Friday 3rd April
By dawn Temptress was some forty miles north of Dolphin Reef. Silver Tern has mostly followed our tracks through the night although being a catamaran they don’t sail as high as Temptress. Their greater waterline length does mean they are faster so when the winds at dawn grew lighter Temptress was making just three knots Silver Tern drew ahead. She was some three hundred metres to windward when we crossed tacks at five am. About the same distance beyond us she tacked onto port too.
The current does weird things in the Red Sea. From having over a knot helping us on my last watch, three hours further on we have almost two against. Twenty minutes later the contrary current was decreasing before coming back again. Strange.
Dawn became a blaze of colour as the sun backlit the haze first a series of rosy hues that turned to golds before becoming the palest of yellows. The coldest hours, I‘ve put my deck-shoes on to warm my toes and sit huddled in the cockpit wondering where my warm hats are for future nights.
We have covered 68 nm over the ground in the nine hours since departing yesterday. Temptress is 44 nm north east of the reef with another 65 to Port Ghalib. Not bad, the tacks have been aided by wind shifts and current. Although George the autopilot is steering we don’t set and forget but pay close attention to the wind angle adjusting course to keep it optimal between 30 and 40 degrees apparent. The autopilot control head in the cockpit stopped working again yesterday afternoon so for now the watchkeeper has to run up and downstairs to make course adjustments. It keeps us fit!
I thought I saw a fin break the surface abeam of us. Decide I didn’t and that the sprayhood windows really need a clean, then there beside me a small dolphin appeared. Then a bigger one. Not many and they didn’t stay for long initially, not that I could go to the bow to watch as on deck alone but as always it was magical to see them swimming with Temptress. They came back a little while later n larger numbers, played a while then were gone. Dolphins are like rainbows, they always somehow brighten your day.
The secret life of a watchkeeper: aside from keeping a good lookout and ensuring Temptress is sailing to the best of her ability it’s a great treat on the chilly dawn watch to go below and put the kettle on. Then to sip a mug of hot chocolate snuggled under a rug as the new day begins. All too soon though the sun is high enough to be hot; rug, fleece gilet, shoes are discarded as the heat penetrates the cockpit. Just six minutes of latitude further north and we will be leaving the tropics behind us as we cross the Tropic of Cancer at 25 deg north.
By eight o’clock it was plain the maths was not in our favour. At our rate of progress and the angles we can sail there was no way we could reach Ghalib in daylight. Later in the morning we considered closing the coast and finding an anchorage for the night or even a few hours but exploring chart and KAP files nothing nearby seemed suitable in terms of protection or approach in the conditions. We decided to spend the night at sea, at least the wind usually eases when the sun goes down.
It’s fifteen days since we left Djibouti, the interminable contrary winds, the uncertainty of our situation mean that Temptress’ crew are tired, irritable and rather desperate. We even discussed whether we should start rationing food. There is laundry to be done but with the watermaker status uncertain we are currently saving what’s in the tanks for drinking, cooking and washing ourselves. Even when we reach Hugharda it’s unlikely that we will be allowed off the boat for at least another fourteen days so we have to survive as long as it takes to get there plus another two weeks. And privately I wonder if I want to go shopping or doing anything ashore that means mixing with people if it exposes us to the virus. Beyond the Suez Canal is something we have given up thinking about, surviving the next few days or week has become our focus.
The wind by midday was blowing F5-6 out of the north. We dropped in third reef and furled the gennie to storm jib size. The waves were up to a metre and a half high and steep. The only good thing was the sun shone, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. We crossed 25 degrees north just before midday so for the first time since early 2014 Temptress is no longer sailing in tropical waters. Lunch was a tin of Cambell’s clam chowder (particularly grey, unappetising to look at and tasting only of fishy saltiness) and bread, breakfast had been a cereal bar.
One particularly vicious wave rolled down the windward deck, hopped over into the cockpit and dolloped a pint or two onto the mate snoozing in the aft cabin below. Pillows and clothing were soaked. I don’t think water has ever found it’s way in through the cockpit porthole before!
A phone call with Faisal gave us instructions for Ghalib. We are to anchor in Marsa Mubarak just south of the marina entrance then call port control. Once everything is ready at Ghalib we will be requested to come in to the customs dock, load up and go. Faisal also said he will assist with our clearance into Hugharda.
By four in the afternoon the wind was dying again. We shook out the third reef and unfurled a little more gennie. Silver Tern’s less experienced crew needed a rest so they sought an anchorage within a reef lagoon off Marsa Alam. Temptress decided to stick with our earlier decision to spend the night at sea, planning to be off Mubarak in the morning. Marsa Mubarak may be a little crowded; Aldivi popped up on the AIS and we heard Oddity speaking to them on the radio! It seems the boats are bunching up.
What a beautiful sunset. We had closed the coast during the afternoon and now the evening sun revealed rows of hills backed by more of mountains running parallel with the sea. Layers of greys and purples. There’s a large city south of us, not on our sea charts. The pale angular buildings reflecting the pinks of the sun through the haze. The waves have gone down leaving a bit of a lumpy sea however it was smooth enough to make cooking supper tonight easy. Another portion of the mince and veg for two, this time with the addition of oregano, sage, tomato purée and a couple of handfuls of arborio rice turned into a tasty risotto.