The stop in Gibraltar did indeed turn out to be a rapid one, so we could catch the 'perfect' weather window we'd being watching for, for the 750nm passage here to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Paul spent the day on usual passage prep and maintenance stuff such as refuelling, rebuilding the raw water pump etc, while Sue did at least get to head out of the marina and explore a bit of the old town of La Linea while off to the markets for provisions.
We also of course got to speak to some fellow cruisers, including a lovely Scottish guy on the dock who just happened to know someone Paul did from the RAF MRT! Showing what a small world indeed we inhabit, we also got to spend a pleasant few hours with a couple (Phil and Helen Burns), from Christchurch NZ, who keep a boat in the nearby Queensway marina!
Remarkably, they had spotted us on AIS (an electronic system which identifies boats) as we came into Gibraltar Bay, had recognised our boats name and so had got in touch via the VHF! It turns out they knew Windchase very well indeed, having cruised the Pacific Islands in company with her and her previous owners Mark and Sue from Waikawa. Anyway, luckily for us they made the effort to head down to our marina the following evening for a very pleasant catch-up drink or two, as well as taking the obligatory photos to show the previous owners, with whom they remain close friends! The next morning we were a little it jaded, but time and tide wait for no man (woman or dog), and so it was out and west as dawn broke!
Fortunately the winds were only light westerly (from the direction we needed to head through the Strait), never rising above 20kn. Our dawn departure also meant good timing to cross the shifting currents (that run up to 3kn) and fairly busy shipping lanes to get us to the Moroccan coast.
By that evening we had cleared the coast of Africa and headed out SW, into the long Atlantic swells. After a fairly calm first 24 hours (with motor on) the winds increased sufficiently such that we could sail the remainder of what for us would be a 5 day, 6 night passage (at a steady 5kn average).
This was in generally very-pleasant and benign conditions, bar a couple of nights with somewhat uncomfortable side waves and when the winds rose briefly to 30kn (from its usually-perfect 10-20kn at 90-160d). We were pretty conservative with the sail plan throughout, but deliberately slowed down even more further towards the end, to ensure we'd make landfall after dawn.
The passage was (apparently 'naturally'?!) not without our usual 'technical challenges'!....The instruments conked out after a few hours, although by taking the speed and depth out of the instrument network, at least we got to restore our wind readings. As we have multiple backups that give us speed, its absence was really no drama.
Unfortunately it was potentially a bit more dramatic when our AGM starter battery (new in Greece) started getting significantly overcharged!...This could potentially be a problem with wiring, our 'smart' charger not being too smart (they can fail), or the voltage-sensing relay we have to meter between Start and House batteries. Fortunately it wasn't a problem I needed to identify the source of straight away at sea, as the alternator was still giving correct charge to the (also new) House batteries when the Start battery and charger were taken out, and so these could easily be used to start the engine when required. Investigation and solution is just one more job for our pre-Atlantic task list!
Thus, and after a bit-too-stressful summer in the Med, we are now, finally, where we wanted to be timewise!! We even have a decent hiatus while we wait for the end of the Atlantic hurricane season, towards the end of November.
This leaves us plenty of time to get ready for the next big leg, hopefully have some exploration around the Islands, as well as affording Paul the luxury of visiting family and friends in the UK (while Sue stays to look after Mili here!). TTFN.
Oh, PS, forgot to say, this passage also marked the point where we crossed 'halfway' through our planned voyage - at least in terms of passing across the opposite side of the world in longitude terms from where we started in Nelson NZ! So far we've covered just over 17,000nm. We are definitely also well over 'halfway', in terms of both overall time and distance. So whichever way you want to look at it, I think it's safe to say that we will now definitively be 'homeward-bound'!!
Arrived here at Gibraltar after a relatively uneventful 450nm (4 day, 3 night) passage from Majorca. After a brisk start, sailing along at 7kn for the first 12 hours, we hit the expected calms - and started the engine, with breath held! Thankfully, it chugged away flawlessly until we got here!
The passage certainly wasn't boring despite the motor-sailing...We passed countless dolphins and even traversed through a couple of pods of sleeping whales (holding our breath that we didn't hit one!). The last day saw us upping the revs a bit so we could get close enough to the Spanish mainland to pick up phone reception so I could listen to the Rugby. Whilst I thought the fact that we picked it up one minute into the match was surely a lucky sign, sadly Wales went on to lose to SA in the semi-finals:-(.
The approach to Gibraltar rock was both spectacular (it being one of the two Pillars of Hercules, with the other being Cueta a short distance across the Strait to the S) and was a bit a race against heading wind, fading light, as well as contrary currents and both mixed with increasing ship traffic (many of whom were 'drifting' in the changeable currents rather than anchoring or actually travelling in the usual predictable fashion). Fortunately we made it here to La Linea marina (just over the border from Gibraltar-proper) just as darkness fell.
Sadly it's unlikely we'll to spend much if any time exploring...the tides here can be strong and are such that it can be difficult to head west...but are just perfect for a dawn departure in the next couple of days - which happily coincides with a decent High offering good winds for our passage onward to the Canaries. If we leave it more than a day or two, a big low which is about to head onto the UK will start to make its presence felt by increased W winds through the Strait (making exit difficult) and a very uncomfortable passage S..And thus we may not make it in time for me to catch the flight booked to visit my folks and attend the wedding of friends. So, given the task list to prepare for our first foray into the Atlantic, my hope to have a run up the rock and see the Barbary apes may have to go unfulfilled, for now!
Well given the lack of engine, the move to the marina in Pollenca turned out to be a good one, despite the fact that the 'med-mooring' visitor berths at the (RCN) marina are on the unprotected side (N) of the marina quay! ...We had 36hrs of pretty strong winds (up to 80kn being quoted by others although we saw 'only' 45), with a number of boats that were moored and anchored out dragging. These included one catamaran that rather rudely awakened us as it came to a halt by hitting us arund midnight! Fortunately with the help of a couple of other cruisers we managed to tame the beast pretty quickly and no real damage suffered by either boat.
After that bit of drama we could settle down and enjoy the rest of a really wonderful week with my family (3 brothers, sisters-in-law and all but 1 of the 9 nieces and nephews) in Port de Pollenca, despite the fact that Mum and Dad couldn't make it as we'd hoped.
Mili got heaps of walks (not least because the dog beach was a long way away!) and made LOADS of friends on her wanderings!!...Us humans also got to do LOTS of eating, drinking and making merry on both water and land (although the other karaoke patrons may not agree).
Once the family departed we eventually got hold of the local diesel mechanics and confirmed the problem with the injection pump was indeed a broken shaft. This part wasn't available but we were able to order up a full reconditioned pump from the UK. The delays weren't too bad really as it allowed us to continue to eat, drink and relax for even longer (and Paul could spend lots of time watching the Rugby World Cup at the local sports pub).
The mechanics here also fitted the pump when it arrived but (we should have guessed from the effort it took to get them!), the service was a bit disappointing: When we could actually test under load (away from dock, around the harbour), it was clear that the engine wasn't achieving the full power it should do (and had done, prior to our Menorca breakdown)...but they simply not interested in putting it right (and unfortunately for us had been paid :-(). I put it down to the pump timing, although was a little worried at the appearance of some evidence of blow-by by one of the injectors. As the performance was 'kind of' ok (at our usual cruising revs) and given the delays we were very keen to move on, we thought we'd wait and address in Palma. Thus off we toddled, cruising around the spectacular N and W and SW coasts of Majorca.
At one of a number of anchorages we used near Palma, we managed to get a prop wrap with a line while anchoring and the product of this was some very worrying vibration, to add to our decreasing engine performance. Sigh! Turns out the mechanics were't too great after all...and I should have taken more notice of the blow-by! I found an injector flange had cracked (due to being tightened well beyond spec) and it so it wasn't getting the essential seal. Luckily we did carry a spare, so that was a simple replacement for me to keep us going. But the engine was also even more of a devil to bleed adequately than usual - and it soon became clear why - the Pollenca mechanic had obviously also overtightened and actually stripped the highest bleed screw when he'd installed our 'new' injector pump, so that was never going to seal, and thus bleed properly! Oh well, at least we were only a short distance from the services of Palma, to get both the engine and vibration issues sorted.
First stop was to pull all the injectors and take them to a workshop to be cleaned (as the poor running of one affects the others). We also temporarily sealed the problem bleed screw, first with sealant and eventually with epoxy (another pump was considered but unavailable and this temporary fix did seem to work and seemed to negate the need to pull the pump rethread the bleed point properly, for now). I also tracked down and solved some air leak problems upstream of fuel pump first using transparent hoses and then replacing a number of lines and better sealing all connections.
