September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

By Liz Tosoni

 

Killarney, Ont.

Feel Free is still high and dry in Curacao, waiting patiently for her owners. This gives me a little more time to think back on some of our (not too long ago) exotic cruising. Soon enough, the work will be done and we’ll be out there on the water again. Last log, we were sailing up the Red Sea, and had finally made it into marsa country. It was time to do some marsa hopping.

Right, so what are marsas anyway? Well, they are quite a remarkable geological phenomenon, and each one is unique. “Sharms”, narrow, very deep and often winding, streams or rivers sometimes penetrating several miles inland, often with vertical coral walls, lead into a well protected blue lagoon, a “marsa”, sheltered from the seas and often nestled into the edge of mountains. Marsas are lovely natural bays found, very conveniently, almost every few miles along the Sudanese and Egyptian coasts.

Entering Marsa Salak was a bit hair raising as the sharm is extremely narrow, a deep blue ribbon, easily seen with good light, snaking into the rather tiny lagoon (marsa) with little swinging room but great snorkeling and good protection from the seas.

Khor (another name for “marsa”) Shinab’s entrance is hard to identify at first but once you have it, it’s long, winding and wide, feels like a river with raised, deeply cut shorelines of sand appearing like sponge toffee. This marsa is very large and picturesque, big enough for a fleet, enveloped by rounded hills and sculpted mountains like protective shoulders. Here, we are in the anchorage, watching our friends on Red Herring sail in (notice the white sail).

While there, we got an early start before breakfast to hike Quoin Hill. It was like walking on the moon, feet crunching on the dry, crusty barren landscape.

 

 

Little Marsa Umbeila has an easy entrance with camels sauntering on the north shore and long, pristine beaches. Snorkeling was exquisite, on an enormous wall of coral; it’s just one of the many secret and surprising isolated places with world class diving to be found as you move northwards.

Foul Bay can be one very nasty stretch of about 100 miles of water, considered the worst on the west side of the Red Sea- reef strewn, with poorly charted or unchartered hazards. You can poke along and stop in the many possible anchorages but we wanted to get it behind us. The area has never had a detailed survey- a couple of Commanders of the Indian Navy (1834-36) seem to have been the last to do any charting there. We had read harrowing accounts of cruisers from previous years running into horrendous conditions, clawing their way in 30 knots of wind and steep seas, but those were the days when weather forecasts were based on radio reports from yachts 100 miles ahead- “what’s up ahead is what you’ll get”. They went out “like lambs to the slaughter” (Tom’s words).

In our case, the two day run of 253 miles from Marsa Umbeila to Port Ghalib in Egypt couldn’t have been much better. The Grib file weather forecast for four days was ideal when we departed- light northerlies for a couple of days followed by a day of southerlies and then very strong NW winds were expected to fill in on the 4th day. The first afternoon we had 15 kn out of the NNE. By 2200 winds were light and westerly. They backed around to the SW for perfect sailing conditions the second day, flat calm seas and 12- 15 kn from the S, lightening up in the evening.

In the late afternoon we noticed a large black cloud in the sky. We sailed until around 2300 when the winds died and the iron jenny was called to action. Just after midnight, a friend called by VHF to report a weather update: “you can expect winds to come out of the NNW at 10-15 knots shortly after midnight”. Sure enough, that’s what happened within the half hour! The weather change was quite abrupt and well defined, with a sudden warm wind. It seemed the four day forecast had been accelerated. We headed directly for Port Ghalib in Egypt to arrive at first light. By then the winds were truly 15 NNW and strengthening and seas getting very bumpy so we got in just in time.

Suakin, Sudan: A narrow, shallow inlet, sailing dhous darting here and there, the ruins of the last slave trading post in the world close on the starboard side: this is the entrance to the well protected and most unusual anchorage of Suakin.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa, shares a border with 8 countries and is a microcosm of Africa. They say that all the African races and religions are represented in the Sudan, three of the four major African languages are spoken here and that Sudanese civilization preceded Egyptian civilization.

