Every year, like migrating ducks, about 100 vessels and their crew who have been meandering around south-east Asia for years are hypnotized by the challenge of sailing westward through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
In the previous edition of Club Marine, I told of the first part of such a voyage aboard my Seawind 1000 sailing catamaran, Déjà Vu III.
A quick recap may be in order. I retired in 2004, bought Déjà Vu III and began exploring, first the east coast of Australia and then north to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. When I decided to join the “migrating ducks” on a voyage to the Mediterranean, I needed a skilled crewperson and found the wonderful Beverley through the “findacrew” Web site. And we set off.
After a number of adventures and a 14-day leg from the Maldives to the Arabian peninsula, we arrived at Salalah in Oman.
A few days of rest and relaxation were called for and we explored this ancient country before heading out again, south-west toward the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea. And this is where the remainder of the adventure – so far – begins.
Al Mukalla in Yemen stands on the north side of the entrance to the Gulf of Aden and was our next port of call after four days at sea. The entire voyage was calm and we hardly ever bothered to hoist the sails.
Beverly and I liked Al Mukalla. The young Agent we hired to assist with Customs and other official duties offered to take us on a tour of the surrounding countryside and the town in his beat-up Jeep Cherokee for which he refused to accept payment.
The following day we walked into the City and tried a real Al Mukalla coffee. It wouldn’t be a great threat to Starbucks of which Bev is a serious consumer.
An amusing sign outside a bank read `It’s prohibited for you to bring your AK47 into the Bank!’ The sign even had a photograph of the rifle!
As we set out again, heading west toward the Red Sea, there were about 12 fishing boats within a two-mile radius of Deja Vu and we had heard some among them were more than fishermen. They weren’t pirates, just thieves!
We heard a lot of Coalition warship chatter on VHF radio Channel 16 and it was comforting to hear them so close
Ten hours east of Aden we picked up a radio call from a Coalition warship.
“Sailing vessel at (Lat/Long so-and-so), identify yourself.”
There was no warship in sight. They were somewhere well over the horizon.
I identified Déjà Vu to them – number of crew, nationality and so on – and explained our intentions of sailing to Aden. This guy was very definitely a Yank!
“You’re an Aussie?”
“Yeh, absolutely mate!”
“We have Aussie sailors on board. Hang on I’ll get one”
I was soon talking to one of the two sailors from the Royal Australian Navy seconded to this US warship.
After a good chatter, the US radio operator came back on.
“You’re obviously travelling alone. A very BAD idea in these waters”!
Then Beverley had an idea.
“Captain,” I said. “I imagine you and your crew are months at sea and lacking some things that come naturally when ashore.”
“Yaah, you could say that.”
“Well, I have a treat for you. But don’t come too close. My gorgeous First Mate, Beverly, is one of the best looking Canadian females you’re ever likely to see in these waters. She has offered to change into her bikini and place herself on the starboard bow of Déjà Vu. Do you understand?”
“Yaah, sure do! And don’t worry about whether we’ll come close enough to see you or not. We have the strongest binoculars and cameras in the world!”
Coalition warship #56 came rocketing over the horizon and passed within a mile of us and Bev was there, on the bow as promised!
An hour later we heard the unmistakable `chop-chop’ of a helicopter from the warship. They swooped low, allowing us to wave our greetings and then hovered over each of the fishing boats around us. They were warning them to stay away from this sailing vessel – and they did. Another hour later they repeated their visit.
Not to gild the lily, Aden is a rat-hole! And Aden officials epitomise the saying: “Where there’s bureaucracy, there’s corruption”.
Stay away from this place unless it’s absolutely vital you have to visit!
Going through the security gates to your dinghy meant passing an average of five policemen, and I use the term loosely. They all required payment at least once every day.
The only pleasant experience of our stay was a visit to the markets. These were great; crowded, colourful and surrounded by camels and their wagons. A really strong, busy, Arabic centre, selling everything from mandarins to sewing machines.
We were glad to see the back of Aden.
About 125 nautical miles west is the turning point into the Red Sea. This area of water has a raft of hazards. Shipping going into and coming out of the Red Sea are squashed together at this point and they travel very fast.
We travelled through at around four in the morning in pitch darkness with both of us on deck.
Suddenly Beverly let out a screech.
“What’s happening to the sails Lloyd”?
Both sails had turned inside out and backfilled in a big way. Deja Vu had steered straight into a tidal-current-whirlpool and had been turned around 180 degrees. The ship that was in front of us was now behind! WOW! If you want an unexpected thrill, try this!
After our hearts receded back into our chests, we started both engines and powered out of it.
Port Massawa is a primary port of Eritrea on the Red Sea. It is very old, has a great history and it seems half the countries of Asia and Europe have occupied it at some time. Beautiful buildings around the harbour show where the invading armed forces have practiced with their artillery.
Port Suwakin, Sudan, is one of the smallest ports you will find along the west coast of the Red Sea. It is, however, the most interesting; a stopover not to be missed.
What gives it this unlikely reputation is the fact it’s still so undeveloped. It’s like stepping back centuries to times of donkeys and camels, rather than trucks, cars and motorbikes. It has a history dating back to 400AD and the ruins you pass on the way into the small anchorage seem to testify to this.
For much of the next leg of our voyage we struggled against a 20-knot northerly wind and a northerly current of two knots. We had to run both motors and still it seemed we were standing still at times.
We had been warned about the undesirability of visiting Marsa Arakiyai, a site primarily established as a Sudanese Army Outpost. The residents have a nasty reputation for taking your passport and then holding you to ransom for goods and money. Again, who needs Somali Pirates? We planned to sail right past but the residents must be accustomed to this.
