Saturday, March 28, 2009

Escape from Dolphin Reef

The wind kept me pinned within Dolphin Reef for three frustrating but enjoyable days. With Kristiane moored outside the lagoon I made a daily wet dinghy pilgrimage to meet them for sun-downers and invariably stayed for supper. The second night, I was well prepared, remembering to turn on Kika's anchor light, take a torch and hand-held VHF in-case of problems. Trouble was after a few too many drinks I watched in horrified slow motion as the VHF slipped from my pocket and disappeared into the dark waters around the dinghy. That'll teach me - or perhaps not ...

The days passed quickly with much weather punditry, boat jobs and snorkeling in the incredibly clear, but cold waters around the reef. I spent one morning cleaning barnacles off the bottom of the keel, where the anti-fouling hadn't reached when we painted the bottom on the careening grid in Darwin. They'd cemented themselves in-place making for slow but satisfying work. As I gradually chipped away at the organic layer, I was compensated for my labour by the many intrigued fish who remained close, presumably to see if the bits falling from Kika offered any kind of nutritious snack. The highlight were two huge Napoleon wrasses slowly circling underneath, completely unperturbed by my frequent graceless dives and vigorous scraping.

The reef was well stocked with large fish including some tasty looking grouper; unfortunately spear fishing is prohibited in Egypt, but fortunately not can-openers.

On the third day I made my way outside the lagoon and tied to a line used by the live-aboard dive boats; I relocated to permit our planned nocturnal get-away. After a few teasing lulls, at 10pm the wind had unambiguously dropped and we set off anticipating we'd have light winds for the 100 miles trip to Port Ghalib. I left with high hopes that the fix I'd made for the self-steering would save me from 20 hours fixed to the helm.

Soon we found ourselves in a large sea, making slow headway and by morning the wind picked-up again whipping-up the sea further and frequently halting our progress as we ploughed into the large waves. Fortunately the pilot showed an anchorage in the lee of a coral fringed sand split a few miles towards the coast. I'd decided I needed a rest after a busy night when the electronic pilot had packed-up within the first hour. Kristiane readily agreed and we picked our way between the bommies into the shelter behind the island.

North of Port Sudan the quality of the charts deteriorates significantly, with the chartlets in the pilot guide the only detailed source available. The chart is clear that it should not be relied upon for boats cruising the coast:
Due to the age and quality of some of the source information, positions obtained from satellite navigation systems may be more accurate than the charted detail ... Most of the area covered by this chart has not been systematically surveyed. Many depths are from miscellaneous lines of passage soundings, old leadline surveys or from other Governments' charts whose source material is unknown. Uncharted shoals and patches of coral may exist.

I spent a vexing afternoon in the anchorage battling with the autopilot and trying to fix a new problem with the down switch of the electric windlass which seemed to be short-circuited and caused the chain to run-out as soon as the windlass was powered. The double frustration was that the manufacturers (Lofrans) had fitted tamper-proof screws to the unit preventing me from even attempting a fix, short of drilling out the screws. The end result is that I can't solve the problem and have had to work round it by disconnecting the motor down connection. Then I invested quality time with the autopilot but despite deepening my understanding of its inner workings, I ended the afternoon no closer to a solution. However positively, the forecast showed the wind easing overnight we jumped at the chance to try again to cover the remaining 60 miles to Port Ghalib.

I studied the pilot guide and decided to try the passage north between the island and the shore, rather than retrace our path and add 4 miles to the journey. Kristiane agreed to follow behind me, though with the sun low in the sky it was tricky picking a route through the coral. After successfully edging my way round one large coral head I looked over my shoulder and was horrified to see Kristiane up on the reef. I was enjoying the challenge of the route, but in retrospect felt I hadn't sufficiently emphasized the dangers to Kristiane so felt some responsibility for their predicament. Just as I reached them, they scraped themselves clear, and somewhat shaken decided to take the longer route round. I pressed on a little more cautiously and found my way to clear water, my achievement tempered by guilt.

For most of the night my earlier shortcut kept me ahead, which was fortunate as just after 11pm the engine died as I unexpectedly ran out of fuel. Kristiane, who put their earlier mishap down to experience, quickly caught up to Kika, and saved the day by offering me their last two fuel cans - enough to make Port Ghalib and saving me from drifting helplessly in the windless night. I'd bought extra fuel cans in Aden, and thought I would have enough fuel, but had clearly underestimated the fuel consumption in previous days' heavy seas. For once the wind behaved as anticipated and despite another exhausting night glued to the wheel, morning revealed the channel leading to our first official port of entry in Egypt, with the chance to check-in, refuel, reprovision, clean-up and put back the clocks to a new timezone - GMT+2.

26/3/2009 (16:00) - Mooring outside Dolphin reef: N24deg 09.4' E35deg 42.65'
27/3/2009 (10:00) - Gezirat Wadi Gimal: N24deg 39.5' E35deg 09.4'
28/3/2009 (06.30) - Customs' berth @ Port Ghalib: N25deg 32.0' E34deg38.3'

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