Shadows in the Gulf: An Odyssey of Survival
Heading into the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea was like stepping into a different universe. Imagine a night so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face, but the sea is sparkling with lights from countless fishing boats. It was eerily beautiful but also kind of terrifying, especially with rumours of terrorists hiding among fishermen. Trying to weave through that sea of lights without getting tangled in nets or bumping into another boat was enough to keep anyone on edge.
The Gulf of Aden, notorious for its history with the Pirates of Somalia and the Al Qaeda presence on the Yemeni side, was a treacherous stretch of water. This part of the ocean is famous for pirates and not the cool, movie kind. We’re talking real-life pirates and Al Qaeda territory. To enhance our safety, we had informed Operation Atalanta, the European Union Naval Force, of our voyage. Mike, back at the planning stage, had ensured this communication.
As we entered the Gulf, a message from Mike relayed Atalanta’s instructions – a particular course to follow and protocols for seeking help. The recommended ‘marine highway’, however, seemed like a pirate’s hunting ground to us. We tested our communication with Atalanta, but our attempts with the VHF radio brought no success. So, when we couldn’t get our radio to connect, it really hit home – it was just Fiori and me against the pirate, Al Qaeda and the ocean.
We had a quick strategy session, poring over maps and calculations, and made two critical decisions. Firstly, we would sail close to Yemeni waters, staying about 5 nautical miles off the coast, out of Al Qaeda’s reach. Secondly, we would turn into shadows on the sea – shutting down all electronics and lights to become invisible. The plan was to go full ninja – as invisible as possible. Pushing our engine to its limits and adjusting our sails for maximum speed, we embarked on our stealth journey. It was like a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek.
The days that followed were a blur of tension and adrenaline. We were running on fumes – both literally and figuratively – with our fuel gauge laughing at us. Then Mike’s message came through: “No Oman. Keep going.” That threw a wrench in our plans and meant we had to get creative – and fast.
I decided to break the news to Fiori with a bit of humour.
“So, I’ve got good news and bad news,” I started, trying to lighten the mood.
“Good news first,” he shot back, half-smiling.
“Well,” I began, “we’re about to experience ancient seafaring – just us, the sails, and the sea, no engines or modern gadgets.”
Fiori’s laugh, though strained, was genuine. “And here I was thinking you’d lost your sense of humour,” he said. “What the… are you talking about?!” He exclaimed, his voice a mix of amusement and dread. “If that’s your idea of good news, I’m terrified to hear the bad!”
Then I dropped the bomb: “No stopping in Oman. Mike’s orders.”
The gravity of our situation is returning. However, we both knew that if Mike had given such a directive, it was for a compelling reason.
The storm that hit us next was like something out of a movie.
A massive gust nearly tore the boat apart, snapped several lines and there went Fiori’s freshly prepared spaghetti – airborne in a saucy tornado.
We regained control, made quick repairs, and set our sights on a small island with a marina 59 nautical miles away, hoping for fuel and shelter.
When our engine finally gasped its last breath, we were down to raw sailing. We felt like ancient mariners, racing across the waves with just wind in our sails. We had to find a new port since Oman was off the table. Scouring the maps, we spotted a small island about 59 nautical miles away with a marina. “That’s our best shot,” I said, and Fiori nodded, his face set in a determined grimace.
The approach to the island was intense. We had been so caught up in navigating the storm that we hadn’t noticed the complete absence of other boats. It was just us and the ocean. As we neared the marina, we had to make a call – sails down, last 20 litres of diesel in. We were flying blind into this marina, no response on the VHF, nothing.
Some local guy, seeing us struggle, started guiding us in, shouting directions from the dock. As we tied up, he called out, “Messengers of the God!” We didn’t understand the significance of his words then, but we knew we had found a haven, a brief respite in our relentless odyssey.
What awaited us on that island, and why we were hailed as ‘Messengers of the God’, would unfold in the next chapter of our journey – a tale of unexpected twists and the relentless spirit of survival.
This leg of our journey was about more than just surviving a storm or avoiding pirates. It was about making tough calls, trusting each other, and facing whatever the sea threw at us. It taught us about resilience, quick thinking, and how sometimes you end up being a hero in someone else’s story without even realizing it.
To be continued.