1 July – Suez Canal Finished

1 July 2020 – Alanya Marina – Turkey

News FLASH – We made it through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. We’re done, and now safely berthed at Alanya Marina in Eastern Turkey. 

At Port Suez, we docked at the Suez Canal Yacht Club (a Yacht Club, really in name only) and were treated very well by our agent Capt Heebie. He did all our clearances and arranged for diesel and fresh fruit and vegetable delivery. We were not permitted to go ashore, the Egyptian borders remain closed. We had an Egyptian lunch (gratis Capt Heebie) with SV LIBERTE (who we first met in Trinidad about 7 years ago) and SV PIED-A-MER (who we first met in Tahiti about 5 years ago). 

We departed Suez for the first of two legs through the Suez Canal on 24 June. Our first pilot was a jovial fellow, who spoke only a little English. He ate and drank everything we gave him. He boarded the boat at 0415. Unlike the Panama Canal, there are no locks in the Suez Canal, it is really just a long ditch, first undertaken in the period 1854-1856, by the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps (the same man who started the Panama Canal). He obtained a concession from Sa’id Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, to create a company to construct a canal open to ships of all nations. This was a French, publicly traded company. 

We passed hundreds of these military “bridges”. They are really water-craft that are assembled by the Army (in practice and in war) to make a temporary bridge to cross the canal. It is literally done in “minutes”. When I lived and worked in the Sinai for Schlumberger 40 years ago, this was how I crossed the Canal to go from mainland Egypt to the Sinai.

Canal traffic is a mixture of one-way and two way movement because of lane widening, and construction efforts. We were overtaken by a few large container ships like this one. We were motoring at 6 knots, and them at about 10-12 knots.

The Captain of the huge container ship Mersk Gibraltor (Patrick, who we met when we stayed a year at Pangkor Marina in Malaysia) actually took a photo of the 3 sailboats underway (from his bridge deck) and we got this photo by email an hour later! What a small world indeed.

We arrived at Ismailia (mid-way through the Suez Canal) about 8 hours later, and left, as planned, two days later on 26 June. Ismailia might have been a nice place to visit, but we weren’t allowed to – because of COVID-19 and the fact that we checked out of Egypt on arrival at Port Suez. Here we are berthed at the Ismailia Yacht Club ($21USD per night, including water and electricity) alongside SV LIBERTE and SV PIED-A-MER.

Our second pilot also was a little rusty with his English, and also arrived very early at about 0430. 

This was our last view of Ismailia, it might have been a nice place to visit ….. Look at the blue sky and the clouds!

We continued to see hundreds of military bridge sections, pre-positioned and soldiers, hundreds of soldiers standing guard, often on the crests of the Canal sides.

This bridge, definitely did not exist when I lived here 40 years ago. The Mubarak Peace Bridge, also known as the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, Al Salam Bridge, or Al Salam Peace Bridge, is a road bridge crossing the Suez Canal at El-Qantara. The bridge links the continents of Africa and Asia – and 60% of the cost was financed by Japan.

In the next few hours, we could smell and feel the freshness of the Mediterranean Sea and we were on the way to Turkey. The fishing lines were put out and Gabo and Mariona caught 3 tuna over a 12 hour period. The best lure was a pink, squiggly thing that resembled a squid. The best fishing time was at dusk and dawn – not always the best time for cleaning though. 

We figured this last one was about 15 kg. Now – our freezer was FULL.

Crew Recommendation 

At this point, I would like to make a public recommendation for our reliable crew: Gabriele de Rota (Italian) and Mariona Gil de Biedma Galofre (Spanish). These two friendly, honest, trustworthy, polite and practical people have been our crew from Thailand to India last year and again from India through to Turkey this year – covering 8 countries. As you can see from my blog posts, they are also serious fishermen: catching / cleaning and cooking fish whenever possible. But, they are also thorough boat cleaners and dedicated watch-keepers. They are wonderful in the galley and even entertain us with music. They are also both very comfortable in the water (SCUBA divers) and very thorough with hull cleaning/scraping. They came with a bit of prior experience but we tried to train them as well, and I can say that I completely trust them both to make the right decision in any situation. They have kept their cabin neat and tidy and are always available to lend a hand or take charge. There have been no arguments or bad feelings between us. Sure, sometimes we have had a differing opinion, but nothing that led to anything more than a lively discussion. At times, it can be challenging to be “cooped” up in a small space with 4 people for months at a time – but not with these two people. I know that they both have some aspirations of getting professional qualifications and ultimately their own boat, or at least paid crew positions. They are made for this life and I’m sure they will find their niche. Not only do I highly recommend that they be crew on other boats, but we would take them back “in a heartbeat”. Gabo and Mariona will always be welcome on SV Joana. 

Here, we are approaching our port of Alanya Turkey, our home for the coming year.

Reached Port Suez Egypt

22 June 2020 – Port Suez – Egypt

We are finally here at the South end of the Suez Canal! We have reached a milestone.