Sadly after a couple of days of fruitless mechanical investment, we deetermined that the vibration issues were going to require another haul out to get to the bottom of and solve. Ultimately this wold require the replacement of the prop shaft, as well as the (recently-installed!) cutlass bearing and shaft seals (not least because the shaft was now scored, a little more bent and the keys didn't fit snugly, the cutlass bearing installed in Turkey was a mickey-mouse affair that wound in and out of the stern tube and couldn't properly lubricate the shaft seal - and the shaft seal anyway was wearing badly being also the wrong size (too tight) for the old shaft! Oh and the coupling to the gearbox wasn't sufficiently tight either. Sigh!
All the ongoing issues (and associated delays and costs!) were starting to all get a bit depressing tbh, and at this stage we were seriously contemplating 'all of our options'!...These included crewing for others, starting to look for alternative boats to buy (not really realistic given both available funds, lack of something available which was as well-equipped, solid and tested as Windchase - as well as the time that would be needed to get to know and bring up to a safe enough standard before an Atlantic Crossing we woud need to make by Christmas). We were even thinking it may even be necessary to abandon (or extensively postpone!) our trip altogether!
One very pleasant vulture had even got wind of our predicaments and started circling...I was visited in the yard by yet another mechanic and his mates, as he was 'potentially interested' in buying our boat if we weren't able to get it going reliably in the time we had available when we needed to head west. He even seemed relatively unfazed by a price we would be lucky to get in NZ - and so remained as our 'backup' plan, should the work here not result in a sufficiently-reliable boat for us to make the Atlantic Crossing.
Anyway, we were determined to give it our best (and likely last!) shot, in the time we had available...One good thing was the modifications made in Turkey did make it very easy for me and a lovely guy called Alesandro, yet another mechanic, to drop the rudder and then he and his boss Jose got the parts machined and installed pretty quickly.
Given the trouble of getting Mili up a ladder while the boat was on the hard, we hired an apartment for a week, while this work was happening, in a less-touristy area near the Belver Castle. A pleasant walk for me to and from the yard each day, a short distance to some lovely walks for Mili and Sue, and a good area for cafes and restaurants - Hell, it was directly above a curry house! Life could always be worse eh!
OK, so there were further subsequent issues with the starter too (we went back from yard to here at our marina berth under tow!) but Jose determined the starter was OK (after I'd unnecessarily removed it!) and ultimately I managed to trace that to a dodgy thermostart drawing too much power, a simple fix, for once!
We are finally ready head on West tomorrow!
Port De Pollença.
Leaving Sardinia, it was only a relatively short hop west for us over to Menorca, the northern-most of the Balearic Islands. Here we anchored down for 4 nights in Cala Teluera, which lies just inside an amazing natural harbour, which also houses the island's historic capital Mahon.
While Menorca is generally much more low-lying than its larger cousin further west, Majorca, we were amazingly sheltered in this spot (chosen to sit out forecast strong N winds known as the Mistral).
The anchorage lies beneath 2 forts, including the huge La Mola and these just hinted at some of the more modern history of the area... Elsewhere it was not uncommon to come across the remnants (sometimes in remarkably good condition) of much more ancient defences, homes, etc.
Mili got to enjoy lots of swimming, walks, meeting other dogs (and lovely owners) etc. We WILL have to work more on her discipline though - more than once I was forced to do a retrieval from the dinghy, as she refused to come back when called and merrily swims off around the coast! When the forecast improved we left this lovely wee spot and sailed S and W around the coast to an equally lovely Cala at Son Saura...Lovely beach and brilliant walks ashore mooching among ancient ruins. We were a little discombobulated by the locals however... Several couples deciding to come and sunbathe (and do other things) naked within a few metres of our anchorage in their dayboats....and we'd anchored away from everyone else for a bit of quiet! Still Mili was her usual great introduction to some very good looking other ladies on the beach. Who also must have found the prospect of tanlines too much to bear.
We ended staying 3 nights here because as we set off (after 2 nights) the engine died about 5 minutes after starting. I spent the day bleeding, bleeding and bleeding again, only to come to the conclusion that the problem lay with the (injection) fuel pump drive shaft not doing its job.
The pump is an a bit of a mare to remove and inspect further so we decided to leave well alone and just sail to Majorca and address it there.
Another reason was that the weather forecast for the sail across was looking a bit dodge more than a day out... And my family was due to arrive in Majorca in a matter of days. Thus we bit the bullet and the weather gods shined in us. Well, sort of! It really was the proverbial 'game of two halves' : For the first half of the crossing, the wind was a helpful 25-30kn - but was accompanied by a very uncomfortable side swell, with short-period waves of up to about 3.5m starting to break. Not pleasant and hand steering all the way. Then the wind died completely and it was a bit of a challenge to find enough zephyrs to keep us going in the right direction, albeit that the sea also, thankfully calmed down too. We finally coasted into the expansive Pollença Bay and dropped anchor just after dusk.
Next morning, the anchor was upped and, with trusty dinghy and outboard attached, we could use the latter to chug slowly, if a little embarrassingly, over to join the high achievers with their much more swanky boats at the nearby Real Club Nautica marina - ready for the forthcoming storm (A forecast Mistral I mean - although the family was also imminent, so easy access to shore WAS an important consideration for ease of 'victualling'!).
Despite the various extended delays since Sri Lanka, we had finally and rather unbelievably made it in time, indeed with a day to spare! Yay!
Isola Piana: Departing the mainland west, we crossed the Bay with Pompei and Vesuvius mostly hidden behind a veil of cloud.. Or it may have been smog from Naples, as the sun came out in force as we left the Bay! We passed close up to picturesque towns on the islands of Procida and Ischia for a nosey, but didn't land as we were still on our relentless quest to make it to Majorca for early September to meet family...
Instead we made a 50nm journey to the offshore island of Ventotene, anchoring near the impressive ancient Roman galley 'garages' cut out of rock and the adjacent old 'Devil's Island' penal colony of Santo Stefano.
Both islands have been used to house unfortunates, exiled by the likes of Nero (including his wife, who he subsequently had beheaded here and made a present of her head to his mistress), to Mussolini.
Next day was a fairy short passage to the island of Ponza... Its spectacular coastline (and great snorkeling) attracting quite a few boats a great deal fancier than ours: Our nearest neighbours that night were a 102m, $350m super yacht and another 'only' half that size, and presumably value! The next morning, we headed into the very picturesque and busy wee fishing and tourist town by dinghy, to reprovision and do a brief exploration with Mili of the quieter alleys behind the seafront, before heading off across the Tyrrenean Sea on a 150nm (29hr) passage to the west coast of Sardinia.
Here we could rest up at the beautiful off-lying island of Tavolara...
Steep-to for the most part, but with a gorgeous bay at the SW tip that had a great beach for swimming and walking among the adjacent vegetated dunes.
We even got to attend a 'sailing circus' put on in the bay by some enterprising young Spaniards, making novel use of spinnaker poles etc to rig their trapeze, ribbons etc! Heading up the coast towards the national marine park of the La Maddelena archipelago, here we spent a couple of nice days and nights among the beautiful, if 'busy' islands (in terms of other boats!), before heading via a couple more day sails to our point of departure from Italy here by the Fornelli passage at the NW tip of Sardinia.
Sadly perhaps, given our impetus to make the Balearics, I think we had saved the best of our all-too-quick journey through Italy for last.... This anchorage was sheltered, shallow and safe, the warm water a crystal clear turquoise and we could enjoy some lovely walks among the low-lying vegetation of the adjacent island of Piana, with Mili particularly enjoying this, swims off the beach and playing with another dog we ran into... Oh well, onwards and forwards!
Sorrento: After waiting for the N winds to die down a bit, we headed N through the Strait, passing Messina. Despite what was meant to be a N bound tide, we still had up to 3.5kn against us at times, but did manage to hit the narrowest part around slack, so fortunately not much drama, for us, around the locations of the ancient whirlpools of Scilla and Charybdis (for those who may know of the challenges faced by Odysseus?!).
It was then a bit of a slog around the corner to here at Milazzo, where we checked into our first marina since entering Turkey.
The reason was principally to get a local SIM and complete 'formalities' (as a non-EU boat) and try and get a 'costituto' or transit log... but we were merely met with shrugs from the officers at the Port Police (Coastguard), Customs and Police..and told nothing was necessary, as we were not a 'commercial' yacht.
