Bambola notes on
the passage up
THE RED SEA
The following link gets you to the UK HO chart
showing the 'safe corridor' in the Gulf of Aden.
These notes may encourage and be helpful to boats heading up
the Red Sea. The Pilot book and charts make it look a lot harder to pick a good
route than it really is. In fact the inside route along the West coast is the
only really practical route for small boats and the multiplicity of anchorages
makes it possible to find an anchorage when ever the weather turns foul.
Bambola Quatre is a 36-ft (11 metre Angus Primrose’ Moody
centre cockpit sloop, with a 35 hp engine and 2-blade folding prop.
provided ‘free weather’ info to the net, which was mainly accurate. It was
broadcast each morning on the net together with the weather the other boats were
experiencing. You needed to add 10 knots to wind strength – the land breeze
effect and timing was sometimes a bit out. Lows in the Eastern Med produced
Southerly winds – mostly..
There were about 90 boats in our year 2003, making the Red Sea passage. A few had
engine problems but all were able to sort them out with local help and by spares
coming into Red Sea ports via DHL – FedEx etc.. Because the ports all have
cranes it is possible to get lifted out in most of them if that was necesasary.
In retrospect the Red Sea passage was not nearly as difficult or demanding as
I expected and in many ways it was an enjoyable, different and interesting
experience. The main ‘popular’ route is from either Aden or Djibouti inshore
on the West Coast. You sail – motor-sail - between the reef and the coast and
there are hundreds of anchorages. Only 2 boats went up the center, more or less
non stop and they were very large yachts. It really is not practical for the
average cruising boat. The people are friendly and hospitable in the ports. It
is probably easier to bite the bullet and use/pay the agents to clear in and out
and find fuel etc. in those ports that have them.
The following is Bambola's route in the year of 2003.
(Because we spent
two weeks waiting for spares in Djibouti after we had been attacked and robbed
by pirates, we were amongst the last of the fleet to enter the Red Sea. We felt
a need to ‘catch up’ hence several overnighters at the beginning. We could
easily have ‘parked up’ each night and gone a bit slower.)
5th March: Following our pirate attack in the Gulf of
Aden we entered Djibouti at night. (Very easy – well lit). Spent two weeks
ordering and waiting for replacement radios and other spares to be shipped in
from West Marine by DHL. Nice town with excellent supermarkets and facilities.
Good wine and email.
19th March: left Djibouti at dawn and sailed up
coast between Sawabi (7 brothers) and the mainland. With fair winds kept going
overnight and next day until wind came on the nose. We made a night stop on 20th
March at island of Dumeira 13°52’.84 N 41°56’.24E.
21st March: Moved to bay by Valano 13°52.84 N 41°56.74E. Very nice anchorage with lovely beach. Not rolly.
22nd March: Did overnighter and joined 5 other boats in
Anfile Bay 14°46.594 N 40° 47.935 in the early hours of 23rd
March. Easy night entry with GPS/Cmap and radar.
24th March: Left Anfile bay in late afternoon and
over-nighted again to Port Smyth 15°.32 N 39°59E – the first
real reef anchorage which needs good light to find. There is land in the
background but Port Smyth is just an area surrounded by coral about 1 ft
underwater with some dry land on the Eastern side - Entered Port Smyth on
26th March: Spent day in Port Smyth with 25 knots out of
27th March: Spent day in Port Smyth with 25 knots out of
28th March: Made short jump to Massawa 15°37N
39°29E. Where we enjoyed the town and fueled up at 15 cents a liter.
Lots of other boats there and a nice place. We spent the 29th shopping
and emailing. Friendly enjoyable place. Many other boats did side trips to local
places of interest. Good place for receiving spares and doing repairs. Could be
30th March: Cleared out and made short hop to Harat
Island 16°02.22N 39°.27.2E. Very large and comfortable anchorage
– we were there with 2 other boats in 6 metres but room for 50 boats!
