Unfortunately, our flight from Dubai is delayed so we are unable to spend a planned few hours in Muscat. Landing at Muscat is like looking down at rows and rows of white, toy, leggo-type houses without a curve in sight.

We arrive back in Salalah with just enough daylight hours to drive up to a nearby wadi. In the dry season these valleys are dried river beds of boulders, but apparently once the rainy season comes they fill with flowing waters and everything turns green and lush overnight.

We sit next to very interesting people on each plane trip and learn a great deal about the culture and way of life here. For example, I am requested to change seats with Ross so Noor, a 23 year old, isn't sitting next to a man she doesn't know. She is wearing full robes and head gear and says she enjoys the anonymity of it.

Back at the port we find there is top security as the President of Dubai's motor launch is tied up opposite us. We feel very safe here.


Fuel is booked to be delivered at 9am today. Robbie and I leave early in the car to provision before the heat of the day.

This turns into a frustrating day. Our agent is still chasing the fuel carrier at 5pm (this is why we have an agent or we would never have got fuel today). This means someone has to be on the boat all this time so we are ready when he does come. The fuel truck finally arrives at 6pm.

Ross is also waiting for the Ray Marine (auto-pilot) technician. This is a farce. Because of visa complications he has to take a nine hour bus trip, rather than take a plane from Muscat, and he finally arrives at 8.30pm. We have to leave the following morning if we want to join the flotilla. This man was given no diagnosis and has brought no spare parts. We will have to go up the Red Sea relying on the older, spare auto-pilot. So we are not happy either, as it is not good at holding in a following sea.

Ross has also been waiting all day for the fridge expert to gas the 12V fridge. He is exhausted by the time we fall into bed. Being on time isn't a strong point of society here.


We leave Salalah Port early on a beautiful morning in the flotilla with Free Spirit, Impulsive, Greetings (with Greg and Terry from the U.S.A.) and La Novia ( with Mike and his one crew member, from U.K. but now living in Cyprus).

We all have agreed to travel at an average of 7kts. We have agreed waypoints so if we get out of sight we can give over the radio our distance and bearing from that waypoint, without giving our present position to any other boats.

Today we are bashing into a head wind so are motoring with the headsail up to steady the boat.


By evening I should know better than to think nothing else can go wrong. Just as Ross is going down to bed and I begin night watch, we both hear a loud, screeching noise followed by a slapping sound.

Ross discovers it is a very loose fan belt. We have to turn off the engine but, fortunately, we have good sailing conditions and can maintain an average of 6 kts. The other boats generously wait back with us while Ross tightens the belt. Unfortunately, it breaks shortly afterwards, so he will have to replace it.

I am so proud of my skipper. He has never done this before and it is very difficult, mainly getting into such an inaccessible area. Ross is very grateful to have watched Phil tighten and check fan belts before, and Phil is able to give helpful advice now over the radio. Mike also helps over the radio as he has an identical engine on his boat. After 2 hours we are underway again. Ross is extremely stiff after putting his body through the different contortions to get to the required parts. Fortunately because we could keep sailing , averaging about 6 kts, we haven't inconvenienced the other boats too much.



We pass by Socotra Island (Yemen) at some distance off. This is a high-risk area for piracy. We are now heading out of the Arabian Sea and into the Gulf of Aden where we sail (as advised) between the piracy risk areas off Somalia and Yemen. Somalia is top of the DO NOT VISIT list. There is still no legitimate government there so the country is still in a chaotic and anarchic state. We have both just read the "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirshi Ali, which certainly gives us a greater insight into Somalia and Islam.


Today is a pleasant and uneventful day. On night watch tonight I feel my nerves are tested somewhat. A small fast boat appears and settles off to the starboard side of our group. The plan is we sail no further than 1/2 n.mile apart and in some kind of formation. Also, we just have our low deck navigation lights on so we can see each other clearly, but other boats can't see us more than 4 n.miles away. We speak boat to boat on an agreed radio station, which we don't give over the radio. Neither do we discuss our whereabouts or waypoints over the radio. If there is a pirate attack we are to let off flares, let them know we have channel 16 operating, and set off the Epirb if necessary. We have all hidden precious articles, computers etc., and just left not so important items of interest and cash (U.S.$) in more accessible and obvious places. None of our 4 boats carry arms.

This vessel then moves across behind the group directly in line with us. I increase our speed and close in behind Mike. Sometime later he radios us and asks for more room to starboard as he needs room with the huge cargo ship coming towards us. Both sails are up so this is a difficult manoeuvre for Impulsive but there is no choice. Of course, the flapping sails wakes Ross, but I am pleased to have his support to get us back on track. The smaller vessel behind is now moving out to starboard again and is pulling away from the group.

Later, during this same watch, another vessel came near us, but not for long. By now I am thinking this is just about enough, and I am pleased to go below to sleep.


