Sailing Around Arabia

Michael O. Varhola

As I write this, I am traveling northwest in rough seas through the Red Sea at about 17 knots aboard the Celebrity Constellation cruise ship, which I signed on to one week ago as its Special Interest Speaker. Thus far I have given presentations on "1,001 Arabian Nights," the "Axumite Empire of Ethiopia," "Gods & Goddesses of Ancient Egypt," and a special overview of the "Seven Voyages of Sinbad" that was followed by a live reading of the voyages by seven different people. Ahead of me are lectures on "Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea" (on the Odyssey), the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World," and "Ancient Extreme Sports."

Since boarding, we have made a port of call at the medieval Arab city of Muscat, Oman, and sailed through the Persian Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and then, finally, two days ago, the straits known as the Bab-el-Mandeb, or “Gate of Tears.” These are dangerous waters, and a cargo ship trailing about an hour behind us into this narrow passage into the Red Sea was attacked and boarded by pirates. An armed security detachment of mercenaries boarded our ship while we were in Oman and then yesterday afternoon we rendezvoused at sea with their command-and-control vessel so that they could transfer to it.

Tomorrow, insha’allah, the heavy weather and other hazards permitting, we will arrive in the port of Aqaba, Jordan, and from there we will travel overland into the deep desert and the lost city of Petra. 

Suffice it to say, this voyage has been inspirational to me as a writer and storyteller, and the things I have seen and experienced during it will like influence and appear in any number of stories and scenarios over the coming years!


One of the things I would ideally have wanted to do on this trip -- and the sort of things that always seems feasible early on, before various other obligations and activities begin to account for all my time -- is post a piece of thematic game content each day (ideally stat'ed for 5th Edition D&D). I have only been able to do so once to this point, although have not given up on the idea of adding to it, and posted a writeup and stats that I did sometime back for the 3rd Edition of the game on the Old Man of the Sea, a loathsome demonic creature that Sinbad the Sailor encounters and is nearly slain by during one of his adventures. Brendan Cass and I have both gotten good use out of him in scenarios of ours and now anyone else who is interested can as well. Like a great many of the creatures I create, it is ideal for use in microcosmic encounter areas like small islands, meaning it can easily inserted between regular adventures or used for one-off encounters. 


One of the minor but inevitable downsides of traveling through faraway places is that I end up not being able to participate in the weekly "d-Infinity Live!" webcast! I was, however, able to watch the latest great episode, "Tabletop of the Apes," and think that Will Thrasher, Clint Staples, and Brendan Cass did a terrific job addressing the subject matter (although I remain suspicious that much much of what motivated Will to champion this topic was the opportunity to trot out that monkey puppet of his). 

I did make a point, however, of posting some thematic content in support of the show, including a writeup and stats by game developer Jim Clunie for the Great White Ape, one of the monsters that appears in Skirmisher Publishing's popular and best-selling "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars: Shadows of a Dying World" sourcebook (a creature that Clint, being a fan of old-school fantasy and science fiction, perhaps not surprisingly brought up during the episode). 

Moving ahead, I will endeavor to post more game content tying in with the next week I will be spending aboard Celebrity Constellation, as it continue on through the Suez Canal and thenceforth across the Mediterranean and the Aegean to Athens and Olympia and then, finally through the Straits of Messina separating Sicily from mainland Italy and on to Rome. And, for anyone who is interested, I will also be posting content to my TravelBlogue