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Abu Dhabi Adventure
By Tyler King
Never could I have imagined what I was getting myself into when I asked my friends to accompany them to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
It was way too cold for a Florida day and I was just finishing up the delivery of a boat from Fort Lauderdale to the west coast of the state. I had the weekend off and was looking forward to some R&R with my girlfriend and the dogs.
I decided to call my friend Troy to see if he needed a ride from the airport; I was hoping to hang out with he and his wife a bit before they departed for the Caribbean to meet up with the boat they work on, one I’d worked aboard two years prior. Troy informed me that his plans had changed and the crew was now hustling to get the boat ready for a trip to the United Arab Emirates. I wasn’t sure where the Emirates were or how to get there, but somehow I knew I’d be going.
My next three steps ranged from easy as kiss-my-hand, to as tough as extra-tight airport security. Secure a job on the boat — five-minute phone call. Quit my current job — ten-minute lecture on morality and responsibility. Explain to my girlfriend that I was leaving in less than 24 four hours and that I’d be gone for six weeks, and I’m going to WHERE? (Now that’s something I hope I never have to go through again.)
So off we went. Fresh wind and bright skies, and two weeks time and we were holed up in Gibraltar waiting for our next weather window. It had been an uneventful transatlantic voyage — whales were spotted, shoals of tuna were seen, unread books were finished. From Gibraltar we were bound for Malta for a top-up of fuel and produce and of course some extra cartons of cigarettes for the Egyptian pilots we would use transiting the Suez Canal (or “The Marlboro Canal.”)
The Suez Canal was completed in the ’50s — the 1850s. And Cleopatra contracted some of the work begun on it. Conveniently, Customs and Immigration in Egypt was backed up, so we got to sneak over to Giza to see the pyramids and visited Cairo to experience its famous bazaar. This is when the voyage got interesting.
In preparation for the next leg of the trip — the most pirate-infested waters in the world, the Gulf of Aden — we executed heightened security measures. The boat hired a special security agent from a private firm called the Millennium Group out of West Palm Beach. We put barbed wire on vulnerable areas of the boat. We doubled the amount of lookouts on deck, and we traveled in a convoy of similar cruising-speed vessels that was escorted by a slew of coalition warships that were never out of radar range. We’d been training and drilling for more than a week at this point, and felt we were ready for the “Transit Corridor.”
Statistics show that Somali pirates attack in broad daylight. They operate with a support vessel and approach with Panga-like skiffs with large tiller-controlled outboards. Their mode of operation usually involves coming out of the sun and boarding with large ladders or grappling hooks. If you can imagine trying to board a fast moving vessel that’s rocking and rolling via a rickety ladder, it can give you an idea of the stones and desperation these pirates have.
As we entered the designated “Corridor” everything seemed fine. Six- to 8-foot seas and 10- to 15-knot winds on the nose. Not a smooth ride, but in our favor, as many pirates are said to be fair-weather sailors. Not long after I was relieved from watch, the ship’s alarm sounded. I was in the shower, but had a good idea of what was going on. As quickly as I could, I reported to my station — main deck starboard-side lookout. Lo and behold, here was a 60- to 80-foot “mothership” with four small skiffs franticly buzzing around it two miles off the starboard beam.
Suddenly, the 16-foot seas and 60-knot sustained winds we battered through hiding 500 feet behind a tanker while hand-steering at the bottom of the Red Sea seemed like a treat. Once we determined that these guys were not out fishing, the captain sent the women on board to our designated safe room and alerted the nearby warships of our situation.
With our horns blaring and throttle pinned, we continued to beat into the swell. As we passed them, three of the four skiffs crossed our stern and attempted to gain on us from the direction the sun was setting. In between the swell, my shipmate told me he could see a skiff pop up periodically to reveal several heads looking quite intently at our boat before disappearing back in the trough. By now the Royal Navy had deployed a helicopter to cool things down. It took about five minutes before they were on the scene.
We never heard what happened once they got there. We do know that a warship arrived on the scene and later came back to cruise with us and give a salute. It was incredible to see a 400-plus foot vessel come over the horizon at 35 knots just to give us the thumbs-up. That was our only encounter for the rest of the trip. Thankfully we were prepared, and the world’s militaries are really trying to stop the chaos over there.
We made it to our destination: the Second Annual Abu Dhabi Boat Show. And Linda Lou looked as beautiful as ever. I’ve traveled all over the globe on that good ship — the St. Lawrence Sea Way, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and then some — but nothing will compare to the 10,800 miles we did this winter. It took 46 days to get there and less than 24 hours to fly back.
And man is it nice to be back.