Our worries of the previous night are probably well founded. Ross hears the coalition warship on the radio this morning and calls them up. There were two pirate attacks last night within 10 n.miles of our position off Al Mukalla in Yemen. The same night the large French luxury yacht was taken for ransom off the Somalian coast (apparently they were traveling much closer to the coast than advised, but they were taken in International waters and dragged into Somalian territory).

We start to see many more large cargo ships now and this is comforting.

Later this afternoon Mike, who is ahead, radios us to say he can see a large tow vessel coming directly towards us and advises us all to close in together. This vessel comes quite close but turns in different directions and sometimes circles, which is quite strange. Mike then spots a large, latticed hatch cover floating by and surmises the boat is simply looking for this.

We have some good sailing through the Gulf of Aden up to the Red Sea with the headsail poled out. We pass reasonably close by the coast near Aden, as this is considered a safe area, but north of the high risk area near Djibouti.

U.S.A. yacht in the flotilla

We pass through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb at 1600 hours and are very excited as we have now crossed the Indian Ocean, some 3,900 n.miles. Now we are looking forward to more relaxed times ahead, and no more long sailing until later next year when we head out across the Atlantic.

We pass by the naval station on the island off Yemen some distance off, as you can be arrested if you venture too close to their waters.

We cross over to the shipping channel to the west side. This is the major channel to and from the Suez Canal. It is extremely busy with large cargo ships and they all appear to be traveling at high speed. All care is taken with this 7 n.mile crossing.

The radar is a great help here so we can judge a good break in the constant line of vessels to make the crossing. Now we are on the Eritrean side and just see glimpses of the dry rugged coastline.

During the night we have a strong following sea and when a sudden, unexpected, squally gust comes up the boat speed is increased, and the auto-pilot cannot hold its course, so the boat rounds up. This puts too much pressure on the pole's connection to the mast, so it breaks. (We are so frustrated because we feel this would not have happened if the Ray Marine auto-pilot had been working). This is not fun to fix up, especially when the gear lever then jammed. Again, Ross is woken from a deep sleep but is able to get us underway again. He is very tired and will benefit from a few good sleeps when we arrive at Massawa.




We arrive at Massawa port at 9am. It is quite a procedure to check in here and takes some time. It is all done within the port, but all in different buildings. Most people speak basic English in the offices but sometimes there are difficulties.

This is a very war-torn city from all the years at war with Ethiopia. It is sad to see the many once beautiful old buildings which have been bombed, and you can still see evidence of schrapnel holes everywhere.

Massawa Port

We go to a local place for lunch where we are advised we can buy a beer. The two skippers are really looking forward to this after such a long sail. The lunch is great but there is no beer. There is a bottle of cheap red wine available but it is not good to drink. This is all part of the poverty here, and there is very little beer or wine available anywhere. Their currency (nefka) is worthless so there is a strong black market for U.S. dollars.
A recycling centre

Spice stall at the same place

Ross and I go with Haile, the agent's driver, to the ship repair yards. They are the most wonderful, helpful, warm people here. It is a great experience to see how they set to, after many lengthy discussions in broken English, and weld a new top onto the spinnaker pole. They only charge US$5 because they are pleased to see we are so happy with their job!

Returning to the boat we stop at a mechanics shop in the new town. This is in a wide main street with wide, hard dirt pavements and very dusty. This is a lovely time of the evening to be out. There are many groups of men of all ages sitting around on chairs enjoying a relaxed chat. Now and again someone walks by with their camel. Nearby the bus to Asmara is being loaded. The large roof rack takes all the luggage, including the numerous goats.

We find dinner at the one rebuilt modern restaurant in the old town with Italian style cuisine. We are told there is no beer available, but when we stay to order dinner it suddenly appears on the table.


We take a tour to the capital, Asmara. The four of us squeeze into Haile's car. We decide the bus isn't an option, even though it would be quite an experience. Just recently other yachties tried to catch one at 6.30am. They had bought tickets but it was already full. Then the 10.30am one was the same, and they finally got the 2.30pm one, arriving in Asmara at 6.30pm.
It is a 2½ hour trip up to 2100 metres by car.

Haile is an excellent guide and his English is reasonable, so we learn a great deal. It is a wonderful drive through the desert up into the mountains through little towns. Driving through the dry and barren desert the landscape then changes as we climb. We see dried river beds, their floors covered with boulders, which will be covered with torrents of water in the rainy season. Then there are the terraced mountainsides which are for crops, e.g. maize. Some of these slopes are so steep it is difficult to imagine how they were made. There are many small huts and houses made of stone. We stop in one small village which is very colourful and buzzing. It is market time and a bus is being loaded, again with the goats tied onto the roof rack. The women here wear really brightly coloured saris - orange is popular.

