March 19 to June 19, 2002


Text and Photos Copyright ©2003 Mark E. Halliday


Early in 2002, EDCON, a geophysical contractor in Denver, offered me a marine gravity survey job in Oman.

I had not worked in 2 years, so it sounded OK. I never spent more than one week at sea, or worked in the Middle East. After a month of delays, I left Austin March 19.

My flight was delayed in DFW by a thunderstorm, late into Chicago, and misconnected in Heathrow. The airline put me in a hotel overnight.

I found my friend Sue, who I met years before when she lived in Hong Kong. She is now living in London, consulting at a publishing house, and we met for dinner.

In the morning I continued to Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman. Brunei is the only other Sultanate in the world. What Sultan says, is law, so they say.


We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, with two nice pools and a weekend outside buffet.

We waited 5 days for customs clearance of the surveying equipment.





Finally, our ship, the Stanford Explorer, arrived.

We inspected our home for the next 3 months.





The gear showed up late at night.

John Siebert supervised the installation of the instruments.






Here is LaCoste Romberg gravity meter S-120,

and my bunk to the left.


Installation problem !

the gravity meter would stop working for no apparent reason.

This took weeks to sort turned out that my Sony Notebook computer emitted some RF interference that caused the lockup.





is used to track the bottom depth.



The notebook computer is running Trimble navigation software using GPS input (the yellow box to the very left).





GPS position information is used to generate a guidance screen in the wheelhouse.

It shows the boat position relative to the line we wish to survey, and the Captain adjusts his course accordingly.










We headed to sea. We turned around and came back in six hours !

The Echosounder was not giving reasonable depths. The navigator was not very familiar with the hardware/software, so was busy reading manuals.


Departing again, it took 24 hours to get to the survey area.

The ship was fully loaded with diesel and fresh water, so rode very low at the stern.

In fact the deck was awash on the way out from Muscat.

but before that happened, we were ....



Our tugboat ran aground off the North end of Masirah Island.

This was roughly the same place where a British ship had run aground almost 100 years ago ! In that incident, the shipwreck survivors made it to shore, but were shot by island residents!

I was sleeping when we grounded;it was a terrible sound to hear.

I started humming the theme song from Titanic, and came up to see what was going on. The crew worked quickly to pump water from the ship tanks. Using the bow thruster, we came off the rock after a short while.

Chief Engineer Sabu delivered the damage report:

the rudder post had lifted up 4-6 inches. The ship must go to dry-dock for repair. Otherwise, we could soon be rudderless, going in circles, and need a tow to port.

At sunset, I went up on top the read the instructions for the SOLAS life raft.


Everyone was quick to cover their position on the grounding:

Navigator: The Captain agreed to enter the shallow water.....

Survey Manager: We should no longer enter shallow water........

Captain: the ship is OK, everyone shut up and go to work!




After two days of heated discussion and satellite phone calls, the engineer won!

We headed to Muscat for an evaluation.

The decision was made to dry-dock and inspect the rudder for damage.

We departed for Dubai, where the ship owner had their dry-dock.


Since the echosounder was still not working correctly,

we stopped along the way and moved it to the rear deck.

Still no improvement. We would learn later that we needed bigger batteries!



Coalition warship passes us in the Gulf..



Sunset approaching the Strait of Hormuz


As we passed the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf.

I wondered.......where does the name Hormuz came from?


I did not have internet access on the ship,

only e-mail, so sent this message to friends and family:





We will pass the famous Straight of Hormuz this afternoon. There does not seem to be a city named Hormuz on my map. Question: What is the Strait of Hormuz named after?

Best answer wins a pair of tickets to tonight's concert in Bandar Abbas..........MrHalliday


------------------------------------ THE CONTEST ENTRIES ---------------------------------


It is derived from the Persian words for whore (Hor) and music (Muz). An ancient Persian king would ask for his large harem of women to dance for him to this 'whore music' or Hormuz!

in 1300 A.D. Amir Baha ed-Din Ayaz Seyfin, the beleaguered ruler of the Kingdom of Hormuz, a principality on the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, moved his capital from Hormuz on the mainland, near Minab,to Gerun/Jerun Island, which he had purchased from the ruler of Kish Island; henceforth the name Hormuz came to apply to the island. The name Hormuz is Persian and of pre-Islamic origin.


There is a town just on the Iranian side of the Strait called Hormuz. Marco Polo went through the Kingdom of Hormuz back in the 13th Century. "The Iranian" news website stated that "Hormuz" is of Persian origin, but didn't say what it meant. One guy's home page said it meant "The Enlightened One." But he didn't back it up. My guess is some house of Persian nobility...


