The Red Sea

Standing on the dock of Hulamale waiting for our 3 boat Rally to depart for a long and potentially dangerous passage through the High Risk Area of the North Indian Ocean, past Somalia with its well documented piracy issues and up into the Red Sea was one of the most difficult and emotional moments I have experienced in our 2+ years at sea. 3 yachts, 6 armed guards, 1 woman, 3 skippers and 4 crew with enough provisions to feed all the hungry mouths sailed out of the Maldives late in March while I jetted back to the safety and comfort of Australia for my father’s 90th birthday. The emails I received from the Miss Tiggy give an insight into their journey!

“Well after waiting all afternoon we finally pulled up our anchor at 6.15 pm with our security guys on board and  associated firearms and ammunition body armour. The Polish guys seem like nice guys but very different atmosphere….As I type the guys are on the stern cleaning their guns.

Not a lot to report we had a great days sailing yesterday in light winds with asymmetric. We are now heading further north so the wind angle prevents spinnaker use so are beam reaching with light and variable winds but doing 7.5kts. Still got a way to go until the security guards are getting serious.

We are now sailing with our asymmetric up doing 8 knots in 9 knots of breeze so sailing fast in little wind…Fishing a non-event unfortunately 3 boats no fish! Otherwise all quiet the boat doing her stuff magnificently (fingers crossedit continues).We have come about 400nm 2,300 to go.

Have just blown out the Red Devil (the name of our Asymmetric)….Split from top to bottom rubbish bin material now!

No sign of anything yet. Few ships on AIS a long way ahead but we will start to run into shipping traffic tonight I expect. We are sailing in a arrowhead  formation at present Calliope at the front (Their security team leader is team leader for 3 boats) and Lisanne and ourselves 1 nm back about 1/2 nm apart. A bit challenging sailing for a 1000nm in close formation but apparently gives them best line of fire in the unlikely event we get approached….But all good on board.

We have entered the Gulf of Aden with Somalia on one side Yemen on the other; neither a place you would wish to holiday at the moment!! We are now in the IRTC Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor. This is not a separation scheme ala The English Chanel but a recommended corridor for shipping (ships leaving the Red Sea to follow each other in the southern lane and those heading for The Red Sea to follow each other in north bound lane). Each lane is 5nm wide and in between is a neutral corridor 2 nm wide which is where we are. We have 430nm to run on this course before we turn right and enter the Red Sea. (1200nm bottom of Red Sea to the top). The idea behind this is to keep all shipping as confined as possible and hence easiest for the various naval ships to monitor. So far we have seen no naval ships or suspicious craft.

Biggest issue is no wind. We are into our 3rd day of motoring and used half our fuel. We are hoping for strengthening winds the further we proceed down The Gulf. Current forecast has strong southerly winds which will propel us into the Red Sea for about 200nm before the dreaded northerlies hit us for our long beat up-wind to Port Suez.

For the last few nights we have been keeping the navigation lights off so we are much harder to spot, but of course now we are surrounded by shipping again we have put them back on.  As you can imagine, staying in formation with two other yachts in the dark with no lights on is a bit of a challenge! It was made a lot easier with the guards remarkably good night vision cameras.

We have now been sailing downwind for last 24 hours which has up-lifted everyone’s spirits as fuel worries have abated. (we all think we have enough to get thru to Suakin Sudan). We have had a few cruise ships pass us which is re-assuring. Yesterday we saw The Queen Mary on her way to Jordan and we have one of the Concordia ships passing us now. We are keeping well clear!!! We get “buzzed” daily by Japanese coalition aircraft who asks Calliope’s details and then wish us Bon Voyage.

We are still making steady process and have about 60nm to run until we reach the end of the IRTC then we head north into the Red Sea passing  abeam of Aden and I can’t stop thinking of the plight of those poor people trapped in that civil war or probably more correctly the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The passage at its narrowest point is only 10nm wide so I am presuming we will see Yemen on our right and Djibouti on our left. Apparently also a lot of small craft including fisherman and people smugglers are getting people out of Yemen.

Well we have certainly had all sorts of sailing since my last up-date. We had a few days of very gentle sailing down the Gulf of Aden. Quite possibly lulled us into a false sense of security beacause it all changed when we got to the narrow strait at the bottom of the Red Sea Dar El Mandeb. We knew it was going to be windy BUT… My weather Grib showed gusting winds up to 40 knots. So we had an exhilarating but slightly scary ride for 8 hours. Maximum speed recorded by Miss T was 16.2 knots about 30 kilometres an hour. We had to manually steer because the autopilot can’t cope in those conditions which is very tiring because you must keep the boat dead downwind when every wave tries to screw you sideways so you are constantly correcting. If the boat was to go sideways and your crew are not quick enough easing the sails you could lose the mast because of the forces involved. Anyway Miss T did us proud and rightly lead the 3 bucking Oysters. They really are amazing boats though (Oysters) in these conditions we still managed to set the table and have lunch……30 knots plus and eating lunch at the cockpit table!…..the rather extreme conditions had 2 main benefits. First we logged some great miles but more importantly the sea conditions were so rough the skiffs we were expecting and any pirates could not venture out.

We are now short hauled that is the wind is in front of us heading our way up The Red Sea. The prevailing wind in The Red Sea comes from the NW so the boat is heeled over making opening the fridge a mission. Oh well we only have 1000 more nautical miles of this! We have passed 15 degrees North which is the limit of The High Risk Area so a lot more joking on board and everyone feeling more relaxed.

We dropped off our Polish security guy at their floating armoury and they were very sad to leave! Still a long way to go to get to the Suez!”

Miss Tiggy, Calliope and Lisanne are currently safely heading north having crossed the border between Sudan and Egypt.

One thought on “The Red Sea

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