Goats tied to van roof

During the trip we see camels, donkeys and cattle. In this area there are also lions, hyenas and bears. The higher we climb the greener the countryside becomes.
Donkeys are worked hard here

Asmara is a lovely town with a strong Italian influence. Some of the beautiful old buildings display this, e.g. the Opera House built in 1830 (we are shown over this by one of the actors), the old station and the Post Office and Santa Maria Church. The population here is 80% Christian. The main streets are wide and lined with palm trees. There are many jacarandas, olianders and bouganvillias out in full bloom. The restaurants have interesting local cuisine, again with Italian influence. We really enjoy the cooler climate here.

Woman walking through Asmara

We choose to have dinner in The Bluebird restaurant that serves local food. We have a dish which is served on a very large round tin dish. This is completely covered with a local bread which is very thin and of a spongy texture. It is made of Teff ( a product of the sea). It is ground and mixed with water and left to stand for 2-3 hours before being rolled out and cooked. The seafood, or lamb dish, is served in a small bowl and tipped onto the middle of the bread. You eat it in the same way as you would a chapatti - with your fingers.



We greatly enjoyed the time in Dubai
We spent with Augusta and Scott

The pool and the beach were the main events

And some good meals, believe it or not.

The boat repairs though were not so much fun

(Lots of telephone time and frustration)

The Oman technician arrives without parts

(not outstanding communication).

But the good news is we can sail in a group

From Salalah right to the Red Sea

It's said that Somalis attack small boats here

Though my money predicts pirate free.

With an Englishman sailing La Novia

Then Greetings from US of A

Plus Free Spirit 2 and Impulsive

Pirates won't have it all their own way.

The first day we battle some wind on the nose

But it finally comes round to the beam

We're slicing our way through a calm, sparkling sea

And we're moving along as a team.

There's a power boat looming up off our port bow

What on earth is it doing out here?

(It's at least 40 miles to the Yemeni coast)

But it passes without coming near.

With watching and sleeping and meals and jobs

The miles pass inexorably

You can stand for hours with the wind on your face

Admiring the moods of the sea.

Two unscheduled jobs interrupt the night

First one of the engine belts breaks

Then the cord at the foot of the main comes free

When will we be free of mistakes?

Now morning has dawned and we're pleased with ourselves

We've gone past a "high risk" zone

Susie had a slight scare in her middle night watch

We're glad we're not sailing alone.

But now we hear on channel 16

A coalition warship report

Of a pirate attack not 10 miles from us

Perhaps they've fled to avoid being caught.

We are all on extra alert now

We've cranked the boats up to more speed (??)
We've taken down (highly visible) sails

And we'll talk in case only of need.

Now we're seeing more tankers and cargo ships

This all seems to be a good sign

The pirates have not yet materialized

And they're fast running out of time.

As we work our way west towards Aden

A dhow makes a strange change of track

It may have been looking for lost fishing gear

But warm fancies imagine attack.

There was none, of course, and today we should make
The entrance into the Red Sea

It's busy with ships and the current runs fast

So daylight would help us to see.

We're in the Red Sea and we still have light (you little ripper)

We're doing 10 knots and all seems right

We're now looking forward to adventures at hand

Eritrea, Sudan and the Pharaoh's land.

APRIL 2008


We both have to think hard to work out the date and the day of the week for the journal. It is incredible how easy it is to lose track of these. Having so many night watches lately and waking up in a new place most days makes this difficult too.


We enjoy a great day and night sailing with the mainsail and headsail.

This is only dampened early on by discovering we can't find our new apple computer (which Scott gave us as a joint present), and later our digital camera and new mobile phone for making contact when we go ashore. I am woken the previous night by a loud rustling noise. I don't get up as I feel too tired to deal with a rodent (which is so unlikely as we have been at sea and at anchor for sometime), and am too frightened to think of an intruder. Ross is in a deep sleep, and we have since decided it is better he didn't get up. I can remember when I took the last photo, about 4pm yesterday, and we haven't left the boat since as we have cleared customs. So the above items and charges, including some I could still use, have gone.

All our precious photos since Phuket have gone, including those of our time with Scott and Augusta. I had the U.S.B. stick out to save them all.

This all has a numbing effect on me. Ross is marvellous how he can be positive and move on, but it takes me a while. The thought of some creepy person being on the boat is abhorrent.

We have since heard this has been happening quite regularly. The general opinion is it is the Egyptian fishermen also anchored in the port. Robbie and Phil have been marvellous and have very generously lent us a camera and given us a copy of their photos from Phuket to Massawa.

Visit from some dolphins

We pass by the Eritrean/Sudanese border at 9.30am. Sudan is the largest country in Africa. We are advised to keep 5 n.miles off the coast for 10 n.miles south and north of the area, because of the political unrest here.

Sailing past the Eritrean/Sudanese border

It's wonderful how good news can lift one's spirits. Scott is coming to meet us at Rhodes with Augusta, and Lily. This will coincide with Heather, Paul and their Lachie, Anna and Lucinda. Life is looking exciting again. One of our highlights of the week is calling each family every Sunday. We so enjoy hearing their news. We especially like hearing the children's voices. We speak with Steve and Meg's Georgie, Sam and Sophie today.

