CHAPTER 3: WHO YA GONNA CALL?

The gentle wind strummed a melody in Love Song's rigging and kept double headsails well fed. Weather conditions were flawless in a sea of tranquility which occasionally provided a fish dinner. Exposure to such an environment proclaimed coup de grace and welcome home to the northwest hemisphere of the planet, the tropics, the tradewind, the warm sun, the calm sea, and the romantic life of he West Indies. The arduous rounding of the African Continent via the Red Sea and Mediterranean is now, an exciting bedtime story.

The relieved sailor and the durable little sailboat entered the northeast tradewind 12 days out of Spain. It's mid-May and a speedy Atlantice crossing is mandatory, as the hurricane season is brewing. A relaxed routine provided time to embrace numerous memories regarding a solo circumnavigation of the world. Dominating the recall scan were Red Sea and Mediterranean adventures; such as, the case of which species of predator put teeth marks in the Aires rudder and pushed Love Song sideways and, the premier feature in this repository was a hideous event, the bout with shipwreck.

Every bit of my 18 year sailing experience has been in a mild, temperate climate and, with the exception of the Torres Strait, without extraordinary navigational hazards. The Red Sea and Mediterranean presented many problems: head winds; destruction of equipment; heavy ship traffic; depletion of sleep, energy, and moral budgets; enduring freezing temperatures, hailstorms, and blizzards; navigation and surviving gales in a land-locked sea.

Planning the passage up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean occupied many thoughtful hours in the Seychelle islands. I was thinking of the cruise as an opportunity to experience a different kind of sailing when I should of been regarding it as a wild adventure with the potential of a struggle for life. The time had arrived to enroll in the school of hard knocks.

To be sure, the cruise north to the Gulf of Aden occurred in an auspicious manner. The doldrum zone was crossed without a moment of calm; in fact, not a wave struck the deck for 1500 miles. This peacefulness was interrupted one night in the Gulf of Aden by a strange encounter of an animal kind. Earlier in the day a killer whale was sighted and, that evening, a mischief maker pushed Love Song sideways and made teeth marks in the Aires rudder. By the time I leaped to the cockpit, the rudder was being molested as the boat continued to be pushed and slightly tilted. As the hull slid off the emerging monster, a part of the mass appeared; then it quietly submerged. operating the engine and striking the engine with a hammer were 2 techniques used for the next half hour to deter foul play. Explanations submitted to account for this obnoxious behavior suggest both innocence and violence. Was the nudging an act of passion? Could it have been love at first sight? Were the teeth marks a display of affection to be viewed as a memoir? Perhaps the light-grey colored Aires rudder flashing side-to-side in the phosphorescent matter of the sea lured the animal into regarding the device as an evening snack. For the same reason that a patent log rotor is painted black; namely. shark avoidance, I accepted this incident as a suggestion to paint the Aires rudder a darker color. Fear of ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea reverted to the normal concern when ship personnel demonstrated a sensitivity to avoiding collision with all vessels. All ships maintained continuous contact in English on channel 16. Watch officers provided me with weather reports and navigational information. Another problem diminished, day by day, as the Suez Canal drew closer. November was a good month to go north in the Red Sea because a consistent southerly wind prevailed throughout 80% of the total distance. Luck continued during the final phase with light headwind and calms and, in this case, the lack of northerly wind was a windfall; in that it permitted progress on course. Navigation was enhanced by steering a course within 1/2 mile of the northbound traffic lane in the narrow Gulf of Suez where there are many lit and unlit oil drilling structures. This stay-by-the-leader technique created easy going in an area that has the potential of being a navigators nightmare. From my point of view, the safest method of solo sailing the Red Sea, is to stay in the central region with a full press of sail. Anchor hopping injects unnecessary danger because, when alone, there are too many possibilities of navigational error in strong cross-current and fringing reefs. One cannot steer, study navigational aids, make coffee, use the head, and stand at the bow to search for obstructions and an obscure anchorage all at the same time. After entering at the Straits of Bab-al-Mandab, land was not sighted until making the Strait of Gubal between mainland Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. So far, so good.

