Gulf of Aden & Red Sea Passage – January 2015

It is January 20, 2015, and we’ve just completed our 31-day passage to the top of the Red Sea, from Male (Maldives) to Eilat (Israel). We wanted to offer up any info. that might be helpful to those interested in a passage through the Gulf of Aden in the future.

Published 8 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Regarding Weapons:

We went with weapons, and after reflecting on the experience, we are pleased with that decision.

We used Assad as an agent in Uligamu in Maldives – excellent in every way for yacht services (very reasonably priced too) and was able to find a security contractor at the last minute and also arrange for a crew change there (which is impossible to do without advance paperwork).  The weapons depot is in Male, so if going via Maldives, you will need to get down to Male for departure.

If you want to cruise the Maldives islands, the permit is expensive (around $700), the remaining fees without the sailing permit were around $300 (including agency fees).

Assad’s contact info is:

Tel :(+ 960) 3300794

Fax: (+ 960) 3300794

Mobile  (+960 ) 7934946

Email: [email protected]

I suggest buying some fake guns from one of the shops in Patong Beach… the display of weapons we think is the most important thing to deter an attack, and an extra fake gun or two will help. Try to avoid going into any port while weapons are aboard, and if you do go into a port with weapons, follow all procedures to the T.

Regarding Fuel, Provisions and Ports en-route:

We used a lot of fuel.

Maldives: In the Maldives, diesel is available in Male and provisioning is decent.  Uligamu has basic provisioning and diesel is very difficult there.

Sri Lanka: Refueling in Galle, Sri Lanka is easy, and so is provisioning.  We used Chatura for our agent at Tango Shipping ( and he was excellent.  An agent is required in Galle…. costs for agent plus official fees was around $250.

Tango Shipping’s contact info is:

Tel :+94 (0) 915625867 (hotline: +94 (0) 716834708)

Fax: +94 (0) 912227120

Email: [email protected]

Yemen: Refueling in Aden was a nightmare because of the authorities, who were very unfriendly and nearly arrested us for having weapons – avoid under all circumstances – they are like monkeys with guns and they ransacked our boat, apparently looking for TNT.

If you have to go in there, definitely don’t go near the port without first negotiating with the Port Authority on VHF, an anchor on the left side of the entry channel where all the commercial ships are anchored – there’s a military base on the right side and they are psychotic.   Agent Omar, listed on Noonsite as the agent who can arrange for fuel to the boat, is dead… his daughter (who picks up his phone) is not very helpful and difficult to understand.

Sudan: Port Suakin in Sudan is much better for refuelling and you don’t need to clear into Sudan to do it… it’s a simplified procedure with shore passes – I think this is the best place to make the first landfall after the crossing.  Use Mohammed as an agent (phone +249 912 142 678) who will know of your arrival and be waiting for you on the south side of the Old Town island inside the harbour – make sure you contact the port authority on approach.  Decent provisioning, water is available in jerry cans, and Mohammed can sort out most things you’d need.

Egypt: We haven’t made it to Suez yet, but the agent everybody recommends there is Felix.  We have spoken to him and he sounds very good.  We’ve also spoken to Sherif in Port Ghalib, and he was very honest and helpful, although we did not enter.

Regarding the Pirates:

We had only a couple of suspicious approaches that we wrote off as most likely curious fishermen at the time.  One skiff was particularly suspicious… we spotted them from over a mile away with two occupants.   We put three guys with assault rifles on the deck by the time they came near.  Once within 100 meters, they saw our guns on display, one guy put his hands in the air and they buzzed off at high speed.  On review of the photos we took during the incident, we now see there was a third guy hidden beneath the deck level (or maybe just sitting low to avoid the wind) and what appears to be a rifle sitting on the driver’s lap, hidden beneath a jacket, that we also didn’t notice at the time of their approach.  Very difficult to say for sure what was going on, so I attach several telephoto pics so you can assess for yourself – maybe our minds are playing tricks.  This was approx 50 miles off Yemen, about 200 miles east of Aden.

There were no other incidents that we think could possibly have been pirates.  We stayed near the commercial transit corridor (patrolled by coalition warships) and stayed on the Yemeni side most of the time.  I would probably do the routing this way again.