Later in the day we catch up with the yachts we met up with in Massawa; Gone with the Wind (Liam and Annie from Sydney) and Belvenie (Amanda and Mark from N.Z.)

About this time Belvenie calls us up to say they have a fishing boat approaching them and they are preparing a pirate pack in case. However we are all visited by different fisherman in the area and they are very appreciative of drinks, Marlborough cigarettes and goodies, e.g. biscuits and sweets.

We all anchor at Shatira Island within the Khor Nawarat group.

Ross and I go in the dinghy some distance to a very small island with good snorkeling off its reef. As we walk up the beach in our snorkeling suits and carrying our flippers and goggles (imagine what we look like!) we have a most surreal experience. There, walking in front of us, is a man and his son (with their traditional clothes on) leading their camel. They get the camel to lie down and they squat next to us. They have no English but we understand they would like some food and drink. Unfortunately, we haven't any with us, not expecting to see anyone on this tiny, uninhabited island. We still don't know how they got there with the camel.

Phil and Robbie host a marvellous dinner on Free Spirit tonight for the four yachts. We have barbequed mackerel freshly caught by Liam, trolling off the back of their 52 ft. catamaran.

The following morning Ross speaks to Mark in Sydney. We have so many issues with the boat he is coming to Cyprus to give her a thorough check over and be there when the Yanmar engine is completely checked by one of their mechanics. This should stand us in good stead for the rest of the trip. We know things go wrong with yachts but when Ross lists the different problems we have encountered it is quite extensive. It is suggested you should own a boat for two years minimum before heading off on a trip like this and perhaps many of these issues are worked out before you leave. It suited us to leave well before that time frame. Anyhow, we are both very pleased with this outcome and look forward to seeing Mark soon.

We have an early morning snorkel back near the tiny island and think it is the best we have experienced. We have never seen such a dense number of fish and such a variety. Some of the coral is beautiful too.

We are thrilled to have the most wonderful sail with both sails up (one of our best ever. We average 7 kts, and up to 8kts as the breeze freshens. We sail to Long Island.

We enjoy a walk on the island along the beach. The inner lagoon area is reknown for its wader birds. The island is a low lying area covered in a shrub with pretty heather -like flowers. Ross spots a small blue spotted sting ray in the shallows on the sandy bottom.


We host dinner on Impulsive tonight for the same four crews, which is great fun. Ross barbecues the special large coiled South African sausage Derek gave us in Phuket. Everyone brings a dish of pre-dinner nibbles or salad, and some drinks so it makes for easy entertainment and not too much stress on the supplies.

This has been a wonderful day and night, especially with this lovely warm, calm weather.




We are really enjoying this lifestyle of regular snorkeling in warm weather. It is such a special thing to do - viewing something of the wonderful life under the water. We enjoy another excellent early morning snorkel before we up-anchor and head off to Suakin.

Our agent in Suakin

Another efficient agent called Mohammad is here. He has us cleared very quickly and comes on board in his pristine white robes to finalize our papers. In no time he has the fuel organized to be delivered out to the boat in large jerry cans. This, of course, takes time but the lads are happy to work until 9pm to finish. This means we are free to leave tomorrow as the forecast is favourable again and we now have enough fuel on board to get us to Cyprus.

View across to Suakin from the anchorage


This morning we take the dinghy over to the old town. The buildings are made of coral and for many years they have been collapsing, so this area is now deserted. This was the last slave trading post in the world up until the end of World War II.

Across the causeway we amble around the market and can see many of the shack homes. The market is a wonderful spectacle with the bustle of people, vendors, donkeys and carts, and goats wandering around. We buy some of their speciality - round, flat bread rolls - and a selection of fruit and vegetables that are available. There is very little variety. We probably are unable to shop again until we reach Hurghada in about a week.

Array of spices at the market

Fruit and vege. stall

The extreme poverty here is very obvious but the people are very welcoming and friendly. Many ask to have their photo taken.

View across from anchorage

There is a small cafe at the market and by the harbour but we don't risk the hygiene here, even for experience.

Passing by the old town as we leave Suakin

Freespirit and Impulsive

Local fisherman
We clear out of customs and leave here at about 11.30am to sail to Masa Ata, another reef just south of Port Sudan. It is a clear but very narrow passage to go inside the reef. We must arrive at these anchorages in good light so we have good visibility of the reef. You cannot rely on the accuracy of the charts in these small areas.

We go to explore the large area of the shallow, mangrove lined lagoon and channels inside the reef. There is supposedly a great variety of bird life and fish here. We only hear and see a few birds but enjoy watching 5 men netting for prawns. They are wading in water up to the top of their thighs. On a floating, blown up tyre tube they have their baskets to put their catch in, and throw their large nets out as they walk along. They approach us and offer us some of their catch. We have no money or gifts for them so we return to the boat. It is just as much for the experience as for the prawns that we go back to them. It is also tricky to get into the lagoon through the reef looking into the westerly sun but well worth it.