Tall, dark, handsome and deep voiced Mohammed, the one and only agent, comes to the boat by dinghy with one official. A paper is filled out, and then the passports, one picture each, and 5 crew lists are handed to Mohammed along with $140 US which covers all fees. He returns in a couple of hours with shore passes. If fuel is needed, he takes your jugs and returns them later (@ $.70 US/liter. He’ll also collect and return jugs for drinking water at a minimal cost, and laundry, exchange money, organize trips. Well water for washing is available on shore free of charge.

Suakin is a natural marsa, very trippy. We felt as though we’d been transported back to biblical days. The remains of the ancient trading post are on an island in the middle of the harbor and a causeway leads from it to the old town.

You can find good local swords and knives with sheathes, whips, walking sticks, coffee pots and prayer mats, a very good produce market and delicious bread made daily but no alcohol. Donkey carts are the usual mode of transport.

Men are shrouded in white or brown with Aladdin-like turbans and swords or knives in their belts; women, the few you see, are fully covered in flowing garments: bright reds, oranges, yellows, purples, some with faces showing, others not.

Port Sudan, the capital, is an hour away by local bus and also fascinating. The road is good, the countryside dotted with plastic bags, nomad camps, the ubiquitous camel, goats and shepherds, sparse shrubbery. Having coffee (strong), the local way, is a must. Everywhere, the men are drinking tea or coffee. They must have trouble sleeping at night, I can’t help but wonder, all that coffee!

At Port Ghalib, Egypt, Port Control first directs you to a Customs wharf where clearance procedures take place. Customs comes aboard to inspect lockers and drawers, and Mohammed (another one) takes passports, copies of ship’s registration and crew lists to be processed. Egyptian visas cost $15 US for 1 month and 2 months are given for the boat. Then you are directed to a spot in the Marina, which was still being constructed during our visit. In fact the whole place was a construction site- eventually this beautiful Marina will have 1,200 berths, the largest in the Middle East.

There’s a small supermarket and a small restaurant nearby where you can buy provisions including cheese and flat bread. The first evening, we got pizzas delivered to the boats from the “Tweety” restaurant. The owner is “Honey” and through him we arranged for a 14 seater mini bus for the next day to the small town of El Quseir, traditional and quaint, 70 miles north. On the trip back, we stopped at a market for fruits and vegetables. We found Egyptian oranges to be sweet and succulent, strawberries luscious.

Boats have to take turns entering Abu Tig Marina one at a time with very competent Marina staff helping with lines and Med style moorings. The Marina is a huge posh complex- a mini city really, like a movie set, El Gouna, a complete contrast to the impoverished third world countries we’d been visiting the last few months.

What a luxury to be in a beautiful Marina, not to worry about the weather or the next destination as the wind howled in the rigging, to use copious amounts of fresh water, luxuriate in hot showers. But cold at night and dry! At Lat. 27 N, we were in long pants, socks, shoes, sweaters, foulies and wool hats during night watches, and using tons of moisturizing cream. A lovely climate but well and truly out of the tropics.

At Abu Tig, we took stock and realized we’d reached another milestone. It had been 3 intense months since our departure from Thailand and overall, it had gone very well- no major breakdowns, no severe weather, no piracy, not TOO much stress, lots of good sailing, snorkeling and scenery, good fishing, fascinating landfalls and cultures, 7 countries visited in all.

We figure there are 4 hurdles to get through in the Indian Ocean/Red Sea/Med journey: 1) Gulf of Aden 2) Bab El Mandeb (“Gate of Tears”) 3) Foul Bay and 4) the Gulf of Suez. We’d accomplished 3 of them without incident. It’s all very manageable, one step at a time.

 

There, it was time to fix things, dust the desert sand off ourselves and Feel Free, relax, see some sphinxes, pyramids mummies and temples in this oldest tourist destination on earth, and get ready for the next one. At this point, we realized that we were actually going to make it to the Med.