Now that was pretty funny. My spell checker stopped on Hormuz thinking it was a misspelled word, and offered up "Hormel" as a substitute! Hormuz, the company that brought us spam in a can. The phrase "straits of Hormuz" meant you were in dire straits if you condition was poor enough to be eating Hormuz Spam. Send the thickets please.


Ha Ha, Hormuz was a famous transvestite belly dancer favored by the Sultan of swing ! Did I win ? You should have been like Zein - the first ones who answer with subject "ticket give away" wins.


This is exactly how wars get started:) People don't check the right sources and the next thing you know call each other's country whore-music-infested. You can check any good Persian-Persian dictionary, e.g., Mo'in or Dehkhoda, for the etymology. There you'll see its denotations given as: (1) the first day of any Iranian solar month, (2) the planet 'moshtari', and (3) Thursday,with an etymology relating it to "Ahuramazda.", the Zorastrian Icon. You can pass this on to others or remain an infidel and the puppet of great satan.


You probably do not see the name Hormuz on your map as you should look under Ormuz. Piri Pasha, the capudan of Egypt, left Suez Ah 959 with a fleet of thirty sails, consisting of galleys, bashderes, golettas and galleon' and proceeding to Aden by Jedda and Babelmandel, sailed thence towards Ras-al-had, passing Zaffar and Shedjar. On his route he was overtaken near Shedjar by a storm in which several of his barges were destroyed. With the remains of his fleet he attacked Muscat, a fortress in the Persian Gulf, in the country of Oman, which he took and made the inhabitants prisoners. He then laid waste the islands of Ormuz and Barkhet. This was all written by the turkish historian, Haji Khalifeh. But I still don't know what it was named after cuz I don't want the prize.

Later she added from an internet contact: It is difficult to say. The original city of Hormuz was a port on the mainland in what is now part of Iran, but in 1300 or thereabouts the inhabitants moved en masse to an island, called Jerun, a few kilometres off shore which was renamed Hormuz. There was also a province of Hormuzd to complicate matters. There are many variants of the name Hormuz such as Ormus etc.

-------------- CONTEST RESULTS --------------------------

We who have passed the Strait of Hormuz just TWO HOURS ago wish to thank everyone for their participation.

The Contest Winner is: ROBERT BAILEY

and the Runner-up is: KAREN HALLIDAY

Congratulations to Robert who will have two tickets waiting for him at the will-call window. Also to Karen, who will receive four tickets as runner up. For everyone else, it is a free concert, anyway. Due to the success and high entertainment value of this contest,it will be repeated as soon as another obscure but relevant question comes to mind.




Arrivng Dubai, we first dock at the main harbor and clear customs.

Then the ship went up Dubai Creek, where it waited until this bridge could be raised, i.e. only every few days!

Beyond the bridge is the Jaddaf Dry Dock




The dry-dock operation was fascinating.

The ship is floated onto a movable platform, then pulled to various bays by a front-end loader.

A diesel generator is slung onto the rear deck, and provides power for the ship.

This allowed cooking and A/C operation.

No water hookups meant the toilets on board would not work.



First stop, the hull is sandblasted.




then another for rudder repair.









The propeller shafts are removed and straightened in the machine shop.
















New transducer mounts are welded to the side of the Stanford Explorer.








DUBAI: One of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A VERY modern city, and a shopper's paradise!



the worlds tallest hotel







Jumeira Beach Hotel



and marina





Downtown Dubai











Dubai hotels are expensive.

We shared an apartment (with a nice pool!)

and ate at local food stalls to save money !



It was fun to ride the "Abra", the water taxi across Dubai Creek, and explore the city in the hot steamy afternoon.......








Dubai has a many european visitors and residents,

so pub life is active. Beer is expensive at $7 a draft!


Pubs often have music with Arabic, Filipino, or African bands.

These English girls were dancing on the bar before midnight.




Project managers were naturally upset about lost income during the repair. The dry-dock took twice the time estimated by the ship owners. We could have flown home during the repairs, and saved the company money !

But that is hindsight..........We visited the ship each day, sent progress reports home, and discussed our logistical problem: How to survey the shallow water areas between Masirah Island and the mainland?

But we had NO information about Masirah Island.

How to get there? Is there a hotel ? Our contacts in Oman had no idea.

A good use of my time could be to scout Masirah Island. I would report on local facilities, boat charter options, and if a camp was feasible, if no hotel.


I went to Dubai Airport, bought a ticket to Muscat, and used the satellite phone to request a car and driver be waiting.






