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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 on January 10, 2007 4:15 AM


Sher is an auspicious name for where you are heading. You have done your homework, now go with your gut (intuition). DO NOT override your intuition. It is your only true protection. Your ego will be determined to win with any tricks it can come up with. You must stay alert, and for that you will need sleep on this long and potentially dangerous journey. This time, it is not just the ocean.

Posted by: Mercury [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 11, 2007 9:56 AM

if anyone can make it through this hazardous maze of tangled alliances, it's you! best of luck, jason (and godspeed).

Posted by: gl. [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 10, 2007 7:46 AM