Indian Ocean, Maldives & Pirate Alley

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					© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                                            1 of 7

                 Indian Ocean, Maldives & Pirate Alley
                                                        Interlude Report 26


EGYPT                     SAUDI

                                                    ARABIAN                               BENGAL        Andaman
                                                      SEA                                                Islands
                                                                                       SRI              Islands
                   SOMALIA                                                             LANKA
                                                         MALDIVES          INDIAN OCEAN

                                                                                                         Uligan (Uligamu)
   Port                                                 PERSIAN
  Ghalib                                                 GULF
EGYPT                                                                         Ihavandhippolhu
                                ARABIA                                              Atoll

  SUDAN                 RED                             Salalah
                        SEA                                                      Huvarafushi
           ERITREA                     Aden
                                              GULF OF
                 DJIBOUTI                      ADEN

           BAB EL MANDIB                                               Guided day trip on local dhoni

People often ask us if we are ever worried or afraid as we cruise the world on our Deerfoot 74 cutter Interlude.
Since leaving California in 2002 we have had many adventures that some might consider dangerous:
snorkeling/diving in shark filled waters, exploring wrecks in Bikini Atoll at depths over 200 feet, snaking our
way through poorly chartered reefs in Fiji, departing New Zealand on a rally schedule with 50 knots of wind
forecasted, etc. Death is a certainty but through calculated risk taking, we hope to experience as much as
possible of this amazing planet. Human behavior, however, is sometimes incalculable and the only time we
truly worry is when we have to calculate the outcome of a human interaction. This has only happened twice:
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                        2 of 7
while anchored off a remote village in Vanuatu, rumored to partake still in cannibalism, and while sailing from
Thailand to the Mediterranean via Sri Lanka, Maldives, the Gulf of Aden (‘Pirate Alley’) and the Red Sea. Our
decision to head for the Med via the Suez Canal was not made lightly knowing it would take us through a bad
neighborhood with vessels being attacked by pirates almost daily. The alternative, via Cape Hope, would add at
least 10,000 miles to this passage. We might be cruisers, but are not that fond of passage making. So on
January 21, 2009, after spending the last of our Thai Baht topping off the freezer with ice cream bars and saying
goodbye to fellow cruisers, we departed Nai Harn, Thailand and began a one-month trip, covering over 4,000
miles, to Port Ghalib, Egypt.

The first leg of our journey took eight days, two thirds of it motoring, to go 1,300 miles from Phuket, Thailand
to Uligan, our first and only port of call in the Republic of Maldives, located in the northernmost atoll of
Ihavadhippolhu. Maldives is a string of 26 atolls sitting on a ridge in the Indian Ocean where two tectonic plates
meet. It is the lowest country in the world with its highest elevation being two meters above sea level. The
capital Male, has roughly a quarter of an estimated total population of 360,000 packed onto an island of a
couple square miles in area. Uligan, rather than Male, is now the cruiser’s preferred stop en-route for yachts
crossing the Indian Ocean as evidenced by the 40 plus yachts in the anchorage including Vasco de Gama and
Blue Water Cruising Rally entrants. We are not fond of going to countries requiring unwieldy paperwork that
make them hard to visit, so we ruled out a stop in Cochin, India or the Andaman or Nicobar Islands
(administered by India). Galle, Sri Lanka could have been an emergency stop but we are not attracted to war
zones just for sight seeing.
                                                       Arriving just after 1700 hours, we hailed ‘Uligan Port
                                                       Control’ on the VHF radio and received instructions to
                                                       remain on board for the night. Customs, Health,
                                                       Immigration, Harbor Control and the Coast Guard arrived
                                                       in the morning and efficiently processed our check-in
                                                       wearing the spiffiest uniforms. This first experience was
                                                       representative of the bureaucracy we encountered in
                                                       Maldives: well defined and executed with rules not too
                                                       onerous for visitors. For instance, we were told to take no
                                                       alcohol ashore and cover up arms and legs appropriately,
                                                       be back on our boats by 2200 every night and not to leave
                                                       the anchorage of Uligan.

