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January 31, 2007

A New Rudder and Voyage Underway

LOCATION: Arabian Sea
Longitude: N:18°53187.
Latitude: E: 072°34422.
Miles to Djibouti: 1,780

Moksha is now sporting a brand spanking new tail thanks to the immediate assistance of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club in arranging for Razzaq, the clubs carpenter, to whip one up almost overnight. Hes done a truly wonderful job, replicating almost an identical copy from Chris Tippers original. And at 8am this morning, a little over 48 hours since crunching ourselves on a hidden wreck at the entrance to Bombay harbour, we slipped our mooring for a second time and headed out on the ebb tide bound for Djibouti.

Its now 4pm the same day and after giving the southern extremity of the Prongs Reef system more conservative clearance were powering our way out to sea, carefully picking our way through the many shipping hazards marked on the admiralty charts such as dumping grounds, oil platforms and numerous wrecks. Our main concern now is to clear the oil fieldfield 35miles west of Mumbai harbour without getting blown onto it by predominantly northerly winds. At the time of writing the wind is 5-10 knots from the north and by taking 2 hours shifts were able to maintain a 2.5 knot speed and a 270 degree heading to clear the oilfields to the south of us. Tonight we will need to be extra vigilant negotiating two sets of shipping lanes that we need to cross. Then hopefully by tomorrow morning, once the oilfields and shipping lanes are behind us, we can turn Mokshas nose to 260 degrees and make a beeline for African shores.

No sickness as of yet just very, very hot!


Posted at 11:17 AM

January 29, 2007

Collision with sunken ship - back to port

LOCATION: Mumbai, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

This update should have been written 30-miles offshore on our first day away from the coast, but a freak incident off the southwest corner of the Prong's Reef lighthouse after just 2 hours of pedaling had us limping back to harbour with significant structural damage to the underside of the boat.


Everything seemed to be going swimmingly after a relatively painless departure (compared to previous voyages) from outside the Gateway of India: Sher and I were garlanded by the club tindals before being escorted several miles down the peninsular by our good friend Cyrus Heerjee (Honorary Sailing Secretary for the Royal Bombay Yacht Club) and several other well wishers. Then shortly after rounding the last lighthouse marking the southmost extent of the Prongs Reef a sickening crunch from the underside had us both instantly roused from our heat-induced stupors. Three more impacts quickly followed before water began pouring over the top of the centre board that had been punched up and backwards by the force of the first collision. There are many things that can cause alarm at sea, but water pouring unexpectedly into your boat ranks pretty high up there.


After the initial frenzy of bailing out, lathering the rogue crack with sikaflex sealant and beating the centreboard back down as far it would go (before getting jammed), we started to try and rationalize what the hell had happened. We were far enough off the lighthouse not to have hit a reef and it was just a couple of hours after high tide anyway. The only possible cause we could think of was a submerged piece of timber, or something else pretty substantial floating close to the surface. But this was just a wild guess as the visibility of the water was pretty much zero.

Centreboard Housing

A short while later we hailed a fishing boat and learnt the real story. Three years ago a ship had sunk in the immediate vicinity and although the locals knew about it, no one had notified the authorities to have the hazard marked on the charts. And if it had ever been marked on the surface with buoys they certainly weren't there anymore.

What luck!?! Even if we had set out to ram this thing deliberately we would never have found it. We could only chalk it up to a mixture of incredibly bad luck and fate perhaps dealing us a hand that somehow, as these things have an uncanny way of doing, would only reveal its real reasoning later on down the road.

Whatever the reasons the bottom line was that the top of the centre board, being jammed at an angle, was unable to make a proper watertight seal, and as we continued to head out around into open water where the waves started to increase in size, water again began leaking in. The decision was made to head back to make proper repairs before committing ourselves any further into the voyage and running the risk of not being able to make it back unassisted. And what a good decision this turned out to be! On arriving back at our old mooring outside the Gateway we took a closer look at the underside of the boat and found the rudder to be almost completely destroyed. Just a few pieces of fibreglass were all that was holding it together.


Cracked Rudder

The first thing to do was to find a competent shipwright, which Cyrus quickly manage to do by making a few calls. Razzaq, the club's shipwright and general carpenter with 36 years of trade experience, immediately answered to the call and took a 2 hour bus and train ride down from north Mumbai where he lives. We then spent the rest of the day charging around town in a borrowed car looking for a decent piece of seasoned Burma teak to build a replacement rudder.

Building a new rudder from scratch

At the time of writing the picture is looking much brighter than it did 24 hours ago. Razzaq will have a complete rudder, supplemented with some key parts cannibalized from the old unit, ready by 6 p.m. this evening. We'll then throw some paint on to dry overnight. We also hauled Moksha out of the water this morning using a hire crane to beat the centreboard back into alignment and check the hull for any other damage. This all went off fine and we threw her back into the water just 30-mins later with everything looking good - no leaks. So if the rudder is finished by this evening then we should be able to get out of here tomorrow morning early.