We have a brief sunset snorkel on our way back to the boat. A small wooden fishing boat is anchored by us now. We go over to say "Hi". They are grateful for their goodies package and cigarettes. They haven't any fresh fish but offer us dried fish they have hanging across the stern of their boat. I can't imagine eating it but it looks interesting. We finish off a perfect day with dinner on Free Spirit.




We leave after checking with the scheds. During the day we have the mainsail up, motor-sailing into a 13kt. wind. It is a calmer night with a 6-8kt. wind off the beam. One feels it's great to be alive out here on a night like this.


We think Ross has a reaction to Neurofen - the same thing happened last time he took some for his back. We are fortunate to be able to contact Ian's wife Ruth on the satellite phone who is marvellous with her medical advice. Robbie happens to have the medication Ruth advises, so Free Spirit does a drop off for us as we quietly continue on our way. Fortunately, the weather stays lovely and calm. It's like sailing over beautiful clear, blue glass. We pass by the Sudan/Egyptian border early today.

These magic conditions last all the way through to Hurghada until about lunch time on Thursday. Ross is back in top form again, and we are so grateful to Ruth.

 Hurghada marina is very attractive to come into. It is new and the buildings are all in lovely terracotta colours with palm trees lining the paths.

Hurghada Marina
It is situated in the old town so we can just walk in there. The streets are buzzing with activity and very colourful with souks, fruit stalls and cotton shops. It is obviously set up for tourists with its western approach.




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.


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.


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 Shinab

There 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 Hill
It 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


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.


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.




Friday is a holiday in Hurghada as is Saturday (similar to our Saturday and Sunday at home), so we have great difficulty in organizing a trip to Cairo and down the Nile. This is more complicated because it is the coptic Christian Easter here this weekend. We are told most hotels in Cairo are booked out and all flights to Cairo tomorrow are fully booked. We could not book this trip in advance as our estimated time of arrival was so unpredictable depending on the strong northerlies which can hold you up for days. The forecast for the next 6 or 7 days is unfavourable to continue north so this is the ideal time for us to leave the boat and venture off on this side trip.

The Egyptian driving is quite scary. Sometimes the drivers seem high on substance e.g. with radio blaring, hands off the wheel clapping, and fast erratic driving accompanied by loud honking of the horn. It is a relief to arrive safely. One of the yacthies says he offers a higher fare if they drive slower - what a sensible idea!


Saturday morning we have a great start to the day at a nearby beach. The rest of the day we organize the boat by cleaning the stainless steel, taking fuel on board delivered in jerry cans in a dinghy so has to be poured in slowly, and the new auto-pilot installed. Of course, the latter two begin only a couple of hours before we have to lock Impulsive to leave her for nine days, so we have a rush to the bus stop. Luckily the kind technicians for the auto-pilot drive us there or we would not have made the bus departure.

The flights are all full today but the bus trip from Hurghada to Cairo is a great trip. It takes five hours, traveling out through Hurghada and then along the coast road seeing fishing boats, oil rigs, incompleted houses in abandoned villages which have failed financially, and closer to Cairo large resorts being built on the coast. There is also a vast wind turbine complex with thousands of these machines. The desert seems like an excellent place for these where they are not disrupting anyone. The sunset over the desert is beautiful. The bus is very modern and comfortable, and we are served a snack for dinner. Ross and I enjoy the action packed film with Bruce Willis presenting challenged reality.

Arriving in Cairo at 9pm is such a contrast. We are suddenly hurled into the bustle of a large city and its unruly traffic. Phil does some marvellous bargaining for our traffic ride to our hotel. We have a night cap here at Harry's pub which is very pleasant with live entertainers. We are actually pleased to have a hotel room tonight as we were told they are fully booked.


Phil and Robbie have been here before so we have a different agenda from them. Their main objective is to obtain their visas to Russia to meet friends there for a cruise.

We are pleased to find an excellent guide (the brother of the man in the hotel bookshop). He has a doctorate of chemistry and works in an import-export business, has reasonable English, and is very knowledgeable.

Luckily Medo is a good driver. He says that in Cairo the traffic rules for red lights mean "go", orange means "go faster", and green means "stop". Also, he says the main problem in Egypt is the parking. We soon discover this is all so true.

We drive first to the Northern cemetery (City of the Dead). This was built for Mamluk sultans and emiris. These tombs were built so they had a room where the visitors of the dead could stay overnight. Now thousands of homeless people and refugees live here, and have done so for generations. The great problem is that Islamic rules stipulate these old tombs are not be removed.


It's building began in 1176 and was Egypt's seat of power for 700 years. It includes an Islamic mosque - Al Nasa Muhammad. This is monotone, simple and not a tomb. Later the Turkish Muhammad Ali Mosque was built within the fortress. Our guide refers to him as the greatest Egyptian. This is a tomb. The views from the Cidadel's western terraces are wonderful and help to give a good perspective of the city's layout. In the distance we can see the outline of some pyramids.