Here's hoping they see it like that elsewhere, as we have heard tales of hefty fines for yachts without this mysterious document! From Milazzo we headed N, though the Aeolian Islands, with stops off a spectacular old pumice mining operation Lipari and then the island of Stromboli. This really was a lovely (traffic-free!) village to walk around below the rumbling volcano.
We left around midnight, partly as the passage north to the mainland was a long day sail, at over 75nm, but mainly to get a good nighttime view of the volcano's fireworks - which were indeed spectacular close-up and remained clearly visible for the next 5 hours.
We made landfall at Salerno in good time, so had plenty of time to explore this historic town with its superb seaside promenade and ancient alleys behind.
(We also made a further failed and final attempt at getting a constituto from the authorities here... We forgot about it from them on and weren't troubled by anyone for any documents, bar a routine check of a national park anchoring permit later in Sardinia, which we had got easily online).
Next day the weather was superb (bar v light winds which meant motoring) for a relaxed chug east along the Amalfi Coast.
To say this was spectacular from the sea is an understatement... And I bet would be every bit so from the land too (the little figures taking the high coastal path did make me a little jealous, but it was going to be too hot to take this with Mili, so we stuck to the sea).
We had a lovely lunch stop and swim along here (meeting the 'King of Naples' or so we were told by his 'queen'.. Apparently this was his nickname when he played professional rugby!), then headed around the peninsula to the cliff-top town of Sorrento, with only a brief peek at the famous and spectacular, but apparently ridicously expensive and snooty island of Capri.
Taormina: Our 2 day, 250nm passage from Argostoli on Kephalonia (Greece) to Italy was pretty uneventful (read: mostly 'motor-sailing'!), except for the last 8 hours or so, when the wind got up a wee bit more than forecast (but by now, as expected!), hitting 40kn or so across the first part of the Strait of Messina.
With the main fully reefed, Windchase was still blasting along at up to 8.5kn, despite the waves nearly on the beam. Given the N winds and strong Sbnd tide in this area at the time, we erred on the side of caution and headed straight over to make a relatively sheltered anchorage here at Taormina, on Sicily.
This place looked 'toytown' amazing, with incredible buildings, both new and very, very old, built on the most precipitous slopes, funicular and electric railways, tunnels and bridges winding through and across the escarpments, etc.
It also introduced us to the apparent penchant of Italians to use any stretch of land with access to the sea, no matter how small or gravelly, as a 'beach' for sunbathing, a zillion sun umbrellas and an opportunity to make a Euro (or 20)!
Argostoli: Our previous delays in India, the Red Sea and Turkey meant that, unfortunately, Greece turned into a bit of a whistle-stop tour, of a very limited selection of the sights, people and food of such a diverse country :-( We basically traced a brief (and mainly upwind :-(!) arc across the Aegean Sea, day-sailing through the Dodecanese and Cyclades Island groups, calling at Simi, Tilos (2 nights), Gya, Astipalia (3 nights), Amorgos, Paros, Kithnos & Paros (2 nights), before taking the spectacular shortcut afforded by the Corinth Canal into the Ionian Sea, via a couple of nights in the Gulf of Patras.
We then had a very relaxing 10 days in the Ionian, largely based in Agia Effimia, which lies on the east side of Kephalonia, but also including some spectacular stops around Meganisi and Ithaka.
Unfortunately we didn't have time to head further north to catch up with our friends on Renegade - but were lucky enough to coincide in place and time for a catch up with an old UK mate Cal and her family.... Awesome!
Forgive me father (& everyone else!), for I have sinned... It's been nearly 4 months since my last position report! I have seen the error of my ways and can only ask forgiveness for my laziness. And make some quick updates in mild restitution....
Our 10 day stop in Fethiye turned into nearly a month hauled out in nearby Gocek, due to major engine work, haul out delays..etc...And when all seemed ready to go, a movement lockdown caused by a big bush fire!
A HUGE thanks again (and really that's not nearly big enough!) to Dave and Anne-Marie Tomkins, who showed us all such fantastic hospitality throughout our stay, and introduced us to their circle of friends.
So many highlights including a very memorable day on the beach being big (or rather little) kids again, kayaking, gorge walks, bbqs+beers with Fran & John (who has kindly some surgical magic to resuscitate our dead sat phone), lots of rum and an endless supply of baslama, catching up with my brother and family on a day trip to Rhodes, as well as NZ friends Warren and Jude too.... albeit all way too briefly.
A further massive thanks too, to the crew at Gocek Yacht Technics led by Serhat. Thanks to him and his crew, particularly Hasan Basara, our yacht and old Perkins engine (and gearbox) was given a much-needed full overhaul and a new lease of life. I shall miss the crew, the Çay time, sharing the staff lunches at their local restaurant and even the occasional evening beer. Definitely it all helped alleviate the stay in D-marin yard, where the temperature seemed to regularly top 40C!
We did have a cheeky stop on the Turkish coast after checking out at Gocek... as we cleared the coast we met a severe thunderstorm with visibility down to 20m, so discretion being the better part of valour, we hung around for a wee while longer! The next day did however dawn beautiful, for an easy passage over to historic Rhodes.
Keen to make up a bit of time, we only stopped briefly here, to check into Greece, get Mili's euro paperwork sorted (at yet another brilliant vet), and of course top up the drinks cabinet.
Arrived in Fethiye on the 25th May after stopping at some beaut spots on the way around. We're about to drag ourselves away, after a 10 day stop ashore with our friends Dave and Anne-Marie who are lucky enough to live here and have been awesome hosts.
It's been a year since we started... a grand total of 13,855nm (2734hrs moving!) for Windchase - - and 10,262nm for Mili!
Numbers of course don't really matter.. It's the places and particularly the people we have met, locals and fellow cruisers alike, that have made these (mostly!) fun, interesting and always memorable experiences. We're now looking forward to where the next year may take us!
Arrived Turkey after 370nm passage from Ismalia. Pretty smooth apart from an uncomfortable 10 hour beat in 25kn and lumpy sea after leaving the Suez Canal. Got a bit confused by lights on entering Turkish waters until we worked out it was probably a drone keeping tabs! Finike marina very nice and formalities could not have been easier.
Well we are out of the 2 day transit Suez - and thus Egypt... Certainly an experience. We were lucky with our 2 pilots, who both had good English and interesting stories. Bound now for Turkey at long last!
Forecast is for a moderate blow from the west until about 10pm tonight and then much lighter winds. All being well we should be in Finike by lunchtime Monday. Inshalla!
Well, around lunchtime today, we FINALLY made it to Port Suez.... at long, long last!
When we entered the Red Sea on March 31st, we thought we would truck through the 1,200 or so miles to Suez in only 2-3 weeks and be in Turkey for early April. How very wrong we were!
It's been 6 weeks and with the usual delays to begin a canal transit (3-4 days), 2 days to do it and another 3 or so to across the Med to Turkey, it could be another fortnight yet. Still, we ARE getting there, albeit slowly!
We ended up spending 9 days stuck waiting out strong N winds in the Khor Abu Arsehole anchorage. (It was sheltered and we still regularly got 30-35kn in there). Fortunately we had the company of the crews from a couple of other boats, Renegade (Austria) and Melipal (Malta/Australia). Mili did get to walk on the quiet side, away from the town, most days, but it was fairly bleak. And did I mention windy?! Apart from the local who drove us around, helped with shopping and diesel with refused all attempts at payment, the highlight was probably the acquisition, with the help of our 'guide', of fresh meat. Mind you, I dare say the goat, who was skipping around when we arrived at the farm, probably wouldn't agree.
Heading North from there, we had a 3.5 day passage (with one overnight stop at an inshore reef anchorage), ending at Port Ghalib where we would check into Egypt. The proximity of reefs, coastal plains and mountains behind on one side and reefs or deeper water on the other, continued to give great views, with ever-changing colours, light and shade. It was never boring!
We had one quiet night, hove to while we got the engine going again, which had stopped after surging. (Sound familiar Tim and Brett??!). Thought at the time it was just dirty filters. Anyway, we were on our way again early the next morning and made it to Port Ghalib around 2pm.
Port Ghalib is a 'new' marina town development, hewn 20 years ago out of and around a shallow lagoon. It caters to the ubiquitous tourism and dive industries here. It had some great bars and restaurants, which we certainly made the most of.. and lovely locals too... Although could hardly be classed as 'traditional' Egypt. The 'marina' there did however allow us to wait out the next batch of strong N'lies in relative comfort and decadence, so I wouldn't knock it too much!
