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Heading up the Red Sea to the Med? Don't Miss this Report.

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 05, 2009 10:20 AM

Published: 2009-01-05 10:20:09
Countries: Thailand , Turkey

This very interesting and useful report was sent to noonsite by Amanda & Mark Church – Farrell (NZ) of SY Balvenie. For anyone planning on a similar cruise up the Red Sea to the Mediterranean it is a "must-read". There are also links in the text to cruising notes also contributed by Amanda and Mark for a number of the cruising areas they visited.

Our thanks to Amanda and Mark for taking the time to send so much useful information to noonsite.

Langkawi, Malaysia to Marmaris, Turkey
A Summary of our cruising for 2008

It's 51 weeks since we untied Balvenie from her berth in Rebak Marina, Langkawi, Malaysia. Our goal for the season was Turkey and we have achieved it. We knew it was going to be a big year, with many miles to cover, some long passages to undertake, possible "pirate encounters", and the infamous Red Sea. What we totally underestimated was just how totally amazing it would be. We are both very well travelled but what we have seen and done this year has left us in awe.

  • Countries visited – 13.
    - Nautical miles travelled - 6743 of which 3263 were offshore.
    - Nights at sea – 33.
    - Nights tied up in Marinas or town quays – 90.
    - Different Anchorages visited - 93 (several nights at some and also returns to some).
    - Nights spent off the boat touring – 13.
    - Strongest winds – 38 knots at anchor in Ras Banas, Egypt.
    - Most miles covered in a day – 165nm en-route to Oman from the Maldives.
    - Fastest speed - 8.6 knots, ironically on our last day cruising coming towards Marmaris!
    - Sleepless nights - 2 at sea, Andamans to Sri Lanka, with squalls. 1 in Greece and 3 in Turkey with thunderstorms late in the season and boats around us dragging.
    - Rainy days - 1 (while on land travel to Asmara!). This should be rainy hours of which there are about 5 hours. A couple during squalls Andamans - Sri Lanka, 1 hour upon arrival in Maldives, and a couple of hours in recent weeks at night in Turkey.
    - Cloudy days - 3 in Massawa while passing through the convergence zone, 1 in Turkey mid October.
    - Sunny days - Every other day and long may it continue, currently 10.30am at 26c in Marmaris!!!!!

How much did it cost
When we were planning on going cruising it was so hard to find out how much people were spending, as I was told by one long term cruiser you will spend what you can afford, which is very true. During these 51 weeks we spent an average of just under NZ$600 per week. This includes everything except for the cosmetic work we had done in Thailand (new galley bench, sail cover, fibreglass repairs to hull). I have also included all the food and alcohol provisions purchased in Langkawi before our departure from there.

Our Route

Thailand to the Andaman Islands
After leaving Thailand we started in the Andaman Islands, governed by India and still following English traditions of the 1960's. You can not be in a rush here, the sooner you except this the more you will enjoy it. This is an island group incorporated with the Nicobar Islands. The Nicobar's are still off limits to any outsiders (including local Indians), the indigenous population roam the islands, defending them proudly and attacking any one that comes too close with bow and arrows. There are also islands within the Andaman group that are off limits, this is truly an outpost, sitting alone in the Bay of Bengal.

Sri Lanka
From here we were blown into the harbour at Galle in Sri Lanka. The unplanned stops are often the best and we had a great stay in Sri Lanka and managed to avoid the Tamal Tiger bomb blasts as we toured inland over Independence Weekend. This is a beautiful lush fertile country, but inland it is being torn apart by the fighting and on the coast they are still desperately trying to recover from the immense damage done in the 2005 Tsunami. They have a long road to recovery, unifying and rebuilding their country.

Onwards to the Maldives, hundreds of little atolls in the vast Indian Ocean, our time allowed just the one stop before moving on and completing the big ocean passages.

Well we had no idea what this part of the world would be like, maybe sand dunes and Bedouin nomads, but neither were spotted, just rocks rocks and more rocks and many a camel! Oman is rich with oil wealth, new roads, latest design European cars and oh so dry. They may have oil, but they have no rainfall and the very rocky desert surely replicates a lunar landscape.

Southern Red Sea Countries
Next we moved along to Yemen and the southern Red Sea countries. This was a journey that took us back in time to the civilisations that were the founders of mankind. In Yemen, Eritrea and Sudan, time has stood still - they are truly amazing places and can not be compared to anything we have seen before. They take your breath away, and have left us with such deep lasting memories, they are a world apart and very special places. They are all so dreadfully poor, but they are survivors, they have been their since time began and life goes on regardless.

This was a huge challenge, the Egyptians being the most difficult authorities to deal with we have encountered. The history is phenomenal and we are pleased we have "been there - done that", however we don't feel inclined to return.

And then we were in the Med, what an enormous relief and a huge sense of achievement. Greek Cyprus was a breath of fresh air after months in strict Muslim countries, it was great to feel normal again. It is a lovely island, lacking unfortunately in safe harbours so our time there was limited. Then we were just 180 miles away from Turkey, we arrived 25 June and have enjoyed every day since cruising the magical southern coastline and a few of the Greek Dodecanese Islands.