                                                      Officially 100% Sunni Muslim and a virtual dictatorship
for three decades, the government is definitely trying to manage foreign influences by strictly controlling visits
outside of resorts and tourist areas. However, the country needs to maintain its position as a premier tourist
destination. Therefore education in a broad range of subjects, including English from grade one is a priority.
Classrooms have a computer for each student and conversational English was spoken by most people we met.
Our offer to sing and play guitar at the local school was
politely refused. The reason given: village elders
considered it a bad influence. A very effective public
relations campaign keeps police brutality and human rights
abuses out of the world media and the President is fond of
gaining sympathy from world leaders by making speeches
about rising sea levels and global warming.

The local yacht agent, Imad, kept us busy with a dinner
party ashore (where we were asked to play), a day trip to
other islands and delivering nearly a thousand liters of
diesel fuel in drums to Interlude at anchor. Produce arrives
weekly so we ordered apples (they came from Washington
State!), potatoes, carrots and onions. We spent one
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                         3 of 7

morning ashore helping a local restring his brother’s guitar and teaching him a few basics. He was very excited
about the possibility of singing and learning to play his favorite tune downloaded off the internet onto his cell
phone. The internet is making a cultural impact on the country in spite of tightly controlled traditional media.
The prevalence of technology on this tiny sand spit of an island was much unexpected. One islander even built a
radio controlled model seaplane. Boatbuilding skills were also not too shabby as evidenced by a palmwood
dhoni being built under cover on the beach. Locals use this type of craft as a ferry, fuel barge, fishing, excursion
or dive boat, live-aboard yacht or freighter.

We wished we had more time to spend enjoying Maldives but a weather window appeared for a good passage to
the Gulf of Aden so a one-week stay in paradise would have to do. On February 4, we raised the anchor as a
dozen giant manta rays fed within a few feet of the boat in the turquoise waters. It was tempting to jump in for a
better look at them but we had already completed outward clearance formalities and the officials were keeping
good track of arrivals and departures.
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                        4 of 7
Six days of light to moderate winds with a full main and the big code zero genoa allowed us to cover 1,000
miles. We had read that the Indian Ocean can offer some of the best sailing conditions and we did enjoy this
part. With no need to top up fuel and reports of a harbor overcrowded with rally boats in Salalah, Oman, we
took the rhumb line to the ‘transit corridor’. In response to escalating armed hijacking of ships in the Gulf of
Aden, several countries have sent warships to patrol the area. A new transit corridor was set up February 1 with
GPS coordinates defining southwest and northeast bound traffic lanes with a separation zone in the middle.
Coalition warships escorted ship convoys, grouped by speeds of 12, 15 and 18 knots. Most of the other cruisers
formed convoys as well. Interlude, however, motors at 8-10 knots, too slow for the commercial convoys but
faster than the cruiser convoys that tend to move at only five knots. Therefore, rather than doubling our time in
the danger zone, we choose to transit ‘pirate alley’ alone. As a precaution, we registered with the UK Maritime
Trade Organization and sent daily email position updates via our satellite phone. Those two days of motoring in
the corridor were the longest of our lives. As we motored at nine knots down the north side of the corridor, we
looked forward to the commercial convoys with their warship escort passing within VHF radio range. We also
had a phone number for the US battle group command and the UKMTO in Dubai who could coordinate
assistance. Kurt was net control on a twice-daily HF radio schedule with other cruisers in the area adding moral

Halfway through the corridor we spotted a suspicious looking local boat heading toward us. We put out a call
on VHF 16 to ‘Coalition Warship’ but got no response. A glance at the AIS data showed the freighter
Rotterdam within radio range and they responded saying they had already reported the craft to coalition forces.
The boat crossed our bow a few hundred feet in front of us and the Rotterdam relayed our description: about 60
feet long, wood construction, yellow & green stripes, two smaller powerboats on deck with about twenty locals
staring at us not looking or acting like fishermen. Fortunately, they continued past us into the corridor and
toward Somalia.