It's remarkable that there are so many intense opinions concerning the Suez Canal by those who have made a recent transit. Opinions certainly vary; some positive, some negative. Conditions are obviously fluid; however, there's one thing for sure: biological individuality and nationality account for much of the disparity. At any rate, this is prime time to release my findings. Comparing the costs and procedural differences between the Egyptian system, the Suez Canal, and the Panama Canal proved important. The fundamental differences between the two is that the Panama Canal Authorities allow the yacht captain to process transit requirements, while the Suez Canal Officials demand the employment of a shipping agent. In 1986, the Panama Canal cost $110.00 and the Suez Canal $170.00. The receipt-type figure from the Canal Authority in Egypt is $90.00, and the remaining $80.00 is disbursed to persons of opportunity and the shipping agency. At first glance the Suez Canal cost $60.00 more than the Panama Canal. In Panama, if the crew is less than 4, line handlers will have to be paid or at least wined and dined; not so in Egypt where the only the helmsman is required. If this situation doesn't balance the scale, the price differential will surely decrease proportionately with the number of hamburgers and beer consumed while transacting the multi-process administrative requirements in Panama. In Egypt, the crew may remain onboard during the day that it takes the agent to wade through mysteriously intricate paperwork and grease the palms of untold middlemen. It seems like one expression has worldwide application: "You can't beat city hall".

Bargins, relative to boating, are few and far between; even fair prices are becoming scarce these days. Yet, when considering the cost of operating a canal, the details involved with the passage of a yacht through a ship channel, and the time spent by pilots, the fee paid must be rated as at least, fair.

I suspect all the agents operating in Port Suez came along-side by launch to talk to me, and I'm glad that I accepted the only agent recommended by other sailors. The living legend, Ehab Fathy Suaker, Prince of the Red Sea, ship pilot and tour guide, is also the manager of the Prince of the Red Sea Agency. The agency, owned by his father, overshadows the "me too" bunch. Many customers report friendly, trustworthy service. One day prior to the tranist Ehab came aboard with bags of fruit and lunch prepared by his wife as gifts -- hospitality Egyptian style. He enjoyed the afternoon zipping around the harbor in my dingy. Ships and trains are 2 of my favorite things. As a boy, living 1 block from the New York Central train tracks and 2 blocks from the Hudson River, interest was stimulated early in life and continues to the present. The Suez Canal hosts an average of 100 ships per day which parade in convoys, north and south. My sightseeing ticket was worth the cost, and the collection of ship photography runneth over. The 107 mile long waterway. linking the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Suez, is mostly straightforward and incorporates 3 altitude adjusting component, known as lakes Great bitter, Little Bitter, and Timsah.

The transit from Port Suez to Port Said was scheduled immediately after the last ship in the morning convoy. Two yacht pilots were assigned for the 2 day transit, as is the case with all pleasure craft that are either too slow or unable to carry the huge light required for a 1 day passage. The first pilot went as far as the town of Ismailia, the halfway point on Lake Timsah. The night was spent at anchor, and the second pilot boarded at 5 A.M. for the remainder of the distance. The pilots were interesting and very dissimilar. One pilot, powered by sardine sandwiches, fruit, coffee, chocolate, popcorn, cigarettes, etc., enjoyed steering all day and waving to his buddies on workboats and ashore. Studying the Koran in the comfort of the cabin and praying on the foredeck were activities employed by the other pilot to augment his occasional yachting excursion. Opposing convoys are programmed to utilize Great Bitter Lake as a holding area; thereby, disallowing two-way ship traffic. A yacht holding close to the navigable side of the channel buoys will have more than adequate space as convoys pass in both directions. When the canal was unoccupied, the mainsail was used which greatly aided progress; especially, in the strong current experience in the southern section.

The Suez Canal, as with all major canals, is designed and operated for ships; therefore, physical accommodations for a sailboat are somewhat less desireable. A yacht is, as best, a diversion for canal workers, and when operating near ships, the safety index is lowered. Here, then, are some tips compiled from comments voiced by persons making a transit in 1986/87:

  1. Save time and money by stocking provisions and fuel prior to arriving in Egypt.
  2. Upon arrival, contact Prince of the Red Sea Agency via channel 16.
  3. Since the agent is doing the legwork ashore, visa requirements are waived. If a visit ashore is desired, each person wishing to do so must exchange $150.00 (USD) prior to receiving a visa.
  4. Yacht pilots are employed by the Suez Canal Authority as small boat operators and, as such, are qualified to advise yachts during time off work.
  5. The customary courtesy extended to pilots is food, drink (not alcohol), and cigarettes (Marlboro is endearing).
  6. The shipping agent reported that all agents pay the pilots and a tip is not required. Some people tipped $5.00 (USD).
  7. Pilots may require advice regarding vessel capabilities and operational procedures.
  8. Apparently, I was fortunate that my pilots were friendly and honest. There are enough negative reports and rumors to legitamise a cautious attitude.