Sadly, it also provided us with an introduction to Egyptian beaurocracy:
Case in point, you HAVE to use an agent to complete the usual yacht entry formalities (even though we had already got our E-visas). You pay a not-insignificant sum for this agency to 'smooth' the immigration, quarantine and customs processes.
Our Pilot (cruising) Guide to the Red Sea offers the advice that:
"Egypt being Egypt, using an agent avoids an obscurantist, obstructive, beaurocratic nightmare even Kafka couldn't have invented."
Clearly the authors could never have met our agent!
We had advised them ('them' being the only agent allowed to serve this port) a month in advance of when we were coming, 6 days in advance of the day and 6 hours before, of the hour. Windchase arrives at advised time (early afternoon) to.... Neither sight nor sound of the agent! Hmmmm....
The (genuinely very nice and helpful) Port Captain leant out of his office and shouted down to the Quarantine dock where we'd pulled up.. "He's out of town so I'm afraid you'll have to wait there on board until tomorrow morning". This was not great, being within 100m of bands playing, and all those laughing, dining and DRINKING tourists. Damn them.... enjoying themselves... Pfffff!
Of course the agent was not to be rushed and it took until late the following evening to be 'released' from captivity to get into the Marina. Such is the propensity for tourists to be relieved of money here in Egypt that we were, of course, charged full marina dues for the night we spent at the Q Dock. Despite no access to any services, we were, apparently, 'renting water space'!
Oh, but checking in,it turned out, was so, sooo quick, compared to checking out.. It was like the bloody Hotel California!... We'd emailed the agent and marina in advance to say we only wanted to stay 2 nights, as this was critical for us to take advantage of a good weather window to head North. Well, of course, ONCE we had checked in (after the agent deigned to show up a day late you'll remember), he kindly tells us "oh, it takes at least 3 days to get all the forms sorted to check out. Would you like me to start that process now?" Give. Me. Strength!
You may have already paid for and gained legal entry to the country but they have special rules to stop yachties actually going off willy-nilly and exiting the entry port to explore it!
Despite our encouragement (haranguing?) reducing a 'normal' delay (only for Egypt!) from 72 to 60 hours, inevitably we missed the desired weather window... and thus another 5 days evaporated, before we could set off again.
Not that we were by any means alone in these trials... The other boats heading north had come in a couple of days after us and got the same treatment, as did the crew of Moya, a young German family we had met several weeks before in Suakin. They all of course had to leave after us.
However, after 5 days for us it was all systems go. Until they didn't. We set off in a bit 'uncomfortable' weather, in order to make the most of a slim following window. After 36hrs, just as the weather calmed and we could start making brisker progress N (our aim being to head to Suez in one fairly short passage, given previous delays), the engine chose this moment to die, big time.. Closely followed by the wind evaporating.
It wasn't going to be a fix-at-sea job, so we drift/sailed the night away (as reefs lined the shore) and then tied on the dinghy to the side of the yacht to use its outboard to power us into a sheltered Marsa the next morning.
This was another tourist/diving/residential development that seem to line this beautiful coast. But the owners call it a marina and of course seek their money for such.. Despite the only facilities being our space, at anchor! Oh, and being allowed to tie the dinghy to their pier.
Actually, every local we met here was, without exception, lovely, including the 'marina' staff, the crew of a big launch next to us who brought over food and coffee as gifts on our arrival and another crew on the other side who invited us to dine aboard and share their 'breakfast' that night. Actually this was dinner, as being Ramadan they were fasting (including no water) between 3am and 7pm. It's a sign of reverence but also seems a bit of a test of (masculine) strength and pride to not indulge during the day. But boy, that food really was delicious.. even to us indulgent infidel!
The weather was due to turn to custard for ANOTHER 5 days, so the shelter in this place was most welcome. There was also a great beach and bar/restaurant (Mili welcome at both and the bar served beer despite it being Ramadan), a brilliant little supermarket that sold all sorts of odd things (to wit, Galaxy Chocolate and a 22mm spanner.. Both of which I was craving!). and even a great butcher that among lots of things sold... Holy shit...BACON!!!
The best thing about this anchorage apart from the lovely locals however was that the 3 other yachts had turned in here too to sit out the weather.. And their crews were kind enough to lend not only moral support, but share the benefit of their much greater experience and their time to help with the engine!
It took 3 days, a lot of coffee, testing, pontificating, dismantling, wire poking, compressed air from a dive tank and diesel dilution to identify and sort the problem.. Including 6 oil+filter changes after that. Problem ultimately being diagnosed as a completely sludged sump that had clogged the oil pump and relief valve such that there was zero oil circulation. Never great for an engine of course! (It had had a manual pump fitted to ease oil changes which we have always done religiously every 150hrs or so.. But the pick up can't be deep enough and we can't have taken the really bad stuff out, via that route (and/or the valve/seats or rings are shot ;-(. Looking at the gloop that finally emerged from the under-sump drain, it looked like this may have been brewing for a lot longer than our tenure! Fortunately we didn't run it very long at all with the alarm blaring, so hopefully the bearings etc WILL still be OK? Touching wood.. OK, and maybe a little cloth ;-)
We finally all left THAT anchorage after yet another 5 day N blow had passed and headed north (via a very brief return to harbour for us, when too MUCH oil pressure registered!.. Fortunately I knew straight away this was likely just a sender contact, so it was a very quick fix... after dismantling the berth to get access of course lol).
We day sailed/ motored close by the tourist meccas and posh boats in Hurghada, also passing through the multiple isolated reefs, to a nice sheltered offshore island at the mouth of the Gulf of Suez. We set off at dawn yesterday for the final 170nm overnight run up to Port Suez. While we did have the typical 0.8-1.5kn current against for some of this, resulting in 'interesting' seas, we had no more than 25kn apparent against (even if from the direction we were headed, of course), so it was a fairly easy run and definitely worth waiting for. We also had glorious sunshine and a chance to savour the beauty of the Sinai Peninsula sliding by, as well as the interest of negotiating the numerous oil fields that are not quite as becoming!
Anyway, next stop is hopefully Turkey (apart from an obligatory overnighter halfway up the 90nm canal..All yachts have to carry a pilot and as no night running, or sailing, is allowed we have to stop at Ismalia half way along and complete the transit the following day).
Despite the challenges, the whole experience of the Red Sea has been interesting on many different levels... Not least being how adversity can provide reward. Other major pluses include the strengthened rig coming through its upwind trials in fine fettle and the iron donkey, ol' "Perky", hanging in there.
But for me, it's the unexpected pleasures I'll remember most of all... The welcoming and kind locals, the really fabulous beauty of the coasts and the new friendships forged.
Paul, Sue and Mili
PS If anyone has sent txts or emails to our sat phone address and thought me even more tardy than usual by receiving no reply, I have to report the likely demise of it somewhere N of Sudan, when we last logged on. So, for now, any inbound comms will remain unread. Probably the phone has been knocked off its perch one too many times! On the plus side, an updated replacement once we get to Europe may enable us to type an SMS in less than an hour!
PPS More humble apologies for those folks hoping to hook up with us at various points in the Med and seeking an updated tentative schedule... You'll appreciate from the above why the previous one has gone so horribly wrong! But once we're through and settled in Turkey, I'll touch base and try and work out something a bit more reliable!
PPPS Sorry about the bloody annoying substitution of some punctuation with odd characters.. It seems you can type one thing in the YIT 'app' and it can come out very different on the website, at least if emailed in from a sat phone!
At anchor about 20nm S of the Egyptian border (or rather one of them.. They're always under dispute and therefore a bit 'flexible'!) Khor Abu 'Arsehole' anchorage where we are is next to a large refugee camp and is not the most salubrious of places for visitors (& probably less so for residents, I'm guessing!). Unfortunate, as we left a truly stunning one only yesterday 30nm S of here at Khor Shinab that had the most amazing Mars-like desert landscape & walks ashore.
We were hoping for cellphone/internet access here, but its vv poor to non-existent. Still, at least it is a bolthole... We're with 2 other yachts but none of us are likely to make any progress N for next 8 days, due strong N'lies. At least Mili we can walk ashore here too, although a waving stick is vital due to rather territorial crows and the odd hawk! If long term forecast is remotely accurate, we may get a 4-5 day window after the N'lies, so will likely have to grab that & miss out Port Ghalib and Egyptian cruising and head straight up to Suez to try and make up a bit of time. First World 'problems' methinks!