Regarding Watchkeeping:

It is difficult because it requires eagle eyes for 10 days or so – a marathon task when 99.999% of the time you are staring into an empty and boring blue ocean.  We saw nothing before entering the Gulf of Aden, so preserve crew and energy for that 10 day period. Good radar is helpful, but not a replacement for good visual during the day.  Good binoculars were very helpful for identifying suspicious objects from a long distance – we had 15x magnification with image stabilizers (Canon @ $1100) and were very pleased with the investment.  Another pair of regular magnification (8x) is better for scanning the horizon.   At least three people are needed to maintain alertness at all times, preferably four in my opinion.  Early identification of skiffs is the big challenge – if you can do that and have weapons on the deck, I doubt there is much chance of an attack.  The biggest hazard is failing to spot them until they are alongside…. in my opinion.

Regarding Convoy or Buddy Boats:

We went with one other boat, which had benefits and drawbacks vs solo.

On the plus side, they were extra eyes, which was very helpful at times.

It was very difficult keeping pace with just two boats – constant sail adjustments, dragging up to 5 weighted warps at times, etc… this was the drawback.

We used cheap walkie-talkies (FRS frequencies) to communicate within 1 mile, and VHF when we were too far apart (but not Ch 16).  Keeping boats within 0.25 miles at all times is impossible, even if it’s just two of them.  I suggest drifting apart at night when the risk is very low, then tightening up an hour before sunrise – radar is essential for this task.  At night we used anchor lights instead of nav lights, which look identical to stars from any distance, and it’s very helpful at close range for the convoy – I would not suggest going totally dark.

We saw no skiffs in the Bab Al Mandab strait at the entrance to the Red Sea, which we assumed would be the most dangerous part – try to enter there at night, you should be able to do 7-8 knots with the wind pushing you through from behind with a funnel effect, very pleasant and fast.  We also saw nothing when we were near Somalia as we entered the Gulf of Aden… everything we saw was along the Yemeni coast.

Regarding AIS:

We used ours on and off depending on our perception of the risk of encountering commercial ships vs pirates.  We used it all the way to the Gulf of Aden, then switched off.  We switched on again when we crossed the transit corridor.  Ours is a transmitter and receiver, with no option to switch of the transmitter… would have been ideal to have a receiver only.

Regarding the Red Sea, Weather, and Authorities:

The wind should be good for the lower 400 miles of Red Sea.

Once in Sudan, you will want to go behind their reefs for flatter water and better motoring.  Get a Sudan cruising permit from Mohammed in Port Suakin so you can stay behind the reefs for shelter from the wind, and the military will most likely give you huge problems if you don’t have a sailing permit (luckily we had one, and were boarded twice in Sudan by Navy boats, who really didn’t seem much different from pirates to us).  If you don’t have a Sudan sailing permit, try to stay outside the reefs, especially as you approach the disputed area near the Egyptian border – THEY WILL FIND YOU AND BOARD YOU THERE.

Do not go behind the Saudi reefs unless a true emergency – the authorities are idiots and will detain you for no reason.

It is much windier in the middle of the Red Sea, so hugging the coast on the west side is the best option if the wind is in the face in my opinion, at least until around Port Ghalib in Egypt, where the reefs end.  Egypt seems to have no problem with cruising boats using their reefs for shelter.  Plan for some days hunkered down behind reefs waiting for the wind to settle.

More fuel is better.

Some places are not charted well, particularly in the south part of Egypt around Foul Bay.  We used both Navionics, and CMAPS at all times, and the combination was helpful and generally accurate, although the resolution in parts gets very low, so give everything a wide berth, and watch out for coral bommies if any of your charts indicate shallow colours.

The Red Sea Pilot book is essential (thank you Phell for this advice)- definitely, do not go without every page for Sudan and Egypt…. excellent anchorage suggestions and words of advice in the text.  Have a few cartons of cigarettes to use as gifts for coast guard buffoons.

We dropped our weapons off at the 18N floating armoury, approximately where the wind shifted from southerly to stiff northerly.  The north half of the Red Sea was awful for us because of wind in the face all the time (early January)… probably better by March / April.

Authorities: There is some more info. on our blog about our crazy experiences with the miserable authorities in Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia (…. the risks they posed to us compared with the piracy risks, so please don’t under-estimate their idiocy and paranoia. They seem to have no understanding of what a cruising sailboat is, and assume the absolute worst because of the troubles in this part of the world.  In the most extreme case of stupidity, the Saudi coast guard forced us to run aground at gunpoint, not understanding that sailboats have deep keels, and forcing us into a 1.5-meter deep harbour.  None of them seems to use VHF, preferring a system of yelling (normally in Arabic), weapons brandishing, and incomprehensible hand signals.