Realigning the Centreboard

Aside from the rudder there was one other very good reason to come back. After just a few minutes of pedaling yesterday it became clear that Sher couldn't read any of the figures on the compass and was having a hard time seeing even major landmarks along the coastline. This has now been resolved in the form of a pair of $10 minus two long distance glasses. At 34 years old Sher has now opened the door to a whole new world that until this morning was just a blur. And for the crossing it might make the difference between getting to Djibouti versus landing up in South America somewhere.


Posted at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2007

Departure Mumbai

LOCATION: Mumbai, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

Departure is set for 7 am on tomorrow morning. The favourable ebb tide should help to push us out of Mumbai harbour and be about 15 miles out before it reverses.

Moksha is moored about a couple of hundred yards from the Gateway of India. It's been a busy week getting visas, customs clearance and clearing immigration. Its been a challenge getting all the paperwork sorted out. Pedalling might be easier in comparison!

The enormity of the undertaking is too much for me to grasp right now. My mind is surprisingly calm and at ease. I don't feel nervous, or at least not yet. Maybe there are too many unknowns and it is this sense of not knowing what to expect that is allowing me to stay this way.

Perhaps once the land recedes beneath the horizon will it all become much clearer.


Posted at 2:33 PM | Comments (3)

January 24, 2007

New Pedaler for a New Ocean

LOCATION: Mumbai, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

Sher arrived in one piece. It's been four odd years since we last saw each other and I'm sure neither of us look any younger for it, although he seems to be aging pretty well. His hair has grown quite long with a distinctive silver streak above the right eye punctuating very classic features and a handsome hawk-like nose (could almost pass as a Bollywood actor for sure). And I'd forgotten how tall he is! We might even have to saw a hole in the roof of the boat for his head...


Today we started the tortuous rounds of consulates, customs and immigration offices to attain both Sher's visas and the port clearances for Moksha and immigration outstamps for ourselves. The day started badly with the Yemen consulate refusing outright to give him a visa. I'm starting to realize how privileged it is to hold a UK passport as an Indian one seems to be the kiss of death for gaining access to foreign territories. The next hurdle we had to contend with was the French consulate and persuading them to issue a visa overnight, something they had done for my UK passport on the spot but typically don't do for Indian passport holders, requiring a minimum of a 2-week processing time instead. But after much waving of newspaper articles from past legs of the trip through the bullet proof window and incomprehensible jabber about weather windows and contrary winds blowing us onto Somalia they relented and promised a visa tomorrow, perhaps if only just to get rid of us.


Tomorrow we do battle with the bureaucracy of Indian customs and immigration which, judging by a preliminary 3-hour session late this afternoon in the Yellowgate Police Station to procure something called an 'NOC certificate' (an elusive, perhaps even mythical document that has to be in the presenting files before any steps can be taken further towards attaining the necessary outstamps for humans and craft alike), will transport us into a totally different league of heavyweight BS than anything experienced so far.

Departure, subject to documents being in place and weather, is set for 0500 hours local Saturday morning.


Posted at 2:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2007

Sher to pedal to Djibouti

LOCATION: Mumbai, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

My old friend Sher Dhillon will pedal the boat with me to Djibouti. He plans to come out and join me next week to arrange last minute visas and get a crash course in the safety features of pedal boat Moksha, just in case I go over the side ;-)

The delay of a week is not ideal, as we're starting to push a little late into the weather window. But after learning from my friend Carl, a tugboat operator working in the oilfields off the west coast of Mumbai, that the wind was blowing 20-25 knots NNE, the extra pair of legs will serve well in keeping the boat from being swept south while I'm asleep. And there's ALOT of shipping on this leg, and the awful fate of our late friend Peter Bird, who was killed while rowing solo across the North Pacific in 1996 (presumed by a collision with some large vessel or timber floating in the water) is still as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

Posted at 2:40 PM

January 12, 2007

Sahaj Sankalp children pedal Moksha

LOCATION: Mumbai, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

Moksha was reacquainted with the briny this morning after being launched delicately over the sea wall beside the Gateway of India with a hire crane. No major leaks appeared and the solar panels and wind generator are charging fine which was one of my worries. Unknowns that could still cause delays however are the desalinator pump, which is still refusing to produce fresh water (even with a new membrane and motor drive), and the computer set up for sending back updates to this journal page. Then I still need to load food and run around the customs and immigration offices to start the tortuous out-clearance proceedings, plus get a visa for Yemen. So leaving Sunday might be a tall order at this point.

This may work out for the best in the light of Sher confirming Monday whether or not he is definitely up for pedaling with me to Djibouti. He arrives back in India early Monday morning and will run the idea past his family first thing. If he gets the thumbs up then I have decided to defer departure until the 24th, the earliest that he can get to Mumbai. Having weighed up both the pros and cons of both scenarios over the last 24hrs (pedaling solo or waiting a week and having an extra set of legs) and re-studied the pilot charts I believe the wait of an extra week is worth the added insurance of another body on board to avoid getting blown onto Somalia by unfavourable northerlies.


