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The Ritz-Carlton hotel has a very posh marina called the Royal Marina, the small basin is lined with neat green hedges and all but two of the boats are moderately sized gin-palaces. How do I know it’s posh…well I wasn’t allowed to park my Toyota Corolla inside yesterday but had to leave it on some adjacent waste land! I was there as the crew for one of the two sailing boats, “Tradewind” heading for another beach resort Hamila on the west coast of Bahrain. The adventure? Well an opportunity to sail under the Saudi Causeway doesn’t happen very often.

Skipper Dominic and I set off around 11 once the food (cooked chicken, a couple of rounds of sandwiches and a bowl of carrot sticks) and water was stowed in the coolbox together with a supply of ice and some lemons. The wind was from the northwest and Tradewind’s initial route was north to clear the land reclamation going n a few miles to the west of us just along from the Bahrain Fort. Huge machines were busy creating yet another island. We saw a tug pushing a barge that dwarfed heading across us towards Muharraq from the reclamation works and had a unique view of airplanes heading for Europe just after take off from the airport.This short adventure was for Dom part of a much larger one, a circumnavigation of mainland Bahrain over the Eid holiday. He had already spent the previous weekend sailing from the Yacht Club to Amwaj, then yesterday he and two crew had sailed to the Ritz-Carlton where berthing costs 100BD a night, thats around 180 pounds sterling! Fortunately the marina manager though Dom’s unique epic voyage a good enough reason not to charge him!  

Saturday’s passage was to take us round the reefs that the nearby reclamation was exploiting, out as far as a red and white pole 4 or 5 nm north of the mailnand but not as far north as the next reef. Then turn slightly south of west to another pole marking the western corner of the reef and from there aim for the island that houses the border posts in the “middle of the causeway” before shaping a course through the bridge. It was lovely sailing hard on the wind with a reef and the No 2 genoa to start with, heading north away from the land. Once near the first post we tacked bearing away to head more south. The wind freed us off, we shook out the reef and eventually changed head sails for Tradewind’s huge genoa. The conditions matched the boat’s name! We were bowling along enjoying ourselves at 4 knots or more over the ground (a handheld GPS was our only source of data!) until the wind seemed to drop and our speed slowed to a crawl.  A casual glance over the stern sometime later explained all – Tradewind had a fish pot attached to the rudder. It was soon removed and normal speed resumed. Chart and GPS in hand we picked off the various poles and the bridge started to appear in the haze.

Checking the GPS

Bahrain – Saudi Arabia Border crossing

Bridge Approaches

Underneath

Causeway snaking away towards Bahrain

Passing under the bridge was not too difficult at all. It was close to low water and the usual boiling melee of sea squeezing through the narrow gap between the islands and reefs was relatively calm. We had enough wind to push us through at four or five knots despite the tide against us. Lots of pictures were taken as the setting sun made the bridge pillars glow.We drank a celebratory G&T or two.

The next challenge was rounding the island to the south of the bridge and finding our destination in the gathering gloom. We headed off to the south east almost dead downwind picking our way as close to the land as we dared so as to minimise the distance travelled, our destination was on the mainland a little to the north. We were aiming for the marina channel that had been cut through the coral from further south. Tradewind touched the bottom once or twice as we crossed the reef but with the keel and rudder right up we reached the point where according to chart and the GPS the channel turned a sharp right angle east towards the unlit marina enterance and promptly ran around, firmly!

A small motorised dory passed us heading out to sea. It’s track was some twenty yards or so north of us. By now the sails were down and the outboard engine on. A quick reverse and we headed towards the path the dory appeared to have taken. Posts appeared in the gloom and the rest of the trip into the marina was without incident. Dominic called Lola, his wife and she with their lovely dog Jingo drove the short distance from their home to collect us both. In the dark the beach resort looked a pretty place surrounded by clipped shrubs. There was one other tiny sailing boat moored up opposite. The tiny marina had a mix of floating and fixed pontoons. Tradewind was loosely tied to a fixed one just under the security post, a little Philippino man came out in his vest and trousers to watch us tie up. No cleets just a couple of rusty rings and some soggy fenders on the rough wooden landing stage. The tidal range in Bahrain is small (less than 1 metre most of the time) but significant when the overall depth is shallow. We could, even in the dark, see the bottom where we were moored. Rudder and keel were left up.

It might have been only eight hours on the water but it felt like a BIG achievement. Dom and I can both now boast to have done something few others have done, sail under the Saudi Causeway!

Sunset, Saturday 12 November 2010