Apparently, the "force" was with me in view of the smooth transit of the Red Sea and Suez Canal. plans were formulated to reach the Atlantic by April, without seriously anticipating that progress would be shifted into neutral by the weather in the diabolical Mediterranean, and that it would take 41/2 months to trek the 2000 miles between the continents of Africa and Europe.

It's difficult to receive long range weather reports in the Mediterranean through conventional broadcasting services. The most comprehensive forecasts are available from airports and military sources. While becalmed on night: presto -- an Israeli patrol boat emerged from out of the background as if by magic; then , instantly, it appeared to be daylight as bright searchlights illuminated the suspected invasion force. After receiving the once over, the captain informed me that a strong gale would arrive the next day, and the invitation was extended to visit the Holy Land. The course was immediately altered from Cyprus to Israel. A risky entry was made into Marina Tel Aviv 6 hours prior to the storm. The do-or-die procedure followed was ride the surf until past the breakwater, turn out to the right, look for and pass between 2 pint-size markers, immediately bear left, hit reverse hard, and quickly tie a 35 foot boat alongside a 20 foot boat to avoid hitting a wall. Entrance was made into 2 kinds of marinas in the Mediterranean: small and smaller.

The following 31 days were spent in Israel as 2 gales and 1 near gale contributed to unusually severe weather in an area that's known to have the most temperate winter climate in the Mediterranean. In between storms a 1 hour hop was made along the coast and into historic and picturesque Port Jaffa for another breathtaking approach. This excellent haven was retained for the remainder of the weather seige. Jaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world, and certainly is replete with legends; such as, that of Jonah who departed the harbor by surface craft and became highly awed when he returned via underwater transport in the belly of a whale.

With a population of 4 million people, Israel has less than half the head count of New Jersey and is roughly the same size. Bus transportation through out the country is outstanding, and provided the means for sightseeing in a region where it seems like every few miles (sometimes steps) there is something to see that has historical significance or is fantastically interesting. by the time the weather improved, near the end of January, I was anxious to cross some longitudes to the west -- time to decamp. One lesson demonstrated in the Mediterranean, over and over, was that caution and patience were 2 key factors in the formula for success. Ships seemed to be everywhere; even in shallow water, close to land. here were many other collision prospects. Fishing boats abound, and their nets can be seen as far as 5 miles offshore. uncharted oil drilling platforms exist and, in poor visibility, may not be seen until within close proximity.

I'm convinced that watch personnel aboard ships cannot see the tiny, low-range lights displayed by yachts until dangerously close. in addition, it is foolish to rely upon the detection of a little boat on shipboard radar. Therfore, it is mandatory for the solo sailor to accept responsiblity for being seen and staying out of the way of everything that moves. Love Song ordinarily displays a tri-color light, mounted on the masthead and, when in an area frequented by ships, a bright strobe light is used.

The subscription to safe sailing conditions expired west of Crete, as back to back gales struck. It wasn't the 30 to 40 knot wind that created a storm in a teacup and drove Love Song to within 50 miles of Libya's Gulf of Sidra. The responsible factor was the short, steep, swift moving sea which constantly smashed against the hull and swept over the deck and, for 30 hours, refused to permit movement away from the African coast. When conditions moderated, troublesome progress was made to the west in bitter cold, hailstorms, and strong headwinds, Three frustrating problems persuaded me to secure the boat in a safe harbor and seek leisure ashore: rough weather and constant moisture damaged or destroyed lots of equipment; 3 days of round-the-clock sailing chores created extreme fatigue; radio Athens reported that the devilish Mediterranean would be serving another gale the next day. The Inner harbor in Pilos, Greece was entered without the vaguest premonition that within the next few days I would be more terrified than I could have possibly imagined.