Traffic in the Suez Canal

We finally left Port Ghalib Marina on 9 June, after nearly 3 months “incarcerated” there. I’m sure that our experience would have been different, if it had not been for COVID-19. Why leave then? Because some of the Med ports were starting to open up. Cyprus declared itself open to incoming yachts, but a COVID-19 test and quarantine were required. We had friends who just arrived, and that was the trigger for us. At the time of departure, our plan was to make it to the Suez Canal, and then decide where we’ll go from there (Cyprus, Turkey, North Cyprus or even Greece?).

Our first anchorage was Soma Bay, at N26˚51’.10 E033˚58’.26 – about 87nm. I had set a course for the anchorage just North of the El Gouna resort, but it was just too far, given the weather conditions. We set out of Port Ghalib with the afternoon winds (always North) decreasing to only 8knots, but at 2am they increased to 15, 20 then 25 knots. This brought our boat speed down from 5, 4, 3, 2 and sometimes only 1 knot! So, I cut short the 132nm passage and tucked into Soma Bay at the 87nm mark. Soma Bay was very windy, but sheltered from the current and large waves. However, when the wind piped up to 30-40 knots, the waves in the anchorage similarly rose to nearly 1m even though we were only 150m from shore. At Soma Bay, I discovered that our water maker couldn’t build up pressure, so we could no longer make our own fresh water from sea water. Conservations measures were in put in place, reducing consumption and using sea water to wash dishes.

Even though it was windy, Gabo and Mariona practiced some “agro-yoga” on the poop deck.

Since we don’t have LPG inside the boat, our meals are either cooked on this rice cooker, or in the BBQ. Since it was way too windy for using the BBQ, we had lots of solar and wind energy to power the rice cooker, 12VDC to 115VAC through the inverter.

Diane and Mariona have both become skilled at making “rice-cooker” cakes (apple, orange, banana) and loaves of bread. This bread is a perfect size for making toast – and I think Diane made this one.

Gabo caught another tuna while underway, usually at about 0430 in the morning, just at dawn.

After waiting for 3 days, our next weather window opened up (light opposing wind) and we motored 57nm to Endeavour Harbour on Tawila Island. Here we had good sand holding, and very good protection from swell on nearly all sides, but we were still exposed to high wind since the surrounding land was only about 3m high. The wind generators were happy, all-night and all-day long for 4 days and nights. Then, we took advantage of a very short lull in the wind, and moved to Bluff Point, only 9nm away at N27˚40’.58 E033˚48’.21 a divers paradise, but empty due to COVID-19. This was a good move and simply shortened our passage for the next day to El Tur, on the SW corner of the Sinai at N28˚14’.12 E033˚36’.59 – when we were finally within reach (123nm) of Suez!

Along the way, we came across these used, and often unused oil production platforms. Since we were moving during daylight hours, there was no risk to us, but the Red Sea Pilot book warns that they are difficult to see at night, even with RADAR, and are sometimes unlit.

El Tur was a very sheltered, shallow sandy bottom anchorage – well positioned on the Sinai side.

Seeing that we were close to the bottom of our aft water tank (forward tank still full) – I contacted the Egyptian Coast Guard on VHF 16 – to request a water delivery. Within a few hours, I was put in touch with the El Tur Commander of the local Navy Base (who spoke impeccable English), and he arranged a bottled water delivery of 20 X 19L plastic jugs. This was well appreciated, and speaks volumes about the professionalism of the Egyptian Coast Guard and Navy.

Shortly afterwards on the same afternoon, we made contact with a local windsurfer / paddle boarder who offered to take away our empty water jugs and fetch us some fresh fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, this never worked out because the Army chastised him for coming out to our anchored boat.

There were a couple of guys windsurfing, one with one of those new fancy boards that rides “above” the water.

Although we didn’t go ashore, we were pleased with the picturesque views from the harbour. When the dust settled, we could see the mountains of the Sinai (including the area nearby Mount St Catherine where the Bible records Moses getting his tablet with the 10 commandments) and the Egyptian mainland on the other side of the Red Sea.

After about 5 days, we left El Tur with a short, but defined lull in the winds – and rushed overnight to Port Suez, 123nm northwest. We continued to see Sinai vistas along the coast.

We will undertake the first half of the Suez Canal passage on Wednesday 24 June, and will “pause” at Ismailia for a few days to get sorted out before our passage into the Mediterranean Sea.

Still in Port Ghalib Egypt

26 May 2020 – Port Ghalib Egypt (still there)

We have been berthed at Port Ghalib Marina for nearly 11 weeks. This photo is from “happier times” before the lockdown started. We had lunch in BiCafe with our friends on YARA (still in the marina) and BIRD OF PASSAGE (on the way to Sweden).

