Red Sea Passage Part One: Aden, Yemen



Our Red Sea passage is written as a series of four letters:
1. Aden (Polter-guy)
2. Suakin
3. Voyage of the Damned
4. Egypt

I hope you enjoy reading ‘Seeing Red’ a whole lot more than I enjoyed living it. --Sue
Shop in Aden, Yemen. Click to enlarge
Poltergeist: n. a supernatural being supposedly responsible for throwing objects about. -- origin from German poltern ‘make a disturbance’ + Geist ‘ghost’
Polter-Guy: n. a supernatural being who lives exclusively on sailboats and who is responsible for everything from a lost doohickey to broken booms.--origin S.M.Osier from German poltern ‘make a distrubance’ + Yachtese Guy ‘a boat part’.
In Indonesian waters, we were made nervous by small, fast, multi-hulled fishing boats that would travel at Hobie cat speeds straight at us and then turn away just when we were sure collision was eminent. The explanation we got for this frighteningly bizarre behavior was that the fishermen were dumping bad spirits off from them to us. At the time, I didn’t really believe that explanation, I figured we were just cheap entertainment. In Bali, I lost some of my skepticism. Keeping away bad spirits was a daily ritual. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny shrines are scattered on the roads, and in the town. Most businesses have one. They are usually on a pedestal about 4 feet high, are made of stone (cast cement), and are about one square foot, or less, in size. These can be a small temple, a Buddha, Ganesha (the Indian God with the elephant head), any respected image. The temple (or icon) sits on a platform so there is a ledge around it. The ledge is where the offerings are put. The offerings are flowers, incense, food, glasses of water or tea, money, all sorts of things. Even the yacht club and adjoining restaurant participated. Every morning, a small, wiry old man left offerings of flowers and incense in strategic places in and around the building. The offerings came in 3x3x1/2inch cardboard dishes. Small blossoms of many different kinds and colors were artfully arranged in the dishes, and sprinkled with water. They were all identical and they were placed at the entrance, one on each side, inside on several small shrines and on the reception counter. An incense stick burned at each one. One morning I asked him why he did this. One of the security guys translated for me. It was to keep the bad away. There seemed to be a little trouble getting the translation just right, so I’m not really sure if the “bad” referred to spirits, luck or just plain evil. In any case, I thought it sounded like a worthwhile and important job. More people should spend time repelling bad. I thanked him for his time and donated a bit of money for incense and dishes. I’m sure that the people who put offerings on the shrines do so for many different reasons; a prayer for a loved one, asking a forgiveness, a hope for a successful business day, asking for help in finding the lost car keys, but a lot of those incenses were burning to keep the bad away.
By now you’re wishing I would get to some kind of point, and so I shall, now that I’ve laid the groundwork. I just want to tell you that if I were the superstitious type, I would say that one of those fishermen dumped something on our boat. If I believed in cursed luck or hooky-spooky stuff, I would call that something a polter-guy. The first four years of our circumnavigation were relatively problem free. Since Indonesia, we have: hit a reef; had our alternator (and therefore, engine) die; surfed a tsunami; lost our fresh water when a hose came loose; had our boom snap in half during a violent, lightening filled squall; had our fuel pump (and therefore, our engine) die again; had our auto-pilot die; and, in Aden, had a pugnacious fellow cruiser denounce us, very publicly over the VHF as “complete disasters”. I know, I know, after reading the previous sentence, how could any sane person disagree. However, he was referring to our trip from Oman to Aden, and we weren't complete disasters. That trip was the first (and last) time we 'buddy boated'. For a short distance, we went with three other boats in what was supposed to be a tightly held position through pirate territory. We were not complete disasters; I was incompetent. The auto-pilot died during my watch and I didn't realize it until we were way off course. It was night and we were underway without lights so we wouldn't be visible to pirates. We were the front boat, so when we veered off course, I guess we came very close to hitting him (according to him). I got Gene up when I realized things were off and he got on the radio and asked if everyone could turn on their lights for a minute so we could get our bearing in relation to everyone. The other two boats flipped on their lights and we could see where they were. This guy refused our request. He did have a right to be upset, but he should have threatened me with physical violence, not Gene. We all broke rank during that trip, even him. I guess he forgot about his crew lighting his boat up like a Christmas tree and breaking radio silence. Gene didn't respond to his ranting and only said that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I felt gutted. It seemed the entire anchorage was avoiding us. Just when I thought we couldn’t be more embarrassed or humiliated, we were. That very night, in winds of thirty-five knots, Peregrine dragged. We NEVER drag. Well, hardly ever. At two in the morning, I had a psychic warning and came on deck to find Peregrine bearing down on a hapless victim. I yelled for Gene, climbed out the hatch, jumped to the engine, fired her up, threw her into gear, and put on the gas (thank God I’ve learned how to do something on this boat). We averted disaster by a few feet. In a heartbeat, Mr. Pugnacious was as credible as Mother Theresa.
You must know and understand that I am not a superstitious person, so the exorcism that Peregrine received the next day was simply a way for me to fill the gloomy hours. I got out my statue of Ganesha and my Marquesan Tiki, lit some hand rolled Indian incense, and put on a CD I got at the Nature Company that musically takes you through a Shaman’s healing journey. When that was through, I played Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Hallelujah chorus, Schubert’s Ave Maria, and Wolfie’s Requiem. I took out my Indonesian hand fan and fanned the pungent smoke out the companionway and hatches. I was certain that if we did have a polter-guy, it went out with the smoke.


















We were in Aden longer than we wanted to be because we had to wait for a new autopilot. When it came in we had to pay $200.00 US in baksheesh (bribes) to the DHL representative to get the part sent from Sana’a (Yemen’s capitol). The DHL office told us that Customs would “lose” the package if we didn’t pay the money. I’m sure it was divvied up. $200.00 US is a bit of money in Yemen. The installation went pretty well. I never heard a #@%& or a *&%#. It wasn’t any big thing that the wiring that was supposed to be positive was really negative and vice-versa. Gene just switched them over. Just as we were ready to head out, I got a case of Ali Baba belly, and Gene got an ugly barnacle gouge across the top of his foot. We stayed for five more days. Some comforting news was that we weren’t completely alone. A few yachts still hung around. Mahdi and Gandalf, who were attacked by pirates off the Yemeni coast between Oman and Aden, were licking their wounds (which, by the grace of the powers that be and the presence of mind of the skippers, were not as bad as the wounds most probably inflicted upon the pirates). Julia, a lovely Sparkman and Stevens out of San Francisco was anchored next to us and three or four boats we didn’t know were waiting for a weather window.
A few Aden scenes:

Boys will be boys the world over.

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