We have lunch at Fishawis, the famous coffee house. It has been a regular place for writers and artists, e.g. the Egyptian author and Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfous. The atmosphere here, in the middle of the bazaar of Khan-al-Khalili is fantastic. Many people are smoking the water pipes with the sweet smoke. Trading first began here in C14, and still today the bargaining is part of the very colourful and busy scene. Glitzy bell-dancing costumes are hanging everywhere. Wandering through these old and narrow allies is fascinating, including along the medieval walled city, through the northern gate which was the main entrance to the medieval Cairo, and by the Al-Azhar Mosque founded in 970 A.D. The sheik of this mosque is still the highest religious authority here and pronouncements from this office hold more weight than those of the government.
 Medo then drives us through many back streets to shops he recommends where we can replace our camera and battery charges. This is a great relief to be able to use some of our equipment again.

A sunset cruise on a felucca on the river Nile is a most pleasant experience, and we are full of admiration for the skipper who manages in all the river traffic and with not much wind and no motor. He certainly is very skilled.

We meet Phil and Robbie at a restaurant near the hotel for dinner. It is in a lovely old building with lots of atmosphere, very high ceilings and interesting architecture. We have fun exchanging our days activities and ideas.



A highlight in Asmara is when we find the Santa Maria Church is closed we wander around to the side gates just to see as much as possible. A young local man talks to us and is very friendly. When he discovers we are Australian he says he has a very good friend from Australia who is supporting him and is coming to visit him soon. We are all excited to find he is a friend of ours too. This is such an amazing meeting. He speaks excellent English, as does his friend who is well educated and teaches English to grades 5-8. He explains how poor the country and economy are as the aftermath of the war. People are queuing and are rationed even for bread. Also there are huge issues with National Service. The entrance age is legally 18 but they are taking the lads as young as 15. If they are well educated it is for 6-8 years. If not, it can be for many more years, and there seems there is no control over this. He explains it as being like someone just disappearing.

We are taken in to climb the tower and enjoy the 360ยบ view of the city, and in to see the church with it's beautiful stain glass windows. We are also invited to the family home for coffee, which would be a real treat, but we haven't time sadly as we have our long drive back to Asmara which is better to do in the light. We had a flat tyre coming up here.

Again we have to go through a checkpoint each time we go in and out to the yacht. It seems more normal now to have machine guns lying around - I guess we get used to it, even if we don't like it.

We arrive back at the boat in good time and just have a quiet catch up night with dinner on board.

This morning we leave early with Haile to buy spare fan belts. Friday is the market day here so I wander over there. Again the women are wearing their bright sari making for a colourful scene. I am conscious of being the only non-Eritrean person there. No one takes any notice as they are busy doing their own shopping. The vendors are friendly and keen to sell their produce. There is not much choice but there are a few extras to buy for Free Spirit and us. Robbie is buying the bread in the old town but she can only get 9 small rolls between us, thanks to the agent Mike. There is food rationing here too.

Then we visit the shipyard to see if they can straighten out the track up the mast that was twisted when the auto-pilot went out. This takes some time but, again, they do a magnificent job - not quite so cheap this time! I was taken into a cooled office where I could read my book and was given a welcome cup of tea. Ross enjoys watching the whole procedure and needs to explain what needs doing.

We plan to check out in time to leave to arrive at our next destination which is a reef anchorage while there is still good light to see. Checking out is a drawn out affair. The customs officer said he would be there, but by the time we took the boats up to required area, re-anchored, and Robbie and I go ashore with the papers, he has gone home for a rest. The pilot officer rings him and he says he will come back. A lovely young man makes us a cup of tea and introduces us to his mother. He tells how very few boats come into the port now. He is a qualified electrician but is working as a fork lift driver. They have no exports and can't afford imports.

Checking out
We are finally officially cleared but it is too late to leave. We plan to go first thing tomorrow morning but now we are cleared we are unable to go ashore again. The winds are favourable to venture further north up the Red Sea. Strong north winds are a great deterrent to do this.





Egyptian Museum

Hasheem, (Medo's friend) is our guide. He has excellent English and a doctorate in Egyptology so is very knowledgeable. The highlight is the Tutankhamen exhibition which must hold some of the most stunning exhibits in the world. It is such a treat to see these.

The other highlight is the sculpture of Chephren.

After several full hours here of concentration we head off to have a lengthy lunch by the river Nile. After lengthy discussions with Medo and Hasheem we have a much better idea of life and society in Cairo and Egypt (included in notes after Tuesday).

Lunch overlooking the Nile

This afternoon we explore Coptic Cairo. This stems back to Egypt's early Christian days, about 40 A.D., before Islam was followed here. The cobble stone alleys are fascinating to walk through and it is interesting to imagine how exiled Jews found refuge here in 70A.D.

