Friday 27 March
After midnight the southerly wind gradually built, brilliant sailing plus half a knot of current adding to our speed. At the 01:00 watch change we dropped in the second reef as a precaution and two and a half hours later the Skipper woke the First Mate so the pole could be set and the genoa goose-winged.
Sometime later Kevin spotted Four Seasons and the two skippers discussed their plans on the radio. By dawn we had less than fifty miles to run. We are still undecided where to actually anchor. Off the town may be more sheltered and we might get some much needed diesel but it’s not a port of entry, a military town and we may not be welcome. The alternative Ras Banyas is much more isolated but we can swim and will be with the other boats.
With the galley slave on the dawn watch bread was set to rise and destinations pondered over. If this southerly was several hours late in arriving, might the northerlies be delayed also? If so for how long? We need just 32 hours to reach Port Ghalib by Saturday afternoon. Worth investigating when the skipper is back on watch.
The weather forecast wasn’t helpful but there is a window on Monday for around 24 hours so that will do to get us up to Port Ghalib. We dithered over where to hole up through the northerlies, eventually settling on Ras Banyas as Brenda and Hugh on Scotia are there. We thought them to already be in Ghalib. Fortunately for us they passed a message via Alkyone that they can spare us some fuel. That was this morning’s good news.
The bad news, or rather second hand possible bad news is that Port Ghalib may have closed. We have called UKMTO to confirm exactly what the situation is, as this puts us and the twenty or so other yachts on passage up the Red Sea in a perilous state with fuel, water and even food shortages. Also sent a text message to Wade and Diane, SY Joana who are already in Ghalib. Alkyone and Aldivi who have more fuel are pushing on up the Egyptian coast towards Sharm Luli, hoping to get there before the wind changes.
On another topic completely, the main sail needs some stitching around the second reef reinforcing at the clew. A job for the anchorage. Will not take the sail off, just stick it and hand stitch if I can.
A little later Alkyone had more detail on the Egyptian closures; specifically the government has closed down resorts, tourist attractions and so on. Port Ghalib is a private marina that is classified as a resort. Hurgharda another 110nm further north is a port of entry and also a commercial port so apparently the marina there is open. It is renowned for being extremely expensive, beyond our budget in normal circumstances but needs must so that will be where we end up taking refuge.
If it seems that these posts sound so negative it’s probably because we are tired and demoralised by each new issue. Tired due to lack of sleep, tired of the uncertainty and tired of trying to keep on going in the face of things. We know other people in other places are far worse off, sick or dying with the virus or jobless, businesses facing ruin. We also knew the Red Sea always presents a challenge but the sailors before us have never met one like this, it’s usually the winds and endless beating northwards. So far we haven’t reached the point of life or death or of taking to the liferaft and we have effectively been in quarantine since Djibouti 12 days ago but all the same the last few weeks have been some of the worst we have ever faced and we see no end even beyond Egypt.
I did a count of yachts in the Red Sea that we know of – including us, there are at least twenty one boats heading north at present. That’s possibly eighty children and adults struggling to survive not the weather but the systems closing down around us in an unprecedented manner, making nonsense of passage plans and potentially risking lives. Even Four Seasons the 18m yacht at anchor with us is so low on fuel they can’t risk trying to go further. Their skipper took their tender into Berenice and the army there kindly gave him 100l of diesel.
Scotia tried Ras Banyas and reported it untenable; in the still strong southerlies they were rolling from gunnel to gunnel. It was good to talk with Brenda and Hugh who we met briefly in Langkawi last year. Hugh has if needed a spare Racor filter as well as spare fuel. Whilst waiting out these winds Kevin is going to work on the fuel issues again.
We diverted up the Middle Channel towards Berenice. Four Seasons took the South Channel and Scotia were in the North. The three boats sailed in until the wind eased. Needing to charge the batteries anyway we motored the rest of the way. Hugh and Kevin picked an anchorage marked on the chart as such, located to the north of a spit of sand dunes that reaches out south west terminating at the appropriately named Sandy Beacon. At the north east end of the spit the chart shows a naval base as under construction, it is in fact there and huge with a big anchor carved in the hillside behind. The bare mountains here come right down to the coast, the valleys appear to be filled with yellow sand. The landscape of the desert. Tucked behind the spit is a pretty spot with pale blue slightly murky water. And a mile or so to the west again the port of Berenice proper.
It’s beautifully calm with just a little left over swell working it’s way in. We hope the the fetch across the shallow waters inside the spit won’t be too much in the winds to come. So for now we are safe and well. By 18:30 as it was dark we were tucked up in bed catching up on much needed sleep.
Noonday Run: 124nm
Distance to Suez: 540nm approx