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ADDITIONS TO THE BLOG as of April 2017: Shamal and her Crew being Mum and Dad are in the Cayman Islands * Should you want to contact us, you can do so by clicking on the Contact Us tab below. * PLEASE subscribe to the Blog, so that new posts are emailed to your inbox.



24 April 2011

Suakin Sudan to Port Ghalib Egypt

Hello To You All Again


Yes another update from The Red Sea

As I start this letter we are STILL in Suakin – Sudan, having been here for nine days now waiting for the wind to drop enough to move north again. There are now 15 yachts sitting in the harbour waiting for the weather window. We seem to spend our daylight hours doing boat jobs, of which there is never any shortage of, and the evenings are spent visiting each other to watch a movie or just to socialise, or, going shore to have a ‘local’ meal. It is all good fun and the group are a great bunch. We have done some exploring of the area of course.

After we had been here a couple of days we took the’ local’ bus to Port Sudan to use the internet, get some supplies and have a bit of a look around. The drive took us along a dry arid coastal plain with Bedouin/Refugee tents dotted among small thorny bushes and the odd garden growing grasses for animal feed and housing, plus some vegetable patches. The trip was only around an hour. Port Sudan really is scruffy, run-down and not nearly as clean as Eritrea. It is Sudan’s second largest city with a population of around 2.5 million. Quite a large number of these people being made up of refugees from the civil war and never ending border disputes this country seems to have. But in spite of this and the incredible poverty all around, the people are very friendly and helpful. We have definitely come across a lot more beggars here. It can be very hard saying no but if you don’t, the ground would open up and you would be swamped with them. The market places are very interesting with a good supply of fresh vegetables and fruits. The local bread here is also very popular among all the yachties. A puffed rounded type which is always lovely fresh and hot, and is great stuffed with the local falafels and a tomato chilli sauce mix. All cooked on a charcoal fire on the side of the road.

Suakin is the more popular check in point to the Sudan for yachties as there seems to be less hassle and it is cheaper than Port Sudan. Also the town is so much more interesting with an incredible history. As you sail into the harbour you could be mistaken for thinking an earthquake had just hit the old town or a tsunami has swept through the place, or, it had been bombed to bits in one of the wars they have had here. The old town is in ruins. But none of the above have been the cause of its appearance. The buildings are made of coral and rock and the ‘cement’ holding this together was made of sand and camels milk. That was all OK while people were still living in the buildings and they were constantly repaired after the rainy season, but, when they decided to move the port from Suakin to Port Sudan many people left for the new city and Suakin was abandoned and the town crumbled. Old Suakin had been a trading centre since the 10th century BC. It was also one of the last slave trading post in the world.

We took time to visit the local museum. It really is a private collection of photos and bits one of the locals has kept over time. Absolutely fascinating. It included photos of Gordon of Khartoum and Lord Kitchener who led military campaigns from 1896 to 1898. There also hanging on the wall was a poem my Mum use to read to us as children by Rudyard Kipling – Fuzzy Wuzzy Home in the Sudan. It is so funny as some of the locals do have very fuzzy wuzzy hair here!!

Friday 1st April
Well we have moved further north again making our way along the Sudanese coast stopping off at reefs and marsas along the way. A marsa [other names for them are sharm or khor] is a natural bay, a bit like a fjord, sometimes meandering a few miles inland. They nearly always have a fringing reef and these are great to snorkel on with beautiful corals and amazing fish life. The marsas are starkly beautiful anchorages here in the Sudan as there is very little pollution, and they are wonderful places to stop for the night as they shelter you from the seas and swells.

At present we are sitting in Marsa Shinab, our 5th stop since leaving Suakin. Think we will be here for a few nights as it is so nice and Alec is doing a couple of jobs. Not only that, the present good weather window will be changing again as we are due for another good northerly blow. Also we are exploring the area. Yesterday we went ashore to climb Quoin Hill which was a recommendation in our Cruising Guide, to get a good look at the area we are in, and yes the views in every direction are magnificent. The countryside is stark barren and harsh with salt flats at the head of the marsa, then low hills inland, and very little vegetation about. There are all those desert colours one could imagine and they change as the light changes during the day. The sunsets also bring out lovely colours in the land scape. There is wonderful bird life everywhere and fish are jumping all around the boat. We have only seen one local who was walking in the shallows with a spear searching for dinner, and yes he did catch something.

