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 The Crew of SY Peregrine battle Indonesian curses, dodge Arab pirates and survive Red Sea weather... just!




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 The Curse of Polter-guy

By Sue Osier, SV, “Peregrine”
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 supposedly responsible for everything from a lost do-hickey to broken booms -- Origin S.M. Osier, Mexico 2000

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 before we thought 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 towns. 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, or Ganesha (the Indian God with the elephant head), etc. 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 western oriented 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 3x3x1/2 inch cardboard dishes. Small blossoms of many different kinds and colors were artfully arranged (all looked identical) in the dishes, and sprinkled with water. They were placed at the entrance, one on each side, inside on several small shrines, on the reception counter, etc. 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 many people offer many things 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. Distilled, I guess that's asking for tranquility.

By now you're wishing I would get to some kind of point, and so I shall, now that I've laid the groundwork. One of those fishermen dumped something on our boat. I'm calling it a polter-guy. (For you non-sailors, some sailboats have equipment on them called fore-guys and after-guys. I first thought up the term Polter-guy five years ago in Mexico when I felt as though something below decks was shoving me around when the boat lurched,)

The first four years of our circumnavigation were relatively problem free. Since Indonesia, we have hit a reef,(TCP # 11) had our alternator (and therefore, engine) die, surfed a tsunami, (TCP # 12 )lost our fresh water when the electric pump went, had our boom snap in half during a violent, lightning filled squall, had our fuel pump ( and therefore, our engine) die, had our autopilot die, and, in Aden (where we still sit), had a pugnacious fellow cruiser denounce us, very publicly, over the VHF radio as "complete disasters" I know, I know, after reading the previous few sentences, how could any sane person disagree. For the last five months, we HAVE been a complete disaster. However, he was referring to our trip from Oman to Aden. That was not a complete disaster, only a partial one. (This episode is a story in itself, so I will not elaborate now; I'm just illustrating another black event.) After the dressing down, Gene was very cool and didn't respond except to say that opinions were allowed and to pass on a message we had received from another yacht for Mr. Pugnacious. I felt gutted. It seemed the entire anchorage was avoiding contact with us. We were pariahs. 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 flash and came on deck to see Peregrine bearing down on a hapless victim. I yelled for Gene who was asleep, climbed out the hatch, jumped to the engine, fired her up, threw her into gear, and put on the throttle (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. I'm sure we were better entertainment than David Letterman for the late night crowd.

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, solitary hours. I got out my statue of Ganesha and my Polynesian 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 Mass. I took out my hand fan and fanned the pungent smoke out the companionway and hatches. I'm sure that if we did have a polter-guy, it went out with the smoke.

Before I chased away the polter-guy, I got a bad case of Ali-Baba Belly (my term for the Middle Eastern version of Bali Belly, or America's Montezuma's Revenge), and Gene got a nasty barnacle gouge in the foot. We have been convalescing for about a week. I am now able to be more than 10 feet from the head, but Gene's foot is still a mess. We had to wait in Aden in any case because we ordered a new autopilot from the US. I'm sure the polter-guy is gone because we got the part and Gene installed it without a hitch. It only cost us an extra $200. American in baksheesh to lay our hands on it.

We plan to leave in the next few days. I don't know if we will go to Massawa, Eritrea or not. It's approximately 400 miles from here. If winds are favorable, we may just keep going...

Aden to Saukin

We finally left Aden in light winds from the right direction. We motored out the long channel and when we were well away, raised the sails. It wasn't long before the dreaded northerlies started blowing hard. We had to motor slowly into fierce winds. As soon as we could, we found refuge behind a small island and dropped anchor. We spread the word by radio, and soon there were five of us anchored. The forecast was for southerlies the next day. We were all skeptical about that. We couldn't believe that 25 knots from the north would give way and turn that fast. Unbelievably, the wind from the north suddenly stopped, and the southerlies immediately filled in. We were now anchored on a lee shore. Next morning we all headed out with good wind behind us. Some decided to utilize the southerlies and do overnighters to either Massawa, Eritrea or Suakin, Sudan. Fuel was not available in Massawa, so Suakin (approximately 500 miles) was our goal. Gene and I decided to dayhop. We thought afternoon anchoring, sundowners and a good nights sleep sounded better than three hours on three hours off for an unknown period.
Most of the anchorages didn't merit us getting out the deflated dink, pumping it up, deploying it, and mounting the engine, so until we got to Shumma Island seven days later, we hadn't gone ashore. I took a relaxing walk amongst the acacias, and saw five new species or races of birds. It was really good to put my feet on terra firma. Gene stayed aboard Peregrine because his foot was not healing and he didn't want to get it wet. The barnacle gouge now looked like a miniature Grand Canyon that spanned the width of the top of his foot. Every time he stepped, the thing would flex and it wouldn't mend. It was getting scary looking. I insisted that he douse it with betadine twice a day rather than once, and suggested keeping it covered for awhile to see if that helped. In the meantime, he developed a boil like thing on the shin of the same leg. Three days before arriving in Suakin, Gene's boil erupted. It looked bad, I was very worried, and Gene was lethargic.
The morning of the day we arrived in Suakin, the engine overheated. We turned the engine off and let it cool. The “radiator” was empty. Gene refilled it and we motor-sailed into big winds with a mostly furled genoa and a doubled reefed main. We figured we were at least a week behind everybody. We blew into Suakin in 25 to 30 knot winds, and were surprised to see quite a few boats still in the anchorage. Some had been waiting a week for the winds to die down. Seven or eight people were also using the break to recuperate from the Dengue Fever that they'd picked up in Massawa, Eritrea. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we passed by Massawa. It was good to see some friendly faces. I was particularly happy to see, Exit Only. Exit Only has a surgeon and physician's assistant onboard. I badgered Gene to go immediately and see Dr. Dave. He put it off until the next morning and even then I had to nag. Gene came back from his visit visibly shaken. He was told to go to the local hospital. Dave told him that his impaction could cause an amputation if he didn't get immediate attention. He also told us that if we didn't see a big improvement in five days, we should go elsewhere. That would be very difficult. That would mean flights. Flights would mean money. Americans can not get money in Sudan, and we were almost out.