Pilos inner Harbor, according to the guidebook, is a safe harbor. Regretfully, this information is outdated as I discovered the following week during a chilly dive to inspect the holding ground. The bottom consists of rocks and loose gravel with occasional areas of clay. According to a local source, barges, for some unknown reason, dropped rocks and gravel in the anchorage during the construction of the new breakwater. Weather being what it is in this volatile region, a period of leniency was denied. Two days later a gale brutalized the harbor and swiftly deported Love Song to the outer harbor. The wind generated steep waves which led to remarkable sequence of events: the chain spring line and windlass locking devise broke; 300 feet of chain and 100 feet of line ran over the gypsy before the process could be halted. Miraculously, with a rocky shore only 100 yards away, the anchor caught on something. Perhaps, one of the ships sunk during the Greek War for Independence saved the day. Tremendous stress was placed on the ground tackle as the bow plunged into the surf. Also, the sun had disappeared below the mountain, and shipwreck was imminent. Did fate dictate that a world circumnavigation would be annulled on a rocky coastline in Greece? in these moments of danger it seemed somehow inappropriate that inconsequential thoughts plagued me. How shall I get to the airport? Where is my Visa Card?

These thoughts, the pathway to defeat, had to be flushed from the conscious state. Clearly, immediate action had to be taken to rescue the boat from disaster. "Who Ya Gonna Call" when you need Hercules? When the boat is plunging into the surf? When water and spilled diesel fuel had turned the deck into a skating platform? When the boat has to be motored to the anchor and 300 feet of chain and 100 feet of rope hauled onboard without the use of a windlass? When your back muscles are screaming for relief? When your hand has been slashed by seizing wire? The gong sounded and it was time to enter the ring to slug-it-out against the miserable Mediterranean gale. Rushing adrenaline, brute force, cursing, anger, and luck placed the burdened vessel back into the inner harbor as nightfall arrived, and all 4 anchors, plus the galley sink were tossed overboard. This time the boat stood fast to withstand gust pumping down the mountainside at 50 knots. The reliable diesel was operated in forward with 1 frozen helmsman on watch throughout the night. The level of moral declines instead of increased for, when daylight arrived, the weather declared war as the wind escalated in concert with a blizzard which covered the decks with snow.

One day during paralysis in Pilos, I was awakened by a novel sound: icicles falling from the spars and crashing on deck. it comes to no surprise that many Pilos residents have never seen snow in their neighborhood, when one realizes that the last snowfall was 42 years ago. moreover, record low temperatures and excessive snowfalls had many areas of Europe at a standstill. These cold, snowy, icy facts indicated that 1987 was not an ideal year to stand toe-to-toe against the weather. This adversity training and practice in crisis management made a 3 day gale in the Malta Channel seem almost boring; thus, the very slow and difficult non-stop sail to Spain was accepted as the last wild act in the Mediterranean adventure. The Mediterranean sea can still be crossed under sail as it has been for centuries; however, it was not a casual affair during the winter of 1987.

In sharp contrast to the difficulties in the Mediterranean, it was a notable that a little sailboat sailed 20,000 miles across 3 oceans without a dangerous incident. The underlying cause-effect relationship for this mild ocean sailing were wave heights below 12 feet and wind which never exceeded 22 knots except during squalls. The passport to safety is to cruise in the tropical zone during the proper season.

Sail attire for the circumnavigation reported in descending percentages of usage follows:
> Large genoa 36%
> Large genoa and mainsail 26%
> Large genoa and mainsail 26%
> Double headsails 18%
> Small genoa 10%
> Small genoa and mainsail 06%
> All others 04%

The horsepower Kubota engine totals were:
> 50 miles in the Panama Canal
> 107 miles in the Suez Canal
> 308 miles in the Red Sea
And of course, a few miles entering and departing harbors.

These propulsion schemes powered my 35 foot, 7 ton boat at an overall average of 89 miles per day:
> Ocean average of 106
> Red Sea average of 76
> Mediterranean average of 55

From the start to finish, budgetary matters were a primary concern. The return to home and work is not marred by excessive debt; in fact, it's a relief to have been able to circumnavigate the world for $5,300.00, which was below the predicted figure of $6,000.00.