We planned to stay 4 weeks, and visit the Valley of the Kings – but then the world shut down! A few days ago, we learned that domestic movement restrictions will be eased here in Egypt, but we haven’t seen any sign of it. In fact, they have tightened up following the end of Ramadan. We actually went in a bus to Hurghada (200km North) a few weeks ago, in accordance with the established rules. Although the Senza Mall was open, it was basically just the supermarket Spinneys, none of the restaurants or cafes were open. Now, we learned that if we want to take our boat to Hurghada Marina – we will first have to check-in at the Port (about 400m distance) and complete a 14 day quarantine on our boat. What? We can visit there by car, but if we take our boat, we have to stay aboard under quarantine for 14 days? These kind of rules are illogical, and rampant throughout the world. The next day we checked again, and they said, “oh, the rule has changed, the port is closed”. I think the problem stems from the fact that most countries treat small sailboats with the same bureaucracy as cruise ships and cargo ships. Often, when we clear in, we are asked for “de-ratting” certificates, to complete a declaration of “stowaways” and to fill out a form indicating that we had no people “die on passage”. There should be a way of dealing with a small private vessel with only a few people on boat. 

Oh well, we are dealing with COVID-19 like everyone else in the world. 

These are our friends Larry and Margie on ALTHEA (US citizens, we first met in Fiji) who have just made their first landfall in months in the USVI, coming from Brazil. They left South Africa, stopping at St Helena (mid Atlantic) and then briefly at a marina in Brazil. 

They haven’t been allowed to check in to a country, for more than 3 months – since they left South Africa (pre COVID-19). On arrival in the USVI, they did not have to self-quarantine for 14 days, possibly because they are US citizens, or maybe because they have been at sea so long?

Johan and Tove, Swedish friends of ours on BIRD OF PASSAGE arrived in Sicily (from the Suez Canal) a few days ago. They left Port Ghalib more than a month ago.

In Sicily, they were visited by Quarantine staff, checked and permitted to go ashore. The Coast Guard delivered groceries to them a few hours later, dressed in hazmat suits with gloves, masks, and face protectors. The next day, more Coast Guard staff delivered 20 X 20L new jerry cans of diesel, again – all dressed up. They were told that they shouldn’t have gone ashore. Where is the logic?

These links tell even more stories, involving some cruisers we have come across over the years. 

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/article-escaping-the-pandemic-on-a-sailboat-may-sound-idyllic-but-its-not-as/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/12/long-journey-home-the-stranded-sailboats-in-a-race-to-beat-the-hurricanes?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR3cEvVWRaKole7Tu08qzcWZ6ziyRH8qSHoui1Q_jw6C577GMIUKnlL_8qE

https://www.sailingsteelsapphire.com/blog-1/2020/4/30/desperately-seeking-solutions?fbclid=IwAR0slnwExeLYDB6rm61HYf3RIxftphDELflk5NAVd4AXs5BLvLM-azTbFKM

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/small-boats-stuck-at-sea-covid-19/index.html?fbclid=IwAR1h8lpN-TH7viVxutiYPgO4-tUnYTucMn2xVgOe78gMPC734tf2Lc_Ql-4

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-18-2020-1.5574259/after-covid-19-turned-his-voyage-into-months-of-floating-lockdown-this-canadian-is-finally-sailing-for-home-1.5574284

The saddest story that I’ve come across are Patrick and Rebecca on SV BRICKHOUSE. 

They left SE Asia at about the same time as us, choosing to go via South Africa, while we went to India and then the Red Sea. They both have COVID-19, and are in South Africa now. Patrick is on a ventilator and in ICU, whilst Rebecca also has tested positive and is in quarantine on their boat. Its a sad situation.

http://whereisbrickhouse.com

Port Ghalib – and COVID-2019

21 March 2020 – Port Ghalib Egypt

We’re here, and whether we like it or not, we’re going to be here for an indeterminate period of time while the whole world struggles with COVID-2019 containment. The marina at Port Ghalib is hardly a marina, per se – at least in my experience. Its a bunch of resorts, restaurants and souvenir shops sharing a common bay and dock area (mostly for commercial dive and snorkel charters) with room for about a dozen sailboats. They advertise toilets and showers, but the toilets are the same ones that the fly-in tourists use, public toilets. There are no showers, none. They advertise wifi available, but in truth it costs $0.12 USD per minute to use the wifi in their office. A better solution is to buy a Vodaphone SIM card and use a hotspot. The “docks” are all concrete wall, Med-moor style, OK by me. Thankfully, we had assistance to get into this spot, as there was a lot of wind blowing from the side – at the time.

The marina staff helped to put their AC plug on the end of my electrical cord, so I didn’t have to buy one. They say the water is not good to drink, but I tested it, and its 237ppm desalinated water, probably better than what we drink with our own water maker. There are no minerals in the water, but I believe that as long as you balance that with a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables, there is no downside to drinking desalinated water. Some water makers now come with a system to add some minerals, just not salt. I haven’t yet been to the marina office, but I did request a month long stay. At this time of the year its a fixed price, $300 USD for a 16m boat, for a month. Its a good deal. I wonder how long that deal will last?

We took a walk about, and found this beached sailboat, a Beneteau, about 42 feet. It has been here for a few years and is pretty much stripped of anything valuable, although the Perkins engine is still there.