Our luck held for rest of the transit but the commercial vessels around us took some attacks. Other cruisers
reported in on the HF radio net of hearing distress calls by merchant ships on VHF and seeing flares (rocket
propelled grenades?). During the two days (February 12-14, 2009) we were in the 500 mile long patrolled
                                                  transit corridor, four different attempted hijackings occurred,
                                                  one as close as 60 miles from our position. Two tankers and
                                                  two bulk carriers were fired upon with RPGs and automatic
                                                  weapons. The merchant mariners defended themselves with
                                                  evasive maneuvers and fire hoses. U.S. Forces thwarted
                                                  attacks on the tankers Polaris (arresting all seven pirates)
                                                  and Prem Divya (arresting nine pirates). Between January 1
                                                  and June 1, 2009 there have been over 100 reports of attacks
  Chartplotter AIS                                in the Gulf of Aden alone. Exiting the corridor, we
  display showing                                 overheard a merchant ship hail an Indian Warship asking for
  ships, Interlude                                an update on pirate activities as he was about to enter the
  (red track) and the                             corridor. The Indian officer responded, “Yes, indeed, I
  coordinates of the                              confirm numerous attempted and completed acts of piracy
  southwest end of                                but, have a nice trip.” This might have been funny had we
  the ‘Transit Corridor’                          not been there ourselves empathizing with those merchant
                                                  seaman entering the gauntlet.
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                         5 of 7

Toward the end of the transit corridor, we had enough wind to start sailing again. Forecasted to be aft of the
beam for the next several days and with no need for more fuel, we choose to bypass Aden, Yemen as well.

In alimentary terms, from our perspective on geography and the human condition at the time, if the
Mediterranean Sea is the stomach, the Red Sea is the colon, Bab el Mandeb is the sphincter and the Gulf of
Aden is the toilet. We had no pressing desire to visit the failed or failing states of Somalia, Yemen, Djibouti or
Eritrea, and had seen enough poverty and dysfunctional government while in Indonesia. Saudi Arabia does not
allow tourists, with the exception of Muslims going to Mecca, so, unless we had some type of emergency our
next stop was Egypt.

The wind continued to build as we approached Bab el Mandeb, the strait that connects the Gulf of Aden with
the Red Sea. At midnight, with no moon on Valentine’s Day, Interlude was wing and wing in a sandstorm
gusting to 35 knots, blasting along at 10-18 knots with traffic in the shipping lane, islands to port, and the
Yemeni coast to starboard. We were glad to be making good time under the cover of darkness due to reports of
aggressive begging from Yemeni fishermen and military patrols asking for baksheesh. There was also some
very disturbing late-night chatter on VHF channel 16 by some demented and bored watch keepers.

The Coalition Forces were generally responsive to hails on the VHF radio and put out calls asking vessels to
report any suspicious craft, to chastise some ships that chose not to display running lights at night or who had
their AIS transmitters turned off. One exception was the radio operator on a Saudi warship in the Red Sea
whose response to our report of suspicious activity was incredulous. We noticed the 188 meter Adelaide
Express, originally on a similar northbound course, passed us but then 30 miles ahead made a 180-degree turn,
staying on this new course for 15 miles. With cargo ships always on tight schedules, we thought this behavior
unusual enough to warrant a call to ‘Coalition Warship’. The Saudi warship responded asking why we did not
hail the Adelaide directly. Operating in unfamiliar pirate waters as we were, the closest situation we could relate
to was a carjacking. If we noticed a possible carjacking, we would call the police, not the driver. We replied that
if the crew of the Adelaide were in a hostage situation that a warship would be better prepared to record the
events and provide assistance. They next inquired if we were owned by same company. When we answered
negative they wanted to know, “Why do you care?” It seemed as if we were interrupting an afternoon nap.
Seven hours later the Adelaide overtook us again and so the mystery remains unsolved.

The surprisingly salty Red Sea, when dried and mixed with the fine desert sand that is always in the air, will
make everything including rigging and sails absolutely filthy. We took the precaution of closing our ventilators
to minimize the amount of dust getting below deck. The bioluminescence of the water at night however was
spectacular especially since we had no moon.

