Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Two marsas in two days

The morning had started out with calm winds as we departed Khor Shinab (Sudan). But it didn't last for long. This day, as is typical for  this part of the Red Sea, as the day builds so does the wind from the north. So only making a mere 10 nautical miles in 3.5 hours pounding into short steep waves we turned in through another break in the reef and down a channel

The blustery winds followed us down the flatter protected waters of Marsa Abu Imama's channel whipping up little white caps. We dropped the hook early in the morning at 09:30 on the 20th (N21°29.497' E036°57.212'). A short day's run.

Remarks in the Red Sea cruising guide called this a peaceful and beautiful spot. Unfortunately we were unable to see most of it due to the haze created by the blowing dust. But it was peaceful being the only sailboat there, or for that matter, anywhere.

Since we left SE Asia on this passage, we shared anchorages along the way with the same 3 boats. But by now we have all separated, progressing at different paces. Other than those, we haven't seen another sailboat. We have only heard of about 3 other boats that have or are making this short-window passage to the Med.

But there were a couple of lonely and lowly fishing pangas who approached us asking for whatever they could think of using only a few words of English. We had nothing but a shirt and some aspirins for their needs as our supplies had been getting very meagre by this point.

A calm dawn of clear air showed us the 3 conical sets of hills and an appreciation the beauty of the desert beauty.

Small sample of mountainous Sudan

Still packing remnants of dust storms

The winds were predicted to be from offshore and fairly light so we headed out early. But again we had to pack it in for the day after only 3 hours of bashing into headwinds making barely 10 nautical miles to the good. We found protection at Marsa Wasi down a short channel and anchored next to a long sandspit on the 21st (N21°38.551' E036°54.001').

Stretched out sandspit

Red sky in the Red Sea

Monday, March 20, 2017

Khor Shinab's hold

Our early morning departure from Taila of Sudan on March 18th saw us safely away from the coral bommies which were easily seen in the clear water. As predicted, the north headwinds had abated so we were motoring to continue northwards up the Red Sea. It was about a 50-nautical-mile run to our next destination, Khor Shinab.

Fishing has been awesome in the Red Sea. Experience has it that shortly after putting out a line, fish is caught. Jordan caught another, this one a bit smaller, but for only two of us, that's preferable.

On our way, we passed Leoni reef anchorage, reputed to be the best snorkelling; we just had to stop and see (N20°54.920' E037°15.640'). Our consensus? The best in the Red Sea yet.

Coral garden

Varieties of coral

Along the way, a small panga with a couple of friendly fishermen approached, asking if we had any soft drinks. Unfortunately we only had one Cola which they gladly accepted. And it was cold too! We also accommodated and gave them an older snorkelling mask to their delight. Heading off, as their boat bounced on top of the waves, the mask was being tried on top of bright grins.

As the day progressed, the winds steadily built. This time it was in our favour and we were running down to our next anchorage, so by the time we made it there in the late afternoon, it was at least a lively Force 6 on the Beaufort scale.

The only suitable anchorage was at the end of a 2.5-nautical-mile long channel that led inland. Even after anchoring (N21°21.090' E037°00.881'), we could tell the wind's escalation hadn't finished. It was here that we experienced the notorious Red Sea's namesake. The skies darkened and the desert scene was obliterated with a howling atmosphere of sandy dust. Poor Sea Turtle was covered with the fine dust that forms the top layer of this African desert. All the saltiness of the boat was like a magnet for the stuff and Sea Turtle took on a dirty rouge tinge. There was even settlement inside.

It's dust, not fog

It's dust, not a lightsaber of Star Wars

The next morning, the wind was light and variable so Sea Turtle's anchor came up and she swam the mile out to see what it was like out in the big blue. By the time she got to the outside entrance, the winds had really picked up and from the north, the direction she wanted to head. So when she stuck her nose out, seeing the boisterous sea state, she turned tail and swam all the way back up the channel returning to the safe hangout to wait for another day (N21°21.061' E037°00.832').

