I didn't plan to sail up the Red Sea. It sort of happened by default.
My trip around the world in Exit Only took so long, I was hoping they would
have a Trans-African Canal completed by the time I arrived in the Western
Indian Ocean, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. In the real
world where I lived, I had only two choices. I could head south into
the deep southern ocean, visit Madagascar and South Africa, and sail round
the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic Ocean, or I could sail up the
dreaded Red Sea.
I knew that Exit Only could withstand the rigors of either trip if I was
careful. The southern route would be potentially dangerous because of
the weather; sailing in the southern ocean during winter is never fun.
The waters of the Mozambique Channel with its treacherous Agulhas current is
a graveyard for ships, and if you don't get it right, you take a mighty
beating. One of my friends flipped his monohull sailboat upside down
in that area. Fortunately, he and his boat survived with minimal
The northern route suffers mainly from political perils. The reefs and
headwinds of the northern Red Sea are manageable challenges, and as long as
there aren't any major foreign policy disasters working themselves out
during the trip, you can make the Red Sea transit without too much
I had to decide whether I wanted to see Red Sea sunsets or southern ocean
sunrises. All of our friends were sailing up the Red Sea, and so we
decided to go with the flow. It turned out to be a good decision,
because we survived, and survival is always good.
Our Red Sea Adventure took us to Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, and
in spite of the politics, we had a uniformly good trip. I speak Arabic,
and I'm sure that lubricated our passage through those supposedly perilous
waters. Wherever we went, people always treated us with respect.
We never felt threatened when on dry land; it was only at sea in the
Gulf of Aden that we had any major concerns. There's a hundred mile
long danger zone where Somali and Yemeni Pirates prey upon passing ships and
yachts. We teamed up with another yacht, Balmacara, to make an
uneventful radio silent passage through pirate alley. Not all yachts
were so lucky. Gandolf and Mahdi had a gun battle with Yemeni pirates
two days after we made our trip, and the pirates lost. Several of the
pirates went to paradise, or to wherever pirates go when they die.
We didn't plan to go into Yemen, because the US Navy ship, the Cole, was
nearly sunk in Aden harbor. As it turned out, we had no choice but to stop
in Aden for refueling because diesel wouldn't be available again until we
were half way up the Red Sea in Sudan. There was a fuel shortage in
Eritrea, and the government wouldn't allow yachts to purchase diesel at any
Aden turned out to be a nice surprise. We had total freedom of
movement in this former British protectorate. More than once, people
walked up to us on the street and spontaneously said, "Welcome to our
country." That had never happened to us before and hasn't happened
since. Fuel was cheap, food supplies were basic, but adequate, and the
people were lovely.
We made only one significant blunder on our trip up the Red Sea. We
unknowingly walked through a minefield on Difnein Island in Eritrea.
Next time I make the trip, I'll read the cruising guide before I go ashore
on remote islands, because that type of mistake can end in disaster.
I worked as an eye surgeon for sixteen years in Saudi Arabia at King Khalid
Eye Specialist Hospital, and my patients came from all the lands bordering
on the Red Sea. The trip north gave me an opportunity to visit the
homelands of the people on whom I performed surgery during all those years.
I now had the privilege of walking in their footsteps and seeing their towns
and cities. What I saw confirmed what I already knew. The
overwhelming majority of them are good people, and when you treat them with
respect, they treat you the same way.
We saw more than sixty sunsets as we sailed up the Red Sea. Because of
the dust in the air and paucity of clouds, an orange sunset frequently
greeted us at the end of the day. We saw the same type of sunsets when
we camped in Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula.
Sailing up the Red Sea isn't for everyone, but it worked for us. If it
wasn't so far away, I would happily do it again without fear in my heart.
In spite of the negative media coverage of this region of the world, it's a great place to cruise. If you like pristine diving, wonderful
people, and orange sunsets, the Red Sea is the place to be.