A spoof article on sailing in the Persian Gulf, including the Straits of Hormuz, by Andy Revkin for the 1984 YAAHTING parody of Yachting magazine.
I actually did transit the Strait in 1984, helping my friend Lon Bubeck deliver a sailboat from Dubai to the Maldives for a British commercial diver. We were stopped by a gunboat, and never quite figured out if it was Omani or Iranian. One way or the other we were allowed to sail on.
Cruising the Persian Gulf Well-known world cruiser and author Eric Hiccup discovers a unique and newsworthy gunkholers paradise. fter 15 years of touring the globe in my 42-foot ketch Wandering Wind VI, I recently decided to leave the well-beaten cruising track and make for more adventurous waters. Id heard intriguing rumor.s about the Persian Gulf- about fabulous wealth, serene dune-enclosed anchorages, smugglers, war. Well, never having seen a war zone, and never one to acoept a rumor with- out a firsthand look, I decided to give the Gulf a try. In Singapore I cashed in the royalty check from my 16th book, The Insuf- ficient Sailor (Porpoise Press, $14.95), and picked up a couple of crew. After outrunning a typhoon up the Malacca Straits, weathering a string of Bay of Bengal gales and dodging waterspouts Navigation, Gulf-style (above). At right, in the Arabian Sea, we thankfully slid Wandering Wind approaches the stark into a glaring Gulf of Oman calm. The and forbidding Strait ofHormuz. next five days, in which we made only 12 miles, gave me time to read up on our next leg through the infamous Straits of rose vertically from the sea. Thats when Hormuz-lair of gunboats, supertank- we had our first encounter with a ers and terrorists. We also found time to tanker. recut and resew our Bve headsails, re- It came up astern without a sound. paint the topsides, inventory our hard- The wind suddenly died just as a ware and canned goods and carve a shadow feU across the sails. ~ turned chess set. our beads and stared in horror at a great With the help of the northerly cur- black and rust-red wall that seemed torent, we eventually sighted the rugged be toppling over on us. Caught in a mael-coast of the magical kingdom of Oman. strom of white water, we were burled toSawtooth mountains and sheer cliffs the side of the vessel at express-train60
Once youve been roused before d~ b~ the amplified chorus of dozens of mueZZin calhng the faithful to prayer, or seen the pre-Biblical spectacle of a public execution, then youre hooked. speed, emerging from the confusion me at the time, we ghosted into the five- with only a few scratches on the hull mile exclusion zone around the aircraft and a rust stain on the genoa. As the carrier U.S.S. Indulgence. They had ap- ship left us wallowing in her wake, we parently been bailing us on the radio for were treated to the sobering sight of 30 minutes, demanding our identity. I, her name-PETROX LEVIATHAN- of course, have never carried a radio or painted in 30-foot-high white letters other electronics (see my third book, across the stem. Sailing for Simple People, Porpoise Several hours late.~; we sighted the Press, $12.9.5). famous Strait-that strategic bottle- Our first inrucation that something neck exit to the Gulf which is the only was wrong was the Bare. We heard a way out for much of the western worlds hissing whistle. Suddenly, a star was oil, and was the only way in for us. In the hom directly above us. A blinding white distance it looked like an open door light slowly drifted out of the sky. show- among high barren cliffs-mysterious ering us with sparks. The second indica- and treacherous. Then we heard a clunk tion was the w.aming shot: a shrill, against Wandering Winds hull. I ran hollow whine, a thud and a waterspout forward to find the water dotted with 30 yards off the starboard bow. An Boating mines. Fortunately, they were amplified voice boomed out of the night the magnetic sort and hadnt been trig- just as the carriers deck lights flashed gered by our cypress-and-oak hull. Us- on. It looked like we were sailing to- ing experience gained while dodging ward midtown Manhattan. lobster pots in Maine, we snaked our Quickly taking in the situation, I way through the minefield without inci- grabbed our tattered American ensign, dent. About half an hour later, though, leaped to the foredeck and started wav- we saw a small freighter far astern lifted ing it back and forth in the glare of the out of the water by an explosion; all you searchlights that blazed from the two steel-hulled sailors take note (see my attack helicopters now flanking us. We eighth book, A Wooden Boat for the soon got things straightened out. They Long Haul, Porpoise Press, $8.95). even tossed us a CARE package of As might be expected, the real trou- sirloin steaks and Budweiser before dis- ble started after dark. Unbeknownst to appearing into the darkness.1:-.l liTING, A Parody 63
