One month and one day of battling up wind or waiting it out is what it took us to sail the 720 nautical miles from Sawakin, Sudan, to Port Tewfik, Egypt, at the entrance of the Suez Canal, last corridor separating us from the familiar Mediterranean. (14 Mar to 15 Apr 2023).
Granted we weren’t particularly eager to defy unnerving Northerlies above 25 knots, nor in a rush to reach Europe where we had been promised a thermal shock with its off-season’s cool climate. So, we hopped our way up slowly, visiting remote places non red-seafaring fellows have probably never heard of, but which names deserve to be mentioned for their exotic sound: Sanganeb Reef, Marsa Inkeifal, Khor El Shinab, and Port Halayeb. The latter under Egyptian military care, we were to discover, despite our reading of the charts clearly placing it in Sudan.
Until then, voyaging along the Sudanese coast with our companion boat Girotondo, we had enjoyed unequaled peace and freedom, anchoring in the middle of infinite landscapes of contrasting ochre dunes and turquoise water, where the only living beings in sight were wandering camels coming from a sip on the shore of the marsa (natural harbour typical of the red sea where the sea meanders in land ending in a sort of shallow basin providing shelter for yachts during heavy weather).
We could go on archaeological missions ashore to study dromaderies or turtles skeleton, organise kite, kayak or snorkeling sessions (inventing by the way the new discipline of “air kayak”, consisting of kayaking without the paddle touching the water, holding it high instead, using the wind for steerage), climb over the desert hilltops and observe from afar a tiny settlement with a few silhouettes chasing away goats, invite each other for a game of Code Names or Decrypto over coffee or dinner, and arrange sleepovers for the kids.
So, imagine our surprise when an inimical voice called Obelix on the VHF in Marsa Halayeb and asked us if we had permission to stop there, questioned our flying the Sudanese flag and started interrogating us about boat registration, crew age and gender, last port of call, destination, agent in Suez, etc. Though the anchorage was on the Red Sea passage FB group’s list of allowed stops in case of bad weather, we quickly understood our presence was only just tolerated, and we weren’t supposed to come ashore, spend too much time in the water or wander from boat to boat unless necessary. Soon followed by Taravana, Girotondo, Friedericke, Muffet, and Wolo, as the first boat of the convoy to make landfall, we also assumed the role of “agent” for them all, relaying information to Port Control as they requested.
A shame because the surroundings were once more splendid but feeling trapped with very little freedom of movement, between howling winds and hostile militaries, the few days spent there were a bit depressing. Nevertheless, we managed to spice things up with clandestine swimming visits to other boats for coffee or drinks, being introduced to Max & Agathe from Taravana, whose recipe of crème au chocolat I preciously kept, diving in the colourful corals, and successful spearfishing fresh protein that significantly improved our diet which variety, with a lack of decent provisioning since Sri Lanka, had dwindled over time.
On our final stop before Suez, in Soma Bay, a resort-town with hundreds of kite and wind surfers zooming past the half dozen boats anchored there, a stock-take revealed we had just enough staples to make it to Suez and when Ibrahim, a local water sports instructor and self-proclaimed yachties helper, offered to deliver SIM card and groceries the next day, we welcomed his proposition immediately. The fresh produce he brought was delicious, especially the exquisitely juicy and sweet tiny green melons which we tasted for the first time, however, despite his claims to keep prices fair, came at a premium (up to five times the average price), as we later learnt on our proper visit to Egypt.
The last stretch of sailing from Soma Bay to Suez was horrendous with strong winds, and short seas. But we were determined not to miss this “window”, worse was coming and would have had us wait again for a week or more. This was an undesirable option given our stock levels and our wish to join Girotondo for an Egyptian land excursion. So we soldiered on and zigzagged between the African continent and the Sinai, suffering Obelix’ limitations upwind with the help of Mr. Petter (our engine), resignation and patience (Thomas), and utter frustration (me) feeling useless and miserable, lying in my off-watch berth, until we reached Suez just before sunset, welcomed by our friends on Girotondo, Taravana and Laika, earning our last-place badge with emotion and relief to leave the Red Sea behind us.
One thought on “Obelix up the Red Sea”
Love reading – this blog will become a book right ? You have a fascinating way to describe the moment and we can just travel with you with your words. Sending love from Rio de Janeiro . Bisous