In Suakin, Sudan, where we have been for a couple of nights and about to leave tomorrow via some island and coastal mainland Sudanese stops, on our way to Egypt. It's a little bit surreal here.. The place looks like (I imagine) Hiroshima (buildings) once did... Old Suakin, which we are anchored next to, has barely a complete building standing and even 'new' Suakin, frankly, doesn't seem too different! Compared to Massawa, it is also (or at least appears to be) v patriarchal, with not many women on the streets. However, despite the differences and obvious poverty, the people we have met are, as usual, very welcoming and v v proud. Had some good street food and the oddest market find was Vimto, which I thought they only sold in Yorkshire! But lo and behold, it's very popular here too.. and throughout Arabia.. Go figure! There hasn't been any sign of the coup we've heard has been happening, coincidentally (beyond a lack of any Internet access and a few police hanging around yesterday, equiped with the odd automatic weapon or tear gas gun.. and smiles). Whilst borders are apparently closed to air and land travelers, us privileged sea goers have had no worries whatsoever and this has had to be the easiest stopover yet for formalities, diesel etc. ....Relaxed-as! TTFN
You may be a little perplexed by our silence for a wee while. There's a bit of a story behind it so, dear reader, I suggest you might wish to grab a nice cup of tea and we'll begin!
'Bab-el-Mandeb' (BEM), the straits guarding the S end of the Red Sea, apparently translates as 'The Gates of Sorrow' and I can tell you, they were open, but seemed intent on business, as we passed through!
It had all started SO well too....We had a cracking day to start, after exiting the IRTC on Friday evening, covering the 115nm to the south entrance of the BEM, where Eritrea and Yemen are separated by only 15nm or so, by 1500hrs on Saturday afternoon. It was thus cool to be able to sight both the continent of Africa and the Arabian peninsula at the same time.
The lovely following wind that had assisted us all day continued to increase a little, speeding our passage to around 7kn through the narrowest section by dusk (1830), on the west side of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) used by the commercial shipping traffic. We chose the west side as it gave more distance from Yemen, given it was still light as we passed through this (reportedly) 'dodgy' area.
There was only one mildly tricky bit to negotiate, around the Hanish Islands, at about 0100 Sunday morning; this being where we had to squeeze through between a few ships steaming towards us using the southbound TSS to our east and have sufficient clearance from a small island/reef to our west (whose position the chart helpfully suggested may not be accurate, lol!). Anyway, no real problems, so far, so good.
At this point we had about a 27kn following wind, which as we were doing 7kn in the same direction, is effectively only 20kn over the boat. It was however building towards the forecast 30kn and our speed increased as it did - we averaged 7.5kn to 0200 and 8.0kn in the following hour. Not bad given a theoretical maximum hull speed of 7.7 eh?!
By 0400 however, the wind had climbed well beyond the forecast strength (when WILL we ever learn??!!). We were now averaging 8.2kn each hour and the apparent wind (over the boat) had climbed to average around 36kn, the true wind speed therefore being about 44kn - with occasional gusts to 54kn. This wasn't particularly appealing to be honest and brought on a sense of déjà vu from our first passage out of NZ. Sadly, Sam and Brett weren't around this time to lend a hand at the helm tho'!!
It can get quite tiring, as the waves were coming quite thick and very fast! Not toooo huge at this point (most were 'only' 2-3m), but very fast and often, with a period between crests of only 3-4s.
Hand steering is better in these conditions, not least because at night you can still get a good 'feel' for what to do with the steering as the wave comes under and which side it may be gusting from the wind on the side of your face. In daylight you can add keeping one eye on the waves (behind) to one on the wind speed and direction (indicator) in front of the helm. Unfortunately, either does however get a wee bit physically and mentally draining after a while! We were therefore alternating between hand steering and using the autohelm, a device which can control the wheel and turn the yacht to keep it on a compass heading you set.
Sadly in this type of conditions though, the term 'autohelm' is a bit of a misnomer!? (It's far from 'set and forget' and can't possibly be left to its own devices: In daylight you need to be facing back looking at each wave, what angle it appears to be coming in at and where it's going to break relative to where the boat will be when it does - and what its buddies behind are up to, too. As you do this, you're trying to judge whether to leave the autohelm be (assuming it will adequately correct the boats direction on the heading you've set, in time to cope with that wave - and how that correction may affect the yacht's attitude to the next wave, and the wind) - or coax the autohelm 10 degrees this way or 20 degrees that way, to keep the stern relatively perpendicular. All the while you have to be conscious that you don't want to go too far left as you might catch a wave and broach (putting the boat too side-on to those nasty waves), or too far right and accidently 'gybe'. This is when a wind passes across the stern (or you deliberately move the stern through) and catches the other side of the sail. The results can be 'painful' if it is not done deliberately, as the boom tries to cross over FAST and with great power - even with our 'preventers' rigged - with high potential for damaged gear - and broaching the other way is also then a distinct possibility, unless you can correct it quickly.
At night you can't see what's coming and just have to guess from what the instruments and the boat is telling you. All in all, a little stressful when you are having to process this set of judgements (and either turn the wheel or hit the right autohelm buttons) every 2-4 seconds, for what was turning out to be hour after hour.
Helpfully at 0600 (while Sue was trying to catch some much-needed sleep) we received a call over the VHF from a "Coalition Warship". These don't tend to send out their position on AIS for obvious reasons and seem particularly wary of small boats close-by after the odd attack in this region.
"Could you please change direction 30 degrees to starboard and maintain for the next 7 miles to avoid us?".
Hmmm, a tad inconvenient this, not only because of the dash below required to the radio: While dawn has just broken, such a course change required a gybe and it was blowing 40kn apparent over the boat at the time.
"Errrr, well that's not that easy for us right now, but we'll try"
Anyway, a 'planned' gybe WAS successfully achieved. 10 minutes later, said warship appears in our rear view mirror. They come back on the radio:
"Oh, we see now you are a sailing boat, thanks for doing that, but you can now resume your original course. And do give us a call if you require any assistance"
Of course, I was tempted to reply, as they serenely chugged on by, ½ mile away, that the only reason we would need assistance would be being put into difficulty through their bloody ill-timed requests. The ship's nationality remains a mystery - but I'd swear the accent was distinctly French.
Around 1000hrs the wind had dropped a little and so had our speed, averaging 'only' 7.4kn. But the forecast was for the blow to last all day and beyond, so you just KNOW the weather is just toying with you a bit, the respite is temporary and really it is probably just girding its loins to come back with just that wee bit more power!....And so it proved.
By 1100 our average was back up to nearly 8kn and the radar GPS told us we were surfing down some waves at 15kn (our paddle wheel speed log having long since spat the dummy).
At this point I joked to Sue that I was ready to get off this train at the next station, but unfortunately - or probably fortunately - this here train wasn't stopping! I wasn't actually finding it THAT scary...even though when seen through these conditions, the sea can be a frightening place. (Yes, I know that is probably a contradiction!): You know you can't control it, just try to 'manage', as best you can, how you cope and above all, try and look after the boat. In fact, not unlike some climbing adventures, it's actually quite damned liberating, because clarity, being 'in the moment', IS everything!.....Nothing else matters, not some spat you may have had 24 hrs ago, not what you would prefer to be doing instead at this moment, not your plans for life in 10 years time! None of that 'stuff' matters - just total focus on what you need to be doing, as a crew, at that moment in time to ensure your boat stays in one piece, is heading in roughly the right direction and avoids hitting anything blunt and hard. Of course this is likely to give you all the best chance of being able to pontificate on that 'other stuff', once you've 'got through'!
Anyway, I'm probably boring you, so will try not to go on for toooo much longer! The good news was that eventually the blow thankfully dissipated 12 hours sooner than we were expecting, as by 1500hrs - 3pm that afternoon, our average speed over each hour had dropped to under 7kn. Funny how you adjust, but after a real blow, 'only' 30kn wind can feel like a gentle summer's breeze! The other good news was that we'd achieved 176nm in the past 24hrs, putting us that much closer to our destination. That's actually not that fast for some yachts, but I think matches 'our' record for Windchase, which we'd recorded in a gale on her delivery trip from Auckland to Picton 8 years previously.