We meet up with Phil and Robbie again for dinner at Abu el Sid. This is a well known restaurant in the Zamalek area, again near the hotel. It is within a very interesting old building and appears to have a cosy atmosphere but we are very disappointed in the cuisine and service. We have a lovely night anyway, especially as the Melletts have managed to organize their visas.


ALEXANDRIA (North Port of Egypt to the Mediterranean)

We are off to a 7am start to miss the traffic, especially from the children going to school. We have been so lucky the previous 2 days in not having much traffic because they were holidays. Cairo's traffic is not a good experience.

We pass by many fertile farms which are watered by the Nile via canals. There were 7 branches of the delta once, but now there are only 2, so water could become an issue, especially as the Nile flows through Sudan first. The local farms are growing olives, watermelons and bananas. There are many pigeon houses, and the pigeons are bred to sell and to eat. There are many camels (they eat them), cows, goats, sheep and donkeys.

Alexandria is dusty with cobbled streets and trams. Men are sitting around in and outside cafes in groups playing dominos, which is their main game here. They also enjoy back gammon and chess.


This was found in 1900 by a man with his donkey when it fell down a hole and hurt its leg. It was built for a private tomb in C1 and became a public one C2.



Pompeii´s Pillar

C3 or C4 B.C. It is 26.15m. high and Pompey's ashes are supposedly on the top. The 4 Scuarp (good luck symbol) statues have been moved, as have the large lion statues to more obvious positions.

The walk through the extensive street market is similar to Petticoat Lane, Egyptian style, with hundreds of stalls selling many cheap cotton clothes and underwear. Most of the women are in traditional dress, but the children wear western clothes.

Walking through the street market

We drive through the CARMUS area to the Roman theatre built in C1. It was found in 1960 next to the mosque which was found when digging began to build new apartments. The pillars are examples from the Roman-Greco time.

Roman Theatre

Continuing on our way we pass the new, very modern library which is very impressive, designed as a discus set in the ground, facing the Mediterranean Sea. Then the Radas' statue which is placed along the cornice. Radas tried to lead a rebellion against the British Occupation in 1882. Also, nearby, is a large memorial to the unknown soldiers lost in the 1973 war, the 6 day war against Israel.

The fort has been built on the site of the old Pharos Lighthouse which crumbled with the earthquake some years ago. Inside is Mohammud Ali's mosque.

The fort and view over the Mediteranean Sea

At Kadoura seafood restaurant (opened 1950) we enjoy one of the best seafood meals we have ever had. We select our own fish with our guides help. We are then served with seafood soup, followed by a selection of appertizers, eg. dips, salad, beetroot flatbread and then a magnificent platter of seafood each which has been deliciously charcoal grilled.

The old scales the fish was weighed on

Sometime later we follow a suggested walk in one of the guide books. This includes the famous Cecil Hotel, Ramla Square, the Great Synagogue, the intriguing Constantine Cavafy Museum (the Greek poet), Cinema Metro with its amazing decor, and finishing at Pastroudi's, a Greek patisserie for a coffee. This is a haunt of Durrell's characters.

Street scene in Alexandria

We are picked up here to return to Cairo. It is a long day, especially as we are caught in a traffic jam on the way back, but well worth it.

 (They suggest looking up: www.tour

80% of the monuments have been found by coincidence and only 20% by searching. Before A.D. Egypt just had villages. "D" = digression of the Prophet Muhammad, stands for the Prophet moving from Mecca to Medina one year after he became the prophet. Islamic history begins here, and is the beginning of the Islamic era.

These young men are surprised we learned about Egypt at school. They think we have no idea idea about their country at all.

They claim people are quite frightened on the streets since the end of the British occupation because they can just be taken off the streets by police for no reason, and for any length of time.

They don't watch the news because it has been the same for 26 years, during the time of President Marabak's office.

In government offices people work from 8am. to 2pm. (so the traffic rush hours are heaviest 7-9am. ,and 1-3pm. Many of them have another job latter in the day.

In Cairo now 45% of women work. This is not because of a change of mind but because it is necessary economically. Economic stress has caused a 45% divorce rate (the women can't cope with a job and caring for a husband, as is expected). Secondly, the average age for men here is 45, especially in the Delta area. The cause is usually something to do with the liver, so it may be the pollution in the water. The people drink the water from the Nile river, so perhaps this is the problem.

The doctors here are excellent but zero is spent on research.

There are very high inflation rates in Cairo, up to 50%, with real estate being exhorbitantly expensive. Car taxes are 300%, which explains why we don't see many new cars on the road. A couple of weeks ago it was difficult to get bread here.

We asked about authors, and Medo and Hasheem both think people feel if they write about religion they will become famous.

The Jewish population in Egypt is now only about 3oo and most of these are in Alexandria. Both these young men support Palestine, but now just want it finished. They feel this is the general feeling in Cairo.

In the country girls can still be married as young as 13, but in Cairo this is not accepted, and they must be 21.