Early in the afternoon 16 children from the Sahaj Sankalp charity came down to have a pedal around the harbour in Moksha. Sahaj Sankalp is a non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting children in need by providing education and nutrition in a family home called 'Balgriha'. These are kids from the slums of north Mumbai - kids with few opportunities to get ahead in life. We're currently trying to get some computers donated for a computer lab they're looking to set up so the children can learn basic computing skills that will hopefully help them get a job later on. So if anyone in India is reading this has even an older model machine that you've upgraded from, please leave a comment (below).


Having met the children on three occasions now they have captured my heart completely. Such a fantastic bunch of kids who really deserve a chance in life. And the people who run the charity are very inspiration also in their dedication to the welfare of others. It is running into people like these at various points throughout the trip that has rekindled a sometimes flagging belief in the inherent goodness of human nature.


Posted at 2:01 PM

January 10, 2007

Arabian Sea Xing - departure countdown

LOCATION: Bombay, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

Departure for the next leg is set for this Sunday 14th Jan from outside the Gateway of India here in Mumbai. Through this gateway the last British viceroy departed in 1947, marking the termination of almost 350 years of official British presence in India. So it in turn will be a fitting location for Moksha to leave from on the last major voyage of her circumnavigation back to the UK.


It's been the usual hectic rush getting pedal boat Moksha ready. Aside from minor repairs and replacing worn equipment (such as windows and solar panels) much time has been spent on a bicycle weaving in and out of the maze of streets that make up the trade areas of Mumbai looking for bits of hardware and other gear. Whilst in a more consumer orientated country one might expect to visit to the local hardware store and pick up pretty much everything one might need, here the shops have a very limited range of products to offer. So a screw comes from one shop, then it's back on the bike in search for another shop that sells nuts and bolts for example. This laborious and at times hazardous exercise (biking in Mumbai traffic is not for the fainthearted!) has however afforded me a colourful perspective on the working intestines of the city, including the roadside slums and dock areas where many second hand boat parts can be found by rooting around the myriad of chandlers' shacks that make their business breaking ships.


Tomorrow morning the boat will be moved from it's current location at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club into the water. The club has been a fantastic base these past weeks to make the needful repairs and preparations. In addition to the luxury of being able to use the facilities here, which include reasonably priced meals and hot showers (to counterweight the sweaty, bug infested mattresses of the local Salvation Army where I've been sleeping), the staff have been incredibly helpful, frequently elbowing me out of the way to assist in the more menial tasks such as sanding or washing the boat. That's one thing I'll say about Indian folks - you're never too far away from a friend who is ready to roll up their sleeves and help in any way they can.


This next voyage from Mumbai to Djibouti in NE Africa is 1,800 nautical miles as the crow flies taking around 50-days to pedal at an average of 35 miles per day. At the moment I'm going alone, although my friend Sher Dhillon, an Indian national originally from the city of Chandigarh in the north of India, is still keen to pedal with me. There are pros and cons to both scenarios. If I go alone I can leave this weekend and get a 400 mile head start and lessen the risk of hitting unfavourable currents in the western end of the Gulf of Aden the further into March we get. But if I wait until the 24th (the earliest Sher can make it) I'd have another pair of legs to help prevent the nightmare prospect of getting blown onto the Somali coast by the Shamal desert winds that can blow off the Arabian peninsular with short but concentrated ferocity. Piracy has been way down in recent months thanks to Sharia law being imposed by the United Islamic Courts (UIC) in Mogadishu. But now the UIC has been ousted by the combined Ethiopian and Somali government troops the previous lawlessness in the waters bordering Somalia could well return.

Not as glamorous as Jonny Depp but pirates nonetheless

Another concern for the voyage is the potential for the current conflict in Somalia to create regional instability in neighbouring countries, in particular those inherently Islamic in nature, such as the Sudan and Eritrea. Following recent overt military action in the south of Somalia by the US these countries could well come off the fence politically and take more of an active stance in support of the UIC.


For this reason I'm looking to get a visa for Yemen so landing at Aden is a backup plan in the event that the Djibouti and surrounding countries in the horn area 'go up'. The next few days prior to departure will be critical to see how things might deteriorate. If Sudan closes its border with Ethiopia to show solidarity with the UIC then I'm dead in the water as far as biking northwards from Djibouti to Egypt (it's the only land border open to enable getting northwards). This could potentially mean backtracking all the way to Mumbai to attempt a different route back to Europe and Greenwich - a dreadful prospect.


In any event I am in no doubt that this expedition is entering its most challenging and hazardous section/s. If I can get to Turkey I reckon I'm home dry. But that's a long way off, and while this next ocean leg is not to be taken likely, it's the 'people factor' on land that will yet make or break this success of this whole thing.


Posted at 4:15 AM | Comments (2)

January 2, 2007

Tibet slideshow ...

LOCATION: Bombay, India
Longitude: N:18.92874°
Latitude: E: 072.83865°
Miles to Djibouti: 1,800

Happy New Year to you all! The next leg, pedaling 1,800 miles to Djibouti in NE Africa, will begin in a little over a week. Regular journal updates will now be posted for the final build up to departure (and for the voyage itself of course).

Before we get stuck into preparations have a look at a slideshow of photos recently uploaded from the second half of the last leg through SE Asia, in particular profiling Tibet, Nepal and India.

Some sample images...






Posted at 2:29 PM