It was indeed a helicopter looking for me.
After 110 days spent alone on the ocean, I was greeted by my own marines.
The frigate was a weapons platform with two helicopter bays, huge compared to mine.
A proud moment...
October 30, 2010 (Day 110) 11.2989S,46.2064E
Today was the day of rendezvous with the Turkish frigate TCG GAZiANTEP. On board was Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, the present Commander of the Combined Task Force (CCTF) assembled to counter Somali piracy in the area. Observing that my pace had increased considerably, doubled in fact on account of the strong currents under me, he had moved up this rendezvous at sea by a week. He had been kind to write to me personal emails to inform me of piracy activities and security measures. After considering a few options and running them by our team, a joint decision was made on where to attempt my landing while avoiding problem areas.
Now en route to my destination, the CCTF was coming to honor this crossing, to be present on this joyous occasion. He was on a frigate named after my mother's hometown. My mother was born in Kilis near the Syrian border and grew up in Gaziantep. My father met her there. Much of her relatives still live in that area. This was indeed to be a special day.
I had been providing position fixes to the admiral two hours apart since the morning, indicating average speed and course heading as well. While tapping the last email on my PDA at 2 pm local time, I heard a faint distant whopping sound which oddly sounded like that of a helicopter. Couldn't be, not in the middle of the ocean! I had to be imagining. I listened carefully observing my Washington state flag astern fluttering in the wind and my whizzing wind generator for a different sound. Nope, they weren't the source...
Then I spotted it, a tiny dark spec moving westbound a couple miles to my north, then it turned away from me on a northerly course. I received a satellite phone call at about that time from the frigate asking to confirm my location. That made the difference; the tiny spec made an aboutface, got larger and larger as it headed straight for me.
The helicopter ran circles around me, they were taking pictures from above, making me giggle uncontrollably, laugh and hoot and holler. This was turning into a party already!
Then the frigate's upper structure appeared over my northern horizon, a bit hazy at first getting clearer as it approached. At about 14:30, the frigate was holding position within sight as they lowered a zodiac in the water.
Three marines wearing bulletproof vests over khakis, knee pads, with weapons and hefty helmets were near the bow, and three others were in orange suits, one driving others filming and photographing. After a 110 days alone at sea, they were the first people that I saw and could touch. They were my people speaking the same language. They took their time to capture us together, then they carried my cameras as well to take additional pictures and footage from afar, trying to get my boat and the frigate in the same frame...
Later they handed me a paper bag with the frigate's logo on it. This contained a note from the admiral, a hat and a mug with the same logo; another mug, a t-shirt and a medallion with the CTF logo. A special box had been prepared for me, again with the frigate's logo on all sides. I took it, put it in the footwell. Turned out it contained treats from Turkey, fruit juice, crackers, nuts, all Turkish brands, except for some apples and six tomato and cheese sandwiches made with fresh bread.
I rummaged in my clothes bags, and found one black Around-n-Over t-shirt which I had worn, fortunately it smelled of clean detergent. I asked the marines to deliver this token from me to the admiral.
The seas were not calm, I had expressed my reservations in an earlier email about coming alongside to put my plywood against the ship's steel. So closest the ship approached me was 100 meters.
I began rowing again around 15:30 as they retrieved the zodiac with its crew. The frigate stayed with me until sunset moving upwind a mile, then coasting downwind of me another. They kept doing that a dozen times at least. There was a smell of exhaust fumes in the air which reminded me of airports. I could hear the faint whining from the turbines of the frigate as it passed.
At sunset, the frigate circled around one final time, then passed on my port side sounding its horn. Farewells were said over the radio, well wishes shared as they left. The note from the admiral said that the historic Turkish presence in the area ended on 5 March 1589, when Emir Seydi Ali Reis surrendered to a Portuguese admiral in Mombasa, and that the encounter of this 280 crew frigate with me would be remembered as a historic event.