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SEA GEM LOG
March 13
Charlie, Saundra, Tom Williams and Jeannette

From Djibouti to Safaga

Dreading impending events we launched into the Red Sea .  For the first five days it proved  benign and I began to think Red Sea lore was over-rated.  Then, as if  fulfilling prophecy, the sea  turned to washing machine mode.   

 We left Djibouti and traveled for only an hour or before stopping with our companion boats:

Stampede, Que Sera, Sera,  and Pimalo for a swim, to eat dinner, and to do some bottom cleaning before we began the journey.  The anchorage was easy to get into, one to which the hotels bring their guests for swimming and water sports.  We enjoyed our swim and cleaned the scum off the water line and scrubbed the dingy in preparation for deflation and packing. 

 It was after dark when we finished dinner and pulled up our anchor.  We started out on a reciprocal bearing.  Charlie was hanging over the bow trying to get the shackle on the anchor chain un-kinked and I was at the helm.  The water was so calm the shackle had bound as he raised the anchor. I shined a light over the side into the gin clear water and realized it was extremely shallow and we were over masses of coral.  The depth finder was  reading only a few feet.  I got on the radio and told Pimalo not to follow us.  Charlie took the helm, I went to the bow, and we gradually picked our way out of  the reef and the anchorage that was supposed to be so easy.  We moved over water so shallow that I marveled we were clearing the bottom. After what seemed like an eternity we cleared the reef, entered deep water, and started dodging fishing boats. 

 For the first five days the four boats stayed within VHF range and we motored through smooth flat seas with little wind.  Any wind at all we used our sails for whatever advantage they could give us.  After the hours of motoring  Que Sera, Sera and Pimalo figured they needed to go in to Port Sudan, one of the few possible stops for fuel as you proceed up the Red Sea.  We separated then and  we pressed on north with Stampede to Safaga, they headed in for fuel.  We are out of the pirate danger zone so we don't have   to stay in convoy.  It is difficult to sail in convoy and make sure that you are together and yet not too close, all the while regulating your speed to the slowest boat and watching the traffic coming toward you, and  the traffic over taking you.   The Red Sea is narrow, a high traffic and high speed area, and  the biggest concern is a collision at sea.  We have heard horror stories of ships arriving at the Suez Canal with sail boat rigging hanging on their bow bulbs, unaware or uncaring that they had run over someone.

 Different varieties of dolphin visited us, romping and playing in the bow wave, turning their eyes up to make contact.  Some of the dolphins were extremely large. There were also  large pods of a small variety. 

 Jeannette caught, cleaned and cooked a delicious Mahi-Mahi.  The trip was languid, with four people aboard watch schedules are pretty easy.  Then, the wind changed, started blowing out of the north and the we found the trip quickly changed from relaxed to a beating.  Because of the short sharp configuration of the waves,  the boat (and the occupants) take an awful pounding.  Jeannette was ill, not so much with nausea as fatigue and  she spent much of the time on the salon sofa, buried under a blanket.  The weather also turned quite cool, a definite change from our languid tropical temperature. 

About every third wave crashed over the bow, sending water rushing over the fore deck.  Some hit the windshield and the seals on the forward head and the forward cabin leaked salt water.  We powered straight into the waves until we took a break, put up some sails, and cracked off to sail and tack for a while.  That made the ride easier but we were making little progress.  We watched as our fuel gauge went lower and lower.  We knew as we got close to Safaga we would need fuel to fight not only the wind but the currents in the channel.  We contemplated going into a port south of Safaga, El Quseir, where you can call for fuel and it is (no kidding) delivered  to the port in drums by donkey cart.  

During some of the heavy pounding, and on my watch, we lost the Port-A-Boat. which was lashed on deck.  Charlie happened to be working in the aft cockpit when he saw it go by.  I missed seeing the whole thing but there was nothing we could have done to save it once it came loose.  With the sea so rough going back to retrieve it would have been a risk so we hope someone will find it and be able to use it.

Charlie continued to monitor the fuel situation carefully and decided we could make it in to Safaga.

On March 22 we started our entrance to Safaga and our port engine would not start.  We powered in on just the starboard, making only one and a half knots at times.  We came in just ahead of three Indian warships.  The thought of running out of fuel in the channel just ahead of three warships was not appealing.  I spoke on the radio with the harbor master and asked permission to go straight to the fuel dock.  He gave his OK and at 09:15 we tied up.  What a relief.  The tank gauge was on empty but we had arrived.  To celebrate I asked if the crew would like to have some eggs for breakfast.  I turned on the generator, cooked the eggs and as I finished cooking the eggs the generator stopped.  It had run out of fuel.  Is that cutting it close or not?  In Safaga until later. . . .