1st April: Departed Harat with forecast of 7 days
southerly. Intending to make as much progress as possible. Wind came on nose in
evening so we anchored behind Difnein Island in the dark! 13°39.53N
39°19.15E. in 10 metres.
2nd April: Departed Difnein and found southerlies and
overnighter again to enter Trinket Harbour in afternoon. Need good light
for shallow entrance and the military with big field guns did not like us
anchoring near them in southern end and asked us to move to the northern end.
All very friendly. 18°52.815N 37°24.882E.
3rd April: Spent day going through the very well
beaconed Sudbrook channel. Very easy and a pretty place. At end of day
got to our first masa the lovely Marsa Shiek Ibram. Need good light to
follow the winding entrance. 18°52.815N 37°24.882E.
4th April: Waited until the sun was high enough to see the
coral entrance then left for Suakin (Sawakin) Amazing anchorage behind
the ruined island town of old Suakin. Very safe and secure but very, very poor
people. A must see place. 6 other boats in there. Have to use agent but nice
guy. Refueled here. 19°06.473N 37°20.245E
6th April: Headed north and anchored behind Towarit
Reef 19°31.307N 37°19.552E all a bit open but protection
7th April: entered narrow gap to anchor in Sham Rumi
19°56.42N 37°24.18E the ‘Jacques Cousteau’ reef with underwater
house. Big mistake. Despite what the pilot book says there is only shallow water
(20 metres!) about 5 metres from the reef! All the rest is 30+ meters deep!
Near the anchor sign in the pilot book we found a disused laid mooring
floating underwater and tied onto that otherwise it would have been very, very
8th April: Left Sham Rumi and anchored in the morning of
the 9th at Kor Shiab 21°20.772N 37°01.530E Bit
like being in a sand pit but a well protected anchorage with dunes all round and
lots of good company with other cruisers.
9th, 10th, 11th April: Still in Kor
Shiab waiting for weather. Good place for exploring, swimming and chilling out
with other boats.
12th April: Pulled out of Kor Shiab with light winds
intending to go as far as possible towards Foul Bay… at 11.30 the northerly
increased to 20 + knots and we all headed into Masa Wasi 21°388.556N 36°.53.970E and anchored. 3 boats went through the narrow pass
between the reef and the sandbank and found good shallow anchorages. Tragically
Ewan Bellamy the skipper of Pollux died of natural causes at 14.30hrs. We spent
the next week in Masa Wasi doing what we could to help Lisa - his 3-month
20th April: Arrangements had been made to move Pollux to
Cyprus and Sue from Tillinga Too having returned from accompanying Lisa to Sudan
we headed out towards Foul Bay.
At noon the wind came up again to 25+ from the north so we entered Masa
Gwilaib 21°58.5N 36°51.8E Long twisty entrance but good
safe anchorage once you are in. Spent 21st 22nd
here whilst it blew 30+ out of the North.
23rd April: In early morning followed ‘Josephine’ out
of anchorage using GPS waypoints made on entering. Heading for Foul Bay but
sadly after only a few hours the wind came up again and we headed into Umbelia
21°58.5N 36°51.8E - small but beautifully formed!
24th April: headed out with good southerly across Foul
Bay. Felt it was very important to try to round Ras Baniyas without
putting in there, as it is definitely one of the strongest wind acceleration
zones in the Red Sea. Boats were stuck there for up to 2 weeks and running short
of food! Once you get around the headland and head west the strong winds fade
25th April: late afternoon got into small round Sharm
Luli 24°36.613N 35°06.853E. Very nice local fisherman/shopkeeper got us
diesel @ 15cents US$ a liter plus veggies and tinned stuff and took away our
rubbish. Excellent spear fishing.
26,27,28,29,30th April: Sharm Luli – waiting for weather –
chilling out, partying!
1st May: Headed out into 17 knots northerly for Hurgarda
27°14N 33°51E Long beat to windward. Wind
eventually turned southerly as per Bouyweather and we kept going to get into
Hurgarda in mid afternoon of the 3rd May.