So when we awoke early March 20th, the wind was quiet. We quickly brought up the anchor and hurried out to sea. Khor Shinab had given up her hold on us!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Taila Islands

We awoke to a certain calm on March 15th. Even though the forecast was for more strong winds, we thought we would say goodbye to our buddy boat and try a quick 12-nautical-mile jaunt north where according to the Red Sea cruising guidebook was a suitable anchorage that protects against a north wind.

As soon as we rounded the point with only a light breeze, there were steep, short, residual waves that required us to fall off enough to avoid bashing into them. After an hour, we finally got on the lee of a large offshore reef that calmed the sea enough for a direct approach to our day's destination, 3 small sandy cays on the extended coral platform of Taila (Sudan).

As usual, it was approaching in clear water, and with the sun at our backs, we safely anchored in a patchwork of coral and sand. The lee side of the Taila islets provided a good protection from waves but not from the whistling wind that passed right over the low laying atolls. We could deal with that. We settled into a slow pace of activities here for the next 3 days to wait out the north winds.

After strolling the beach, we did some snorkelling on the way back to the boat. What was becoming evident was the drop in temperature of the air and the water as we increased our degrees of latitude but not enough to stop us from snorkelling which we do whenever we get the chance. The Red Sea's healthy coral and sea life and water clarity make it a first class dive destination in that respect.

Colourful soft and hard coral

There is always something for the sailor to do to fill their time. Upon discovering our wind indicator on the deck of the boat, Jordan climbed the mast to reattach it. Was it a bird or the wind that knocked it down? While he was up there, the rigging and all things get an inspection. This time it required new zip straps to secure the spreader light wires.

The Tailas from above

Chanty's kept busy too!

During our stay here, several small fishing pangas were spotted at the next tiny cay. They too were waiting it out on the protected side. One of them came over to Sea Turtle and asked if we wanted any fish. As we still had plenty of our own, we declined.

Their intention had probably been to trade fish; they asked if we had a few items such as cigarettes, sugar, or coffee. A non-smokers and only having a small amount of coffee left, we couldn't help them there, but we had lots of sugar so gave them a Ziploc bagful. Jordan treated them with 4 beer. They left very happy!

In high spirits

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What? Evicted again?

March 13: Just before daybreak, we crept out of the sleeping Port of Sudan. Again, beating into a breeze, we were heading north for Marsa Arakiya. The guidebook had shown it was an anchorage with a friendly military presence, but after 8 hours of motor-sailing, we discovered that this was not to be.

As soon as we were about to anchor (N20°13.872 E037°12.249), we were once again immediately ordered to leave.

Okay, now where? The concern was that the next available protected anchorage was further north and the winds were picking up by this time. To make it before dark, we had to motor-sail into a good opposing chip, tacking back and forth to avoid bashing directly into the waves. With just enough light to make our way through some coral bommies, we anchored in the lee of Wreck Point by Marsa Salak (N20°27.729 E037°13.835).

Wreck Point anchorage

This became our haven against 2 days of strong north winds.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Evicted

After an enjoyable stay at Suakin, we pulled anchor at 06:45 and continued our coastal journey north cautiously beating into a light breeze through reefed channels.

Old Town of Suakin

Later that afternoon just north of Port of Sudan, there was an unnamed channel in through the reef which we chose for a night of protected anchorage (N19°39.507 E037°14.580). But just after we anchored, a military launch approached with horn blaring and demanded with no Ifs Ands or Buts that we leave as this was a restricted military area.

They ushered us back down the coast a few miles and had us enter the Port of Sudan, a stop that we tried to avoid as it normally requires the expense and hassle of checking in. We simply wanted a safe place to anchor and be off the next day.

By the time we anchored in the tight confines of the harbour in front of the town and beside the commercial pier, it was nigh 18:30 (N19°36.490 E037°13.388). It was a long day with some frustrations but on the positive side, we avoided the complicated official check in by a super nice official and internet was excellent.

We had to crane our necks to look up