Like much of Egypt, there is a reef just past the beach. I can only surmise that this boat hit a reef, lost its rudder and went aground – quickly. These “bendy boats” (Beneteau) have a spade rudder, one that is vulnerable when hitting a reef, rocks or a sea container. They do, however, turn-on-a-dime when in the marina — but they are not seaworthy. Beneteaus are not worthy of ocean passages, in my opinion. Here is evidence that the rudder shaft (it looks like fibreglass over wood) sheared off.

There are 10 sailboats here now, most of them travelling North, when possible. The Suez Canal is open, but that’s it. All the Mediterranean ports are closed. One of these boats is a Dutch sailboat, moving South through the Red Sea – heading to SE Asia. Most of the owners and crew have flown back to their home countries because of the world wide corona virus pandemic. In fact, most of the staff working here have also gone home, simply because there are virtually no tourists to stay in the hotels, buy restaurant food, go diving or buy souvenirs. Egypt, like most countries, has closed its borders for two weeks to non-Egyptian nationals. At least with no tourists around, the internet is fast enough!

Two more sailboats arrived yesterday, one all the way from India. A German single-hander arrived two days before us and sailed (single handed) all the way from the Maledives. I think it was about a 28 day passage. In my opinion, it is foolish to consider most of these sailers as a threat. The risk of any them carrying the virus is zero, as evidenced by the long time at sea, under self-quarantine.

The camels are still walking around.

We are keen to see the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Asswan etc — but you can’t drive more than about 50km in this area before running into a police checkpoint. They are enforcing Egyptian law, and no unnecessary travel is permitted. All of these tourist sites are closed. In the meantime, we’ll just have to bide our time.

Diane sampled some of the local she-shaw.

I attempted repair of our bow thruster and now realize that I need two new solenoids. Maybe I can get them in Egypt?

Suakin Sudan and Northbound

15 March 2020 – Suakin Sudan and Northbound

We stopped in Suakin Sudan for only a few days. With the normally strong Northerly winds that blow through down from the Med to the Red Sea, we are finding ourselves following a pattern of “move North when the wind is light or non-existent”. We found ourselves at Port Suakin for exactly 3 days. The first two days, I didn’t even get off the boat. I was occupied with taking on 800L of fuel in jerry cans.

I found the people of Sudan to be polite, warm and open. There is very little English spoken here, or in the signs. Unfortunately, this country has suffered from being labelled by the USA as a country that supports International terrorism. Its a paradox that Saudi Arabia hasn’t been identified in the same manner, particularly when ALL of the hijackers that crashed those two airliners into the World Trade Centre in 2001 and killed nearly 3000 people – were all citizens of Saudi Arabia. Its something to think about.

The shore agent is Mohamed, and he has a solid reputation for supporting cruisers as they pass through Suakin. He supported us, and my only wish was that we could have stuck around longer, to see more of his country. Sadly, our weather window was upon us, and we were hastened to move on. This is a photo of our friend Steve together with Mohamed.

We’re getting less sunlight in the day as we move North, and we also notice its getting colder. In India, we were used to daily temperatures of 32-34C, and in Sudan, its more like 21-28C, due largely to that cool wind blowing from the North. The water temperature is noticeably cooler, and it seems that we’re less enthusiastic about going into the seawater every day. Its quite a bit colder. There is always sand in the wind, and it will take months to get the boat clean.

Our first stop was labelled as the best anchorage in the Red Sea, Khoo Shinab, about 166nm North of Suakin and about 290nm South of Port Ghalib Egypt. The anchorage was large, barren, and nearly devoid of any sign of human existence. This was our view as we entered this deep and well protected anchorage, the site of an ancient riverbed.

On arrival, we saw a couple of bedouins walking on shore, and I think they were fishermen. We also saw camels wandering around, but never seemed to be able to get a good photo. The reefs were amongst the best we’ve ever seen with abundant fish and brilliant corals. There was no internet though, not a whiff.

Since we don’t own a drone, we had to get an “overhead view” the old fashioned way, by walking up the mountain. The views were spectacular!

A few days before leaving, Gabriel discovered that there was an engine coolant leak, that worked out to be about 20 drops per minute. I fretted over this for more than 24 hours, and we had Gabriel and Mariona apply many layers of epoxy putty over the suspect area. The result – it leaks very little when the engine starts cold, but after a few minutes stops leaking altogether. Hopefully, this is an issue that can be examined more closely later on “down the road”.

We motored the next 310nm directly to Port Ghalib Egypt and arrived on 14 March, just two hours before a whopper of a storm!

Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

19-28 February 2020 Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

In the end, we never took the Djibouti tour, it was just too expensive at $400 USD. Also, the guy who was supposed to be working on our sail did nothing, so after 7 days – we took it back. Together with Steve and Liz on Liberte, Diane and Mariona made the necessary repairs. Diane used her own sewing machine as well as re-stitching a lot of the sunbrella strip on by hand. We rented an office space in the “marina” for $100 USD (for a day) and went at it.