View of Dubai from the flight to Muscat.








.....How to get there


Oman Air did to fly to Masirah three times a week, but discontinued service a year ago. People routinely travel between Masirah and Muscat on a space-available basis on Royal Omani Air Force cargo planes. The requirements to be boarded are not known.


Road travel to Masirah was quite easy (considering the lack of information in Muscat).

I had reserved a car with Budget for Muscat airport. The Taurus SE was 19 Rials/day, +driver @ 15 Rials/day + meals + hotel. Driver Musalem met me at Seeb airport. We headed south through the mountains on excellent 4-lane divided highway.

Turn right at “to Salalah”, before Nizwa. Continue to Sinaw, which has plenty of petrol stations and services. Now two-lane high-speed highway with towns and camel-crossings posted. From Sinaw, continue 120 km to Sherera, then another 70 km to Jub’.


We filled up at the “AL MAHA” petrol station, then turn left, go 18 km to Mahout, with one hotel and some restaurants !

Then 68 km to Shannah on the salt flats, and it was getting dark. This road is un-signposted and under construction. At one “road diversion” area, a sign says “SHANNAH” to the right, where you go left!

If you miss that, I don’t know where you will end up !

At the next dark confusing intersection, we waited until a car came along and gave us directions. The last kilometer is one-lane mushy alt, ending at the ferry landing with a small coffee shop.



Ferry Service:


The ferry is a landing craft, operated by Marses Trading.

They depart with the flood tide, so times vary.

60-90 minutes for the crossing.





Hotel, Restaurant, and other services


The Masirah Hotel is the only one !

Five rooms, from 15 to 25 Rials ($40-70).


The hotel fills up June-August when Europeans come here for windsurfing. Reserve at least 10 days in advance.



Rooms are big, 1 to 3 beds, A/C, fans, carpet, large bathrooms, flush toilet, hot water, small frig, electric outlets.

No television, restaurant, phone or other services in the hotel.

Next door is a noisy desalinization plant, but not noisy in rooms.

Just one manager on duty, who was difficult to locate at night.




They are very actively building a large expansion to the hotel,

but that is for 2003.




Note the Iridium satellite phone in the window.

I used this to send my my Masirah scouting report to Denver.




There are two restaurants about 1 km from the hotel.

Also a shop named “laundry”, and numerous “foodstuffs and vegetables” shops.

I did not see a source of ice, but with a fish-packing plant down the road, should be available!



Also three petrol stations,

and an ATM !





I talked with these fisherman at the Hilf jetty while they fixed their nets.

They say after mid-July the water is starting to be smooth, and is perfectly flat by October.

Mustafa at Marses Trading and Contracting (ferry boat operator) said:

June and July are a difficult time, the SW winds arrive. The local name for this weather coming from Africa, the “Kos”, does not bring much rain. During this time it is common for no ships to move for maybe two days.

Many fisherman go to the mainland during this period as they cannot work very continuously. “Maybe 1 week OK, then 1 week bad”.




The man on the left is the big man on the island; his son on the right.






This is his personal boat, used for pleasure outings!

Not for rent.

















A U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey BENCHMARK

is set in the BENCH !








Fisherman Hut.





Thursday evening conversation with Joe and Dave:

I was having garlic shrimps at the best restaurant (of two) in Masirah tonight.

Two expat-types passed my outdoor table and said HI !

After dinner, driver Musalem went back to the hotel, and I joined them for a chat. Joe and Dave are military contractors without last names, who work for a nameless corporation. They have been on Masirah two years, go home one month a year, and to Muscat every few months. They always drive, never fly.

I explained vaguely what I was doing, i.e. working offshore on a ship, now shoppinging for a smaller ship.

Dave said he had seen us offshore the island, and was curious if we had been checked out by military patrols?

I said no. He was surprised, did we arrange some military clearance? ....maybe.

The weather problem I was researching is called the Kharriff, beginning late May and ending September 15, like clockwork. Sustained winds of 25 to 40 mph, gusting to 50-60, they blow you around when you walk. Without prompting, they said they would DEFINITELY not want to be on a boat during a Kharriff.....

" ....and all those Marines over in tent city are going to get a big surprise in a month if they don't start sandbagging their tents down.....they'll get shredded and fly away".

Joe had a copy of "Masirah Island" I could borrow (if I could get inside the base 611.379/611.595 after 1430h).

The book told about the Cross at the north end of the island where the Inverdale ran aground 1908. 26 British survivors were massacred by locals. One cabin boy escaped, and reported the massacre top the Sultan in Muscat. The Sultan declared Masirah Island an outlaw region, where no permanent structures could be built for 100 years.

