The trip across to the Arabian Sea to Oman had good wind for most of the way and we were reeling off 160 mile + days right down the rhumb line. Until the last two days, that is. The wind stopped completely and the engine came on completely which we used to get all the way to Salalah, Oman.

The last 60 miles we had a counter current of 3/4 of a knot and the last 40 miles it doubled to 1.5 knots against us as we struggled to make port. Then the ten knot land breeze kicked in, right in the face which slowed us down even more. What was really neat, however, was seeing the cliffs of Salalah on radar 48 MILES out to sea at 2 AM in the morning. That is the only thing we have EVER seen that far on our radar screen. As I write this we are still under way and the sun is rising on our last day out. We are making only 4.8 knots toward Salalah which is now only 19 miles away. We can see the cliffs of Oman and the lights on shore. A new landfall approaches. Very exciting stuff.

Eight days after leaving the Maldives we arrive in the industrial port of Mina Raysut – Salalah, Oman. As I said, inDUSTrial. The boat is already covered with a powder-fine brown dust that has been blowing in from the desert and stuff kicked up around here as cargo is loaded and unloaded. The yacht anchorage is small, the holding poor and there are about nine yachts here now (February 9th).

We share our little anchorage with many large wooden dhows that are carrying everything from goats, bales of cotton and other biblical stuff, to TVs and other modern appliances. These dhows can be seen up and down the coast and all around the Gulf as we saw many in Dubai (see earlier log entry). They are made entirely of wood with NO NAILS but hundreds of thousands of wooden plugs hold it all together. Pretty amazing. Not reliant on the wind gods anymore these large craft chug along their merry way belching smoke, thanks to Rudolf Diesel.

We have properly crossed our first ocean under sail, the Indian, the world’s third largest. It feels pretty good. 2800 miles from Phuket and we are truly in a totally different part of the world. I have been picking up a few phrases of Arabic, like, “Asalaam Aliekum,” which means, “How’s it goin’ dude,” or literally, “Peace be with you.” The set reply; “Wa Aliekum Salaam,” “And peace be with you.”

This is the standard greeting used all over the Islamic world – even in Uligan, where I learned it. We’ll see what kind of trouble we can get into armed with a few phrases in the local lingo as our adventures takes us deeper into the volatile Middle East.

Our good friends, Tom and Polly Hester on Papagena with their crew, “Hum,” whom we met in Phuket, had already arrived in Salalah the day before, so it was nice to catch up with them. They rented a car and we joined them driving for an afternoon to look around the countryside. We saw lots of mountains, dirt and camels.

The scenery was stark and looked a little like S. California during the 49 weeks of the year it doesn’t rain. The beaches were very pretty and the road was amazing with 300 degree hairpin turns up and down and nothing green in sight. The Papgenas felt like they were on the moon, stopping the car here and there to take pictures of brown fields, or brown mountains. Being from the UK, anything that was an open space and brown seemed to fascinate them.

Oman is famous for frankincense. Those of you who had religion beaten into you at a tender age may remember frankincense was one of the gifts the three wise men brought the baby Jesus. That came from here, Oman. The trees are really shrubs and they are fenced off with chainlink and barbed wire to keep wandering camels from eating them up. We saw some frankincense in a market and it looks like crystalized pine sap. It smells like it to. Apparently, you put it in an incense burner and it gives off a nice smell.

The camels, who don’t give off such a nice smell, are everywhere. I got out of the car at one point to herd them off the road. As I was dressed like a camel herder they all obediently went the way I directed!

In the photos you can see me in the native dress, a dishdash. It is made of cotton and very comfortable. We went into Salalah town to do some shopping with Ariel conservatively dressed in pants and a long sleeved shirt but I was wearing my normal shorts and T-shirt (I really don’t have much else).

Feeling a little naked and attracting too much attention to my hairy legs, I took the plunge and bought a nice dishdash. The local reaction is very positive with people stopping their cars on the road and giving me the thumbs-up sign. Or they do that and drive by shouting, “Omani! Omani!” So I wear it every time we go out. The other yachties just think it weird.

Provisioning here is pretty good, there are two supermarkets, Lulu and Al Haq. Spinneys bit the dust. Both of these supermarkets are clean, medium-sized joints with lots of stuff you didn’t see in Asia. The ‘fruit souq’ is good too with a nice selection and it is relatively clean and easy to handle. So we rate provisioning here as good as Phuket anyway. Pork, that illegal substance, I understand can be had at a special counter in Lulu that is hidden somewhere as we didn’t see it. You need a car to drive around as the town is dusty and pretty spread out.

Forget about buying booze of any kind unless you know an expat with a license. However, if you are thirsty do not lose heart! Up the hill behind the port is the very appropriately named “Oasis Club.” This is the only bar in town, unless you go to the Hilton Hotel between the port and town. This British style pub has pool tables and ping pong and Heineken, Kilkenny, etc. on tap with a decent restaurant as well.

A pint of Heineken cost $3.75. Once a month they have “Quiz Night,” which we are told is taken very seriously by the local expats. We and the Papagenas decided to enter. We were a team of five and there were about ten other teams of equal numbers. The quizes ran for eight rounds and were about 15-20 questions each on all types of categories, sports, geography, movies, music – they even had one on Canadian and US trivia – which I aced, I may immodestly add.

At the end of the evening they totaled the score and our team, ‘The Woodbridge Anchors,’ won! I mean we wiped the floor with the locals as the score wasn’t even close. I thought we would have to fight our way out of there but it was all taken in good humor. Our first prize was a bottle of wine and a nice fifth of scotch (see picture).

The currency here, the rial, is one of the few that is greater in value than the USD (although to our dismay as travelling Americans, those currencies are more and more common!), in fact it is one rial to $2.50, so prices look cheap until you stop and do the math! Mohammed Saad Qasboob is the local agent and he comes out to meet the boat in the anchorage with the local officials.

He is African and wears a white dishdash and red towel on his head looking very much like Eddy Murphy as he is always laughing and joking. He speaks good English and can help with everything. We have had laundry done through him and it was expensive (about $2 a kilo) but done very well.

You can rent cars through him for $25 a day as well as get fuel for about $.35 cents a liter. He has an older Dutch friend, Marianne, who is a former yachtie who has come back to Oman to work for Mohammed. She is very helpful driving you around the city to all the places you need to go – and only gets lost occasionally. The officials are all, well, official. Unlike Sri Lanka where the officials have worked hard for generations to earn their poor reputation, there is no graft and no bullshit here.

They are simplifying the shore pass procedure but right now you need to get your shore pass signed every time you want to leave the port unless you get an Omani visa for $16 while you are here. The Papagenas did the visa thing, we did the shore pass thing and both seem like good solutions. Lastly, in the port here there is a tiny four table restaurant behind an unmarked door that only serves biryani rice (chicken or fish) but thankfully it is EXCELLENT and ‘cheap as.’  One riyal per plate will do you.

The weather is much cooler than SE Asia and at night or early morning you need a sweater. On night watches we really noticed the temperature drop as we kept heading further north and were ‘bundled up’ by the time we got to this latitude; 17 north. The air is VERY dry too, just what you’d expect in a desert, so bring lots of hand lotion and chapstick.

Overall, we like Oman and have good first impressions. It would be a fascinating country to explore by motorcycle and we are filing that idea away for future reference. Well, I am at any rate. Ariel’s reaction to my musing on the subject was less than favorable.