We made good time sailing and when the dusty wind died down we motored for two days in calm conditions
before our good fortune ran out with the wind finally shifting to the North and starting to blow hard. The normal
procedure would be to pull over and wait for another calm spell to make our way North but we only had 300
miles to Port Ghalib, Egypt; how hard could it be? Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was abeam but does not allow foreign
vessels to stop unless there is an emergency. Suakin and Port Sudan were already behind us, so for three days
we tacked back and forth in 25-35 knot winds and steep ten foot seas. Sailing was more comfortable (if you can
call it that) than motoring into the chop but we learned not to underestimate the power of the (D)Red(ed) Sea
and would avoid going North during those conditions in the future.

After 15 days at sea, more than our passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, we were unable to make port before
nightfall and picked up a HEPCA/USAID mooring at Samadai Reef. A park ranger working on one of the dive
boats told us the area now required a permit to visit. Our offer to pay him for the permit directly was refused so
we know he was legitimate. Seeing our sleep deprived eyes, he was kind enough to arrange for one of the dive
boats there to pilot us to a different reef nearby where he told us to anchor. We found it ironic that a park ranger
preferred us to destroy coral by illegally anchoring (the entire Egyptian coast in the Red Sea is environmentally
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                      6 of 7
protected by prohibiting anchoring) rather than having us remain on a nice big mooring that we probably paid
for with our U.S. tax dollars. The ambiguity of Egyptian law would become more apparent to us over the
subsequent two months we spent in Egypt. Too tired to argue the point, and with the wind now calm again, we
had our first full night rest in over two weeks. The following day we motored the final 50 miles to Port Ghalib,
our first official port of entry in Egypt with a brand new modern marina and resort complex.

The distance from Maldives to Egypt that we covered in just over two weeks, took most other cruisers one to
two months. We did not dally in the danger zone and pressed on with all possible speed day or night, under sail
or power. This is generally our way of passage making and usually minimizes our exposure to hazards, natural
or human. Many cruisers made fuel, provision or sightseeing stops in Salalah, Aden, Massawa and Suakin but
we chose to top up in the Maldives and took advantage of seasonally forecasted favorable winds. Cruisers that
delayed moving north with stops reported more headwinds, sandstorms and tense moments than we
encountered. Several boats reported suspicious fishing boats after anchoring in the Red Sea off Yemen, making
the decision to forgo sleep and head out to sea as the sun set.

The calculated risk we took in going through ‘pirate alley’ instead of around Cape Hope saved us months of
sailing and wear and tear on ship and crew. The latest IMB reports show increased pirate activity extending out
to the rhumb line from the Maldives to the Seychelles and Madagascar making the alternative route increasingly
dangerous as well. In April, pirates hijacked a French yacht heading south 350 miles off Somalia. The French
military freed them but unfortunately, the captain/husband/father was killed during the rescue. This was one of
three attacks on yachts off Somalia in as many weeks.

We wish to express our thanks to the men and women in the UN Coalition Forces who saw us safely through
the area and hope that a solution is found to stop the spread of piracy as employment for desperate people. The
shipping companies have the financial bottom line in mind and will continue to weigh the cost of insurance
(millions of dollars in ransoms are being paid) and Suez Canal fees against the time and fuel to go around
Africa. If shipping is diverted around Africa the resulting reduction in Suez Canal revenue, coupled with
reduced tourism due to the global downturn, would have a negative impact on the Egyptian economy. Look for
our next report describing the two months we spent in Egypt.

We look forward to hearing from you and tales from your corner of the world. Please send a text email (no
pictures or other attachments please) to us aboard Interlude at Longer emails with
attachments can be sent to for us to retrieve when we have a good WiFi
connection in port.


