In The Footsteps of The Magdalene, A Mideast Journal
me in the restaurant at Arabia Felix Hotel, Sanaa, Yemen
old Sanaa, Yemen
old Sanaa, Yemen
camel resting from working in the mill, old Sanaa, Yemen
loading the taxi to go to Hodeidah, Yemen
truck passing by, Sanaa, Yemen
stopping on the road to Hodeidah so the driver can buy Qat
Yemeni mountains
room at the Arabia Felix Hotel, Sanaa, Yemen
ceiling, Arabia Felix Hotel, Sanaa Yemen
Arabia Felix Hotel, Sanaa, Yemen
old Sanaa, Yemen
old Sanaa, Yemen
Qat tree orchards, Yemen
on the road to Hodeidah from Sanaa, Yemen
on the road to Hodeidah from Sanaa, Yemen
on the road to Hodeidah from Sanaa, Yemen
lunch in Makalla or some such place in the mountains, Yemen
on the road to Hodeidah from Sanaa, Yemen
first view of the Phoencia, Hodeidah, Yemen
tug, Hodeidah, Yemen
we have a REAL CROW'S NEST
sunset, Hodeidah, Yemen
crow watching me from beside the crow's nest
Phoenicia figurehead
bow of the Phoenicia
morning on the Phoenicia
me installing new water pump for the heat exchanger on the Phoenicia
Phoencia, Hodeidah dockyards, Yemen
John working on the yard rigging
John.igel and Phillip on the Phoenicia
john and I working on the rigging of the yard
off the starboard rail looking astern on the Phoenicia
a pelican, Hodeidah harbour, Yemen
up the mast we go!
big freighter astern
Abdul, Nigel, Fadil and Ali. Captain John of Lloyd's of London at the bow...

10th May, 2009

At some point, I lost track of the time spent in Hodeidah. I just never got around to writing up my journal after the 5th of May, but I did write something for the:

4th May, 2009

Alone on the boat! I volunteered to stay behind to keep an eye on the boat as Nigel, John and Phillip have gone into town shopping. You need a special pass to lelave the docks, and our passports are kept by the Harbour Authority while we are here. I spent a good part of the day swabbing the decks. They are a bit grungy after sitting for 3 months. In the morning we all sat in the engine room dicussing the cooling system for the diesel engine (Yes, the ancient Phoenicians not only invented the alphabet, but the diesel engine as well. Little known fact!) Just so you know how I got here, I’ll fill ya in.

On the 1st of May, of course I flew into Cairo. I mentioned that already I think. If I didn’t , then I flew from Aswan early in the morning and landed in Cairo. Luckily there was WIFI in the Arrival lounge and I passed the time there drinking tea, having a Chicken Panetta, lov ely fruit tarts and cappucinos and updated the journal. It now has a new look. Fancy Schmancy. I sat outside for and hour or so, visited the closed open Shopping Mall at cairo Airport, then stood waiting for Nigel to arrive from London. He didn’t show up. I figured they must have shuttled him through the transit lounge into the departure lounge in the next building. I had a quite delicious chicken and spaghetti dinner, half-assed logged onto the internet, but there were no emails from anybody or Facebook stuff, so I went through security and customs and stuff, and tracked down Nigel in Starbucks, and we sat and chatted until flight time. He had quite a time carrying through some gadget (I found out later it is a heat exchanger for the diesel engine. Sea water passes through it and it cools the diesel engine .

The diesel engine was installed in Port Sudan and is from and old truck. The transmission is also from the scrapyard in Port Sudan, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So when we get into Sanaa, Nigel is held up by cutoms about the heat exchanger thing, and I sat outride the terminal waiting for about an hour. We took a taxi to the Arabia Felix Hotel (I don’t know if I mentioned this before, maybe in one of the Socotra entries, but Arabia Felix is the Imperial Roman name for Yemen, or what is now Yemen). Anyway, the Arabia Felix Hotel is right inside the perimeter of Old Sanaa and was really cool. The rooms were small and the doors were only about 5 feet high. They had a great restaurant, but in order to speak about that, I’d have to tell you what happened on:

2nd May, 2009

Got up around seven, and had another cold shower. When Nigel had his shower, it was hot! The reason being, the Hot water tap worked the cold water, which is what I used, and hence my last two cold showers. And my last chance for a hot shower for a while! Turns out we needed travel permits. A Dutch woman writing her Masters on the modern spending habits and Western commercialism within the restricted Moslem (for women) religious structures here, told the crew we needed them. After all the searching I went through the last visit to Sanaa, it turns out the Tourist Police are exactly 100 meters from the front door of the Arabia Felix Hotel! In fact, once it’s pointed out, you can see it from the front door of the hotel!

