Lia Ditton has a few questions for round-the-world cruising couple Gillian and Graeme Mulcahy, who did the Indian Ocean/Red Sea passage at the time when the 58ft sailboat ‘Quest,’ was seized by pirates and her crew shot dead. Image courtesy of Gillian and Graeme.
SA: Were you acquainted with the US sailboat ‘Quest’ or her crew? She was a breakaway from Blue Water Rallies – was that a rally you considered following? How many Red Sea rallies are there!
GM: We met the couple from ‘Quest’ very briefly, in the Sand bar one happy hour in Ai Chalong in Phuket. We know of one other Blue Water boat ‘Spirit of Nina’ who did complete the sail down the Gulf and up the Red Sea, unlike all the others who opted to have their boats shipped to Turkey. They did it with a small group of yachts that got together in Salallah. We also met some of the Vasco de Gama Rally but don’t know what happened to them – they were due to depart from Mumbai, which was far from our preferred route. Blue Water, V de G and TTT (Thailand to Turkey) are the only formal ones we know. We had never considered the Blue Water rally because of cost and being too fast.
SA: Did this news provoke discussions of any kind, perhaps as to whether it was safe to continue?
GM: The ‘Quest’ incident and later kidnapping of ‘ING’ happened after we had left Uligan so we therefore had to continue. Most of us felt that if these incidences had happened before we left then we would have taken the South Africa route.
SA: What factors influenced you to choose one rally over another?
GM: Although not rally joiners in general, we considered the passage down the Gulf of Aden to be one, which would be wiser done in company. Also we thought that if people paid to join, it implied a commitment and therefore would happen and not fall apart like others.
SA: What was the cost of joining the rally you joined and what was that money for?
GM: Each boat paid 250 Euros and this was to cover phone etc expenses of the organizer. As it was stated “non profit making,” any balance was to be given to charity (at the time the Chandlers release fund, as they were still in captivity then)
SA: Was the performance of each boat/crew number taken into account in the allocated positions in the convoy?
GM: The boats were in two groups:
- The “Tiger” group was diamond shaped – lead boat was single-hander in 36’ gaff rigged ketch. His starboard was 41’catamaran, which maintained daily phone contact with UKMTO etc and also kept long distance watch on radar for shipping/pirates etc. Main organizer, 44’ ketch, was astern with 46’ schooner to port.
- Behind them was “Eagle” group, polygon in shape – lead boat was 28’ sloop, portside was 36’ sloop who kept night radar watch on all our positions and called on VHF when people looked to be getting too far away/behind etc. To starboard 51’ ketch and astern ourselves to starboard and 39’ sloop to port (this was the boat with the two teenagers). Convoy speed was determined largely by the 28’ sloop, which could motor at a maximum 5/5.5 knots. Sea conditions dictated sailing methods as few of us carried enough fuel to motor 1500 miles.
SA: What did the in-case-of-approaching-suspicious-vessel maneuver entail?
GM: Taking a predetermined close order formation on the assumption that this would deter any potential attackers (a theory not yet tested as far as we know). We did practice this at the beginning of the trip.
SA: What nationalities were partaking in your particular convoy?
GM: 2 Canadian boats – ‘Seeamia’ 44’ sloop and ‘Chocobo’ 41’ catamaran
2 US – ‘Glide’ 39 sloop cutter rig and ‘Amante’ 51’ ketch
1 Austrian – ‘Anima’ 36 gaff rig ketch
1 Danish – ‘Margarita’ 36 sloop
1 English (us) – ‘Kathleen Love’ 39’ sloop
1 Polish – ‘Asia’ 28 sloop
1 Swiss – ‘Tiku Moye’ 46’ schooner.
SA: What nationality was the warship that diverted to take a look at you, ditto the helicopters and reconnaissance planes?
GM: We could not identify the nationality of the warship and they did not communicate, just circled round us. One of the helicopters was French and conversed with our French-Canadian co-leader.
SA: Would you do the passage again? And if so, would you partake in a similar convoy?
GM: No! But if I did then yes – we were lucky in that the two men (both Canadian) organizing the convoy were very patient and tactful, setting the tone for all, so we were all still speaking to each other when we finished unlike some groups we heard of later!