Soccer is the favourite sport here supported by 95% of the population. Hand ball and Roman wrestling are also popular.
Hasheem lives near the Giza pyramids. His house backs onto the golf course. He very much enjoys being able to use the course there, even though he hasn't much spare time with a second baby on the way. His attitude towards this is so different to new dads in Australia. He doesn't think it will disrupt his life much at all as his parents-in-law will move in and help his wife. Women here are still expected to run the home totally.

He is a reasonable golfer we gather. He has always enjoyed it and used to "run school" to do it. He says this is common here.
 There are private schools available but they are very expensive.

We realize that life isn't all that easy here and again feel so lucky to have brought up our family in Australia. The big question here in Egypt is what will happen when Mabarak finishes his term.

They say the traditional food here is falafel (was 30 piasteres but now it costs $1). Also, rice with a special sauce, which includes onion and lemon, was $1 and is now $5. Another popular dish is musaga - aubergine, tomatoes, garlic, oil and spices (being vegetarian this is a favourite of mine: Ross' favourite meal was the seafood one in Alexandria.


We have breakfast with Phil and Robbie to say "good-bye". They are returning to Free Spirit to continue on their way to meet their next commitments and travel plans. We have had a marvellous time together and shared so many experiences. Hopefully, we will meet up again in the Mediterranean. We will always remember the many occasions Phil has been able to offer us practical assistance for our many electrical and mechanical boating problems. It's also been a great help to have the benefit of Phil and Robbie's prior experience sailing through these waters in 2003.

The news today is announcing a 30% pay rise in salaries. This is wonderful news for the people in the short-term, but who knows how the economy will suffer?

We plan a day of rest. Later in the day we visit the Beit of Suhaymi.

Hasheem is most distressed today. He is a young father who works very hard. When Medo took him back to his car last night after our day in Alexandria it was gone. Apparently the police took it and said it was parked illegally and he didn't have it registered. This isn't true, but he can't pick it up until the end of the week and will have to pay a huge fine. This is a regular occurrence in Cairo.

Medo drives into the nearby Khan-al-Khalili Bazaar to park. This is an amazing experience in itself. He is concerned he will not be able to find a park anywhere nearby.

Parking in the Khan-al.Khalilli bazaar

We experience normal Cairo traffic and realize how fortunate we are to have been here for some holidays. It takes so long to travel only short distances. We wander back through the narrow alleys of the Beit-of-Suhaymi area. This area was closed off when we came to the bazaar on Sunday because of a religious festival. The Beit of Suhaymi was built as a commercial place for trade and with rooms for the traders to stay in. It's architecture is fascinating. It is now talked about as a traditional family mansion from the Mamluk period. We take the opportunity to go back to Fishawi's coffee house to just sit and watch life go by, and the antics of the buying and selling.

We walk by the Al-Hussein mosque near the bazaar. It has descendants here of the Prophet Mahommad's grandchildren. Outside there are 3 large mechanical umbrellas worth over U.S.$100,000- each, as a gift from Saudi Arabia.

This evening we enjoy a peaceful stroll along the river bank and find a Moroccan dinner (Egyptian isn't available here), on one of the large river boats.


We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Marriott Hotel in the Zamalak area. It is an old palace especially built for visiting royalty at the time of the opening for the Suez Canal in 1869. The original section of the hotel still has an imposing forecourt and lobby area. The surrounding gardens are magnificent.

We are off to a 9am. start with Medo to visit the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx. We are so fortunate to strike yet another holiday in Cairo (Labour Day) and not get caught up in traffic. On route we drop our luggage off at the Mena Hotel at the foot of the pyramids. We have an amazing coincidence here to hear some one call us - a friend from Melbourne, Amanda Derham. We have a lovely dinner with Amanda and Mark this evening. It is always exciting to catch up with friends from home. We also see with them Tom and Sue Barrett, who are traveling in the same group in this area -what fun!

I had always been fascinated by the pyramids, the Nile river and their associated history since learning about them at school, so it is wonderful just to soak in our experiences in these areas.

Gisa Pyramid

The Giza pyramids are only 17kms west of Cairo. The 3 large pyramids are named after kings from 3 dynasties: Cheops, Chephern and Mycerinus. The history of the pharaoh's solar baroques (boats) is interesting. In the museum near the Khufu pyramid there is a restored one of these cedar-wood vessels. These vessels could have been used to carry the mummy of the pharaoh up to the valley temple. There was water surrounding the pyramid area in those times.

The sphinx has a human head and the body of a lion. The enormity of these structures is overwhelming. One can't help but imagine how they were built with the teams of workman and farmers during their off seasons.

Our visit to the "Atlantis" oils is fascinating. This is also a healing centre. Another amazing coincidence is that they have a close association with Sai Baba, a mentor of my brother, Ian.

Lunch is a delicious kebab at a local restaurant near the sphinx.

The Mena House Hotel was originally an old palace and then became a hunting lodge before becoming a guest house. It is a very attractive place to stay and oozing with atmosphere in the old buildings.