We had time to visit and trade books before the winds subsided and everyone left. We were alone again. I have to admit that even after meeting our friendly and efficient agent, Mohammed Ahmed, I was a little worried about being the only boat in Suakin. Our chart guide told us that, until recently, the current regime in Sudan supported terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. However, oil was discovered in W. Sudan, and the regime joined the international anti-terrorist alliance. Apparently, they'd like to do business with the west now. So there we were, the only westerners in Suakin, Sudan. We couldn't leave. Gene had to go to the hospital twice a day for a least a week, and we had to find out why the engine overheated and try to fix it.
My worries turned out to be unfounded. The Sudanese in Old Suakin treated us very well. I could freely wander in the market, and was greeted with smiles and hellos. Mohammed picked Gene up twice a day and drove him to the hospital. He drove into New Suakin to pick up the prescribed antibiotics. He found us a welder, drove into Port Sudan to look for an alternator (which he couldn't find), got us water and fuel, and never charged more than his original agent fee. (In Arab countries, you use an agent to do your check ins and outs.) We were not conned in Suakin like we were in Aden. One of Gene's nurses, Awad, invited us to his house for coffee. It would have been very rude not to accept, so after Gene's leg was dressed, we all climbed into Mohammed's truck and drove to Awad's place.
The first impression of Old Suakin is that the place is nothing but ruins. We were told that the ruined coral buildings were about five hundred years old, and that they had collapsed from age, not war. Closer inspection reveals some patched up buildings serving as small stores and residences. Beyond the ruins, newer slump stone homes sprawl out across the barren landscape. There were also fenced in places that we couldn't see. Awad's place was surrounded by a wall made of sticks and woven matting. Mohammed dropped us off and we said we'd get back ourselves. We went through a wooden gate and entered Awad's humble compound. His house was a sort of permanent tent. Woven mats, plastic and fabric sheets covered a framework to create the walls. He had a smaller version of this for his mother in the compound. I believe his home was representative of the average home. The floors are dirt. There is no running water. Water is delivered by truck. Awad had a plastic container that looked as if it held about 50 gallons. He gave us a tour of his house. It consisted of two bedrooms and the living-room/kitchen. We sat in the seven by five foot living room while Asa, Awad's wife, made coffee over coals in an aluminum casserole pan. We soon realized that having a cup of coffee was going to be a time consuming event. It's a social thing, like a tea party. Asa roasted coffee beans then ground them with a mortar and pestle. She added ginger and other spices and put the mixture into a small coffee pot of boiling water she had over her coal stove. She served it very strong in little cups with lots of sugar, a bit like Turkish coffee. By the time this process was complete, it was lunchtime and Awad insisted that we have lunch. Asa made beans and bread. They shared what they had with pride, warmth and humor. We enjoyed our visit, but I felt a little guilty. It didn't seem right to take anything from them. We invited Awad, Asa and their four kids out to the boat for our weak coffee the following day. Unfortunately, they did not come because Awad was needed at the hospital. I had purchased a few small gifts to present to them when they came to the boat, so I had Gene take them to the hospital before we left.
These people are very poor, but they were honest in the markets, and I don't think anyone on the yachts had anything stolen. I hope that Sudan can iron out tribal problems, militant problems, regime problems, whatever it is that has made life so difficult for them. I don't know if all of Sudan can be represented by the people in Old Suakin, I only know what I experienced in that small community. I wish them the best.
Gene's leg was looking pretty good, and he was finished with the antibiotics. We made our repairs. We fired the engine up and ran it for an hour. No water poured from the gasket, the repaired elbow didn't leak, and we held an acceptable temperature. The alternator still didn't work, but we were patched up enough to get to Port Ghalib, Egypt, where we could get parts. We had a weather window, so we had Mohammed clear us, said our thanks and goodbyes, and went to bed early in preparation for leaving in the weak first light of the morning.
Next morning, we took up anchor and headed out. We didn't even get through the first bend in the channel before we started overheating.. We went back to almost the same spot we were in and dropped anchor. My worst moments were yet to come, but this was Gene's lowest moment. He looked pitiful as he sat in the cockpit, head in hands, bloody bandage on his leg. I have never seen Gene in such a state. Mohammed came out to see if there was anything he could do. He said he got the report from the Port officials that we started out and turned around. We told him we didn't know what the problem was yet. He said he would call us on the radio at 3:00 to check on us. What a prince!
Gene discovered that the fresh water used as a coolant for the engine wasn't circulating properly. He figured the blockage was in our hot water heater, so we bypassed it to allow the coolant to circulate better. It seemed to do the trick. We had to use a temporary hose for that and it was clear. We could see the water going through. Hallelujah!! We would head out first light the next morning.
Next time...The Voyage of the Damned, the 420 miles of HELL, the leg that turned me into a screaming, crying mad woman with bloody patches on my scalp where hair should have been, the little stretch that caused me to seriously ask myself, “What the HELL are you doing?” , and tell myself, “You could have a better time if you went home, bought a cat-o-nine tails, and practiced self flagellation three times a day.”