Red Sea Passage 3 – Thursday 19th March

Thursday 19 March

04:20 At the watch change we tacked onto port and unfurled a little genoa to sail. Partly because there was wind, partly because for the past four hours the engine has had some sort of fuel starvation issue. The revs would be fine then die away slightly, though never to the point of stopping. Investigating will have to wait until daylight so for now we sail. This port tack will take us out to sea, away from the uncharted dangers of the Sawkin Islands, an area we need to avoid.

Quite large parts of the Red Sea have lines over the spot depths indicating uncertainty about the measurement, data collated years ago on passage but never confirmed. Islands and reefs like the Sawkins have never been surveyed. We are simply sailing around them giving them a wide berth, too many yachts have foundered in the Red Sea to risk otherwise.

07:00 Beginning to feel that the boats currently trying to make the passage up the Red Sea are bit parts in a disaster b-movie. You can’t make this stuff up; Complexity, despite having been over two weeks at sea on passage from India to Djibouti and having been health checked on arrival over a week ago, has been informed they are being held in quarantine for fourteen days but no idea when the count started or if they will ever be permitted ashore to buy food and collect the parts they are expecting! As Jim said ‘Next excuse’.

The other odd thing that is happening is that the course over the ground (COG) and speed over the ground (SOG) readings keep going haywire. The speed sometimes rapidly toggles up several knots or the course swings wildly by tens of degrees. We restarted the Axiom‘s internal GPS that’s keeping track of theses things for us to no avail. Is someone, somewhere jamming navigation satellites? It’s quite alarming.

The good news relayed to us this morning is that Egypt’s borders are currently open, though we aren’t intending to do more there than buy fuel and get through the canal. After that who knows? As Complexity messaged this morning, ‘it’s a long way home’. Even further for them as home is Seattle. Under a thousand nautical miles to Suez!

Provisions-wise Temptress is still quite well off. The fresh vegetable supplies include plenty of carrots, a red pepper, 1.5 small pumpkins, onions, a cabbage, a Chinese leaf and four or five potatoes plus a few beetroot that need cooking. There is some mince and another vac pack of chicken in the ice box plus a couple more meals from the Mahi Mahi. With the pulses and cheese that’s sufficient for at least two weeks if not three. Then there are the tins in the bilge, enough for another month. Fuel for running the engine to charge the batteries and get into harbour is our main issue, we can sail anywhere slowly as long as there is some breeze. Without winds we need the engine to keep us out of danger.

10:30 Wind died away to almost nothing. The only way to keep moving forward in these big choppy seas is to motor. At least we are almost heading for the waypoint. Whilst sending the daily UKMTO report and yesterday’s blog, we received an email from Saul and Elena crewing on Pied a Mer. They haven’t yet reached Djibouti and are debating whether to stop or carry on to Sudan.

By lunch time we were in a dilemma. Starboard tack takes us west towards the reefs and islands, port tack takes us east of north not really closing on the waypoint. Sadly as there is no clear route through the reefs we have to settle for the latter. With the seas as they are it’s slow progress too.

The afternoon proved “character building” as the skipper commented. Big seas, the northerly wind building to F5 and unable to make progress to windward except under engine due to the current running south. The outer reefs of the Sawkin Islands scattered threateningly 5-10 miles to the west. The the engine spluttered and died. With a bit of genoa unfurled we could sail but not make progress to the corner. Kevin cleared the blockage after a couple of attempts, more tank gunk stirred up by the shake rattle and roll we were performing through the big waves. The knowledge that we have a night of this ahead is not pleasant. Supper will be a scrapping together of things in the fridge.

Yet again before 9pm the rough seas kicked up grunge in the fuel tank. Though we efficiently set the genoa and tacked away to ensure we were safe it was a comedy of errors getting the sail away and Temptress back on course after the blockage was cleared. Neither of us can wait for this particular passage to be over. At least now we were passed the waypoint off Masamirit and on to the next one North of Owen Reef 56 miles away to the north west. And all our tacking off has given us a much better angle with fewer tacks to reach it. Hopefully we may be there by dawn.

Noon to Noon: 121nm
Distance to Suez via Suakin: 860nm approx


  1. You’re being tested. Polishing and cleaning of tank may be necessary not to have this repeat or challenging your supply of filters. Your decisions on tacks seem wise and cautious… well done. Hope the journey becomes less challenging in the days to come. Richard and Kay


Comments are closed.