learn­ing curve

Barry Grey and crew feel the full force of a downs­lope wind and end up run­ning aground and be­ing res­cued by the Coast­guard

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

‘We were caught by kata­batic winds in Oman’

South of the Straits of Hor­muz in the Sul­tanate of Oman is Mu­san­dam, known lo­cally as the Ara­bian Fjords. Stretch­ing some 15km in­land from the Ara­bian Gulf, steep, rocky moun­tains plunge into deep, broad wa­ter­ways only ac­ces­si­ble by boat, with a few tra­di­tional vil­lages cling­ing to nar­row fore­shores. To pre­serve the ecosys­tems, Omani reg­u­la­tions only al­low a few lucky sailors ac­cess to the stun­ning scenery each year, where two res­i­dent pods of dol­phins play along­side vis­it­ing boats.

Hav­ing ob­tained our per­mit from the Omani em­bassy in our home port of Dubai, my wife Judi, I and our co-owner Asli Plail ex­cit­edly planned our trip to Mu­san­dam on Ra­hala (Ara­bic for ‘voy­ager’), our Jean­neau Sun Odyssey 36i. We set off mid March, an­tic­i­pat­ing tem­per­ate spring weather be­fore the sum­mer ar­rived. After the two-day sail to Mu­san­dam, we en­joyed three days of cruis­ing, dol­phin watch­ing and re­lax­ing. Sun­day 19 March was to be our fi­nal night be­fore head­ing home.

We’d checked weather fore­casts and it seemed we had a small win­dow to make the two-day sail south to Dubai be­fore a storm front ar­rived. The fore­cast for the next cou­ple of days was for rel­a­tively calm seas and 10-15km winds. To give our­selves an easy exit the next morn­ing, in late af­ter­noon we an­chored to­wards the end of Kawr Nafizi chan­nel op­po­site a shore­line vil­lage, just a few kilo­me­tres from our exit to the Ara­bian Gulf. Rather than sit­ting in the mid­dle of the chan­nel open to the el­e­ments and pos­si­ble traf­fic, I picked a spot with a lit­tle shel­ter from a rocky out­crop and dropped our Dan­forth an­chor, all 25m of chain and about 5m of rope – a ra­tio of over 5:1 to the depth.

We set­tled down to en­joy our last night in a pic­turesque lo­ca­tion, chat­ted with a cou­ple of vil­lagers who came along­side in fish­ing boats and en­joyed sup­per in the cock­pit. We tied our bi­mini back for a better view of the clear night sky.

Our first sign of any­thing un­to­ward came just after 2000 when oc­ca­sional light­ning could be seen over the moun­tains and out at sea. Had we known the area better, we would have re­alised this was a warn­ing to be heeded.

At around 2045, the wind sud­denly picked up. We ur­gently started to clear away the rem­nants of din­ner. Asli was in the gal­ley with my wife pass­ing dishes and cut­lery down to her. Be­fore the job was com­pleted and we could get more pre­pared, a hur­ri­cane-force wind howled down the chan­nel, hit­ting us from astern. Ac­cel­er­ated by the moun­tains bor­der­ing the chan­nel, the kata­batic wind screamed like a ban­shee. Ra­hala, teth­ered by her an­chor, held her po­si­tion for a few se­conds and then, with­out warn­ing, heeled vi­o­lently to star­board be­fore fly­ing around on the com­plete length of the an­chor rode.


In the cock­pit, Judi clung to the back­stay and bi­mini frame to avoid be­ing flung out of the boat. Later, she said it was like be­ing on a fair­ground ride. Asli in the gal­ley was thrown to the cabin sole by the sud­den heel­ing. I had jumped down the com­pan­ion­way to turn on the en­gine bat­tery in the hope I could get us out of trou­ble. In the se­conds this took, the boat swung around over 180¡ with the vi­o­lent heel­ing leaving me to clam­ber up the side of the com­pan­ion­way steps to get back to the cock­pit.

Strained by the tremen­dous wind and the weight of the boat, the an­chor rode was stretched to its max­i­mum. Luck stayed with us; the an­chor held fast and now, fac­ing into the wind, the boat came to a halt, fac­ing the di­rec­tion from which we had come, but ly­ing on its star­board side in the sandy shal­lows at the end of the chan­nel. The sea was lap­ping a foot be­low the to­erail. Our keel was dig­ging into the soft seabed with the an­chor rode strain­ing against the boat. We were stuck fast and we had time to as­sess our sit­u­a­tion.

First thing was for us all to don life­jack­ets, and throw es­sen­tials such as pass­ports, phones and drink­ing wa­ter into the grab bag al­ways kept in the cock­pit lazarette. I knew we were not at high tide, but was un­sure of ti­dal lev­els or pre­cisely when high tide would oc­cur. With one ‘ma­ture’ male on board and two women, one who isn’t a strong swim­mer, a call to the Oman Coast­guard seemed ap­pro­pri­ate. Asli made the call in an­tic­i­pa­tion they’d re­spond more quickly to a fe­male voice.

