Red Sea Passage 1 – Tuesday 17th March

Tuesday 17 March

A desert dawn, the air is dusty to the point of drying the mouth, the sun misleadingly cool in the grey eastern sky over Yemen. Overhead the last quarter of the moon finally put in an appearance as the cloud of the last few days vanished to the south of us. Today bodes to be hot and windless. The galley slave was on the last watch of the night. Dawn came suddenly at just after 6am local time and by the bread was rising too (1 cup of Pastry Pro’s Graham flour to 2 of plain white bread flour).

The news from an otherwise quiet night of motoring is that finally there is some current, almost a knot at times, pushing us north. The big ships have moved away to the east as the Red Sea widens. And Temptress has reached 14 degrees north so is officially out of the High Risk Area (HRA) though we will continue to report daily to UKMTO on a voluntary basis until we reach Suez.

The islands of Jaza’ar Az Zubayr with their cartographic note warning of volcanic activity, lie some thirty miles to the north east of our dawn position. On the western shore the huge Dahlak Bank with its multitude of reefs and islands is just beginning to reach out toward us. The Eritrean mainland coast slips away to the west however the central, deep Red Sea channel doesn’t widen very much as the bank fills the space. On the eastern shore lie more islands and reefs off Saudi Arabia less than a hundred miles further north east which add to the constriction.

Temptress has 370 nautical miles still to cover before reaching the channel into Suakin which begins north of Owen Reef over forty miles offshore. This makes us around one third of the way there from Djibouti. We hope to reach Suakin Friday or Saturday. The channel into Suakin itself is best navigated in daylight so most likely arrival will be Saturday.

The bucket laundry was done and hung to dry, though the cockpit needed a good rinse off again to remove the red dust before the laundry could be suspended across it. One good use for the water from washing and rinsing. Our clothes worn in Djibouti were black from the coal dust, hopefully despite the desert dust they will be cleaner when they’ve dried. Our sandals were scrubbed in the after too. Then suddenly another batch of southbound ships were around us. Ships go through Suez in convoys as there isn’t room to pass, the result is they are still in groups hundreds of miles further on. One tanker passing close by gave us a friendly toot!

The current has been a great help. Our noon to noon run was almost 150nm, a great boost to morale onboard. Still motoring after lunch but yet again the breeze is building so we may gat a few hours sailing in this afternoon. Another craft not on the AIS appeared on the horizon off to port after lunch, accompanied by a French warship. Both moving very slowly northward. Presumably the tanker has mechanical problem. Close by is another smaller ship reportedly at anchor but moving slowly southwards! We suspect the latter is another provider of armed guards for the HRA.

At about the same time as yesterday, ie about 14:30, the wind filled in, slightly east of north east giving us a nice flat reach. Not much wind but the help of the current Temptress was making around 6 knots over the ground. It lasted only a few hours til after supper though so by nightfall Temptress was under engine again. Tomorrow the fuel tank will need topping up from the supplies on deck.

As the sun set the laundry wasn’t quite dry so was transferred to hangers before the first watch began and now fills the aft head. The rail there has been one of the most practical items the boat has. Great for wet rain gear and with a door propped open as well as the porthole to enable air to circulate, works well for drying the laundry.

Supper was experimental – a cheese sauce made with reconstituted powdered milk and used to cook some pasta; macaroni cheese made in a saucepan, then left for a couple of hours until supper time by which time it was thick and wonderfully stodgy. A hint of mace rounded out the flavour and it was accompanied by the remains of the ratatouille (the third and final day of it). Tasty even if I say so myself. Tomorrow we might cut into one of the Cochin pumpkins for a bit of variety. Roast pumpkin with red peppers and jalapeño seems like a good idea especially if I can put the potatoes in too.

Ships are everywhere. Most are following the pattern dictated by the mandatory shipping lanes at either end of the Red Sea so north going vessels are mainly on the Saudi side, south going on the Eritrean side. However not all are, so we need to keep a careful watch both ahead and behind. It’s a black night but not so much cloud so can stargaze too.

There is more than a days sailing still to the next waypoint off the Sawkin Islands. The Red Sea looks small on the map but M. Mercator’s projection gives a false impression, distances are huge. Just under 340nm to Suakin then after refuelling and a day or so’s rest, the final 725nm to Suez. We may be forced to do the last leg in several hops as the wind forecast is for strong northerlies but we will see.

Noon to Noon: 147nm
Distance to Suez via Suakin: 1100nm approx


  1. Not sure if you will get the below before you arrive Suakin, but thought it was worth a try.

    Hi sheena our government close our boundries but not for yachts they allowed them To enter the port but they have not to go ashore till 30 of march
    Ican SERVICES them in thier boats
    Delivering any things to them till they allowed them on 30 March To go ashore
    So If they are in Dijubouti or Massawa let them be there one week and start sailing To suakin
    But If they are in the sea let them enter suakin port


  2. Hi Susie &Kevin,I’m enjoying reading of your travels as we now live in a parallel situation having been confined to the house to self isolate from Covid 19.We are lucky to have had the experience of having stocked for cruising & been used to self entertainment on board. I’ll have the advantage of postal deliveries & being able to get out into the garden if this rain ever stops!
    Safe journey & thanks for letting us join you!
    Millicent xx


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