Our Advice (for what it’s worth) and what we would do differently

1) Make sure your engine is in the best shape of its life!!

2) Make sure you are seriously spared-up big time!!. Assume there is nothing between Thailand and Turkey. Get as much as you can in Langkawi. I waited until Phuket to get my Volvo and Yanmar spares/filters etc. and paid up to 4 times more than I would have in NZ or Oz. All the ports you visit support commercial and fishing fleets, so there is always a local guy to help as long as you have the bits on board.

3) Have a very, very close look at the booze situation. If you miss Sri Lanka and India you can't buy any booze until Egypt . Most boats ran out this year. Just think 3 cans a day (ha ha) for 5 months equals 450 cans equals 19 cases!!. etc etc. Tonic was not easily available (even in Phuket they had run out!!).

4) Have plenty of photocopies of ships papers, passports and crew lists. Our boat stamp was well received. Need plenty passport photos too.

5) We have steps up to our first spreaders. These were invaluable on several occasions, we would not have been able to access some anchorages without them. So if you haven't got them, maybe consider fixing ratlines to get that extra height for visibility coming into the reef anchorages.

6) Handy to have a few jerry jugs. You don't want to tie up to the wharfs - ugly ugly.

7) Don't get too hung up on food supplies. There are first world supermarkets in Sri Lanka, Oman, Aden, Hurghada and Ismailia. Top up big time in Egypt, its much cheaper than Cyprus, Israel or Turkey.

8) Unless you check- in at Malle, Maldives and pay a ton of money for a cruising permit (no time for cruising anyway you're on a mission!!!) use Uligamu in northern Maldives as a pit stop only for a few days. Checking-in and out, getting fuel and water is a breeze, but you are not allowed to visit any other islands. Rest and move on. The best stuff is ahead of you.

9) Make sure you have a fishing line out closing on Salalah, plenty, plenty Mahi Mahi!!!. Couldn't haul them in fast enough. Good fishing right through till Egypt.

10) Stay close to Yemen coast - 15 miles or so, don't miss Al Mukalla or Sana'a. Don't leave until you've smoked a hubble bubble pipe in a Bedouin tent!!

11) No need to get involved in some military style formation synchronized motor sailing exercise. Just hang out with a couple of other boats and keep in sight during the day and maybe close up at night. Honestly, we were as apprehensive as anybody about pirate alley, but we ended up stopping along the Yemen coast and felt reasonably comfortable moving along the coast line with a few very friendly Yemeni patrols zooming by from time to time lobbing fish on to the boat!!

12) It is true. If it's blowing 20 knots in Aden its blowing 40 knots in the Bab al Mandeb Strait. Gets very lumpy, but it’s down hill and things flatten out after a few hours going north.

13) We more or less day sailed to Eygpt and worked our way north up the west coast inside many reefs and islands, often sailing close hauled in lightish winds and flat water. Easy peasy!! This takes more time, but be patent don't push it. Just keep nibbling away. Reefs are very obvious.

14) North of Massawa – BEWARE!! An unexpected solid southerly, is followed by a few hours of no wind, is followed by a howler from the north. 3 times we were enjoying wing on wing sailing thinking “the Red Sea is a breeze”, then the wind died and we motored for a few hours only to be stopped in our tracks by a big northerly. Take the southerly but don't be greedy and head for safe haven during the lull.

15) Don't miss Massawa and Suakin.

16) We only got adverse conditions a couple of times, both further north at night when you are forced to do a couple of overnighters - so have a plan B.

17) I don't mean to be a negative Nigel, but the Red Sea isn't done until it’s done. The toughest part for us was the last 180 miles from Hurghada up the Gulf of Suez. We were a tad late in the season by then (early June).

18) Fill up with diesel in Egypt (USD0.18c a litre). Turkey is well over USD2.00 a litre, Greece currently 1.15Euro a litre.

29) Lastly have some "pirate packs" onboard. We put together water (or fizzy drinks), cigarettes, biscuits/cookies and basically anything else surplus we wanted to get rid of (old liferaft supplies!!) and threw them to the boats that came for a look. They were so grateful, and if you give them something they will then leave you alone (especially in Sri Lankan waters). Baseball caps were a winner too.

The journey from Thailand to Turkey was the most amazing season of our adventure so far. There is no doubt it's a long haul and you are always aware of the clock ticking. The urge to get the whole journey behind you is strong when you leave Asia but try to fight it and spend time in these places.

We left Nai Harn Bay on Phuket 21 December 2007 and ended up stopping in the Surins 1 week, Andamans 3 weeks , Sri Lanka 12 days, Maldives 1 week, Oman 10 days, 3 weeks in Yemen, 12 days in Eritrea, 13 days in Sudan, 5 weeks in Eygpt and a week in Cyprus and arrived in Turkey 25 June 2008. Wouldn't have missed any of it!!

Has it been worth it? - absolutely! Obviously there is much publicity about the continued piracy attacks in the Southern Gulf of Aden, and most countries we visited had government warnings issued for travellers not to visit them. We never once felt threatened or unsafe, either at sea or on the land. Words really can't describe the truly amazing year we have had.

Amanda and Mark on Balvenie
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