This ban was strictly enforced until the 70's. Even after Sultan Qaboos seized power from his father, he did not lift the ban until 1996. Now I understood the shantytowns on the outskirts of town today.



Approaching Shanna Landing.

Note the head of the camel in the bed of the red pickup.



Shanna Landing







Nizwa Fort







Nizwa Oasis





Al Bustan Hotel



Carpet to the Beach.







Bob Lo admiring silver fish in the Muscat market.

He bought a singing camel for $1.





John Currie (Veracruz), and Bob Lo (Toronto)

making friends on the waterfront.











Rustaq Fort








______ Fort










The Stanford Explorer finally left Dubai, and arrived Muscat two days after I returned from Masirah Island.


A dramatic sea stack























A fan blade broke, so the A/C would not work!

Sabu tried very hard to fix the blade, but it didn't work really.













Being on a small ship in the North Arabian Sea, I was bandwidth disabled.

Rob Bailey, prize-winning Austin correspondent, sent me web tidbits to break the monotony.

He sent me this gem from


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Navy oiler ship was forced to fire its guns against a half dozen small power boats that approached it as the ship passed through the Straits of Hormuz on April 23 in the Persian Gulf near Iran. The Navy has not publicly disclosed the incident. But a defense official Friday confirmed to CNN the details of what took place, and suggested the boats may have been piloted by bandits intending to raid a ship. The USNS Walter S. Diehl (T-AO193) was passing through the area when the six small power boats sped alongside. The Diehl first fired flares to warn the small boats away, but according to reports filed on the incident, the boats did not back down. At that point, officials told CNN, a gunner on the deck of the Diehl opened fire with a .50-caliber machine gun. Those on deck said it appeared the men on the small boats tried to surrender, but the Diehl's gunner kept firing as the ship moved ahead. The small boats then sped off. Officials say they do not believe this was a terrorist incident, but may have been local pirates who may not have realized the ship they were trying to board was a U.S. Navy vessel. The Diehl is a support vessel with the Military Sealift Command, and does not look like a U.S. Navy warship at first glance. Since the October 2000 bombing in Yemen of the USS Cole by terrorists who attacked on a small boat, Navy ships are under orders to not allow small unidentified boats to approach them.


Now, all is not that it seems in this part of the world.

Huge government bureaucracies generate disinformation such as the above.

Fortunately, we now know....What Really Happened:


DOHA, QATAR (AL JAZEIRA) The tugboat Stanford Explorer, crippled from an encounter with a vicious coral head,was steaming to Dubai for dry-dock repairs. Approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the crew pondered why CNN (once a respected news organization, but now clearly a puppet of satan), called it the Straits of Hormuz, as there is only one Strait, and clearly labeled so on the nautical chart. The tugboat was surprised by a half dozen small power boats that approached it April 23 in the Persian Gulf near Iran.

The mysterious vessel has not publicly acknowledged the incident, but a local raghead confirmed the details of what took place, and suggested the boats may have been piloted by bandits intending to raid a ship. The Stanford Explorer was passing through the area when the six small power boats sped alongside. The tugboat first fired flares to warn the small boats away, but according to reports filed on the incident,the boats did not back down. At that point, the crew realized they were under attack by the Persian Pirates, notorious for ravaging medium-sized farm animals along the Persian coast for centuries.

Unfortunately for the pirates, they did not have advance knowledge that the tugboat was actually a Zapatista rebel command center. But they knew they were in deep doo doo when the ski-masked Subcommandante Marcos appeared on deck,flailing his arms around, shouting

"Donde esta la playa?

Dame todo su cervezas y ron!

Ve Te Al Diablo a los musselmen maricones ".....

Those on deck said it appeared the men on the small boats tried to surrender, but Subcomandante ordered Captain Rangaswami to fire up the bow thruster, Chief Engineer Sabu to man the fire hoses, and Chitham the cook to start frying some pork as the ship moved ahead. The small boats then sped off.

Officials say they do not believe this was a terrorist incident, but may have been local pirates who did not realize the ship they were trying to board was a rebel command center. The tugboat is cleverly disguised as a geophysical survey vessel, and does not look like a Zapatista command center at first glance. Since the October 2001 sighting of Osama Bin Laden in Chiapas***, all Zapatista ships are under orders to not allow small unidentified boats to approach them.

***This is not unfounded. An early November 2001 edition of "The News", Mexico City's English language daily, had a story suggesting Bin Laden could be in Chiapas. Searching an abandoned Al Qaeda house in Kabul, intelligence agents found files with detailed maps and engineering drawings of a petrochemical complex in Chiapas.