Customs/Immigration note for Egypt: There is no point in getting a visa
before you arrive. If you clear in at Safaga it is absolutely a DIY job by taxi
– the visa you get allows 10 days to transit Egypt waters to Port Said. You
can of course (illegally) make land trips on it but you have to pay again if you
take the boat to Abu Tic or Hurgarda.
In Hurgarda you can do it DIY (we did) but major hassles – or pay agent
the Visa allows you 3 months in Egypt and you can park the boat in the
excellent, safe, inexpensive Abu Tic marina and do land trips to pyramids etc.
The agent is around $40US.
3rd May continued: Moved round to Abu Tic Marina. Civilisation.
11th May: Departed Abu Tic heading West with 17 knots
northerly. And pulled into Marsa Zeitiya. 27°50N 33°36,5W
With 15-20 on the nose… This is an oil refinery – good anchorage but smelly
12th May: left at first light in calm and found 25-30
northerly after half an hour – persisted for half an hour then went back and
anchored. This is another major wind acceleration zone and boats have waited
here for days for better conditions. The next day we left determined to do it
and after 2 hours the wind moderated as it had for the previous boats!
13th May: departed at first light – found 27knots off
the headland then down to 15 after another hour. Into the excellent anchorage of
El Tur: 28°20.872N 33°06.781E.
14th May: Departed bound for Shab el Hasa on East coast
but wind came up too strong so we reached across to Ras Gharib 28°21N 33°07E. Got in really close to the shore but still rolled all night with
15th May: Headed out at dawn for with NW heading NE for
Ras Abu Zenima 29°02N 33°07E. Had problems making the
anchor stick in properly – not great holding but ok in Northerlies.
16th May: light Southerly all day – 5 knots – motored
and made Suez Yacht Club in 11.5 hours.
17th May: Organised canal transit – easy. The agents
will find you - all appear to charge the same and be connected to Prince of the
18th May: Took pilot on board and transited to Samalia
19th to 20th May: Stern to with showers and washing
machine… The Marina is an excellent place to leave boat for Cairo visits –
mooring buoys dodgy and holding poor if you anchor off and there is a strong
southerly…. Earlier in the year several boats dragged badly here when the wind
21st May: the pilot due at 09.00
arrived at 05.30! Although we had not cleared for it he allowed us to go directly into the Med when we got to Port
Said area. Very nice friendly guys the pilots - gave him packs of cigarettes as
suggested in pilot but very hassel free.
We left Djibouti the 19th March and arrived May 16th in
Suez. If you exclude the week spent in Masa Wasi it took around 6 weeks. We took
the attitude that if it was possible to move at all then we went for it – a
few days we made only 20 miles or so but other times we found good winds and
just kept going. There were ‘weather windows’ all the way up and we never
beat our brains out trying to go to windward when it reached 18- 20 plus.
Impossible anyway with a relatively small engine and a folding prop. It is a
trip to be enjoyed rather than feared and remember the Mediterranean is cold, crowded and
expensive when you get there.
Baksheesh - officials wanting gifts for doing their job is endemic all the
way up the Red Sea. It is also part of the culture and maybe as
guests/visitors it is not for us to try to change the customs of countries
foreign to us. It is encouraged by the local governments because it means the
state does not have to pay a living wage to its officials. The government,
by giving the 'person' an official job pays a minimum wage knowing that all
people using this official will 'pay' him something directly .
Anyone using the 'service' customs, immigration, police etc helps pay for
that service by giving small gifts to the official concerned. These gifts subsidize
his income and makes it possible for him to support his family. These
gifts are different from bribery and would not commit the official to breaking
the rules on your behalf - simply you are paying him, for doing work involving
you and it is also regarded as being respectful and good manner.
difficult for Westerners to get their heads around.
I do not like the
system but then it's not my country and it seems to work for them..