All told, we stayed 10 days in Djibouti. Its a shame really because we ended up leaving with a bad impression. It seems there are lots of angry people shouting at each other. Its not a culture that I can appreciate. So, since our weather window was vanishing quickly, we sailed on in the morning of 17 February, bound for Massawa Eritrea. We had strong winds for most of it, but in the last 12 hours had to motor in, and this bird sat on our whisker pole for most of it, taking a break.

Our “buddy boat” for a lot of this trip is Liberte, Australian flagged, with Steve and Liz Coleman on board. We first met them in Trinidad, about 8 years ago.

Massawa is a dirty, impoverished East African port “city”, important to the war-torn country of Eritrea. Here in a nutshell, is their history. They have been at odds with Ethiopia for hundreds of years. In the 1920’s, Italy colonized the country and made big improvements to their infrastructure and sent nearly 100,000 Italian emigrants here in the 20’s and 30’s – to settle. You can easily see the Italian influence in the roads, bridges, building architecture – and even people’s faces. In WWII, the British supported Ethiopia, defeated Eritrea and merged the two and drew inconvenient and non-sensible borders (as they did). Then, the Eritreans started to fight for their independence again, and finally in about 2000, a peace was declared and UN peacekeepers were here for a while. Eritrea has its independence, but is very low on the scale of development, even for African nations. This was our first view on arrival. It was a magnificent building at one time.

We went out for a local meal, together with Steve and Liz.

We could get some fruit and vegetables in the night market (forget about lettuce, broccoli etc, its just not in their diet) and there are a few shops or supermarkets with nearly nothing on the shelves. The night market was located on the edge of town, and people were really shy about getting their picture taken, so we had to be careful not to offend anyone.

I paid this young woman extra for the potatoes we bought from her, just so I could get her photo.

I’ve heard Eritrea described as the North Korea of Africa. Now I know why. For $50 USD per person, we got 30 day visas, and together with the correct internal travel permit (everybody needs it here) we found two good days to make a side trip to the capital city of Asmara to see the best that there is on offer. Even in the capital city, there were dozens of Internet cafes, but the odd few that were operating offered Internet at speeds equivalent to what we saw in Canada in about 1995, and can’t support any Apple apps or software. Just forget about it. Cuba is at least a generation ahead of these guys. Although they have plenty of natural resources, I don’t know how or why any Western industry would brave coming to this country to setup, its just way too risky. We had to wait until we got to Sudan to get Internet access.

The road trip up to Asmara was very interesting. The bus ride was cheap at about $3.50 USD per person, but very rough and at times nerve wracking. At an elevation of 2300m, the climate was cooler and really above the clouds. It was chilly in the evenings and you needed at least an extra shirt or sweater. Locals in Asmara rarely make the trip down to Massawa at sea level, where the temperature in July/August can reach 42-45C.

Its hard to see in this photo, but these was a swarm of locusts, huge “grasshopper like” insects flying along.

Much to my surprise, Asmara was a very clean, organized and pleasant city. Eritreans in general are very friendly and calm people, but in Asmara, there was a distinct Italian flare to everything. Cafes and bars were plentiful, and people seemed to have a very calm and tranquil lifestyle. Most Eritreans are Christian, and this was the Catholic Church in Asmara.

There was also an Italian government funded public school with some Italian staff. Although the people in Asmara suffer from drought, and our overnight stay at the African Pension was impacted, the people seem to be quite happy and carrying on. At least there is no war! We ate pizza, spaghetti, Italian deserts and gelato – and had cappuccinos. Gabriel was in heaven, it was so much like Italy. In fact, when questioned about it, he was completely unaware that this country had once been an Italian colony. Locals asked him: “why did the Italians leave?” “when are they coming back?”.

This area of Asmara is called the recycling depot. Here, we saw all kinds of goods come in and get recycled into hundreds of different products. There is a carpentry area, a metal working area, gears and springs – you name it. Obviously, this guy made his own “welding mask”.

Gabo struck up a conversation with one of the thousands of Italian descendants remaining in the city.

After a stay of 8 days, was time to move on and head North to Suakin Sudan. Again, we had a hitch-hiker, this time a hoopoe, the national bird of Israel (not a sea bird). It is from the Kingfisher family of birds.

Arrival in Djibouti

15 February 2020 Djibouti Arrival

We arrived in Djibouti on 7 February after 16 days at sea. We mostly had good wind, but had to motor for several days to “escape” India, and again in the last 24 hour run into the port of Djibouti. In total, we ran the Volvo for 120 hours and burned 570L of our 1150L carried (850L in two tanks, 300L on deck). We did not see or hear of any pirate activity. We did see a couple of fishing boats and several coalition warships, surveillance aircraft and helicopters. The pirates (those that are left) don’t have a chance here. We were contacted directly by Japanese and Indian Navies. This is an Indian warship that we spoke to.

This is their helicopter that buzzed over us to have a look.