The tele­phone num­ber for the Oman Coast­guard com­mand cen­tre was on the front of our sail­ing per­mit and our call was an­swered quickly. The Omani of­fi­cer spoke perfect English and quickly un­der­stood our sit­u­a­tion. We pro­vided both our lo­cal po­si­tion and GPS coordinates and were promised as­sis­tance soon. In case we had to aban­don Ra­hala, I launched our dinghy and teth­ered it to the stern. An­tic­i­pat­ing an in­sur­ance claim, I took a few pho­tos of our in­stru­ments and the boat to record our po­si­tion and sit­u­a­tion. We also un­der­took a thor­ough in­spec­tion in­side and out and – ev­ery­thing vis­i­ble seemed in­tact and the bilges were dry.

After the ini­tial blast, the wind quickly sub­sided to around 10 knots but I was con­cerned it would re­turn. With the promised re­sponse from the Coast­guard, re­duced wind and calmer crew, we made our­selves busy at­tempt­ing

to re­float the boat. We swung on the boom, hung over the life­lines and used the wind­lass and en­gine, all with­out suc­cess.

Less than an hour after our call, the Omani Coast­guard ar­rived with not one boat but two. A Royal Oman Navy and a Coast­guard launch came along­side giv­ing us enor­mous re­lief. The of­fi­cer in charge ex­plained they had ur­gent emer­gen­cies to at­tend to; high tide would be at mid­night, and they promised to re­turn.

Déjà vu

As mid­night ap­proached, we were be­com­ing con­cerned when the Coast­guard hadn’t ar­rived and we’d failed to re­float. How­ever, at around 0015, a Royal Oman Coast­guard launch ar­rived. He brought his launch along­side and we tied to him with stern and bow­lines. After a few gen­tle ma­noeu­vers by the Coast­guard boat, Ra­hala was bob­bing in uni­son with their boat. We were float­ing! Our re­lief was ec­static.

It was ap­proach­ing 0200 and we hap­pily hosted the Coast­guard team to tea and choco­late bis­cuits aboard Ra­hala. Later, be­fore they left, they helped us move to deeper wa­ter in the cen­tre of the chan­nel and we re­set our an­chor.

How­ever, just be­fore 0400, the kata­batic wind re­turned, howl­ing at nearly 60 knots. We were awake and pre­pared. Again, the wind screamed down the chan­nel, strain­ing the rode and whip­ping up the sea. I de­cided to lift the an­chor, leave the chan­nel and mo­tor out to the wide main wa­ter­way. In pitch dark, with high winds and choppy seas, this was chal­leng­ing, but once out of the chan­nel, ev­ery­thing be­came more man­age­able. We mo­tored to the far end of the Mu­san­dam in­lets where we had com­fort­ably an­chored the pre­vi­ous three nights. For the third time that night, we set an­chor and tried to get some sleep.

A cou­ple of hours later, an Omani Coast­guard launch pulled along­side to check on us, and were ob­vi­ously pleased to see we were all safe. They asked us to make our way to Khasab Har­bour, the small sea­port out­side Mu­san­dam, say­ing the storm front would make it too rough to at­tempt our pas­sage to Dubai.

When we ar­rived in Khasab, the Coast­guards pro­vided a swing­ing moor­ing for Ra­hala, helped us tie up and even col­lected a longer, thicker rope to com­ple­ment our moor­ing lines. Once se­cure, they hosted us to a grilled tuna and salad lunch in their port of­fice and later, one of their of­fi­cers fer­ried us to a lo­cal shop.

We at­tribute sur­viv­ing the beach­ing due to the strength of Ra­hala, to hav­ing the right an­chor, and a fair amount of good luck. How­ever, the timely and pro­fes­sional as­sis­tance of the Royal Oman Coast­guard helped trans­form a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter. A few days later and back home in Dubai, we lifted Ra­hala out for an ex­pert sur­vey. No dam­age was found other than a lit­tle miss­ing an­tifoul.

Ac­cel­er­ated by the moun­tains, the kata­batic wind screamed like A ban­shee

The Omani Coast­guard re­sponded quickly, send­ing both their own launch and a naval ves­sel

Barry reg­u­lar­lay cruises his Sun Odyssey 36 around the Omani coast

The wind howled, the an­chor dragged and we ran aground

The an­chor­age was beau­ti­fully calm be­fore the storm front ar­rived Ra­hala’s keel had bed­ded into soft sand and didn’t re­spond to her crew’s at­tempts to get her free

Thanks to the boat’s strength, there was very lit­tle dam­age

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