Sunday, May 29, 2011

Aspen is Loaded!

The mv Palmerton - our transport ship!

Looking up Aspen's mast while we are floating in the water, trying not to hit the big yellow bar! We had a few inches to spare.

Looking up where we will be going and the big yellow crane that will lift Aspen.

Aspen loaded on the deck of the Palmerton with one of the really big sailboats going in right beside little Aspen!

Captain Steve working hard to secure everything on Aspen. It is really really hot!

This is how the crew swings the boats onboard. This is our friend's boat, Blue Magic.
The end result - Aspen loaded on the mv Palmerton in Salalah, Oman. This is the very exhausted crew.

S/Y Aspen – May 29, 2011 – Log #75
Position: 16 degrees 56’ N 054 degrees 00’ E (UTC +4 Hours)
Salalah, Oman

The big ship arrived in Salalah, Oman. Her name is the Palmerton and she is a sight for tired eyes.

Several days before her arrival were filled with port logistics and meetings. Two loading masters came and went before one arrived who wanted to stay and work on the project.

The first day in port, the loading process started at 1:15 pm and three boats were loaded, with Aspen being the 3rd boat! It took 4 tries to get the big crane properly positioned for Aspen's lift out, pulling her 50 feet into the air alongside the big ship. The crane then rotated over the ship, swinging Aspen into place near the stern of the Palmerton.

2 hours later Aspen was securely welded onto the deck of the Palmerton - not Aspen but the steel supports that are holding her.

It was like a giant black cloud suddenly dissipated all around us as we realized what had just happened. Aspen, our home for the past 28 months, was sitting securely onboard a ship that will take her away from the most dangerous waters in the world. Aspen is safe, as are her owners.

Marmaris, Turkey is Aspen's next destination. We will go by way of Greece with a short ferry ride to Marmaris when we know our ship is arriving.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We gotta get outta this place!

Oasis Bar and Grill happy hour; Salalah, Oman

S/Y Aspen – May 21, 2011 – Log #74
Position: 16 degrees 56’ N 054 degrees 00’ E (UTC +4 Hours)
Salalah, Oman

"We gotta get outta this place!", lyrics by the Animals

Yes, we are still in exile in Oman. The port security guards challenge us as we drive through the gate on a daily basis, on our way to the nearby hotel so we can shower. The guards ask to see passports, visa and port permit. We roll down the dark tinted window of the rental car to let the stifling desert heat engulf us and say in English, "little ships".

The guard immediately opens the gate to let us pass, ignoring our papers as he smiles warmly. He knows we are in exile and is sympathetic to our plight.

Hardly a day passes without a report of another pirate attack very close to the Oman coast near us. The Oman coast is crawling with pirates and the Oman Navy and Police are powerless to stop them. The Somali pirates are ruthless and rule both the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The constant stream of warships into our port attest to the dangers that lurk outside this protected harbor.

We keep writing this, but, our ship is still heading this way. When it will arrive is still a mystery it seems. We receive daily updates talking about delay after delay while we sit and wait in the stifling heat aboard our little ships. It does cool down at night to nearly 90 degrees with no breeze!

Every day we prepare out boats for the upcoming journey. We scrape waste from the waterline, clean anchor chain of debris that has become entangled and scrape the dinghy bottom of the hundreds of barnacles that cover every inch of the fiberglass and rubber.

But on the bright side we have the grocery store LuLu's. It is fairly modern with a good selection of reject US products on the shelves. The Middle East seems to be a dumping ground for food that does not pass the stringent US inspections. So they send it around the world. No pork though - that is a no no here.

We buy produce from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan. Meats are from New Zealand, India, Australia and Oman. Veiled women wearing all black abbayas sit at the check out counter and cast a mysterious eye at us through their black burka (eye slit) when we unload our cart. Under the abbayas it is rumored that the women wear French designer clothes, although we infidels will never see that!

Maybe next week we will have some better news about our BIG ship.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Salalah Port News

Fun days in French Polynesia!

S/Y Aspen – May 6, 2011 – Log #73
Position: 16 degrees 56’ N 054 degrees 00’ E (UTC +4 Hours)
Salalah, Oman

Living in a working port like Salalah, Oman is packed with fun-filled days and nights, yea right.

Ocean going cargo ships come alongside the massive docks unloading cargo from all over the world. They then load waiting containers and within less than 30 hours are on their way out onto the oceans of the world.

We watch these massive ships maneuver near us with their wakes tossing little Aspen around like a cork. That tends to wake us up at night before we realize we are not at sea but at anchor!

Ships also load gravel here and the constant roar of gravel trucks near our stern, along with the dust that coats every square inch of our boat remind us how we miss the open sea. Water is scarce so washing Aspen is rarely possible, especially to get the bird droppings off her decks as well as he dirt.

The hum of generators from the Omani military ships creates a cacophony that is not appreciated by anyone. Those sailors should be out fighting the pirates and not relaxing here we believe.

Speaking of military, we have military ships from many countries arrive next to us for re-supply and some R&R. UK, India, Korea, Finland, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Italy and of course the USA are frequent visitors. It is difficult to describe our excitement when we see a US military ship come in.

There is one bar/restaurant in the port and that is a gathering place for all of the military people. When a persons opens the door we know immediately if they are from the USA. The USA has the fittest, strongest and most literate of any of the military people we have ever seen. The sailors from the other ships who arrive simply do not have the physical presence, intelligence or focused attitude that the US military people have.

The US Navy Seals are extraordinary when they arrive. These are hardened men with a no-nonsense attitude. They are also extremely secretive. Maria always talks to anyone from the US because we have essentially no one to talk to other than the Brits, who speak a different language. When Maria greets a Navy Seal there is instant politeness toward her and a warm conversation always follows. But when Maria asks where they are from, where are they going, what did they have for lunch the Navy seals are evasive. They give no specifics and are always focused on their mission - something they will never talk about.

We also met a ship full of US Marines in March who were on the USS Boxer headed to ???. They would not tell us of course. The Navy seals we met were with them as well. The recent successful operation in Pakistan by the US Navy seals made us think. Maybe, just maybe we met these heroic people here in Salalah.

We also made quick friends with a pilot in the Omani air force this earlier week. Mark attended and graduated from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado so we had a lot to talk about. Mark flies F-16's for the Omani's and tries to train them. I asked him about what he thought about the success in Pakistan and he described his missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan where many of his friends did not return home. He was happy that Osama was killed but extremely elated that the computers and databases had been taken from the compound intact. That was the ultimate satisfaction for him because governments and sympathizers will be taken down with that information.

Nearly every day now Mark comes over in his F-16 and violates Omani airspace by flying at tree top level (if there were any trees) near the speed of mach 1 as he skims Aspen's mast in the port. The roar from that plane is deafening to say the least as he banks hard left and heads out over the endless sea.

Will we ever get out of here? We wish we knew too. Our ship is slowly making way towards us so we hope to see Turkey at the end of this month. Keep your fingers crossed. 3 months in Oman is a long time to suffer.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…