerned. I observed the novelty from the stern and when I heard an engine started up; the bosun explained that it was the auxiliary generator automatically cutting in so that pumping systems, lights, fire fighting gear and so on, all remained operational. It wasn't long and we were under way again but at a much reduced speed that caused the ship to lurch fore and aft slightly into the small oncoming waves. Jeddah sounds a less than an ideal place in which to be stranded. For my ten-cents worth, it would be back to Aden. Anyway, it turned out that the electricity generators had overloaded, resulting in an automatic shutdown of the main engine, so nothing drastic to worry about.
We were sitting around chatting after breakfast and just as the Captain was leaving the dining room the lights went out so I quipped, "What! Are you closing us down?" and then to my great embarrassment the ship's engine stopped. Oh dear, I thought as he rushed off to the bridge. Later I apologised but he professed not to be in the slightest concerned. I observed the novelty from the stern and when I heard an engine started up the bosun explained that it was the auxiliary generator automatically cutting in so that pumping systems, lights, fire fighting gear and so on, all remained operational. In about twenty minutes we were under way again but at a much reduced speed that caused the ship to lurch fore and aft slightly into the small oncoming waves. Jeddah sounds a less than an ideal place in which to be stranded. For my ten-cents worth, it would be back to Aden. Anyway, it turned out that the electricity generators had overloaded, resulting in an automatic shutdown of the main engine, so nothing drastic to worry about. The generators must have a hard job in hot conditions supplying power to the many refrigerated or frozen containers we carry.
Conditions by mid-morning had built up to about a twenty-knot head wind with sparkling white caps on a two-metre swell. I found a neat place to stand on the main deck just back from the raised bow section where the wash from the ship swished and foamed white like waves crashing upon rocks. Segments of rainbow flashed off and on in the spray against the darker blue water. Then every now and then a wave would burst right up past me with a huge swoosh like a geyser - very exhilarating. There were lumps of King Neptune's necklace seaweed drifting past, a nice change from plastic, and I swear that there was a green tinge to the water. With the ship back up to speed and being fully laden, we were not rolling in these conditions but instead maintained a small list to starboard and rocking-horsed on. There was nothing to indicate that our course ran along outside the endless reefs and small islands seen on the chart.
Dodging the steward's vacuum cleaner in my cabin one afternoon, I took the opportunity to sift through the saloon's larger bookcase and picked out a couple of novels and a Scottish travel account that looks good. As with the experience of searching second-hand book shops, what at first appears to be a fantastic selection often yields only one or two likely contenders. In this case there were the usual crop of international intrigue and mystery novels, one Mills and Boons and a couple of equally thin cowboys, almost no bodice rippers or epic female dramas, no science fiction, a few non-fiction and I didn't see a court drama thank goodness. As you would expect there were several with nautical themes. About a quarter of the books were in German. Next vacuum cleaning day I will check the smaller bookcase.
As the lowering sun of late afternoon silvered the sea between my side of the ship and the curved horizon, passing ships looked like cardboard cut-outs. One I'm fairly sure was a war ship. I had expected to see quite a few in this region and maybe that will happen further on but this was the first. Sun downer time came. Moss had panicked the previous day and put all his wine in bond but then kept thinking of additional things to add which had poor Alex running up and down like a ferret. However it didn't matter because Hermann and I had a couple of bottles we were more than happy to share and naturally we drank the lot. Knowing that we were faced with two restricted nights, I had taken the precaution of filling a glass in my bathroom with brandy (just in case of snake bite you understand) so next evening I was able to pull the rabbit out of the hat for Hermann, which made him very happy. As we sipped away were rewarded with seeing the sun glowing like a blob of molten glass as it bulged out at the sides with refraction then suddenly fuse down onto the sea at the bottom forming a temporary pedestal before sinking without a hiss right in front of the bow of a passing freighter. Hermann caught it on video. We watched intently for the green flash, but nothing. Then the real display began as the clouds around to the north east picked up the fiery afterglow. Tell you what though - it was just a mite chilly in shorts and tee-shirt and I was pleased to scuttle below. Due to the delays experienced, our arrival in Jeddah was revised to six in the morning, Friday, so my alarm was set.
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