Our two reef stops to date have also been fantastic. Our first one was Sanganeb reef where we managed to wrap our anchor chain around coral heads [also called bommies]so we could not bring it up, that part was not so fantastic - but the boat next to us dived and cleared that for us when it came time to leave. Alec could have done it, but the boat next door had done the same with his chain and offered to go down. There were three boats and at one point we when had all three anchors up, and were tied up to each other with the front boat tied to a wreck to hold us all in place. The whole operation called for a couple of very interesting hours while all was being untangled. We understand this is not uncommon on some of the Red Sea Reefs. Then while all this was going on a small French yacht motored in at high speed over the reef – not through the channel – wove his way in between us all, and at one point tried to drop anchor next to us, but we advised him that was not the wisest move, so he motored out back across the reef at high speed. We all stood on decks speechless. Well the boys did have something to say but no need to repeat it!! He was very lucky to leave with no holes in his boat’ or planted firmly on the reef.

The snorkelling at Sanganeb Reef was great and made up for our little mishap, but our next reef – Leoni Anchorage – was amazing. We have NEVER come across such coral or fish like we found here. We anchored in the shelter of the reef along with another boat called ‘Sulyna’- the yacht that had helped us out at Sanganeb Reef - and then got into our tenders and first snorkelled on the inside of the reef then crossed over the shallow waters to the outer reef where you get the drop off. This was truly magnificent. Beautiful beautiful clear clean waters where you could see for miles. Then so much variety of spectacular corals and a huge variety of tropical fish. It was like swimming around it a tropical aquarium. The saying that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the places and moments that take our breath away , could not be more true of what we are seeing and experiencing here in the Red Sea, and that reef was one of them. At the first Marsa we stopped at there was a flock of beautiful flamingos and once we had anchored we took our tenders over to the fringing reef to get a closes look. They let us get quite close before all taking to the air which made a beautiful site of different shades of pinks and white. At another of our Marsa stops there were the three yachts again and we all took food ashore to cook over a drift wood fire as we swapped stories over glasses of wine watching another beautiful Red Sea sunset. Quite the hard life!! Some of the yachts hurry up the Red Sea when the weather windows are in their favour sadly missing these beautiful places only to arrive in the Mediterranean too early in the season and then wonder why it is still so cold. We are really enjoying the journey. There has been the odd heart stopping moment, once when we were following another very experienced yachtsman’s as he was navigating us through the reefs at night. Also when we stop off at reef anchorages, even though they are mapped and well described in our ‘Red Sea Cruising Guide’, you still need an eagle eye look out which can involve being hoisted up the mast some way with a hand held radio to call back to the helmsman the direction to take. Alec is giving ME the full training in that – yes I am the one up the mast!!!!

Tuesday 19th April

After spending 6 nights in Marsa Shinab we moved onto Marsa Hamisat for a night and then out to Elba Reef in northern Sudan. This was another wonderful stopover and in this reef we came across a school of dolphins. I was so excited so we dropped the tender in the water, donned on our wet suits, as now the water temperature is a little cooler especially with the stronger northerly winds blowing, and off we went to swim with them. In all the excitement where I would climb in and out of the tender as we followed them around, at one stage I slipped off the tender seat and onto the floor. No more than 40cm, but there was a horrid crack, and the pain that shot through my lower right side was enough to tell me I had done some damage. I still got back into the water and had a wonderful time but when I eventually got back to SHAMAL I could hardly move. Think I may have broken a rib or two!! I can only sleep sitting up and are very slow to do things, but no way am I going to let this stop me from enjoying the trip.

