Thursday, March 12, 2009

Out of Aden and into the Red Sea

I'm writing this lying at anchor in the "shelter" of an island 80 miles into the Red Sea, with a steady 30 knots gusting 45 knots outside - I hadn't expected the notorious Red Sea weather to reveal its strength quite so quickly. Looks like I'm set for a challenging passage - seems to be a theme in these parts.

After a manic time in Aden, stocking up for the passage up the Red Sea, I set off on Monday at the same time as eight Scandinavian boats - including pirate convoy members Helen Kate. Swedish and Norwegian filled the VHF airwaves overnight, breaking up the little sleep I managed to grab, but tiredness was quickly forgotten as dawn revealed the entry to the Red Sea. Seldom has the transition from one Sea or Ocean to another been so pronounced. One moment I was sailing in the Indian Ocean, the next I rounded Bab el Mandeb ("Gate of Tears") and I was in the Red Sea. Initially the Red Sea, hid its true nature - the steep seas subsided as I rounded the headland, however an hour later and the strong SE wind was soon building a nasty steep chop. Our group divided, Helen Kate and I stuck to the east Yemeni coast, while the other boats crossed the shipping lanes to the western Eritrean coast. Our plan was to continue north while the southerly winds held, but by midday the heavy conditions were taking their toll and we both decided we needed a rest. A new plan quickly formed and we altered course for the Hanish islands, which we made just after dark with the full-moon guiding us into the anchorage. Bliss - an uninterrupted night's sleep in a protected anchorage. The next morning while we planned our next hop, the others from our pirate dodging convoy arrived, so instead we decided to be sociable and stay for a day. Our sociability might have been a tactical error as that evening the wind increased and we anxiously monitored the tension in our anchor chains as 45 knot gusts blew through the anchorage. You know it's blowing when you need to close your hatches at anchor to stop the breaking waves flooding the boat. The wind has continued throughout the day, delaying our departure - but we've decided to head off tomorrow and brave the steep seas as it looks as though 100 miles north (hopefully sooner), the wind is a much more reasonable 20 knots.It's frustrating being storm bound as I feel time is ticking away - I have a hard deadline - my sister's wedding May 2nd. The plan is to fly back to the UK from Cyprus, but first I have to make the 1200 miles up the Red Sea with a wind that so far doesn't seem to share my urgency. Still I've been making use of the extra time in the anchorage to study the pilot guide - it's destined to become the most thumbed guide on the boat; engage in much weather punditry with the others and brave the wind and clean the hull. It's unbelievable how quickly the bottom has become fouled. I cleaned mussels, barnacles, weed and even found a small crab living in the space between the rudder and the skeg. Now if I was French I could have created a delicious "fruits de mer" topped with blue anti-fouling paint.

Anchorage @ 20:00 (GMT +3) 10/3/09: N13deg 46.8' E42.46.6'

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