Crude appears in many fonns on theGulf, from outbound oil (above) tonath·e craftsmanship (below). Rather than continue on that night, That afternoon we finally made it to we decided to put in toward shore, the Strait. After all wed heard about anchoring over a shoal in the lee of a Iranian gunboats and Iraqi missiles, it jagged island beneath the cliffs. The was a bit of a letdown: just a gap in the only sounds were the lapping of the rocks. We were so busy looking for man- waves against the rocks and the echo- made dangers, we forgot the natural ing, hollow screech of some birds, ap- kind-that is, until the wind started to parently nesting high on the cliff face. pick up. Suddenly the sun dimmed, At dawn we saw a great flock of turning a strange yellow-brown. Before massive vulture-like creatures wheeling we knew what was happening, a blister- and gliding high above in the shadows. ing gust knocked Wandering Wind flat. We couldnt identify them, though, not With a fiendish bowl, a second gust even using my seventh book, Bird- swept toward us, ripping off wavetops as watching f or Boat People (Porpoise If you have to haul out, it advanced. But it wasnt the force of Press, with color illustrations, available this wind that worried me; it was tbe in oversize, spiral-bound paperback, Dubai has the best color-beige. Sandstorm! Grabbing a $15.95). The deck, howeve~; looked like facilities. The drydock diving mask and foul weather gear, Isomeone had dropped half a dozen cans told the crew to lower the sails and getof white house paint on it. And it can haul out any vessel below. I hunkered down behind thesmelled far worse than it looked. Need- up to 500,000 tons. wheel, and within minutes the flyingless to say, dont anchor near the cliffs! It sand had etched the masks faceplate totook us hours to clean up the mess. a milky translucence. Heaven knows64 A Parody. YAAHTING / 1984
launch driver against a colorful Mideastern backdrop. hat it would have done to my eyes. axe, I soon chipped a passage through I was beginning to get used to the grit to the companionway. m~· teeth and the rapidly rising dunes A blistering gust knocked After this harrowing experience, we the cockpit when the wind dropped uv<UUJ~:.. But my sigh of relief was Wandering Wind flat. decided to put in toward Abu Dhabi Doo, an isolated cove about 15 miles by the rain. It only rains, on With a fiendish howl, inside the Strait to clean up and repaint. .-:rage, three times a decade in the but when it does rain, it comes a second gust swept A mistake. Pirates . You know how I feel about pirates. in truckloads. Thats when I toward us, ripping off Ive linked every one of those wildly ound out what happens when desert exaggerated horror stories to a singlej.md mixes with water. The deck dunes the wavetops as it incident that happened in the Red Sea~tantly acquired the consistency of advanced. But it wasnt in 1971, when Swedish singlehander Jan utterscotch pudding. Borkedlorfer was boarded by Laotian .)most as quickly as it had started, the force of this wind refugees masquerading as a cruising .;ue rain stopped; the sun came out once that worried me; it was couple from Indiana (see "Food & Peo- -::ain and with it, the burning desert ple," p. 22) who ate his dog and burned "!Ild. In no time the pudding had hard- the color-beige. his nautical almanac. r.ed into a kiln-baked clay. Then I ;.eard a muffied thumping. It took a Sandstorm! Well, Ive changed my tune. While pulling in around the sandy peninsulaJlOment before I realized that the crew that makes up one side of Abu Dhabi ~ become entombed below. Wielding Doo, we were overtaken by a high- "tlr small fishermans anchor like a pick- powered dhow. Through binoculars, I :14 1 YAAHTING, A P.arody 65
could see shrouded faces, the glint of clear of trouble. For txample, we mirrored sunglasses and gun barrels. learned a simple trick for warding off A sudden burst of machine-gun fire rd heard intriguing guided missiles from a friendly Kuwaiti churned the water ahead of our bow, rumors about the Persian dhow captain: At the first sign of trou- one bullet neatly splinte~g the teak ble (most attacking aircraft make a pre- toerail I had just installed in Singapore. Gulf-about fabulous liminary pass to look you over), send I decided to implement Pirate Defense wealth, serene dune- someone up the mast with a big bag of Number S. shredded aluminum foil (always keep a You see, even though I had totally enclosed anchorages, pile handy). Have the crewman toss downgraded the threat of piracy, I smugglers, war. handfuls of the metal confetti into the didnt totally discount it. Several years wind. We befuddled the radar guidance ago I secretly put together: a series of systems of two missiles that way. pirate defenses, using simple tech- To experience Islam in all its raw niques and readily available materials. fervor and color, pull into some of the They are as follows: small coastal towns of Iran. We found 1) Plague Defense: Paint bright red Khawr Khomeini, Ras al