Well, I did it. Shaved my head for my 50th birthday, with 10 ft swells rising from a 30 knot wind.

At least we were running with the waves!

I am not sure I like it. The bald head OR the growing waves.

In fact, the Captain just informed us that sea conditions are becoming dangerous for this vessel.

We must stop surveying and leave the area, maybe run for port.

It is very strange to see your own scalp, if it the first time !

Felt pretty good though, this Indian A/S on he boat did it. Used an old style single blade....... scrape, scrape.

Maybe a gold earring would help.

Or a ski mask?


So if you thought that first photo was scary, take a look at this one! I thought this second photo was too weird to pass around, but here goes! I took both photos holding a small Intel USB video camera in my left hand, with the desklamp glaring on me, and framing the picture while looking at the monitor on my notebook computer. I have delayed getting a digital camera so far, but it is amazing what you can get in 6 Kb when you need to. I enjoyed the flood of email from the first photo. The responses are below, authors have not been identified !

1) A most excellent experiment, Mister! ...Maybe you should let one small area a couple of inches in diameter continue to grow on the upper portion of the back side of your head -- Just imagine how cool that would look after it attained about a foot of length

2) Wow! You let someone come at your head with a razor in 10 foot seas? That definitely qualifies you as a "real fisherman" afraid of nothing. A gold earring is definitely indicated. Practically required3) Sweet JESUS! The Horror is right! -as in Brando from Apocalypse Now.

4) Hey birthday boy.. plan to celebrate big when you get back - you old fart...I mean old bald fart, you're almost as old as me.

5) Wow. I think it looks cool. You do look a lot meaner, like some James Bond character..... Odd Job.

6)A gawdy BIG gold earring would definitely work! find one before you return... THE HORROR!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAA....Looks Great...

7) cute!

8) Wow, you really did it! ....... personally, would not want to meet you in a dark alley. No, don't think you need the earring although it would certainly increase the intimidation level among those meeting you in a dark alley!

9) So, what put you up to shaving off the hair? Is it to scare off those pirates in the area??? Actually it doesn't look bad, and think of the money you'll save in shampoo!




The Indian crew say the bad weather that just came in is because of the approaching new moon.

Now of course currents will be max, but I can't see the connection between the moon and storms/wind which cause waves.

Does this sound like a superstition or sailor's knowledge?





May 11, 2002:

According to the Peace Corps calendar hanging on the wall in front of me, the new moon will strike at 1046 UT Sunday, just 12 hours from now. I am going to pack up an emergency kit of canned fruit cocktail, put the Iridium phone and a volleyball in my watertight camera case, and sit on the top deck near the life rafts starting about 1030 UT just to be safe.






MUSCAT PORT CALL ("About Last Night")


The phone in my room rang at 7 AM.......... Dammit !.........I told them wake up call at 7:30 !!

The voice said, SIR, can you please come get your friend................WHAT? WHO?

Your friend, Sir, he is laying down ...............................WHAT ?

Your friend, sir , PLEASE come.......he is sleeping..........I AM TRYING TO SLEEP TOO ! YOU WAKE HIM UP !

Please sir, he is YOUR friend................OK...... JUST A MINUTE......I put on my clothes and open the door.

Two guys in white robes and white hats, the security guy and the desk manager, are standing there.

OK, WHAT GUY? .............Where is this guy? .............Downstairs?

They nod towards the elevator....... I turn my head, there is my shipmate,

sleeping spread-eagled on the hall carpet on his back !

He is laying there butt naked, everything hanging out for all to see................ Holy SHIT !

I yell, SCOTT ! WAKE UP! .......his eyes open slowly and he stumbles back to his room.

Later at breakfast later, he doesn't know what he was doing sleeping naked in the hall !

He remembers being in his room after closing the Sheraton.....calling a girl in Europe until all the phone cards expired, then......?? ................





"This ship gets smaller every day......"




Cook Chitham and Engineer Sabu grilling

Chicken, Beef, and Shrimp.








Engineer Sabu goes over the side

to adjust tension on the transducer mount cables.








Red Tide?










by John Seibert:


Shipping boxes, yellow? black?

to whom do I ship them back?

Houston, Denver, Anchorage, too

wouldn't just one address do?

GPS and fath-o-meter

where'd I put the auxilliary heater

what about the expendable supplies

(customs used to little white lies)

like moving home from a college dorm

all at once the center of the storm

perhaps an expert shipping guy

Would calling John Fett make things fly?

















Text and Photos Copyright ©2003 Mark E. Halliday