SUAKIN TO HURGHADA, EGYPT - PART II
THURSDAY, 17 APRIL 2008
We leave at 6.30am this morning and hope that there is enough light to help us to be able to see our way out through the reef. We edge our way slowly out retracing our "track" in here yesterday. We plan an overnight sail to Shab Abu Fendera, another reef. This means missing Khor Shinab on the coast north of Port Sudan quoted as many yachties favourite anchorage in the Red Sea. The reasons for doing this are that there is a good weather window, so it is a good opportunity to cover a decent number of miles on our way to Hurghada, and if the strong northerlies come in we may have to stay where we are for several days. The weather has been amazingly favourable so far. Ross and I were expecting very adverse conditions after reading and hearing disturbing reports about sailing up the Red Sea, e.g. the harsh red sand storms that can last for a few days.
We pass by two large special buoys used for signals, radar transponders, beacons and lights off the large Bashaya oil terminal. Later we pass Port Sudan. It is apparently very poor and squalid because of all the unrest here, and the costs are double those in Suakin.
We plan to sail outside the reefs north to our destination. However the winds freshen to 15-16 kts, true wind from the north, and we are bashing into it quite hard. Ross is having his morning rest, preparing for night watch. Phil radios while I am out in the cockpit and I don't hear it because I turned the volume down so all the idle chatter that is happening doesn't wake Ross. Free Spirit starts to go further and further to port off our planned course. When we finally speak to Phil we decide to go to port too, to pass inside the Sangenhab reef for protection. As soon as we turn off the wind the boat settles and we can put the headsail up. This makes for a very difficult day of navigation making our way up the inside passage along the coast and avoiding the many reefs scattered throughout the area. The navionics system has whole areas just blanked out and unsurveyed. Thank goodness the C-map is operating well on the older computer (the system Scott helped Ross with a lot) and has more details.
Change of plans again. We are going to Marsa Salak on the coast overnight to avoid a difficult passage through reefs overnight, which would not be safe. This is a very tricky anchorage and requires vigilant watching as we go in through the reef. The pilot book warns that the entrance isn't very inviting, and only for "bold boats". We are coming in at 5pm (2-3 pm is the optimum time for sighting the reef), which means when we turn into the difficult, narrow passage we are looking directly to the west and straight into the sun, which makes for very poor visibility. This is where my nervous, shaky knees kick in, standing up on the bow to guide Ross in. If we hit part of the reef I will feel responsible. He cannot see it at all from the helm. At the turn of the channel the waterway isn't much wider than the boat. Just beyond here it opens out a little but the depth drops from 10m. to 2m. on the chart. Free Spirit is unable to get through, so we anchor where we are.
This is a lovely anchorage and very calm. As the sun sets we watch some fishermen wading across one of the large nearby reefs. A couple of small fishing boats come in for protection during the night.
Boats further north are experiencing strong north winds of at least 20 kts, so we decide to leave the overnight sail, and just sail 10n. miles to Taila islands. There are good anchorages here.
FRIDAY, 18 APRIL 2008
Early this morning one of the fishing boats comes over. One of the lads needs lomotil. They offer us a fresh fish in return, which is very generous of them. Ross offers to pay them but they won't accept it. They are pleased with their package of goodies though. Another small fishing boat asks Phil and Robbie for some fuel.
Young fisherman asking for medicine
After a lovely snorkel along the reef off the stern of the yacht we head off leisurely at 10am. This ensures getting to the islands in good light for anchoring.
One advantage of coming inside the reef is we are close to the coast. The land looks flat, dry, desolate and hot by the sea, and rises up to high hills behind. It is often very hazy from the heat.
The islands we anchor at are three tiny sand islands right by the coast. The sand is pristine white and the surrounding waters range in beautiful colours from pale turquoise through to very dark indigo blue. The coast here has low lying shrub growing by the sea.
This afternoon Phil and Ross re-install the track for the spinnaker pole, and the pole's new cap. it is wonderful to have everything back in good working order.
