Through the Gate of Sorrow 2 – Monday 16th March

Monday 16 March

01:00 still motor sailing to windward, with the wind too far forward to sail. At watch change we approached the Transit Corridor, which here is the extension of the Bab al Mandeb traffic separation scheme (TSS) , we attempted to tack but Temptress couldn’t make any headway. To the east of us is a small group of islets, Sawabi, all unlit. We need to clear them so went back onto the original course of due north on a port tack and stood on until the very boundary of the IRTC a mile or so ahead. As we settled down on the new course north west clear of the islands and as close as we could be but just outside of the IRTC.

Transit Corridor vs TSS? The former is a recommend route for ships to enable the security forces guarding shipping through these waters to keep a close eye on unusual movement. The TSS on the other hand is set in international regulations and has strict rules for all vessels in it, entering it or crossing it. Small vessels like Temptress don’t usually travel up or down them and have to cross at right angles. Somewhere to avoid and in the narrows of Bab al Mandeb, just another complication to add to wind and currents.

By 07:30 Temptress was 11nm north of the Gate of Sorrows and officially in the Red Sea! Still motor sailing in light winds under a grey overcast sky. A little light rain through the night has done nothing for Temptress’ looks. Everything is now covered in grimy orange smears but at least the air her crew is breathing is less dusty. It’s cool too. The sea is lumpy, swells left over from what ever wind there was mixed with wash from the ships travelling north or south just a mile or two off our starboard side. Our course is just to the west of the shipping lanes. The speed is low at four or five knots so it’ll be three hours or so before we turn more west as the Bab al Mandeb TSS turns to become the Hanish Islands TSS. We have now reached Eritrean waters, sadly Massawa which other cruisers reported as fascinating, is beyond our limited time budget after all our delays.

The Red Sea is incredibly clear. Around us the water is teaming with jelly fish that look a bit like oversized chestnut mushrooms -brown tops, stumpy white feelers – hundreds of them! By breakfast time the rain is back, a true Cornish mizzle, unfelt but everything becoming damp. Waste not want not, I mopped surfaces around the cockpit to stir the dust in the hope the rain will bear it away. The windows in the sprayhood got a wipe down too, we can now see a little better through them.

The routine emails to UKMTO, the blog and an position update to our map on MailaSail were sent. The setting up of the sat phone for data calls is now a smooth operation, Kevin prepping the emails on his tablet, me changing aerials and connecting cables. Ten minutes is all it is takes start to finish. We check our course, the wind has swung again freeing us off so that we can make the waypoint. Still motoring making just under five knots over the ground.

Late morning another yacht Magnolia appeared on the AIS slowly overhauling us from astern. We’d heard Djibouti Signal Station calling them last night but had no idea where they were then. We spoke on the VHF; Magnolia is on her way to Suakin having departed from the Maldives and called at Socotora for fuel. At 18m long she should be faster than us but after lunch we adjusted the main to account for a new breeze from the north east and seemed to be leaving Magnolia behind. Hopefully we will meet the crew in Suakin in a few days time.

Twenty four and a half hours after departing Djibouti we finally had wind enough to sail. The reef was shaken out, the full genoa unfurled and we slipped along faster than under engine at five and a half knots close hauled. 2175 nautical miles since leaving India, 125 since Djibouti.

Great sailing all afternoon and through to supper time (mahimahi, ratatouille and boiled tatties). Whilst putting the 2nd reef in ready for the night we found ourselves in a tanker sandwich! Two scruffy ships neither on AIS (illegal) making their way down the western edge of the TSS at speed. No idea what they were up to but they gave us a bit of a shock.

The islands here have great descriptive names Middle, North East and South West Haycock, High Island, Flat Island and Three Foot Rock. Wonderful! The Haycocks are smack bang in the middle of the TSS which is very squeezed here, Three Foot is on the Yemeni side and the others on the Eritrean side. Glad it was still daylight as we came through as these are all unlit, though it is very hazy with dust again, creating as the skipper said, a nice sunset without the sun. A strange pink glow surrounds us as dusk falls. An hour into the first watch the wind died away again and it was back to motoring.

From here our course turns more north towards the eastern edge of the Dahlak Bank off Massawa. All being well Temptress should reach its south eastern corner tomorrow evening. This passage through the Red Sea is more like a giant pilotage challenge than set and forget ocean passage making, there are an amazing number of obstacles to find our way around safely. However the first major hurdle, Bab al Mandeb, is over without drama much to our relief and, though there are many more reefs and islands to avoid, we are on our way to Suez.

Noon to Noon: 112nm (actually less than 24 hours as we departed around 13:30) Distance to Suez via Suakin: 1250nm approx


  1. Indeed. A long pilotage. Three foot rock. Remember it like yesterday. Keep tight you two.


  2. Looks like your having a bit of an anxious time but settling down nicely. Two tanker sandwich scarry. On that note, we are all locked down in Brunei with Covid 19 and all of shall are working from home. Nobody about and it’s all very new and getting more complicated trying to keep the crew changes going. That said I think I might get another 14 days work out of this so a paycheck in April will be welcome.
    All Brunei is adopting self-isolation all who enter from miserable hot spots. Ho hum we have toilet paper lol beer TV …… take care Sean


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