We sat around (Philip, the expedition leader, Nigel and I) and chatted most of the morning and, as Nigel needed to buy a new watch and I wanted to get my camera fixed, we all walked out to the Wadi Haroumat Hotel, not far from the Arabia Felix, with me in the lead. I managed to talk the repair guy into getting my camera repaired by 8PM as we were leaving (supposedly) for Hodeidah the next morning. Nigel found a cheap Casio watch for the trip and we got back to the Hotel to meet with Ahmed, the tour operator guy. As Ahmed had not renewed his Tour Operator’s certificate, he couldn’t get us our Police Permit.

John was supposed to be in Sanaa the night before but apparently his flight had been delayed. Unfortunately, we went as a group to the Tourist Police, and the rule is: Willy-nilly travel permits can’t be issued to groups of more than two (we were three). We tried to convince the security man we could come in separately, but we hit a brick wall there. Sort of at the last moment, we raan into a taxi driver called Walid and he agreed to take us to Hodeidah, and get the permit for $70 USD (after some back and forth of course). Turns out he knows the deputy director of the Tourist Police who came down and let us register as two goups of two. That done, we went back to the hotel, and by about 7PM, John showed up with two travelling companions from his airplane. Turns out they had landed too quickly in Djibouti and damaged their airplane and then got put up in the ????? Hotel, a fancy-schmancy 6 star hotel there. He had booked into a different hotel, as John had assumed we had already left. He is an original crew member, very pleasant. They were going to some restaurant, so the other two left. I can’t remember why Nigel and Philip were not there when John showed up, but we had a great chat while a local musician played his lute and sang. The music was so nice, I bought the guy’s CD.

So we all took a cab to the restaurant. Rather pedestrain décor, but the food was delicious! Usual noisy cafeteria type restaurant here. The waiters shout continuously across the room at each other. I’ve been in one of these restaurants alone, and it’s just as noisy as a full one. The taxi driver couldn’t find it right away, but it turns out it’s right across from the Yemenia Air office, near the Embassy area. Full, we headed back and climbed the windy stairs to our rooms.

3rd May, 2009

We had breakfast at the hotel. It’s part of the fee. The breakfast I mean. Then John had to go to the Sudanese Embassy to try and get a visa to visit there. I was kind of doubtful he could get it done without spending the day there, and actually he spent the whole morning without getting his visa, and we headed out. The ride wasn’t too bad until we got into the mountains, and Wahlid was driving too fast through the mountains and it was impossible to nap as we were thrown back and forth as he whipped around the corners. We stopped at some town at the top of the mountain range and had a great lunch. I bought a bracelet for 700 rials from a small girl there, and another Yemeni guy later told me it was real silver.

Wahlid’s brother worked at one of the police check points on the road, but we got to Hodeidah and he dropped us off by the Yemeni International Bank. Got some cash out, and we bought groceries and a minibus picked us up and took us to the port. It was a regular type Customs check, and they keep our passports. The head guy also took the music CD I had bought (to check it). I still haven’t seen it yet, but he said I could get it back.

Got to the Phoenicia, and, as it was sunset by then, got kind of a cursory look at it. I slept on the deck. So did John and Philip. Nigel slept in the bunks below deck.

4th May, 2009

Spent the better part of the day working on the diesel engine, getting the heat exchanger and water pump installed. This continued until the 5th. Anyway. John and I tied the small storm sail to the yardarm and tightened up the rear mainstay. We have to tighten all the mast stays before we leave and rig up the sail lines and stuff (I’m not sure of the right names for everything. We take turns cooking and so far, the food has been quite good.

Two Yemeni coast guard sailors stopped by. They were asking their captain if they could come to Aden with us. Turns out they knew Uncle Ted as he had taught them at Dartmouth College! Anyway, we are waiting for the wind to change from a southeasterly to a north westerly, which by all accounts should happen by Sunday. Hopefully we will have our ride into town today to buy the fan belt. Plus groceries and sundries, as well as new batteries for my camera.