We stayed at Elba Reef for 3 nights and then moved onto Dolphin Reef which is in southern Egypt. This stop to date has be one of the highlights of the Red Sea so far. Along with the beautiful coral reef, colourful fish life, white sandy bottoms which gives the waters that gorgeous sparkling turquoise colour, it is also home to a rather large school of spinner dolphins. On our second day there some of the crew from a very large tourist boat came over to say hello and invite us the following morning to go snorkelling with them to see the dolphins. I strapped myself up as I was not going to miss out on another experience with these beautiful creatures, and off we went in their large tender which has a ladder for one to climb back into the tender, so that made things so much easier for me. Well I can’t start to describe the magic it is to swim with these animals. They swim up beside you and along with you, then they drop back down to the floor of the lagoon and swim along watching you and then back up they come to swim with you again. There were Mums feeding babies as they swam, and we saw how when they want to sleep they move into the middle of the group and close their eyes. The ones on the outside seem to steer them along and they just seem to flow with the group. We were invited on board the tourist boat for lunch, and while there the dolphins, being spinner dolphins, decided to show off by jumping high into the air, spinning around before dropping back in again. The crew from the tourist boat took us out again the following day as well to swim with them and then off to explore a different part of the reef. We really didn’t want to leave, but after 5 nights we got another weather window and it was time for us to move north again.

So now we have officially checked into southern Egypt at Port Ghalib, and for the first time in months we are in a marina with fresh water and power. SHAMAL has been given a good wash down to remove all the sea salt and dust which had encrusted all the ropes, rigging and anything else it comes into contact with. As for power, here in the Red Sea the wind generator has really paid for its self. The batteries are often at 100% as the wind always blows here, and the two solar panels just top the batteries up. They both have been great.

When we arrived in a marina we radio ahead and are asked all the usual questions like our boat name, length, width, etc ,so that we can place you in an appropriate berth. Well at a new marina in Oman we made our radio call and answered all the questions, then there was silence for a moment. We were then asked if it would be possible to motor over the top of the pontoon so a hull would be parked on each side of it. His reasoning for this was that the spaces were really for mono hull boats and by going in we would take up two spaces. Well I was silent for a moment as I tried not to laugh, then I explained that would not be possible and that catamarans have to use two spaces if the marina has not been designed with large enough spaces for them.

Well enough for this letter so I will away as Alec wants to add to it.

Love to you all

From The Admiral and The Commander

Alec’s view of;

‘Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin’

Piracy unfortunately is just another peril of the sea. Other perils are, running aground on a reef, collisions with whales and or ships and getting caught up in a hurricane.

Piracy has been well documented over the years in the Gulf of Aden. For example back in 2003 eight yachts were attacked off the Yemen coast. Four yachts had formed a convoy and the other four were solo. They were between 30-50 miles off the coast when the attacks occurred. In another report on 8 March 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi & Gandalf, were sailing SW 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden from Salalah, Oman. Here is an account of their report. At about 1600 we observed two boats approaching us head on from the SW. These boats were 25-30 feet long, had high freeboard and diesel powered. They were coming very fast directly at us. There were 4 men in each boat. The boats separated at about two hundred yards, one boat ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi’s port side firing an automatic weapon. These guys were shooting directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us. The first boat swung around behind Mahdi’s stern to come up and board us. At that point I, Rod Nowlin aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12 gage shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced them to keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. After firing 3 shots at them their engine started to smoke and I swung around to shoot at the boat ahead. At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf ram that boat amidships almost cutting it in two and turning it almost completely over. I turned back around to shoot again at the boat behind Mahdi and that is when they turned away from Mahdi and were heading toward the stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us, about 100 feet away. The bow of the pirates boat came right up against Gandalf’s stern and two men stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their part. I shot both of them. That boat then veered away and I shot the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome because they were farther away and I did not knock him down like the other two. Mahdi and Gandalf kept going at full speed to put as much distance between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of rifle range we looked back and both boats were drifting and appeared to be disabled. We were extremely lucky. Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired. Some people believe that the piracy attacks on private yachts may at least in part be carried out by human traffickers.

Fast forward to 2011 when piracy has become widespread all over the Indian Ocean, and even large merchant vessels are taken and the crew become hostages. The route we took to reach the Red Sea was coastal cruising up the Indian west coast to Goa and then across to Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. Then again coastal cruising down the coast of Oman and Yemen. On most occasions we were within 10-15 miles of the coast avoiding fishing boats and nets. I did some research where pirate attacks had occurred and cannot recall any occurring within 10-15 miles off the coast. I also believe Somali pirates would not be found lurking around local fishermen as they would soon be spotted and reported. Oman and Yemen both have Police Coastguard boats. A couple of times on the Oman coast Police Coastguard boats checked us out, all very friendly and asked if we needed help in anyway. The most dangerous route I believe is crossing the Indian Ocean from the Maldives, Cochin and Galle direct to Salalah. The coastal route is a couple of thousand miles longer and at times the prevailing winds are not ideal so be prepared to burn plenty of diesel. Then one hopefully arrives safely in the Red Sea “Inshalah” ( God willing ) The other alternate route is via Cape Town and that would of course bypass the Red Sea.

