Wednesday 18 March
Well I don’t think we were expecting that! A huge anchorage with dozens of ships on the eastern edge of Dahlak Bank and, it being night, all are lit like small towns with a variety of lights clustered around their superstructures and scattered along the length of their hulls.. These ships are anchored some ninety miles north east of Massawa on the African mainland under protection of a coalition warship. Despite its remoteness the bank is one of the few areas of water shallow enough to anchor in so perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. It seems to be a holding area for ships proceeding south through the HRA though some of the vessels are ones that have passed us on their way north.
Temptress on a course to avoid the bank with its reefs and islands itself, cautiously altered course a little more east to skirt the anchorage area, easier to navigate around rather than through the ships. At 01:30 in the morning we were still passing them more than three hours after the first ships were spotted. Two hundred nm to our waypoint, three hundred to Suakin.
Motored all night to a grey flat morning. Thin grey cloud, grey calm seas. News from Djibouti is that Xamala and Sun Dance are expected to arrive today from Cochin and Complexity is expecting to depart on Monday as still waiting on parts to be delivered. Meanwhile for Temptress the north going current is greatly helping progress under engine.
New toy this morning. We dug out the Sony Worldband radio to listen to BBC World Service but failed to find its booklet listing radio stations worldwide; probably in a box in Donaghadee! Scanned the AM airways, found several Arabic stations, some great music but not BBC World Service. SMS’d Complexity for assistance but they could only find FM stations, not much use 90 odd miles offshore. Ah well it seemed a good idea to try and find out what is happening in the world. This passage seems like an extreme version of the “self-isolation” the news was full of before we departed. Hoping everyone at home remains well.
Dry laundry folded rest hung out to finish drying, chicken defrosting, fuel tank topped up, UKMTO email sent. Life has become rather monotonous or is it just the grey skies and seas making life grey? An Eeyore day. The silver cloud in all this, this morning, is that no wind means flat seas so easy motoring. The noon to noon run was a good one. Keep this up and we may have to slow down a little on our approach to ensure we navigate the last stretch into Suakin in daylight on Saturday.
14:30 on the dot again, sufficient wind to sail! Faster under sail than engine so making over 6 knots but not quite making course with the full genoa and the 2nd reef in the main. Hard on the northerly wind Temptress is fifteen degrees lower but as there is over seventy miles of open water between us and the Eritrean coast and plenty of room northwards until the island and reefs off Sudan we are not overly worried. Plus we were motoring several miles east of the rhum line which also gave us some space to leeward. All in all quite comfortable with our position and if/when the breezes dies we can motor our way back up again. We now seem to have found the infamous Red Sea northerlies, beating to windward could be our lot for the next few weeks.
It’s been a bit quieter on the shipping front this afternoon. The deep water channel has widened out over the past few hours meaning more space for vessels to spread over. And they now seem to be at unexpected angles too, so we have to keep a good watch.
By 16:30 supper is in the oven, two and a half chicken breasts! Odd packaging but it’ll do two meals. The chicken is cooking on top of chunks of pumpkin, red pepper, a couple of chopped jalapeños, lots of garlic, a quartered onion and some parboiled potatoes. The whole lot received a generous slosh of olive oil and oregano. Prepping the veg with the boat heeled well over on a starboard tack was a challenge but nothing escaped onto the floor. Afterwards the skipper called for some furls in the gennie!
The greyness hasn’t improved all day, as the daylight starts to fade it feels as if it’s going to rain but as it’s the dry season I doubt it. We’ve not seen the sun all day, weird. And everything onboard is slowly turning red with the dust that sticks to the salt and works its way into canvas, sails and ropes. Grubby doesn’t begin to describe Temptress and her crew.
As the sun set the seas started to build into an uncomfortable chop. Yuk. The sun actually put in a dramatic appearance as it left us, orange against a grey sky with fingers of grey cloud reaching across it. Time to close the sprayhood hatch as the chop splashes spray right along the deck.
22:20 During the first mate’s off watch Complexity messaged us; Sudan has closed its borders. The agent there says in an email to them that he can still arrange fuel and food to be brought to yachts at anchor. After a brief discussion we decided we have to call there as planned. Disappointing not to be able to visit properly but we do need fuel to take us beyond Suez and it’s better to call somewhere we know the situation than skip it and find we can’t get anything further north in Egypt.
The wind died also during my off watch, leaving behind a dreadful choppy sea that is slow going to motor through. Making 4.5 knots across the ground and not able to steer to the waypoint either. If the seas don’t settle it’s going to be an uncomfortable, long night.
Noon to Noon: 152nm
Distance to Suez via Suakin: 1100nm approx