As the Atlantic phase, day by day, slowly drew the curtain on a 17 month vacation from a semi vacation life style, it was interesting and a relief to realize that I had been spending copious hours formulating the annual summer vacation cruise plans in the Caribbean. Which islands will be on the itinerary this year? Which toys should be taken: windsurfer, boogie board, scuba tanks? Should I feel guilty that I am not worrying about a career, a retirement fund, making money, or paying off debts? Am I being selfish again? Wasn't there enough water and boats to satisfy? There were many hours during the 38 day voyage from Spain to St. Croix to recall personal feelings regarding solo sailing, and all the wonderful people and places around the world. I am, and some of us are, drawn to water for profound reasons. Our interaction with water is highly significant. My affinity to water as an essential biological bond - especially considering the earth's surface is 80% water, and our bodies are 76% composed of water. Certainly, the ocean has given me many unconventional, tremendously vital pleasures.

In much the same way that the marathon runner "hits the wall" at the 20 mile mark, with 6 miles, 385 yards remaining to the finish line; so to the lone sailor approaches the physical and psychological barrier many times in the course of a voyage. Against all odds, struggling to unleash the grasp of the cruel Mediterranean winter, muscles screaming, the prayers for relief are unanswered; instead problems proliferate: a line gets caught on the propellor, demanding your presence under the pitching hull, and barnacles slash flesh in the process; climb the mast to secure a broken headstay and every ounce of resistance can't prevent your face from smashing into the mast, 40 feet above the deck. That busy in-port schedule can be difficult to manage when everything needs to be done at once, and there is only 1 person to complete the mission. Things must get done and they do...or else.

I was alone, but not without the help of some excellent equipment that provided the wherewithal for surprisingly easy journey, overall. Steering around the world at an average speed of 3.7 miles per hour would seem inconvenient at best. This assignment was issued to the trusty Aires steering vane, a device, after 8 years of usage or 52,000 miles has never required a replacement part. it seems paradox that, in the tropics during the dry season, where clear skies prevail most of the time that, just when you think you're near the reef that rises from the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, or looking for an indistinguishable island, the celestial bodies take leave behind the clouds, making celestial navigation impossible and anxiety unavoidable. in the hazy Red Sea or during a gale in the Mediterranean an applause sounds loud and clear when the Magnavox satellite navigator issues a beep, signifying a precise position on the average of every 57 minutes, regardless of the meteorological conditions.

Personal visions capture the support of others. My mother sent me letters all over the world, and provided me with humor at the outset when she reported her initial reaction to my folly: Going where? Seems like everyone is moving nowadays. Well, send a letter when you finally get settled. Friends and relatives helped prepare the boat, lent money, and provided lots of "You can do it". Finally, help for the guy on his own comes from another well known source.

It's safe to conclude that people on tropical islands, around the world are, by nature, kind and generous. About as far as I could get from home might be the Seychelle Islands. it was there that I received continuous hospitality like a long-lost cousin of those happy people. There were invitations to visit homes, eat meals, and be an overnight guest. One new friend encouraged me to take up residency because all that I could ever want is there, and I agree. now, that was a place that caused me to sit in the cockpit and sadly observe disappear beyond the horizon; in fact, I sat there long afterwards, savoring thoughts of the people of Yemin and Egypt, the inhabitants overwhelmed me with goodwill and displayed a keen interest in my journey. It's usually the man making a living with a fishing boat built on the beach or the guy selling tea on the corner with the homemade cart that is willing to offer the shirt off his back as a gesture of friendship. Four factors contributed to successful visits in Arab countries: people were interested in visitors from the outside world, they were kindhearted, many spoke English, and they wanted the honored guest to see their way of life.

When a person has sailed around the world; seen remote landscapes; shared time and thoughts with distant people; experienced high adventure; tasted the ultimate of joy and the depths of despair, it is time to...do it again, but closer to home.

On June 19, 1987, after traversing the four hemispheres of the planet, Love Song slipped under the shadow of Ham's Bluff, the northwest extremity of St. Croix and, within minutes, she entered Frederisted Harbor from the north to cross the westward outbound track. On one hand, the clatter of the anchor chain undermined the quiescence of sunset as it terminated the day and, on the other, it thundered to applaud the conclusion of a global passage. There she lies in home port, to become, again, another weekend pleasure craft.


^Top | <Back Journal written by Teddy Seymour