Kurt & Katie

                                       (Cruisers Notes & Summary on the next page)
© Copyright 2009 KG Braun & KH Braun                                                                                              7 of 7

                                                   CRUISER’S NOTES & SUMMARY
DATE     ANCHORAGE        LAT. N        LNG. E      DPTH      HOLD        PROTECT    CHECKIN       GVMT    NATURE     PEOPLE     SIGHTS
Jan 29       Uligan,      7°05.00’     72°54.94’     70 ft    GOOD         GOOD        YES         NICE   EXCELLENT    NICE      Fine white
  to     Ihavadhippolhu                                                                                                        sand beaches,
Feb 4        Atoll,                                                                                                            Giant Mantas
            Maldives                                                                                                               Island
Feb 19    Samadai Reef    24°59.23’    34°59.83’     40 ft    Mooring      FAIR        NO but      NICE   EXCELLENT    NICE       Diving,
                                                                                     need permit                                  Dolphins
                                                                                       to visit
Feb 19   Small reef two   24°56.5’     34°59.1’     80 ft     GOOD         POOR          NO         NO      GOOD      NONE        None
          miles SE of                                                       calm
         Marsa Tundaba                                                     weather
Feb 20     Port Ghalib    25°32.02     34°38.34     20 ft    Alongside     GOOD         YES        NICE     GOOD       NICE     Restaurants
             (Marsa                                          Quarantine                                                          Resorts
            Mubaric)                                          Wharf                                                               Diving

There was no cost to check into the Republic of Maldives at Uligan. One boat reported paying $US 550.00 in Male for inward
clearance and an Inter Atoll Traveling Permit. The free check in at Uligan allows a stay of 72 hours. Paying the local yacht agent $US
20.00 allows a stay of up to two weeks but the yacht must remain at Uligan in either case. The agent in Uligan can get you an Inter
Atoll Traveling Permit. Included in the nominal agent fee is fuel delivery to the yacht, grocery ordering, etc. We topped off with 960
liters of diesel hand pumped from 200-liter drums ($US 1.00 per liter). Importantly, Only cash ($US) can be used in Uligan for any
transactions, including fees and fuel, and there are no ATM machines. Having smaller denominations ($1, $5, $10 bills) would be
useful at the grocery store. There was a $US 4.00 departure fee.

Some additional rules while in Uligan: Local people are not allowed aboard, gifts or business transactions unless pre-approved by
Customs; pre-check-in quarantine is strictly enforced; dress properly when ashore; no alcoholic beverages allowed ashore or given to
locals. Although these rules seem restrictive, for up to two weeks, Uligan is a pleasant enough rest stop while crossing the Indian
Ocean. The beautiful water, beaches and friendly people, combined with the social gatherings and information sharing with other
cruisers, kept us well occupied and entertained during our stay.

Most yachts crossing the Indian Ocean reported in on an HF Radio net organized before leaving Thailand or Malaysia. For our net we
asked participants to pick an ‘insurance plan’ to be executed if they did not check in for two consecutive periods: Plan C was do
nothing; Plan B was attempt to reach them by all other means including satphones, email and VHF radio; Plan A involved calling
coalition forces or search and rescue relaying the last known position, course and speed. Most chose Plan B and were not paranoid
about giving their position over the air while in the Gulf of Aden.

In conversations with other cruisers, we received the following feedback: Port Salalah (Minah Raysut), Oman can be crowded but has
good provisioning and cheap fuel. In Aden, Yemen, several yachts were left at anchor to allow a tour of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.
Djibouti continues to deteriorate due to the influx of refugees from Somalia and the reduced French influence (provisioning is still
expensive). Eritrea and Sudan are poor countries with not much to see, but their offshore islands and marsas can provide some shelter
while making your way north against strong headwinds.

Imad Abdhulla                                      UK Maritime Trade Organization
Yacht Agent                                        Tel +971 50 552 3215
Uligan, Maldives                                   Fax +971 4 306 5710
Mobile: +9607934361, +9607711652.                  Email:

Noonsite                                           International Sailing Federation   [7256].pdf

IMB Piracy Reporting Centre
ICC International Maritime Bureau, PO Box 12559, 50782 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel:+ 60 3 2078 5763 Anti Piracy 24 H HELPLINE Tel : ++ 60 3 2031 0014, Fax:+ 60 3 2078 5769

IMB Live Piracy Map

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Description: Adventures of Kurt & Katie Braun while sailing the world aboard their 74 ft yacht.
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