Attacked by Pirates
An Apprehensive Voyage
Two days earlier, Mahdi and Gandalf were at rest in the harbor of Salalah, Oman, along with a number of other boats gathered there to prepare for the more than 600-mile-long dash across Pirate Alley. Whenever possible, cruisers sailed in informal convoys, banking on safety in numbers, and so the crews of two smaller, slower boats, Evie, a 38-foot Irwin, and Patriot, a Cascade 38, linked up with Mahdi and Gandalf to form a tiny fleet.
The larger boats were closely matched in terms of speed, and the two crews were good friends. Indeed, they met in Darwin, Australia, then later at Telaga Marina, in Langkawi, Malaysia, and they sailed together from Cochin, India, to Salalah, arriving within several hours of each other. Rod Nowlin and Barry knew they'd have to slow down to allow the smaller boats to keep up, but they hoped for as swift a passage through the danger zone as possible.
The group expected to leave much earlier than Sunday, March 6, but was delayed due to equipment problems aboard Evie. Rod Nowlin and Barry helped Evie's crew sort out the trouble, and now they were anxious to set sail. Toward evening, the fleet left Salalah with good winds on the beam. Even with double-reefed mains on Mahdi and Gandalf, the smaller cruisers found it tough to match their speed. About an hour out, the crew aboard Evie reported that their alternator wasn't working, but they had another way of charging the batteries, so they chose to press on.
As night fell, dark clouds gathered on the horizon. Lightning danced from cloud to cloud and forked into the heaving sea. The storm swept down on the boats, engulfing them in heavy rain before the squalls passed, leaving them becalmed under a starlit sky.
Forced to motor for hours, Evie fell behind, and the crew reported the engine was overheating. All the boats were nearing the vicinity of Al Mukalla, a desolate port on the Yemeni coast known as a center for drug smuggling. It was the last place to start long conversations on the VHF radio that might draw the attention of the wrong sort of people. But Evie needed help, and after assistance from the cruisers aboard Mahdi and Gandalf, they got their engine going.
The radio chatter continued, mostly focused on urging Evie to make all haste to rejoin the fleet. Tensions on board the lead boats ran high. Dawn approached with the sailboats in some of the world's most dangerous waters, and when daylight arrived, it only increased the sense of urgency to make all speed. It now appeared obvious that Evie, 25 miles behind the others and still more than 140 miles out of Salalah, would never close the gap unless the three boats lay dead in the water waiting for her, an option none of the crews found desirable. After much deliberation, Patriot chose to turn back and sail in company with Evie to Aden, thus dividing the fleet into two sets of potential targets.