Gabo tried hard, but in the end managed to catch just two fish, one tuna and one mahi-mahi. Nonetheless, there was often an abundance of flying fish, sometimes as many as 15-20 landing on the deck overnight – and even this one that landed inside the cockpit.

At one point, Gabo had 3 lines out and all had a strike at the same time. One fish jumped up, the line rose up over the solar panels at the stern and one wind generator and then snapped. The fish escaped and the wind generator was fouled! On the second line, there was a big mahi-mahi but it escaped just at the edge of the boat when the gaff was lowered! On the third line there was a small but tasty tuna.

The next day, Gabo got another mahi-mahi, and redeemed himself.

On a beam reach, this was our sail configuration in light winds: Code Zero and main sail. This was a “dream point of sail”, 10-12 knots of wind and less than 1 metre seas.

Once we were “in the corridor” following the International Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC) between Yemen, Somalia and Socotra, this was our point of sail, “wing on wing” with the wind dead astern of us. Again, this was a very comfortable sail, for several days.

We had some “belt” problems when running the engine. It appears that the intense heat and humidity were hard on the Volvo belts, and I had to change both early in the trip, while underway. Initially, I tightened two sets of belts (two for the Volvo water pump and alternator, and a second pair for the 200A alternator) but then they broke after a few hours – forcing me to replace them underway. Fortunately, I had several spare pair, and managed to source even more when we arrived in Djibouti.

Gabo and Mariona demonstrate how easy it was to refuel while underway. With light winds and a very low sea state, it was possible to put a few jerry cans of diesel into the tanks on most days.

We also had problems with a “dirty tank”. I’m not blaming the fuel of India, but rather that the boat sat for a long time, and any diesel bugs present had an opportunity to grow. Polishing? Sure, I polished every month for two days, but the polishing pump is a low pressure pump, compared to the Volvo fuel pump. Therefore, when the seas get rough and there is sediment in the tank, it gets stirred up and clogs the lines, largely due to the stronger suction effort of the Volvo. Thankfully, our boat has two diesel tanks and its an easy matter to switch to the aft tank, if the forward tank gives trouble. A few days after arrival, we pumped out all the “bad fuel” into empty jerry cans, mucked out the tank with rags, and then poured the diesel back into the tank through a high quality filter. We replaced our spent diesel with locally purchased diesel, at the service station, for about $ 1.11USD per litre.

The jib Sunbrella UV strip has started to fall off (rotten threads) so we took that in to an upholstery guy (modest sailmaker) who gave it a repair (with our Sunbrella and our thread). Again, this is a result of high UV, high temperatures and high humidity of India. In retrospect, we should have taken down the jib and staysail, and we considered it at the time, but never sourced a good location to store them. At this moment, we’re still waiting for the sail to be returned – before we leave for Eritrea.

Getting Internet is a hassle here in Djibouti, you have to visit the national Telecom company – and the network is “so-so”. On the other hand, none of the malls or restaurants offered any wifi either, or at least none that we could find. We bought three SIM cards and the only real issue has been that we initially we couldn’t “hotspot” our iPhones, but another cruiser showed us how to change the ATN settings in our devices and then we were OK.

We had a replacement Raymarine ST60 wind instrument shipped in from Canada via DHL. The experience of extracting this package from Djibouti airport customs was entirely unpleasant, but at least I got the package 7 days after it was shipped from Canada. Sadly, it didn’t solve our problem. We will continue sailing without the utility of a wind direction or speed instrument.

It was nice to have a restaurant meal, and a good one at that. They even supplied knives and forks!

In one of French supermarkets (Giant), I found this package of camel meat. This is a first for me, I’ve never seen it in a grocery store.

We still plan to make a “tour” of Djibouti, get our sail, check out and leave the country – bound for Eritrea. Timing is “everything”, particularly with the wind.

Leaving India

21 January 2020 – Departing Kochi India for the Red Sea

We had Daneesh, the “pool boy / lifeguard” over for beer and nachos a few weeks ago. This was his third invitation to visit us. With each and every encounter with Daneesh and other Indians, we learn more and more about the culture in India. Daneesh works away from home (his parents home) but returns every Sunday for the day. He told us of a “cooperative / bank” in his parents neighbourhood. There is a “club” or “cooperative” consisting of approximately 12 families (not always related by blood), in the neighbourhood. Every week there is a meeting of the families and there are even positions of President, Secretary and Treasurer. They pay weekly dues. They borrow money from the group, and then return it over a period of months. In this way, the community knows very well what is going on in the other families and monies borrowed and returned are kept at a very close level, and at low cost. This is micro-financing at the grass-roots level, and it is common in rural India, not so much in the cities. I never knew this. 