“Beverly, I think we’re going to have visitors; cover yourself my dear!”
Charging out from the Outpost was a six-metre inflatable with four tough-looking guys on board. They bumped alongside and I made sure I was right there to eyeball them.
“We want to inspect your passport!”
“Get stuffed. There’s no way we’re giving any papers to you and we have no intention of visiting your bay!”
My language became quite colourful, set to tune in with their own. These boys weren’t here to be nice to anyone! I couldn’t see any weapons but there were many places they could have been hidden.
After 10 minutes of abuse, the penny dropped with them; they were not getting anything from this yacht and so they powered away for home! Had we given them our passports I guarantee they would have raced back to the Outpost forcing us to follow!
As we approached the Egyptian coast and Port Luli, Déjà vu had been running both engines for most of the 345 miles from Port Suwakin. We had planned our next port to be Ghalib in Egypt, but it was a further 117 miles north and our fuel reserves were down to 45 litres. We would need to call into this army outpost.
All we could see of Port Luli (lovely name) were a few fishing boats pulled ashore for repairs and two sunken boats. And a large mud cubby-house. In any case we saw movement of a single person ashore so we jumped into the dinghy.
With red fuel cans in hand, we approached the outpost that was manned by two soldiers. We had not a single word in common but somehow we communicated our problem. A quick mobile phone call and a vehicle pulled into the outpost with the fuel in two bulk drums. Amid great secrecy – this was obviously not army routine – they decanted the fuel into our cans.
They would not accept any offers of physical help and even lifted the full cans into our dinghy! Cost per litre – 33 US cents. The driver was thrilled with the US$10 tip I gave him but the army people wouldn’t accept a dime. Beverly returned to the outpost with a carton of cigarettes and that went down well!
Port Ghalib which is a testament to unlimited wealth. This great marine/hotel/shopping complex was hewn straight into the desert from the Red Sea. It was said a very wealthy Sheik from Kuwait poured an immense amount of money into this project. And you couldn’t help but wonder – why?
The marina is modern and comfortable and we did catch up with more yachts that had been ahead of us through the Arabian Sea.
We also took the opportunity to do a bus tour to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Very good!
There’s a lot of Love in this complex! The dustman proclaimed his Love for me and the Immigration man said he had fallen in Love with Beverly! In any case, we’ll know where to go if ever we feel neglected and unloved.
Then we faced the adventure of the Suez Canal.
Port Suez Yacht Club is located on the western shore, at the southern end of the Suez Canal and is a very poor Club so provides little service but has the most astonishing parade of shipping passing its boundary every hour.
We did a tour from here to Cairo and the Pyramids. What a wonder these structures are!
Shipping of all sizes comes through the Suez Canal in groups, which vary in numbers dramatically. The canal is not a two-way facility its average width is a mere 200 metres! And the water is subject to tidal currents up to two knots.
All ships and yachts have a dedicated pilot who is changed at the halfway mark, Ismailia, which is just 45 nautical miles north.
The cost of this Suez Canal passage was a very reasonable US$245 for Déjà Vu.
Port Said has a dreadful reputation for corruption so, arriving at 10pm, we motored through without stopping.
On clearing the Heads of Port Said Harbour, Beverly somehow found the energy for a Go-Go dance. What a surprise and a great performance. I think she was in seventh heaven to be clear of Egypt!
Our plans on leaving Port Said were to sail across to Israel. We had booked into a marina and all was set. However, a week before we arrived, the Israeli military had boarded a ship heading for the Gaza Strip and killed several people. That put an end to yachts travelling to and fro from this country … at least for a short time!
Our next most attractive choice was Cyprus. This was a long sail of 211 nautical miles due north – another two days at sea before we reached civilization again.
Beverly and I were exhausted. In fact the feeling of mental and physical stress stayed with me for three or four months. The unconscious pressure of months of preparation and then the five months’ 6,200 nautical mile voyage proved a greater stress than I had imagined.
From Cyprus we headed for Fineke in Turkey, a small town which provides very well for visiting yachts. It is also an official entry/exit point for yachts arriving and departing Turkey. We relaxed, cleaned Arabian dust from Deja Vu, ate at restaurants, visited open markets for which Turkey is famous, connected to the internet, swam some and did a rough inventory of stores.
After one leisurely week we took off again to see something of Turkey. We sailed to a great, protected bay near the island of Kaleköy at Kekova-Siena topped by an ancient castle of the Knights of Rhodes.
All of a sudden, in a flood of tears, Beverly’s time aboard Déjà vu was over. She had to go home.
I was again a solo sailor, a very unfamiliar and lonesome feeling. But not for long. There was a lot to see so I motor-sailed west for a rendezvous with my daughter Melanie and her partner John at Rhodes in Greece.
After a few days sailing with them, they flew home and I then had a date in Athens with a gorgeous friend, Ellen, from Queensland.
Ellen returned with me to Déjà Vu and we sailed much of the south-west coastline of Turkey.
But eventually Ellen, too, had to leave and we sailed to Kas from which Beverley left.
Alone again, I sailed back to Patmos where I met with a Japanese lady, Reiko, who operates a wooden power boat, MV Spartan. She is a highly skilled and qualified jeweler, making jewelry through the winter months for sale through summer.
Reiko steered me back to Lipsoi Island where the marina offers power for my computer, to keep Deja Vu’s batteries charged and for heaters through winter. There is also plenty of good drinking water and a strong mobile phone connection.
And that’s how my life now swings. If you want to know more, there’s a lot more detail on my website, www.svdejavu.com.