Our biggest mistake was that we had an Israeli on board and this made our lives a nightmare because all the Arab countries hate Israelis and refuse them entry, which forced us to do all kinds of crazy things.  Definitely, do not take any Israelis up the Red Sea.

Thank you to those of you who helped us organize and execute our journey, and fair winds and good luck to anyone heading this way.  Please let me know if we can help in any way.


SY Tamarisk

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  1. August 8, 2018 at 6:18 AM
    Data Entry5 says:

    Thank you Jason for this report. If I understand correctly; you armed your boat heavily with assault rifles and signed on a Israeli security crewmember. Then you set sail on your U.S. flagged vessel in an area the U.S. is generally despised.

    Then you and your crew went on to visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. I have some comments how to limit trouble as much as possible in these areas knowing that it is impossible to prevent it altogether.

    You where disregarding common advice to sailing yacht which is not to stop in Saudi Arabia in the first place. Furthermore, you are apparently not aware that Yemen has been bombed in defiance of international law by the U.S. over the last years by US drones killing many civilians.

    Without giving any moral judgment on the bombings as such, it should make any sailing yacht, especially U.S. flagged ones, cautious and wary of stopping there. Yemen is and has been in a civil war for some time now.

    So okay, you are stopping in a war zone with a yacht of a despised nationality and take rifles and one of their arch enemies o board. What will happen? You seem to be surprised that it turned sour. Israeli’s are normally not allowed into these Islamic countries. These Islamic countries do not even recognize Israel as a state.

    Don’t wish to get into Middle East politics, but this is just a given. I wasn’t there but from your writing, I can also infer quit a lot of attitude. Attitude will get anyone in trouble with authorities anywhere in the world.

    You call the people “monkeys” “baffoons” “idiots” and “miserable”. Maybe you would be surprised to hear but Arabs and Muslims generally feel very dishearted about the wway they are being treated by the U.S. and to lesser extent Europe. Sailing yachts in these countries can expect backlash from this, especially when aggravated.

    I am sure you have had a rough ride. These countries are corrupt, warzone like and difficult. Unfortunately, it invokes trouble for anyone and sometimes it is unavoidable. Therefore one would need to act as cautious and diplomatically as possible, considering the situation and sensitivities.

    If I translate your actions to Europe it would amount to sailing into Europe fully armed with an armed guard from say, Iran or Syria which doesn’t have visa or permission, and is not allowed into the country.

    I am sure you as a captain would have simply been arrested and put in prison for some years. One should always obey local law, violation Leeds to sanctions or prison. You should be thankful not to be put in prison.

    “Israel–Yemen relations do not have diplomatic relations and relations between the two countries are very tense. People with an Israeli passport or any passport with an Israeli stamp cannot enter Yemen, and Yemen is defined as an “enemy state” by Israeli law.”

    What I believe, is that a basis of contact with anyone in this world, authorities especially, starts with respect. Furthermore, understanding, comprehension and research into the culture and troubles an are face go a long way in a smooth and pleasant experience.

    It seems you have made some huge mistakes and errors in judgment in one of the worlds most troubled areas. Quit frankly I am surprised you and your Israeli crewmember made it out in one piece. I am truly sorry to hear about your trouble, but I would encourage any captain to practice good understanding before acting.

    Joshua van Eijndhoven
    SY Hope

  2. August 8, 2018 at 6:17 AM
    Data Entry5 says:

    To add a few additional points, if I may Jason :)…

    The intel reports from a wide variety of sources are that there isn’t any more pirates just hanging out waiting for you to pass by and they aren’t venturing offshore anymore. Some fishermen have weapons and will exploit an opportunity if they happen upon a vessel unguarded or perceived as weak.

    Several recent boats coming through haven’t even seen any fishermen let alone any “suspicious” vessels. So the risk is low, but to be sure, it’s best to carry weapons and be ready to use them. If that’s not an option, then hiring a security contractor can suit.

    Re-entering Aden, it should not be done at night where they are in a heighten state of alertness (or paranoia). With an Israeli aboard and weapons and anchoring in the wrong place, I’m not surprised at the drama. Otherwise, Aden should be fine.

    Re convoys, from experience, I’ve managed to stay close to other boats for days without even trying, but the boats need to be well matched. Convoys of 3 boats with security can work well for this journey if done properly.

    Hope those thoughts help.

    Roger Hill
    sv Equanimity
    [email protected]