5th May, 2009

One of the unique things about our ship was that we have a real crow’s nest! While the boat had been sitting a couple of crows had built a nest up between the aft mainstay (The rope that keeps the mast from snapping). I decided to climb up and remove it as I was sure I had heard baby birds chirping up there and Nigel was in favour of pulling it down. It was a bit weird climbing the ratlines up the mast, and I decided that the higher up you go, the stronger the wind, which had been the topic of conversation (two theories: One, the wind is the same all the way up. Two, the wind gets stronger as you rise). I had thought to take a picture when I got up there, but with the wind and the fact that the lines of the ladder (ratlines) coverge at the top. This means standing on the ratlines gets really precarious at the top, and I couldn’t get my camera out of my pocket. The nest was really difficult to remove as the crows had wired it to the rigging. The crows actually twisted the wires around the ropes to anchor the nest. Undoing it without spilling the babies onto the deck below was a bit of a challenge. The babies were jet black and featherless and had huge bright red mouths. The crows all over the dock then converged on the boat, flapping about. There was a rope missing on the ratlines, so John cam halfway up and we got the nest to the deck. After some discussion, I carried the nest to a metal structure. The entire crow population of the dock followed me and flew about as I relocated the nest.

Unfortunately, the parents kept coming back to the boat instead of the new location, even though all the other crows hung about the new home, and I think the babies probably perished. I can’t bring myself to go and check. The main consequence of this act was that the crows coverge on me whenever I walk out on the dock (to fetch water) on my own. As soon as I am separated from the group, they tend to fly about my head (though out of reach).

May 8th, 2009

Time flies when you’re rigging a sailing ship! I thinnk I’ve lost track of the actual days. I think it was the 6th when we found out our agent was in jail. So, apparently was the tug boat captain who had given Nigel, Philip and John a ride out to go shopping. I personally think it’s because Mohammed, the agent, had received a lucrative contract from a ship that had docked to take on diesel, of which there was none in the port, and as a result of the deal, he bought himself a beautiful, fairly new Tiburon sports car. The flaunting of this newly gotten wealth probably rubbed everyone in security the wrong way. I am sure there is some profit sharing scheme at work here, and if he has been rather frugal in his sharing, a sports car would be rubbing salt in someone’s wounds. He is now banned from the port until Saturday.

All this is rather unfortunate as we need to get out of the harbour in order to buy supplies. John and I thought we were going out, but the shore passes we were issued when we gave up our passports were not accepted at the gate. The guy who was the driver is also, apparently a policeman and he was quite irate we couldn’t get out. He certainly has no diplomatic skills whatsoever and I don’t think his ranting helped much at the gate. They wanted pictures for a new pass, which I had and John did not, so we went back to the ship to get one. The driver then wanted $60 instead of $20 which we refused to give. He drove off and came back with a Ukranian first mate from a Russian freighter he was taking into town. Anyway, we found out from the Ukranian he was only paying $5 to go into town. We got out at the gate, and the Immigration office was closed! So no passes. We decided to walk back to the boat and stopped at a dockyard restaurant. It was full of workers, so I thought we could put the fan belt out on the table and maybe someone would get curious. Turns out the waiter spotted it almost right away, and he offered to buy one for us. We gave him the fan belt and the measuring string and told us he was off at 3 and would be back around 5. And he was. And the fan belt fits! We have to tighten up the pumps and we can start the engine today. I guess that will be my first task after breakfast. We are also installing the rudders (two Phoenician side oars, and a conventional rudder to use when the engine is running).

Philip and Nigel worked on the generator which won’t start. A Sumerian artifact, I think. John and I tightened the mast stays, and began work on the halyard (which lifts the yard arm up on the mast, as in “HauL that YARD arm up the mast!” (READ THE CAPITALS). We have to drill out the Knight which is a post behind the mast so we can pass the halyard through it.

The surly driver/policeman came back with blank forms for us to fill out and we went to the dock restaurant (there are a number of shops there, the biggest number seem to be photocopy places to photocopy the forms with our pictures attached. We all went to the restaurant, which has an air conditioned back room and had a great fish dinner, though I was put off by the fact the head was still on the fish, and I am not fond of eating anything that seems to be staring at me while I’m gnawing at its flesh.

Good sign as we bedded down on the deck last night, though it wasn’t strong, the wind had shifted 180 from a Norwester to a Southeasterly. The terms confuse me as a South Easterly wind is blowing towards the north west. I guess I prefer to look forward than look back. Or my brain is scrambled. Mum always mixed up left and right and as a consequence, I have always had to think about which way is which and often have to hols up my hands in front of me to figure out which is which (this is a distinct disadvantage for a taxi or truck driver…

So we spent the day rigging the ship, and stowing the main spar. It is quite huge, and they only use a smaller storm sail to sail with. We started the rudders but the rigging was not quite right, and Philip had to leave a couple of times to see if we could get a pass to leave the port. It’s Friday, so everything was closed. Even the cafeteria. I was in the hold most of the day tightening up the water pumps. There are two: One for sea water that gets pumped into Nigel’s heat exchanger and the other for the engine coolant. I had trouble with refitting the altenator and broke the oil line into the compressor. Nigel came down and finished the work, getting the bolt for the altenator fitted. It really is a poor piece of engineering. The Altenator is butted up against the compressor and the engine block, and to slack off the fan belt, we had to actually remove it from its bracket to get the belt on. The pump is slightly out of line, and though I thought we should cut away part of the angle iron supporting the pump we didn’t do that. Left to my own, and with more time, I think it would be a good idea. Still, it’s ALMOST RIGHT!

