Red Sea Passage 4

Friday 20 March

01:00 The wind has finally eased though the sea has yet to respond, life is slightly more comfortable and, big bonus, Temptress is actually making course! Both crew are therefore somewhat chirpier than they were a few hours ago. The off watch slept soundly.

The radio waves are travelling huge distances tonight. The AIS is picking up detail of ships over two hundred miles away and the VHF is receiving conversations between them as if they were being transmitted next door. Eerie!

05:00 the engine died again. The next hour or two were horrible. Big seas, fortunately enough wind to sail into despite the current. The mate was woken an hour into her offwatch and was zombie like as her body really didn’t want to wake up from deep sleep, shivering and feeling like death in the cold air despite layers of clothing.

We set a scrap of jib and tacked out then Kevin armed with a spanner or two tried to clear the blockage with the bicycle pump Frank gave us back in Cochin. It wouldn’t or if it did it blocked again. Eventually we had to clear boxes, chart folders and more from the port storage cabin so Kevin could get under the locker lid to the fuel tank. All had to be stowed securely elsewhere, both the bunks were put to use, no going back to bed for a while.

He changed to a different fuel uplift, bled the system yet again and we were back in business. Doing all this in harbour in the heat is bad enough but Kevin achieved this swaying and crashing around in big seas and the tropical temperatures caused by the engine running in a sealed up boat by the light of a headtorch. My hero!

The engine was run for a period to ensure it would, then we tacked again and were almost making the waypoint under sail so had no need for it. He topped up the tank with another 60l from the jerrycans, suspecting that a very low level in the tank had caused the problem this time round. Motoring into those waves uses a lot more fuel than over a calm sea. By then the sun was up and the whole boat stank of diesel and we’d discovered another leak or two of seawater through the deck. Cleaning up can wait til we get in.

09:45 What a difference a few hours makes. Diesel fumes clearing, the mate has had an hour and half more sleep and feels human again. A better angle to the wind and waves meant several extra knots of speed, Temptress ate up the miles. Now we have turned south-west on our approach to Suakin. Downwind sailing is so much more pleasant! Thirty miles to go, we should arrive at the port entrance channel this afternoon ships time or 13:00 local time. The clocks will be adjusted by an hour to Khartoum time (UTC+2, East Africa Time?) when we have dropped the hook.

12:50 ships time: Land Ho! Grey mountain shapes very faint through the haze. And a passenger ferry at anchor 10 miles out! The courtesy and Q flags have been hoisted, just wondering rwhat our reception will be.

Two miles out after we’d taken down the sails the engine stalled again. This time after almost two hours of tacking back and forth by the first mate between the reefs whilst the ships engineer tried in vain to get fuel flowing again, it wouldn’t start. As the sun started it’s descent it was more important to get into the anchorage whilst there was still enough light to see the shallows in the harbour. Complexity told us a boat they knew Moramora was in the harbour and we guessed too Magnolia was there, I put out a call and Magnolia rounded up a couple of dinghy-tugs who came out to meet us in the channel.

The entrance to Suakin is a long almost straight channel that ends in a couple of islands that the harbour encircles like a moat. The commercial docks are along the main channel, ships are moored Med-style, ie they drop an anchor and back their stern to the quayside. Beyond a dog leg through the shallows to the south of the old town island the harbour opens into an almost circular space where yachts can anchor in four or five metres of water. Three other yachts were there.

Temptress sailed in under a scrap of genoa. Paul one of Magnolia’s crew jumped on board as ‘pilot’ to talk us through the dog leg then furled the sail Kevin rounded us up and I dropped the anchor. The two dinghies then pushed Temptress about a bit to dig the anchor in and that was it. No drama, no fuss, and a first for us outside of the occasional let’s do this for fun exercise years ago. The anchorage is spectacular, such a shame we won’t be allowed a shore but we are snug as a bug here..

Old town island is in complete ruins, bits of walls and piles of medieval coral stone rubble. The landscape around the harbour is flat and scrubby limestone, reminding us both of Bahrain. No idea where the modern town is. It being Friday smartly dressed families were picnicking in an imposing ruin close to the water as we sailed past. They stopped to wave. A fishing boat that came in with us called out their welcomes too. Everyone seems very friendly.

Once settled and after a quick beer with the guys from Magnolia, Kevin set to work. Bypassing the Racor filter the engine started and ran like a dream. So now we know where the problem lies. The bypass pipe though doesn’t run under the floor though so the engine cover aka the central sofa can’t be lowered. It can wait til tomorrow.

Noon to Noon: 132nm

Distance to Suez from Suakin: 740nm approx


  1. Glad you have a lead on the cause of the fuel starvation. Addition of a fuel pump assist may work also. Sounds like a less than fun few days. We are prepping to leave Mexico on Monday and are not sure where we will be allowed to land in the States. The FL Keys are all closed and you are not permitted to land there.It will be a long 4-5 days for Murray.


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