By nightfall we could start to get some proper rest, as the wind began to drop to 20-25. Unfortunately, it also had begun to swing around to the N, the direction we wanted to head. In fact we started motor-sailing with the engine, as it was rubbish for the direction we wanted to go and even then, we had to veer NE. Off we chugged into the night, Sue taking watch and I all but comatose. When morning dawned it was apparent that, while we had made it halfway across the Red Sea, even with the engine assisting both the direction and speed we were able to make given the wind and waves, were not that flash - heading us off towards the Saudi/Yemen border. Now, these two countries are not the best of buddies right now (although most around here seem to be having some kind of spat with a neighbour, or themselves), but it didn't seem like continuing bashing in that direction was a particularly great idea. The other tack was just as bad, basically 'horizontal' or along the line of latitude, making no northing whatsoever towards our destination. The forecast was for the N/NW winds to stay around 18-20 for the next 24-36hrs, so we thought long and hard - well, about 30 seconds, and decided "bugger this" - turning SW towards the islands off Massawa, Eritrea.
Late that afternoon saw us anchored in calm water in the lee of some low cliffs of a deserted island in the archipelago. The next island over however clearly wasn't so deserted, as within 15 minutes of dropping the hook, we were visited by the Eritrean Navy (or what passed for it in these parts - actually 3 guys in a runabout.)
"Hello Sir, have you got a permit to stay here?"
"Have you got any cigarettes Sir?"
"No problem at all then, welcome to Eritrea and enjoy your stay."
Bliss! Anyway, just a little short of where we'd intended to 'land', here officially ended our longest passage to date - 2,352nm (4,356km) in around 19 days 5hrs (av 5.1kn or 122nm/day).
The next day we mooched along further west, back in 'cruising mode', anchoring within the lagoon of a reefed island this time. Later we were joined here by 3 local fishing boats, exchanging a few things like hooks, and more fags - for a massive fish, which made Sue and I a great curry and took Mili to what seemed to be doggy heaven itself.
Finally, the next day, we made it to the port of Massawa. Again we received a very warm welcome from the officials here, who issued us with a free 48hr 'shore pass' instead of us shelling out for a longer visa. We remained tied up to the wall the whole of our stay - no problem and again no charge - with frequent visits from the dockside workers keen to make Mili's acquaintance - I guess the novelty helps!
Ashore, within 300m walk, we found numerous simple but good restaurants. And a number even served BEER!!!. We did also meet a few land sharks, but even these had some charm. On the whole the people, while apparently mostly very poor, were almost universally very welcoming. Quite a few thankfully had a reasonable command of English too, which is good as our Arabic and the local language was limited to a few scratchy phrases!
Replenishing the diesel supplies WAS an admin mission, involving several visits over 30 hours to the Ministry of Tourism to apply for and then collect the required letter of permission to buy it. Once we got our grateful hands on this however, it was a quick process, with the help of a restaurant owner Mike, to get a pick up truck and head to the station with jerry cans, dosh and the all-important official letter! Immediately behind the road with the restaurants lies the 'Old Town' of Massawa. This is a maze of narrow alleys bounded by mostly dilapidated buildings - but where you were assured by locals - and felt - completely safe to wander.
The town was struck by a serious earthquake in 1921, a war with Ethiopia in 1977 and more trouble around independence in the early 1990s. It's difficult to tell which is responsible for the state of the buildings (apart from the ones with holes from bullets or tank shells that is!), or whether it's just the result of sheer grinding poverty. But there was usually a wave, a smile and/or a shouted welcome, frequently a little shop behind the most inconspicuous door, and other things to add interest to wanderings, like one of the earliest moslem shrines, which even pre-dates Mecca.
Further towards the 'New' town (on the way to the Ministry of Tourism, again!), more interesting stuff - a great museum (with very enthusiastic curator who gave George and I her undivided attention for a full guided tour!), my first encounter with guys with AKs (very low key, they just asked me to walk to the bank I was headed to via the other side of the street - They were probably just National Service dudes given some poxy guard duty of the housing complex they were stood next too!), first sight of camels being used to carry wood to the market and a most unexpected sight -road cones and a crowd. It made us wonder what was going on..Nek minut, up fly 3 african dudes on MTB's, in full team kit, turning at the cones. - It was obviously some kind of race - But just slightly bizarre (having seen the state of everyone else's bikes).
Oh and the other highlight as usual of course was travel using the local buses (3 nakfa or roughly 20c takes you anywhere in town). Here the venerable Hi-ace continues to offer sterling service. In one I took, I counted a grand total of THIRTY men, women and children. Plenty of produce too but thankfully, no goats. It was like a game of Twister, with strangers! My old van Ron would have most proud.
We cleared out of Massawa after only 60hrs (yes, they were very flexible about the 48!) and headed just 25miles north to yet another deserted island. Here the new mainsail we have been carrying since Cairns finally got bent on. (The old one has done way better service than we ever expected after its repair just before we left NZ, but did blow out a panel during the gale and while repairable, we just thought we'd treat Windchase and ourselves for the uphill slog that usually forms the N half of the Red Sea to Suez.) Today we've headed a further 40nm north, where Mili could take her final shore leave for a couple of days at least, before we head off on a short 2-3 day passage to our original destination at Suakin in Sudan. I have to say, she was pretty damned excited when she hit the beach tonight, her first since Sri Lanka! On the map we have just realised we're only 17.5m or about 3hrs north (and 80m west) of where we actually got to 6.5 days ago! But we're here and here in relaxed mode, so what the heck!
That really IS all for now folks! I said I would TRY not to go on for toooo much longer, not that I wouldn't, right?
Well, we are about 100nm East of Djibouti and have now turned North towards the Red Sea?at last! The more astute among you may notice that, sometimes, this site can appear to report odd distances it calculates for our daily distance covered - but this time it is definitely our doing....The reason for this being that, until now (on this passage only!), our true position has always been a day ahead of where we were reporting it to yit. (We thus actually left on Weds 13 March are as I write are actually into Day 16 of our passage, not 15)?Probably me being over-paranoid, but this was a wee counter-measure, just on the off chance the Director of Operations, Pirate Pete?s Maritime Acquisition Services (Somalia and Yemen) Inc., just happened to be sat in their Mother Ship or souk while using the internet to peruse an obscure New Zealand yacht tracking site, looking for potential victims!!. Obviously, we have of course been reporting our true pozzie to the maritime agency that coordinates military asset providing overwatch of what they deem to be the HRA (High Risk Area) - which we?ve been within for the last 1,200 odd miles.
The even more savvy (sad?) may have already rumbled to our ruse, if you've tried using the Marinetraffic.com tracking site to look us up and seen a yacht on our track, but apparently a day ahead! This might be possible, given the odd occasions we have switched off our AiS ?silent? (receive only) mode. Doing this could actually transmit our details (so we don?t scare the bejesus out of ships passing close-by) ?Unfortunately, however briefly, this does give those ships the potential to acquire and retransmit later some (or all?) of our AiS details via VHF repeater stations, thus potentially giving our cunning plan away! You may laugh at the improbability of such a scenario, but even the subsistence fishermen we have met elsewhere do seem to able to be ?connected? these days. We've also met one cruiser who admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that they had essentially completed their circumnavigation using only their phone for navigation!. Thus, (presumably), it's likely that the more-savvy crims are also using modern tools to make their job easier? You would also, perhaps, be amazed at how many ships here also travel with no AiS on, switch it off on us (if we don?t identify ourselves to them), or leave it on but state only ?Armed Guards Onboard? as their destination?measures obviously designed to reduce their risk from n?er do wells, imagined or real.
The reality is, however, that the risk of piracy, for yachts, if not negligible, IS now relatively VERY low indeed (Otherwise we wouldn?t be doing it?doh!) ? kidnappings have all but been eliminated for the past 5 years and the few incidents that are reported appear to be misunderstood innocent approaches, or simple robbery (even if sometimes this maybe ?with menaces'!). Any remaining organised Somali operations (think motherships with multiple skiffs, AK47s and RPGs etc) are now almost certainly focussed on the potential big ticket produce - not the relatively-small number of yachts passing through, however pathetically-slow and easy targets we might make by comparison! This commercial traffic is certainly what the International forces (apparently) patrolling the area are here to protect against though ? not us lowly yachts, and fair enough.
So, why ?blow the gaff? now? Well, being the anal blighter I am, naturally I want the yit line to look accurate as we turn north!..But, although we won?t leave the HRA for another 450nm or so, the generally very light weather of this late in the passage season we have been experiencing, has just apparently been luckily suspended in favour of a ?perfectly-timed blow? for us ? 15-30kn right up the jacksie and which looks like it should last long enough to blow us very rapidly from this turn point, to and through the last ?higher risk area? (within the HRA haha! ;-), now apparently presented by Yemenis operating in the narrow gap of the BEM (Bar-el-Mandeb) into the Red Sea and up to the Hanish Islands.