Khomeini and spots all over skin surfaces of the crew. F-15 and a radar detector. But the best Bandar Khomeini all particularly fasci- Paint lips blue. Have crew lie around buy was a multipurpose grenade launch- nating. One proviso. Keep your Ameri- moaning, spitting, gagging, glassy eyed. er and a box of assorted grenades. I stow can Bag out ofsight. And female cruisers 2) Modified Joshua Slocum De- it deep in the bilge, but I soon had it out should pick up a chador or two-these fense: Dump several boxes of short and loaded. With a ftash and a thwump I are the black potato-sack cloaks worn by tacks on deck, along with several boxes launched the first grenade. It landed Iranian women in public. of ball-bearings. Then go below and square in their tender and blasted off Ifyou have to haul out, Dubai has the plug your ears. the transom. The next two I fired were best facilities. The drydock there can 3) "Kill them with kindness" De- gas grenades. The approaching dhow haul out any vessel up to 500,000 tons. fense: Break open the ships store of was instantly enveloped in a pall of (If youre cruising with friends you can booze-whiskey. rum, gin, the lot. choking chemical fog. We tacked away all haul out together and have a bottom- Leave it all on deck, but not before to windward and were soon out to sea, scraping party.) youve laced each bottle with mega- safe and sound. Of all the stops we made, the Abu doses of Dramamine, Ex-Lax and Dhabi Sailing Club was the best. I like Sominex. Bar the companionway from my sailing simple, but when I pull into within, wait an hour, then all you have to oure probably now think- port, its nice to have more than just the do is roll the snoring scum off the deck. ing that the Gulf is a pretty creature comforts. At this sleek country 4) Flaming Funnelator Defense: unpleasant place. Well, club of a marina, we found what w~ This is my personal favorite; it keeps youre wrong. We did have a needed. and much more. Each slip has them at a distance and keeps them bit of bad luck at the begin- shore power outlets, hot and cold run- distracted. If youve ever been be- ning. But you all know that ning water, cable TY, telephone and calmed during a Labor Day Weekend every cruising ground has its bad telex hookups, even an intercom to call Regatta or the like, youre probably points-Maines mosquitoes, lobster for bar, meal or maid service. Watch familiar with the funnelator-an over- pots, soupy fogs; the Meds charter where you plug in for power, though. size slingshot, made of a heavy-duty fleets and fickle winds. The Gulf is We spoke with one Canadian sailor who funnel and stretchy surgical tubing- different. Once you get to know its accidentally tied in to the shore power that is capable of heaving water bal- secret spots, once you get a handful of outlet of the Abu Dhabi Minister of loons great distances with remarkable pearls from a local diver in trade for a Culture and Finance. The unknowing accuracy. With slight modifications, this couple of tacky T-shirts, once youve sailor was sentenced to amputation of can be a devastating pirate stopper: Fill been roused before dawn by the am- his right hand. Fortunately. after his several balloons, condoms or baggies plified wailing chorus of dozens of embassy intervened, his punishment with gasoline or lighter fluid. Set your muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, or was reduced to the loss of two fingers. loaded Bare gun nearby. Let fly toward seen the pre-Biblical spectacle of a We finally dragged ourselves awaythe attackers, aiming for the deckhouse, public execution, then youre hooked. from Abu Dhabi, and after four fas-a sail, or an open batch. Fire a flare at Its a truly magical place. cinating months, headed out of thethe splattered spot where the balloons Here are a few of my favorite spots: Gulf. As the sun set behind us, slowlyhit, and voila-Pirate Flambe! For sheer adventure, youd be hard sinking into the cloud of smoke rising Because the pirates we were dealing pressed to beat the Shatt al Arab water- from the gas bumoff of the offshore oilwith looked particularly vicious-and way. a deep channel through the marsh- rigs, I couldnt help but wonder whenbecause theyd ruined our new toerail lands between Iran and Iraq which has Id be able to return to this fascinating- 1 decided to employ my fifth No been contested for more than a century. place. Even before the Strait of Hor-Nonsense Defense. I have picked up It can be dicey. but if you go between muz dropped over the horizon astern, Ilots of valuable hardware for bargain- offensives (these usually occur in the got out my battered typewriter and inbasement prices at CIA Counterinsur- spring), you shouldnt have much of a the fading sunlight started work on mygency surplus gear auctions: a ships problem. 18th book, Wandering Winds Arabiantaffrail log, a gyro-compass from an Local knowledge also helps you steer Adventure. ~66 A Parod)l YAAHTING I 1984