At the moment Yachties are stressed out, bewildered and some have a good dose of paranoia. Some yachts have returned or intend returning to South East Asia. Others are sitting in port waiting to see how things pan out in the Middle East re political unrest. We have 20 Blue Water Rally yachts waiting in Salalah for a ship to transport their yachts into the Med. The first shipping company they approached they paid down a 25% deposit has gone bankrupt. Looking at thirty to forty thousand US dollars per yacht and no guarantee the ship is not taken by pirates. Now that would be interesting !!!! at least no hostages would be taken as they have to fly to the Med. to pick up their yachts. More dollars spent. We have now heard the Blue Water Rally has been disbanded.

We have heard some interesting stories from yachties who formed convoys to transit the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. One convoy of nine yachts had a German yacht in the lead. Divided in to two sections one with four German yachts in the front, followed by five English speaking yachts. Slower boats go in front and the faster yachts follow. An American yacht ( owner in his eighties and very deaf ) had a French/Swiss crew member who when on watch would leave his station in the rear of the convoy and sail through the fleet, narrowly missing other yacht’s, the tiller between his legs doing exercises, and shouting on channel 16 that he was going to teach these Germans how to sail. He would make comments on the radio such as we must follow the Fuhrer. This was bad enough during the day but at night bloody dangerous missing yachts by a few metres. At night the convoy sailed with navigation lights off and in a tight formation. One yacht who had left the Blue Water Rally in Salalah who was not prepared to pay a shipping company to transport his yacht to the Med. for US 40,000 had his Blue Water Rally Insurance cancelled one day out . He was not very happy with this maniac in the convoy. As the convoy sailed pass Aden they had now been at sea for four nights everyone was on edge. The rest of the convoy had to explain to him that he was a danger to himself and to the rest of the convoy so please leave. The yacht left the convoy and sailed in to Aden.

Another convoy of thirteen yachts had a solo sailor who of course had to sleep sometime. His position was in the lead in the convoy and he would advise the other yachts he was going down below for a few hours’ sleep. He would leave his auto pilot on and his yacht would stay on track, well usually. The other yachts would refrain from talking on the radio to give this guy peace and quite so he could snatch a couple of hours sleep. On one occasion he over slept and his yacht drifted off course. The convoy had to break radio silence to wake him up.

We spoke to a couple of yachts who sailed directly to Salalah from the Maldives who had an interesting voyage. Four days out from Salalah one yacht lost their propeller, no problem when it was windy just sail on sailor. The two yachts were 70 miles away when the Danish yacht was taken by pirates. An American helicopter spotted them and shortly thereafter a American destroyer escorted them to the 12 mile limit off Salalah. Two days out one yacht had to tow the other into port when the wind died.

The American yacht Quest which was captured by Somali pirates joined the Blue Water Rally in the Maldives. After paying their fee they were told by one of the Director’s to join one of the Blue Water Rally convoy groups which were basically made up of yachts who were similar in size and speed. This group didn’t want Quest as they had already bonded and been together for some time. A slower convoy group offered Quest a position in their group but they declined. We were told as they had already been shunned by the first group they decided to sail across the Indian Ocean on their own. All very sad in the final outcome. Speculation amongst yachties is that the American Navy unfortunately messed up the negotiations with the pirates. Who shot who ?, I guess we will never know.

We applied to join the Blue Water Rally from Salalah to the Red Sea but were declined. See enclosed email.

This piracy problem is going to be a hard one to solve. With all the political correctness around these days makes it even harder. In the good old days they would be blown right out of the water.

Anyway there are more pirates on land than on the sea. The biggest pirate we have met so far was Mohammad the yachting agent in Salalah. The Vasco da Gama rally this year bypassed Salalah due to his excessive charges.

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