(OK, ok, the wind is also forecast to turn head-on once we get through, for the last 350nm of the passage to Suakin - but let?s look on the undoubted positive side!).
Both our speed in this wind and the size of following seas (as well as our low return value) make it highly improbable that any (successful) attempt at boarding us in the dodgy area would or could be made. Here?s hoping that stating that assumption is NOT tempting fate lol! If we sound a bit too blasé now, we definitely haven?t really been, nor will be over the remaining days?Our passage through the IRTC (International Recommended Transit Corridor) part of the HRA HAS been (mostly) uneventful, but the skipper did get the chance to go a bit spreadsheet mad to work out how to respond, as best as we were able, to changing currents, winds and rate of progress to meet key timing points of this part of the passage, all essentially in order to minimise risk (eg passing through the ?dodgiest? 95nm between dusk and dawn - or as near as was possible given our lowly max speed, which wouldn?t actually allow for full passage of that distance in the 10.5 hours that currently passes for night here!) We also, thankfully, have had luck on our side ? a half-moon has been largely obscured by cloud, the wind kicked up to 18kn behind for long enough to have a very good (150nm+) day run down to meet our dusk deadline..etc. etc.
We have actually had only 2 confirmed encounters with non-ship traffic along the IRTC: The first were 2 small local fishing vessels, pre-?dodgiest-zone?, who we saw (it being full daylight) and presumed to be just innocently moving across our track at 0.5nm, to fishing grounds. Admittedly, it did help our state of mind that we also had 1.5m following sea at the time! The other was just before dawn yesterday, when we encountered 2 more small vessels together, apparently fishing (albeit illegally, within the IRTC). They upped and moved very quickly indeed (for local fishing boats) across our track as we approached. They did have lights displayed however.. and anyway, they were moving away from us (towards a passing tanker, phew!). However, given they then switched their lights off shortly after stopping about 0.5nm away, we did take the precaution of 'going dark' and high-tailed it on different tracks to get us out of visual by full dawn! Another ?encounter?, the previous night, was almost certainly imaginary, albeit that it yielded some valuable lessons for us: Shortly before emerging from the ?dodgiest? area, at 4am the skipper was hastily aroused from his pre watch-change ablutions by the on watch crew,. She had felt an unusual passing wake and then spotted 2 clear returns on our radar at 0.25-0.5nm. (These returns were indeed obvious and continued to move around our stern quarters for the following 30 mins). Meanwhile, the crew had been sufficiently prompted to do the obvious, i.e. putting our less-than-carefully-laid Avoid, Alert, Secure and Deter measures into total chaos, running around the yacht like the Keystone Kops on one of their off days! Our trouble was that, while we had discussed everything we would try and do in such on situation, like what, who would do it, how and when, and even practised and established the limits of some of it (e.g. written lists, assembled equipment, including a raft of stuff to try and disable approaching craft and deter or slow down boarding, macgyvered from yacht and fishing gear and numerous cable ties!), this was all done in parts ? without actually putting it all together in a full-on actual practise.
Needless to say, the plan(s) improved a bit after this ?virtual? encounter?Because, after all of that, it was officially declared to almost certainly have been a false alarm (or perhaps even just naval guys surreptitiously checking out our dark-running craft!) - but more likely to have been from an odd counter wave, coupled with echo returns from a part on our own damned yacht! The crew (Mili excepted) nonetheless celebrated, as may be expected, with a clean change of underwear. Anyway, it certainly hasn?t been as bad as you might infer from any of the above..In fact Sue said a couple of days ago (albeit before the 2 alarm states!) that so far it has been her most relaxing passage to date! Other brief highlights of the 1900nm of passage so far completed: 1) The yacht and its reinforced rig ?holding it together?, a pre-requisite for: 2) The crew doing likewise and getting through to this point safely, still sound of body and mind. Well, as much as they were to begin with, at any rate; 3) No dodgy encounters and some pretty easy downwind sailing through the IRTC, even if we did supplement this with the motor quite a bit to enhance speed; 4) The best display of dolphin pod aerial acrobatics either of us had yet seen - the jury scored it a well deserved ?dix points?! 5) The mental fun working out who is who and up to what when staring at a radar screen in the middle of the night; 6) The nightly VHF entertainment when the anonymous comedians & karaoke singers etc come on - funny even when we don?t understand the language! 7) All the little things, like the eternal reviving power of a nice cup of tea, the surprise of seeing a phosphorescent toilet bowel, the power of positive thinking (eg 6nm more of my night watch down while I've been written this!) and 7) For the most part, Mili does not seem to have been phased at all, untired yet of playing ?Find It?, or being chased around our very-limited cabin space, chasing Bear. Lowlights are very few, being limited to: 1) What can only be described as an appalling lack of planning on our part, which has reduced us now to having only 3 beers left for the remaining 5-7 days of the trip - even if they ARE nice big bottles of Kingfisher Strong. Made MUCH worse by the realisation that we are headed towards Sudan, a country that is meant to be ?dry??..Aaaagh! 2) We were a bit late in leaving Cochin, so have thus had a little too little wind and thus used the engine more than we would have liked ?Hence refuelling from the jerry cans we carry on deck can become tiresome if in a lumpy sea?Although our investment in a $2 syphon has considerably eased this process, given the light winds we expected for this extended passage we acquired a total of 21 of the buggers rather than the 6 we started with from NZ, when Brett and Sam were aboard to assist.
3) It?s been quite rolly, with more side swell than ideal - causing Windchase to complain a bit too loudly at such times. This was also Sue?s excuse for putting her knee through the oven door, while attempting to retrieve the sausages that had made a valiant attempt to escape being cooked for dinner. She has been angling after a new oven for ages, so the jury?s out on whether it really was indeed an ?accident?. On the bright side however, we had already consumed the lovely beef roast that had been in the freezer. And Sue will undoubtedly be happier now, or at least will be, when we finally get to an oven supplier. I should also perhaps add that Sue was unhurt in this incident, although the same cannot be said for the oven, or sausages;.
and finally of course 4) An ever-growing spread of Lists.
TTFN, Windchase This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using GMN's XGate software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.
Into the recommended transit corridor for ships (or rather a 2nm wide separation zone between the two 'lanes', at 0500 this morning. Since then its been hard going initially, as there is quite a contra-current and little wind. Still, in the past half hour there are signs of the current easing and wind increasing slightly...It should be net positive over the whole section, so haven't been not toooo bothered...but still, Yay! All being well, we should be on this heading for the next 470nm, or 3 and a half days or so, before turning NE to head up to the Red Sea. The weather continues to be great..except the crew (Mili excepted) are now feeling the growing chill in the evenings and need a shirt on, it being 'only' 25C at night! TTFN (Dist so far=1514nm, DTF c. 1083nm, last 24=113nm)
Well, Mr Miller has reminded me that I haven't made a yit update in a while and fair enough.. I'd better jump to it! Well, those winds became even more light and more fickle over the last couple of days, damnit! This resulted in a couple of sub-100nm days which have really hit the average. However, we ARE still heading in the right direction and the sun IS still shining. Wind is predicted to pick up, a little, soon too.. Even better! AIS and radar watching is fun at night... We're largely attempting to travel as 'incognito' as possible, West of 65E, with our position transmitter and lights switched off except when either or both are absolutely necessary to save freaking out ships. Quite a bit of traffic is routing parallel and close to our track. When we leave our AiS off and those ships with their's on obviously clock us on radar (we thus register as only a 'blip', rather than full info that AIS would show, when we have it on transmit, of our position, heading, speed, size, flag, shoe size etc etc), they frequently attempt to 'disappear' by switching their system off transmit mode too..Even tho we would clearly be no risk whatsoever of collision.. My guess is that they are a tad nervous that our lowly speed may be a cunning ruse by the n'er do well's reputed to inhabit this area of sea! Speaking of which, so far we have only seen 2 vessels that weren't clearly ships since leaving coastal waters off Kochi. They were both together too, on radar at 4nm from us not long before dawn this morning. Their speed suggested they were almost certainly simply fishing boats, but as their track was parallel to ours, to be on the safe side we did take a little diversion, just to make sure we were over the horizon by daybreak! Luckily when I spotted these on the radar, I'd just finished changing the oil again, in prep for entering Transit corridor... Hence we could just crank up ol' Perky and we didn't need to amble away pathetically under the 2kn wind! PPS While we do have very limited means of hearing what's going on in the big wide world, we were told of the crazy cretin back home in Christchurch and the tragedy that befell so many innocent people as a result. Words fail really.. Truly a deluded, ignorant, pathetic excuse for a human being, whatever their imagined motives. That's only my (polite) opinion though! (1280nm down-Av 116/day , 1317nm to go) This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using GMN's XGate software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.