At sunset we walk around the island we are anchored off and out to the end of the sand spits either end of it. We can't believe the amazing bird life we find. There are several large birds with wing spans of about 5-6ft and they have built large, flat nests about 1m. in diameter out of sticks at ground level. There are several varieties of waders and many smaller birds.
Tonight we spend some time preparing our navigation as we have to pass through many reefs and islands. We have to sail outside the reefs again to be able to continue on our route up the coast.
Here we begin to experience the fine top layer of desert that blows onto the boat. It is also combined with heavy salt crystals that wash over the boat. This will happen all the way up the Red Sea so we just have to wipe over the cockpit etc. regularly. We'll do a major clean-up when we get to Hurghada.
SATURDAY, 19 APRIL 2008
Early on our route today we pass close by a war ship patrolling these waters. They seem pleased to see two Australian yachts. We also sight one small town and see a car driving along the coast road. The weather is getting noticeably cooler, especially in the early mornings and evenings.
Due to the forecast of strong northerlies again we are just day sailing to Khor Shinab. The advantage of sailing inside the reef is that we can do short hops if the weather is not favourable. Boats further north are experiencing 40kt. winds at anchor, so are not venturing out. We hear this news on the scheds at 8am and 6pm each day when yachts can tune into the same HFV frequency and exchange news from one area to another. Boats are happy to relay messages if another boat is out of range. We are pleased to come to this anchorage and can see why it is a yachties favourite.
Finding the small break in the reef to come in here is difficult, but with the radar on and wearing polaroid glasses there are no problems. Once into the channel it is like being in another world. To be coming into this narrow and long channel flanked on either side by the desert with the late afternoon sun high-lighting the colours is amazing.
Knor ShinabThere are several sandpits to negotiate before anchoring in the most beautiful place surrounded by lovely waters, sand-dunes and desert. The many different shapes carved out by erosion are fascinating.
In the late afternoon we climb the nearby Quoin Hill (wedge shaped) and the 360 views are spectacular.
View from Quoin HillIt is quite a clamber up climbing up the loose sedimentary material here. As an extra for dinner we try some of the dried fish some fisherman gave us. Ross marinates it in lime juice and simmers it with garlic, lime juice and coriander. The larger pieces are chewy, but some of the very small pieces are very tasty.
Sunset at Khor Shinab
SUNDAY, 20 APRIL 2008
The sand dunes are all along the coast. Many seem to be in pyramid shapes. The range of higher mountains is set well back from the coast.
The 40n. miles to our next destination is straight into a 22kt. northerly. We eventually have the mainsail up and zig-zag a bit to steady the boat and save it slapping down into the waves. We are pleased to come in through the entrance to Elba Reef early afternoon.
We are surrounded by beautiful waters, including a closed lagoon. The turquoise blue here is magnificent.
What a thrill as we set off in the dinghy to snorkel on the reef, to see a large pod of 50-60 smallish dolphins come towards us. Many of them surround the dinghy and, in the clear water, you can watch them spiral up to leap out of the water. They hear us call them with a sound like theirs and they answer back.
The snorkeling is wonderful. The coral is the best we have seen, and their are many varieties of fish.
There is another yacht anchored here from Turkey, and it is rather chilling, and a good reminder, to see a huge cargo ship sitting wrecked on top of a nearby reef.
The wind abates during the evening and it is very pleasant in the cockpit under the wash of the full moonlight.
MONDAY, 21 APRIL 2008
The scheds this morning reveal that it is still blowing strongly further north, so we will stay anchored here until it drops. Neither Free Spirit or Impulsive crews want to bash into it like yesterday, especially with two overnight sails involved. Several boats ahead tried going further north last night but had to seek shelter. We plan a relaxed day on the boat and catching up on some jobs. It is very timely as Ross has strained his back and will have a chance to rest it.
Robbie drops over with some of her freshly baked bread straight out of the oven. It is still warm. What a timely treat just ready for lunch. Our fresh provisions are precious now and we have two overnight sails to Hurghada. We have plenty of food on board, but will just make it with fresh commodities. We are lucky to have such efficient fridges on board.