We will be leaving tomorrow, early. The exact departure date and hour have been influenced by many factors, including tides. The tides here are only in the range .8m to 1.2m, but a fuller moon can give us more water to transit and the first mile is very shallow. For safety reasons we don’t want to leave in darkness due to the proliferation of fishermen, nets and garbage in the water. Customs will allow us to check out and leave two days later, but Immigration insists that we leave immediately after checking out. We HAVE to leave on a high “rising tide” because the water near the marina is very shallow, and we have seen several others get stuck. At least if we touch bottom, as a little more water comes in, it won’t get worse and we might be able to back out. Admittedly, our departure date has ended up being several weeks later than I had originally planned due to many variables that I had little influence over. This can be viewed as a good thing since during the last 12 month period, 3 yachts have been lost on reefs in the Sudan/Egypt area. There are countless uncharted reefs along this coastline, and with the strong Northerly winds and sandstorms that frequently happen early in the season, one passage strategy (a poor one it seems) is to hug the coast and seek wave protection from the reefs while moving North. We realize now that leaving India a few weeks later reduces the possibility of extreme opposing weather later on in that area for us. 

Another unexpected wrinkle has been the setup and commissioning of our IridiumGo! (satellite communication gear). For the past 11 years, we have successfully used our HF/SSB ICOM ICM802 radio with a Pactor modem to connect via WINLINK. This has been useful to send and receive email and to fetch weather grib files. However, in this area of the world, the distance to shore-side stations is much larger than before. We have to either reach back to Australia or forward to mainland Europe. The popular alternative is to use satcom, at least in this region. We have a new IridiumGo!, and it has never been setup, much less operationally tested. Much to my disappointment, the manufacturer has produced new firmware and new apps for the iPhone and iPad – in the first few days of January, ie just before our departure. The email app is still not working on iOS devices but is OK for Android devices. This has necessitated a lot of discrete testing, unfortunately none of which can be done dockside in India because this equipment is banned, because it is feared that it may be used by terrorists. Its a sensitive topic, and one that I did not want to mention while still physically in India. 

All preparations are now complete. Our crew-members Mariona and Gabriele have returned. The boat is completely provisioned and the tanks are full. We normally carry about 900 litres of diesel, but for this trip, we are carrying an extra 300 litres in 15 jerry cans on deck – just in case. Last year, at least one sailboat ran out of fuel in the High Risk Area (HRA) and we don’t to be in the same predicament. 

Our planned legs are:

Kochi to Djibouti 2000nm (we may stop there, if required)

Djibouti to Suakin Sudan 610nm (we plan to stop at Suakin)

Suakin to Port Ghalib Egypt 620nm (we plan to stop at Port Ghalib, first Egyptian port)

Port Ghalib Egypt to Port Suez Egypt 110nm (entrance to the Suez Canal)

Port Suez through the Canal to North Cyprus 440nm

Total 3780nm  (multiply by 1.852 to get km, or just 2X for an approximation)  

For comparison purposes, by air travel – it is 4430 km from Halifax Nova Scotia (East Coast Canada) to Vancouver British Columbia (West Coast Canada) and about 6000 km by road. This trip to Cyprus is longer than the span of Canada by road!

We have very much enjoyed our 10 month stay in India, and are sad to leave behind our friends in Kochi, but the time has come. We must move forward, meet new challenges and see new places. 

I will try to post updates and blog entries as we move along, but I can’t be sure of what Internet connections we’ll find along the way. We plan to arrive at Karpaz Gate Marina in North Cyprus, sometime in early April. 

If anyone wants to track our progress, our current position for this journey can be found at this link: Tracking Link for Iridium Go: 

https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/JOANA

2019 Year End in India

30 December 2019 – Year End in Cochin Kerala India

Its almost the end of the year. As I’ve done many times before, I’m posting a year end snap shot of our travels. In 2019, we broke free from South East Asia, sailing from Thailand to Sumatra to India, a total of about 1800nm. 

As planned over 6 months ago, we were invited to Varghese’s home for Christmas dinner. With fellow cruisers Marcel and Joana (and their dog Nikko), we were treated to a festive Indian Christmas dinner featuring many dishes and treats we’ve not had before. Marcel and Joana brought the wine, and Diane brought the turkey. We ordered this 4kg turkey from FarMeats a few weeks ago. We figure that every year since we left Canada we have always cooked a Christmas turkey, this year – on our wonderful Weber BBQ. 

This is what the turkey looked like before cooking. All dressed up and ready to cook.

These are some photos of our time at Varghese’s home.

As we are preparing for our next journey, getting the mast and rig inspected is all part of the process. Here in Cochin, there is no sailmaker or rigger, but Nazar’s son Nizar is happy to go up the mast, have a look at the rigging and take photos – and that satisfied me. Here is a photo from the top of the mast looking down. You can see our 10 solar panels giving 1360W, as well as the grey Sunbrella shade covers that we had newly made in Thailand.

We continue to meet interesting people and chat with them. One day while waiting for the ferry, we chatted up these 4 girls (age 15-16). When we learned that they were headed to LuLu Mall for an outing, we gave them 500 rupees to buy their lunch at KFC. They were absolutely thrilled at our generosity, and were certainly not asking for money. They were all school friends and a mixture of Christian and Hindu. 

One day when going to Nazar’s home for lunch (we have been there many times), I had to ride “shotgun” sharing the driver’s seat with him. This is a good photo of us both, riding in his auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk. 