It was quite hot in Hodeidah, and I used the time to improve my tan. Only because the sun is so strong, you need a lot of sinscreen to keep from lobsterfying. John and I went inside the cabin to rub on some more sunscreen and as we were lathering ourselves in cream, one of the dock guards (armed with machine guns) came aboard and caught us in our shorts rubbing in the cream. “What the hell’s going on, here?” were the first words out of his mouth. They have a weird attitude to skin in Yemen. One guard accused Nigel of being naked. This was in the middle of the night when Nigel stood up to rearrange his mosquito net. There was NOBODY around! (except Nigel and the guard).

I cut a piece of copper tubing over the broken oil line and epoxied it in place. I am keeping my fingers crossed as we start the engine tomorrow morning! Hopefully we can get our passes tomorrow nd be ready to sail on Sunday. The wind has shifted two nights in a row in our favour and the local opinion is that it will change on Sunday, and sail on the full moon!

So we were trapped all that time on the dock, unable to go into town for supplies. Not only that, the crows had me marked out as a home wrecker and baby killer. Whenever I walked out onto the dock by myself, a murder of crows flapped about over my head (at a distance, as they obviously knew I could turn nasty at any moment).

We finally got our shore passes and John and I went into town to get supplies. Just after we finished at the supermarket, they close the store for lunch, and they invited us to eat with then which we did. We had a fantastic meal of turkey (or a really large chicken. I haven’t seen any turkeys in Yemen (of course that doesn’t mean they don’t exist). The food was great and they even gave us bottled water from the fridge. It was excellent. Completely nourished, we left our shopping at the supermarket, and bought loads of fresh fruit (mangoes, apples, oranges and bananas) and veggies (potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers an squash). Some hadware stuff.

The driver who was shuttling us around mellowed a little after he started chewing qat, and we went to an Internet place so John could send an email regarding his Sudan visa, but I really didn’t get the Internet to do more than delete the emails that weren’t for me. The first internet place stopped working, so, as Nigel didn’t want to drink any tap water, we spent about an hour searching for bottled water, but none of the stores had more than about 3 bottles each, so we had to drive around for about an hour to get enough water to last the voyage to Aden. We found another Internet café, but I didn’t have much more luck there getting email done, but John did get his letter sent.

When we got back to the gate, John talked me into going to ask for my Yemeni CD, which I did. The guy who had taken it wasn’t there, but his friend retrieved it from a bag of CD’s under the confiscator’s cot.

We had a surprise visit from the British Ambassador and a staff member. With all the trouble we’d had with dock passes and people being arrested, the entourage of security men and 4x4’s coming down the dock toward the boat gave the impression that we were being raided by the Yemen security forces. Not so. Being as filthy as we were from working down in the engine room, our visitors and their bodyguards seemed incredibly clean. Still, I think it helped to have such high profile visitors as far as documents and such.

The boat itself is covered in a brown pine tar that gets everywhere. The tar is used to help prezseerve the wood, and the ship turns black from it. It actually is a dark brown. If this was the state of most sailing ships in the old days I can see why old salty sea dogs were called old tars. I was filthy, and showering just doesn’t seem to get rid of the dirt. Also, the smell of the tar is fairly strong, and was the main reason that I slept on deck (We all did), which would have been great except for the mosquitos. I ran out of repellent and found some stuff that the Indonesian sailors (from the previous leg of the trip) had left in my bunk. As my mosquito net didn’t stay put, they were able to bite me through the net wherever the net sat on my skin. So, I was looking forward to getting out to sea so I could sleep without the net and free of mosquitos.

We had intended to sail on Sunday, but the ship wasn’t ready. The Yemeni crew arrived (Fadil, Ali and Abdul, and promptly demanded double their wages for the week. Or actually Abdul insisted on $200 USD for the week. We spent most of Sunday finishing off the rigging and making sure everything was stowed. Our agent brought our passports back, and the stoopid Customs guys in Hodeidah had stamped us out of Yemen! This was really frosting as the Visas are $60 USD each, and as we weren’t leaving Yemeni coastal waters, there was no need to stamp our passports. So, that meant to get from Aden back to Sanaa we would have to spend another $60 each!