Passage going well.. Winds can be a bit light/fickle, but enough to make progress without too much use of engine (as we're keen to not stop in Socotra or Djibouti if we can help it and thus need to save fuel for potential use before we go past!). Crew and Mili happy... apart from the fact that no bloody fish are biting! :-( (628nm down-Av 126/day , 1968nm to go)
Good positive current passing N of Minacoy and while not much wind that is consistently above 8kn, it still means fair speed with the iron sail, which we have assumed we'd for using for 1st 2.5days and when wind drops below 6kn. We will shortly be turning W and then WNW to follow (alleged!) current, given wind forecast is so light. Sun still shining, so all good here. (Last 24=125nm, sailed 245nm, DTF c.2352nm)
Motorsailing for 20 of last 24 which we expect for first 2 days. Wind is light but so is swell and the sun is shining.. All good aboard! (sailed 120nm, DTF c.2477nm)
On our way W after a few maintenance delays in India. Still, we had an awesome time, eating lots (very cheaply!) and getting to know some lovely people both staying and working at the Kochi Marina. Next leg is a biggie, so these yit updates may only be every few days or so, and pos & speed may not be entirely accurate, due to our reluctance to advertise true position! ;-) Wx info is for where we are at mo though, so sorry for any confusion for other sailors! (sailed 3.0nm, DTF c.2597nm)
At quarantine anchorage in Kochi (Cochin) after one of those 'longer than expected' passages! ...Reaching the S tip of India was a real buzz (being met by the sight of what looked close in from the sea like a grand palace, fort, huge mosques and church in Kanyakumari) and the photos we took can't do it justice! The bash up the coast round and up from there was, however, a bit less enthralling!.. Quite a few small unlit wee boats, as well as heaps of trawlers to avoid during the last night... A bit of a contrast to our experience around Sri Lanka, where we found all boats lit in some form, with most bigger net boats (and most nets) were not only lit, but also marked by AIS.
We actually got in to Kochi (Cochin) at 0930 this morning, but have been introduced, all day since, to the (in?)famous beaurocracy while attempting to complete 'formalities'. All actually went well... but for Customs... and the delays at least gave us chance for 1st thali here in their works canteen (total cost for 2 was
Still the last (boat) visit and form WERE filled in at 17.30, so we will now be ready to present at office when it reopens tomorrow and we will then be 'free' ! Kochi truely does look an amazing mix and should be fun exploring.. once we've had a rest!
(PS Total Dist covered from Trinco =665nm in a tad over 6 days, Av 4.6kn or 110nm/day...That beating certainly affects the much better trade wind average (as well as apparently leading to blindness).
After a bit of a mare with wind and current tacking around the bottom end yesterday evening, it's plain sailing omg the coast at the mo, with even a little current with us. Lots of small fishing boats (a few wanting food) but all sweet. Sunny again. Will slow down overnight, not least to head into harbour in daylight. (Dist covered 563nm, last 24=99nm, DTF c. 90nm)
(Distance covered 464nm, last 24=97 :-(, DTF c. 187nm) Just about at the S tip of India... After a slow but very lovely night, it's been a bit frustrating since 3am, with a bit of sea and reasonable wind and current... Unfortunately all from right where we want to get to, naturally! Oh well, sun's still shining and we're plodding on. On a more sombre note, I be thinking of everyone gathering in Sutton Veny to remember Mike about now...Particularly June and the children, of course. I know that the same church and pub will also bring back memories of another life cut too-short 25 years ago. You may blub again, as much as we all did then... And that, I think, is a good sign? Of lives well-lived, of memories and bonds which last forever.
Well on way, but clear its going to take abt 6 days rather than hoped for 5...We were meant to have a 1.5kn current behind us all the way up past Colombo (rather than taking a direct line against a current forecast by model)... But instead have had up to 2.0kn against for much of last 20hrs... grrr (hence SOG averaging less than 4 compared to 6-7 expected). Oh well guess it just confirms models and modellers aren't infallible, after all ;-). At least we have a glassy sea & all's well aboard! (Dist covered 367nm, last 24=93.1 lol! , DTF c. 248nm)
Just passing the historic port of Galle, where we visited on our shore tour. Beautiful day (although winds could be stronger please!). Night had a few challenges inc. v light following wind (so little apparent) and earlier a broken furler line through chafe (didn't have enough 8mm line to replace but rerove end.. Sadly we can only set half the furling genoa for now, but will be going old school with the hanked foresails shortly). Also heaps of boats at a Traffic Separation Scheme at S end of island, but all the big ones on AIS with just a few other fishing boats, fortunately all lit (after a fashion!). All's well aboard.tho forecast to lighten a lot over next 2 days so it will be slow :-( oh well, c'est la vie! (Dist covered 274nm, Noon-noon 142.2nm, DTF c. 365nm)
After a fab visit to Sri Lanka we are now en route (started 0900 yesterday). A little uncomfortable for first 24hrs due to side swell but not too bad now.. Also had 1-1.8kn current against for most of time and a couple of rainy squalls to 26kn (as opposed to forecast 12kn!). Still, it's worth a 'price' well worth paying for heading to the lovely secure harbour in Trincomalee rather than Galle... Beautiful day now and shortly will be into positive current of up to 2kn, so all good now! Distance covered 133nm (118nm Noon-noon), DTF c. 528nm.
Arrived safely in Trincomalee at around 1330 local time.... All the paperwork now completed (helped by obligatory agent, Sandeep from GAC Shipping, who did a great job and made it a painless process). I've just anchored and about to blow up dinghy, having left Sue on customs wharf ashore to hunt out currency and SIM cards! Mili's already seen more than Sri Lanka than I have so far! (1055km in total in 172.5hrs... Av 147nm/day or 6.1kn....That current helped a lot!)
Balmy day... Sea v benign and wind dropping to 6-12kn, shifting round to a beam reach... Choice! Also visited by first pod of dolphins in ages. Our friendly positive current has started to slacken and we've also slowed a bit more deliberately, to make sure we stay offshore and don't get too tied up with local fishing vessels over last night. ETA around lunchtime tomorrow. (944nm done, c. 103nm to go. Last 24hrs 149nm). All well aboard! This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using GMN's XGate software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.
And... Ditto. Another good days run, in fine weather! ...Sea up and down (funny that, eh?).. Well, what I mean is it got up to 3m, but longer period than yesterday, so not too bad... Now eased off a lot and both wind and sea look likely be falling from here on in. For once the forecasts have been spot on! (795nm done, c. 252nm to go. Last 24hrs 166nm...current assisted of course!). All well aboard!
Another good days run, in fine weather...Only one tanker and one fishing vessel sighted, so pretty quiet. Sea easing so, thankfully, it now feels a bit less like a Wurlitzer ride! Mili has learnt to use the Lee cloths and seems to like this cozy pozy as much as the hoomans.... Frankly cramped when you're in there too! (629nm done, c. 418nm to go. Last 24hrs 152nm). All well aboard!
Still in decent current and nice winds of 12-20kn... Hence a very good days run (for us!). (477nm done, c. 570nm to go. Last 24hrs 161nm). All well aboard! (PS forgot to change date on ydays position report from previous day, so may have looked a bit screwed up sorry)
Going well, given light winds... We've aimed to pass S of the Nicobar Islands, as this will soon put us into a 1.5-2kn current all the way across the Bay of Bengal (or at least with 200nn of destination at Trincomalee). Already in well over 1kn...woop woop! (168nm done, c. 865nm to go. Last 24hrs 126nm). Wind should (hopefully!) pick up a bit tomorrow. All well aboard!
Now well past the Nicobars, and into good strong current... A bit frisky occasionally where its opposed but great for most of the time. More shipping than expected (maybe the words Grand Passage on the chart should have been a hint?!).. but they're all on AIS, so no worries (316nm done, c. 725nm to go. Last 24hrs 148nm). All well aboard!
Off on the next leg, Sri Lanka or bust! ... Started at 10:00hrs this morning and now about 30nm out from Phuket. Wx in line with forecasts.. We maybe should have waited, as very light winds for next 2 days :-(. Still, the sun is shining and seas are calm, so can't complain too much!
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