Sunday, March 27, 2011

Al Mukalla in Yemen.

Al Mukalla is a small town on the coast of Yemen where we decided, with the other members of the Seabirds convoy, to stop for rest and provisioning. As most countries in the middle east this year, Yemen is under some political unrest and we heard that demonstrations were held in Aden, further West, but no reports of any activities in Mukalla. We arrived all nine boats at the same time in the tiny harbor causing some headaches to the port authorities but nothing they could not handle. While being anchored just a few feet apart we met with Maher who acts as a local agent helping yachts with their clearance and supply needs. Danielle and I got our organizational skills in action again and by the end of the afternoon we had arranged with Maher to get 2000 liters of fuel for all the boats, water and booking buses the next morning for the 19 of us to go at the bank and supermarket. We were told at this time that the authorities didn’t want us to go ashore after 1:00pm because of a demonstration in town. After all it seemed that Mukalla was maybe not as quiet as we had expected! Everyone was very happy of the work Danielle had done to organize everything in Mukalla and they let her know.

The next morning the crews of the nine boats all gathered on the main wharf, which was the first time we would all meet since we left Uligan 14 days ago, and after kisses, handshaking and group photos we all stepped into buses and went shopping. Yemeni are extremely welcoming, almost to the point of being embarrassing. They would help us at the grocery store, talk to us on the street, obviously some would ask for money but in general we felt at ease. We came back at the harbor before noon, again because of demonstrations in town, and got the fuel in the afternoon. Our plan was to leave early the next morning but the extent of the boat repairs we were facing made us extend our stay for two more days.

That night we had a little party on Chocobo, yes 19 peoples do fit in our cockpit! We had a very good time and it was the time to celebrate our achievement so far as well as confirming that we were still a strong team ready for the next leg. Indeed, the experience of sailing so many days at sea together can be so daring that many members of other convoys would never talk to each other afterward! But the Seabirds were now very good friends and chances are we will remain so for a long time. The next day was time for repairs. Our hydraulic autopilot was, I thought then, completely gone but Brian on “Glide” apparently can fix anything on a boat and after a couple hours of twinkling we managed to get it back on track. As a matter of fact that day it became obvious to us how much can be done with the crews of nine boats working together to fix stuff and getting things going.

Even though we had almost every part between the nine boats to fix every issue we had we still needed to go shopping for some parts and spares. Jean-Claude, Graeme, Martheen, Max and I went the next day with Maher to shop for what was missing and get some internet. We first stopped at a computer shop for Graeme to get a charger for his laptop. The store was on the West side of the river while we could see demonstrators on the other side. Apparently, a demonstration was being held even though we were still early in the morning. We then went to a tiny hardware store where, although it’s apparent small size, we found pretty much everything we wanted such as my seals for the hydraulic RAM, bearings, engine coolant, tools, connectors, lubricant etc. We dropped Martheen, Graeme and Jean-Claude at the Internet Café while Max, Maher and I tried to get propane for the boats but were unsuccessful due to incompatibility with the bottle connectors. We then stopped at the supermarket where I went alone to get a sort of cream cheese they make that is just to die for. There I met John from “Amante” and chat with him for a couple of minutes then we went our separate ways. From the grocery store to the internet café we had problems with the traffic in the streets. The demonstration was turning sour and we could hear gunshots from the police probably shooting in the air to disperse the crowd. When we arrived at the internet café Jean-Claude was outside chatting with some local vendors. I went inside and told the others that things were getting ugly outside and we had to go now. Thirty seconds later they were out of the café! We then had to go back to the harbor but the streets were jammed by the demonstration.

Maher took a backstreet and was able to move forward. Around us we could see people running while on the adjacent streets people were shouting and the police shooting. Maher was nervous but he took us out of there and drove around the hill, which took us about 20-30 minutes to reach the port instead of 10 minutes. Danielle started to be worried because when John, who I’d met at the supermarket, came back he told her that he had met me alone at the supermarket and that things were getting very ugly in town. She was then imagining me running in the street of Mukalla from a mob of Yemenis with sticks in their hands! Of course there was nothing so dramatic; I was just trying to dodge bullets from the police! Anyhow this was our clue that we had to get out of this place first thing the next morning. We tried to relax that afternoon but it was more a panacea than anything else. However, that night we all felt deeply asleep under the chants of the call for prayer coming from the nearby mosque in this city of the Middle-East which beside what it may appears at first, still makes us dream.