The other day we tagged our trip the ‘best sail ever‘. Today, however, will go down as our ultimate test. Just take a look at the wind-speed on the right: anyone familiar with the Beaufort Scale will know that a force seven means up to 33 knots of wind, which is recognised as ‘near-gale’ conditions. Not only were there gusts of Force Eights (gale winds), but Liz and I had to cross a busy shipping lane and avoid the numerous oil rigs, wells and wrecks. Yes folks, tomorrow we will be laundering a couple of pairs of underpants.
This experience really was like passing on to the other side. Having left our peaceful resting place of Sheikh Riyah Harbour, we fought a hard battle against nature. As we traversed this long, dark tunnel of chaos, we could hear words of encouragement from familiar yet distant voices on the VHF: ‘Full Flight’ and ‘Divanty’ were waiting for us on the other side, in the haven of Endeavour Harbour. The bright light was getting brighter but we just wanted to pass over as painlessly as possible…
I shan’t bore you with the technicalities of the crossing, which took us from the coast of the Sinai back towards Hurghada on the west, but I’ll try and explain the experience for you non yotties. We were riding waves between three to four metres high, which passed under the boat from right to left, and watched them roll on down hill as the next wave erupted before us. Spume whipped off the top of these vicious monsters of water and the wind was blowing loud enough that we had to shout to each other. All the while we were watching an approaching cargo ship appear on Esper’s beam, threatening to trundle over the top of us. No one would hear us scream.
It was one of the most exhilarating moments either of us have ever experienced. We were living on our wits and adrenalin as we balanced the boat, navigated dangerous obstacles and calculated potential collision situations. It was too rough to spend a long time down below so passage planning was done on the fly, very quickly, before sea-sickness kicked in. As we turned the boat to run down the waves, we were hitting speeds of over ten knots and any gust over 30 knots pushed Esper’s front end into the wind; there would be a battle on the helm to straighten her up. This normally means there is too much main sail out and so we would then turn into the wind, into these large oncoming waves, in order to reduce the amount of sail. It’s a messy, difficult maneuver but one that was immediately rewarded with better stability and steerage. All the while we got soaked with sea spray which, fortunately, was warm enough that this could all be handled in shorts and t-shirt. I’ve been in similar conditions on the North Sea and they were not pleasant.
There was an almost perverse satisfaction with today’s sail, especially as Liz and I proved that not only could we work well as a team, but that Esper is perfectly capable of handling such sea states. Despite this I would not wish to sail in conditions any worse that today’s.
The whole affair was over in a matter of hours and we enjoyed it, despite the heart-stopping moment of realisation that 1200 tons of cargo ship could end the whole adventure in a blink. When we exited the shipping lane and turned south we were running with the sea in 25 knots. How strange that 25 knots of wind and 7 knots of speed felt slow after that experience.
After turning the piratically-named Bluff Point we pointed our nose towards Hurghada with the aim of dropping the hook at Endeavour Harbour on Tawila Island.
Endeavour Harbour is a favourite amongst yotties and as I write this so a whole load of motor boats are turning up to drop their hook in this beautiful bay and cock about on jet-skis. Bang goes my sunset shot of Esper at anchor on her own in these postcard-perfect turquoise waters. I went for a snorkel earlier and discovered beautiful coral and, of course, the tropical fish to accompany it all. Liz has spent the entire day sorting out the fishing tackle, presumably in preparation for our next catch tomorrow