Now, safely anchored in Djibouti, we take a look back at our month spent in the charming country of Oman.
It was during our recent stay in Zanzibar and Kenya that I first learned a bit more about Oman. I began to read books about how Oman had been the centre of the world trading routes for thousands of years, so I was already fascinated about this country that borders on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Oman is is 82 percent desert, and 15 percent mountains, with a population of just over 5 million, similar to New Zealand. I just had no idea at the time that we would one day be going there.
When we left Kenya to go direct to Djibouti, we had no plans to stop along the way. However, while under way, after about 10 days at sea, we discovered a major oil leak in the engine. We could have tried to sail on to Djibouti, 700nms away, but we knew the winds would be very light for days on end. Plus, we use our engine to run our water maker. Without an engine, we decided it would be prudent to make an emergency diversion to Port Salalah, Oman, for repairs. Salalah was about 185 miles away to the north, downwind and with a large bay to safely drop anchor, under sail, on arrival.
We had no visa arranged but when we sent an email via our satellite phone explaining our situation, the Port Captain agreed to allow us an emergency entry into their port, the busiest container port on the Arabian Coast.
Entry into Port Salalah has been closed to cruising yachts ever since the announcement of Covid 19, so there were now no designated areas for us to go, or protocols in place of how they should proceed to check us in. After 3 days at anchor we towed ourselves in with our dinghy to an area within the port where we could wait for decisions to be made about our visa status and Covid vaccination status. We had no idea how long it would take to get the engine running again before we could be under way.
So, meanwhile, Lane had found and removed the offending corroded piece that was causing the oil leak. The port authorities sent a marine engineer to take a look and they agreed that this would be a simple thing to make here in their workshop, so it could be done and installed within a week.
Long story short, that didn’t work, so Lane ordered a new piece from the UK. Now we just had to wait for the camel mail to reach Salalah.
We were assigned an agent to take care of all our requirements here, but he really was not aware of the needs of a small cruising yacht and it was thanks to other people working in and around the port that we got some appropriate action.
After about a week of waiting, the authorities in immigration decided that we should have 2 PCR tests a week apart, and only then we might be allowed to leave the port area to visit the city. We also insisted and arranged to have our Covid vaccination here, as our second dose was now due. The local hospital was very efficient and it was a relief to receive our second vaccination along with our official certificate with QR code. It is becoming almost impossible to travel without this document.
Luckily, we had a heap of things to do on Mai Tai to get her ready for the continuation of our passage westwards, and a couple of other cruising yachts came in to keep us company. We had made many friends around the port from the port captain himself, captains and crews of the tug boats and pilot boats, all who generously showered us with food packages, checking that we were doing OK. We could also order food and sim cards from the Port supermarket to be delivered to the boat. These were all brothers of the sea.
So, we were doing great and we had plenty to keep us entertained at the port. But we still had no visa.
For thousands of years people have traded goods, using the old dhows following the monsoon seasons around the globe. Oman was the trading centre for centuries. We watched these wonderful huge dhows unloading their live cargo of cows and goats, that arrived almost daily from Somalia.
Air freight has taken over the overland camel deliveries, and the Panama Canal and Suez Canals have opened up the world to huge container ships. Salalah Port is the largest and busiest shipping port in the Arabian Gulf.
Our friend Abdul proudly showed us around the city of Salalah, then kindly invited us back to his home for a BBQ to meet his friends and neighbors. One of his friends was discussing his recent trip to Viet Nam to purchase fabric to bring back to his shop in Dubai. These wonderful people are still trading today. Not too much has changed over the centuries.
Often, women do not socialise with the men, and I missed the female company on these social occasions. However, I did enjoy a very fun and unforgettable evening when Abdul took us home to meet his mother, sisters and brother. The women were keen to show me around their beautiful home and let me taste some of their local dishes. We asked each other a million questions, learning about each other’s different cultures and talked about our families. One thing I did learn was that these beautiful women were intelligent, well educated, many were well-travelled and all had a wonderful sense of humour. They showered me with beautiful gifts of Frankincense, perfumes, gorgeous fabrics, Omani dates and date cookies.
I will never forget their friendship and genuine warm hospitality.
We did manage to hire a car for a few days to visit some of the interesting and beautiful areas in the hills around Salalah, the Frankincense Museum and the old trading city of Khor Rori.
Driving through the desert, and even in town, dodging camels, donkeys and goats was a new experience.
Our engine part finally arrived, Lane installed it, so we were now good to go, but not before we had done a huge re-provisioning at the local Carrefour Supermarket.
Our visa never really was sorted and every time we arrived at the port gates, we had to go through the whole process of explaining who we were and why we needed to get to our boat, which was inside. Each time the staff would have changed shifts, or the boss was off at lunch.!!!!
Let’s hope there will be some better protocols in place for the next lot of cruising yachts to come through. But, despite these minor hassles, we leave with the warmest most wonderful memories and experiences from our stay here.
Salalah was a very clean attractive city of which the local people are very proud.
It was my birthday, but we really wanted to get underway as the winds would only last for the next 3 days. It took most of the day to check back out of the country with Customs, and pay our agent his $US 500 (for doing virtually nothing).
By 1600 we got our clearance and untied our dock lines, hoisted our yankee and main and enjoyed a brisk sail for the first night out.
But that wasn’t to last and for the next 6 days we had 0 to 10 knots of wind blowing us gently westward. The only trouble was that the wind only blew 5 hrs a day, from 2pm until just after sunset.
We were prepared for long periods of little or no wind in this region, so we were carrying extra fuel in jerry cans on deck, but we could never have imagined such long periods with not a breath of wind at all. None! We motored for 86 hrs in a total passage time of 156 hours.
The clear starry night skies reflected in the glassy seas around us made it hard to see where the sky and sea met. Mai Tai creates a phosphorescent wave as she glides through the water. Magic!
We were not in any hurry, so we really enjoyed the smooth sailing on this passage, accompanied by many dolphin and very friendly and curious hitchhiking birds.
We are sailing just north of the busy shipping lane, one of the busiest in the world with hundreds of ships moving eastward or westward continuously. Our AIS sets off an alarm that alerts us to any vessel that approaches within 10 miles of our position. We saw a few ships as we approached Djibouti in the early hours of the morning and we dropped anchor in the harbour around 0900hrs.
We had been in touch with an agent named Ahssan, who arranged for us to get our PCR tests done. With a negative result we will then be allowed to leave the boat. We already had our E visas which we had applied for a couple of months ago costing $US 30 each.
After 4 days at anchor here and armed with our negative PCR results and e-visas, we went to check in with Immigration for official entry into the country. We couldn’t believe it when we were told that E Visas are only valid at airports, and not for boats arriving by sea!!!!! We had specifically mentioned on the application that we were arriving by sailing yacht and therefore had no hotel address to fill in on the form. Lane has an infinite amount of patience, but also an equal amount of stubbornness, all done with a smile, of course.
But there was nothing we could do or say, and we had to pay for another visa, issued here at the office. This seems to be the name of the game in this part of the world.