Rested and eager to move on, Liz and I fell into the trap of believing that the next bit of the journey would be fairly straightforward, despite the headwinds. How wrong could we have been? I’ll give you a clue: very.
Lo and the other boats had decided they would leave Freedom Bay at 6am next morning, so we thought we’d give ourselves a head start by motoring out of the bay past the dangerous coral reef and spend the night at an island just a few miles away. When we left the seas were calming and the wind had dropped, so instead of anchoring for the night we made the decision to push on and get to Mersa Dudo before everyone else.
It wasn’t a bad decision in itself, it’s just that this part of the Red Sea, called The Convergence Zone, boasts an adverse current and the pilot book advises boats to stay on the 10-20m depth contour where the current is less pronounced. Well we did this for most of the 100 mile trip until we caught up with ‘Slamat’, the German boat who had been ahead of the rally all the way. They were complaining of currents of over 1.5 knots, wind on the nose and an average boat speed of 3 knots and thought that it could have been a localised phenomenon. Perhaps a route around the outside of a small island might be preferable to the route they took inside of it? Nope.
By the time we had reached said island (not the one pictured above as this was now night time) we had wandered off the 20m contour line and the going was ridiculously tough. The current had increased to over 2 knots and the short, choppy waves were reducing Esper’s motor-sailing speed to less than 1 knot at times, despite motoring quite hard.
Alas, this was just the beginning of our woes. In the night as we were circling some hazardous rocks our fan belt decided it had had enough and sheared off. The cooling system, therefore, was not doing its job and the alternator had ceased charging the battery. Of course we didn’t notice this at the time and continued pushing our engine through the crappy seas until the over-heating alarm started sounding. We cover most of what happened in a podcast which will be published on the 4th June (and then backdated to today’s date) but consider this if you will: at this point we’d had very little sleep; the sea conditions were against us; it was dark; the current was pushing us back towards the hazardous rocks; the wind was in the wrong direction and not strong enough to sail out to sea… oh, and at the time we didn’t know it was the fan-belt that was the problem. In fact it took us over a hour to identify the problem since looking for the source of our issues was done whilst trying to navigate out of these dangerous conditions.
Eventually the fan-belt was replaced and we continued on to Mersa Dudo, a weirdly beautiful volcanic anchorage with a small fishing camp close by. One by one the rally participants joined ‘Slamat’ and Esper, each complaining of making very little progress through the current. One by one, exhausted, we dropped the hook ready for a few days rest. Michel, aboard the catamaran ‘Shelter’, had been very ill with a fever than had been making its way around the boats. In fact he was so ill he almost didn’t leave Freedom Bay and had been planning to return to Massawa to go to hospital. Lo, the rally organiser, managed to persuade him otherwise.
The next day it was too windy to get ashore but we did manage to barter a t-shirt and a bag of sugar for a spiny lobster!
What a wonderful place. Esper’s log book described Dudo as ‘spectacularly beautiful’. We were looking forward to spending a few days at this anchorage. Lo had safeguarded our spot with the military a day before so we had permission to stay in Mersa Dudo, which the charts label as a ‘restricted area’.