Exciting things are going to be happening on Fort Kochi island soon. Thousands of people will flock there for New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year by burning the massive statue of an old man named, Pappanji. Burning of this 35-foot huge Pappanji that stands tall amidst the crowd, just like a skyscraper symbolizes the welcoming of hope and harmony. A grand party is planned with music and dance till dawn.  It looks exciting, but we probably won’t go because of the crowds. 

There are other things happening, some during the day, and some at night. These elephants are getting geared up for decorating and a procession/parade on New Year’s Day.

The Cochin Carnival is a cultural reflection of the hybrid past of Fort Kochi. It has its origins rooted deep in the Portuguese and British rule. The Portuguese New Year celebrations during the colonial era gradually paved the way for the Cochin Carnival.

We came across this display of Indian wrestling at the beach. There was a large crowd watching and competitors from many weight classes were ready to wrestle.

Our crew (Mariona and Gabriele who sailed with us from Thailand) will be joining us again on 2 January, as we finalize our preparations for departure. We expect to depart 15 January 2020, or thereabouts – for the Red Sea.

Getting Closer to Departure

4 December 2019 – Getting Closer to Departure

One day when we were out and about with Nazar sourcing supplies and things, and we decided to follow a lead for a good hamburger. When we picked up our frozen meat at FarMeats last month, we asked them where we could buy a good hamburger. Neither McDonalds nor Burger King actually have hamburgers on their menu, probably due to sensitivities with Hindus. They sell chicken burgers and veggie burgers, but no beef burgers. FarMeats told us that they sell beef to The Burger Junction, so we kept that in the back of our mind. Well, we finally went there, and it was fantastic. It was real beef and very tasty. All three of us had cheeseburgers, fries and lemonade. It was, of course, the first time that Nazar had ever eaten a hamburger.

The last time we bought wine was in Langkawi Malaysia, duty-free Australian wine. Since our supplies were getting a bit low, we bought some Indian-made wine, comparable to a Pinot Gris. This wine was very good, certainly as good as many of the Australian or NZ wines we have had. It was 370 rupees, or about $7.20 CDN per 750ml bottle.

We were treated to a CO2 party on SV YARA with our friends Robert and Ursula. Like many cruisers we have met, they use SodaStream to make carbonated beverages. Like many cruisers with SodaStream, they have had difficulty getting their CO2 cylinders filled as they move from country to country. It is impossible in Muslim countries to find a SodaStream vendor because this is an Israeli company. Usually, if there is a Paint Ball venture in the area, its workable. Here in India, Robert and Ursula resorted to buying “dry ice” which is solid CO2. If you just let this stuff sit on the ground it will gradually turn into a gaseous form, bypassing the liquid phase altogether. If you toss a few cubes in the water, they will bubble and make fog. Robert and Ursula own 18 SodaStream CO2 cylinders, and needed to refill 15 of them. So, they bought approximately 10 kg of dry ice from a local supplier (this stuff is used by the medical industry for the transport of organs) and basically just chipped it up, and dropped little shavings into the cylinders (with the valves removed). Each cylinder was weighed so that it contained nearly 400g, then the valves were quickly screwed on. A few years ago, after following this procedure but not quite as accurately, one cylinder exploded about 12 hours later because it was filled with more than 400g of CO2. For any cruisers that have SodaStream equipment, this is a sure-fire way of getting the cylinders filled.

Here is Robert chipping away at the dry ice. Later, both Diane and I took over this role because Robert was occupied with filling and weighing.

Now, Robert is filling the cylinder with small CO2 shavings, maximum 400g.

The last stage is to weigh the cylinders, with a good digital scale.

Recognizing that we didn’t have the right courtesy flags for our journey West, we had some custom made here in Kochi. Although it was easy to find SE Asian courtesy flags in Thailand and Malaysia, finding them for Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Israel (in advance) was another issue. So, we had some custom made on silk.

We had the local SCUBA diver down to give the hull a scrub. The water here is incredibly silty and dirty with floating debris and garbage. Its bad, so bad that I don’t want to go in the water, if I can pay somebody else to do it. We will get it done again, just a few days before we leave.

Our fuel tanks are topped up with 900L of diesel, but in consideration of our upcoming Westward passage through the Red Sea, we decided that we wanted to carry “extra” diesel on deck in jerry cans, just in case. After much deliberation, we bought 15 23L jerry cans (for about $4 CDN each), that are now filled to 20L each – giving us an additional 300L on deck. We don’t intend to “cruise” with these additional cans, just tie them on deck and give them away (empty) when we get to Cyprus.

The weather has cleared up a lot, and it only rains occasionally at night. The daytime temperatures are about 30-32C and at night-time it is usually about 26C, although the humidity is still high. Our second A/C unit (bought in Malaysia two years ago) finally died and we won’t bother fixing it. The big portable A/C we bought in India is doing the job, cooling and dehumidifying the whole boat. Our aft cabin is a little warmer than we’d like, but we’re OK.