Winter arrived early in the Gulf of Aqaba. While normally November is a lovely month with warm days and gentle breezes, this year temperatures suddenly dropped bringing with them the winter winds. We scrambled to dig out our warm clothes and after several cold nights, even brought the heater into our cabin. Nevertheless, after several years of hot summers and mild winters, no one is complaining. We are all enjoying the change.
The cooler weather hasn't stopped us from sailing. Weekends when Manny hasn't been working, we've layered on warm clothes and headed down the coast. Winter winds have provided a good run south and later in the day a good beat back north. Days like this, we wonder if there are any cruisers left on the Red Sea.
Almost three years ago I wrote a two part blog on Cruising the Red Sea
. Since then there has been a sharp increase in piracy and political upheaval throughout the region. While much of our advice still remains pertinent, a few things have changed. So I am writing this blog as an update with some important changes for any remaining sailors intending to sail the Red Sea.
These days, just a mention of sailing in the Red Sea fires up pictures of deadly pirate attacks. Actually the attacks do not cover all the Red Sea but are confined to an area spanning the northern Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Pirate attacks in this region have sharply increased and need to be taken seriously. Noonsite has been keeping a watchful eye on piracy and you can read their extensive reports and analysis here.
Here in Eilat, hundreds of miles from the danger zone, it is a regular site to see ships that have made passage from the Indian Ocean. These days they all sport coils of barbed wire around their decks and up to the control tower. From time to time we spot bullet holes and we know of agencies that regularly supply heavily armed merchant soldiers to patrol their decks.
Perhaps the most weighing remarks come from Lou Brust, the organizer of the Vasco de Gamma Rallies
After five consecutive and successful rallies from Turkey to India via the Red Sea and back, Lou has made the tough decision to cancel this rally route for the next couple of years saying: "Due to the affected developments of the piracy in the Indian Ocean, North of the Maldives till Oman en Yemen there is no more a safe route to the Red Sea."
And what of the different sailors who were attacked by pirates over the past few years? Paul and Rachel Chandler were released a little over a year ago after being held captive in Somalia for 388 days. They are now safely back in the UK and slowly piecing their lives and their boat back together. They have written a book about their ordeal available here
The Danish family Jan Quist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie Johansen, their children Rune, Hjalte, and Naja along with their two crew employees were also released a couple of months ago. They were captured by pirates last February and finally were released after seven harrowing months in captivity.
Sadly, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, the sailing couple from Durban remain in captivity after more than one year since being seized by pirates.
Scott and Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle aboard Quest were attacked by pirates and subsequently murdered. Their story is here
The message is clear. Any sailors intending to make a passage from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea this year must weigh their decision very carefully. The piracy is real and the risk is higher than ever before.
Okay. We've stated our case for the southern end of the Red Sea, but what about cruisers from the Med who wish to overwinter in the northern reaches. Is it safe?
2011 ushered in a wave of political unrest and revolutions throughout the Arab empire. For the first few weeks, we were unsure of how this would affect sailors in the Gulf of Aqaba. As conflict in Egypt escalated, we wondered whether this would have an impact on passages through the Suez Canal. Today we are happy to say that from all accounts the changes are very small.
We have talked to several skippers who have transited the Suez Canal since the conflict. They all report smooth transits and even suggest that bureaucracy is more efficient. It would seem that the Egyptians are most concerned to show that business is as usual.
Once you are through the Suez Canal, you will find some changes in Egypt though. This year sailors say that Egypt seems to be a little stickier about anchoring out and often are less welcoming to foreign boats. Our advice? Always have plan B. Keep your distance and don't try going ashore. Cruisers with current visas who've tried to go ashore have been abruptly sent away.
Our friend Tommy who is living aboard in Hurghada reports that the marina is empty. He is the only liveaboard. This has had one good consequence in that he managed to bargain cheaper marina rates for this winter. Tommy does say that otherwise everything is as normal and he is enjoying his stay.
One caveat we'd like to add is that side trips inland should be carefully thought out. With the final elections on January 3rd 2012, demonstrations are becoming more violent. Terrorism is a real threat, with foreign tourists at high risk. We all need to watch what the outcome of the election will bring and hope for a peaceful government.
Jordan however is thus far a good option. Travel inland is safe and the marinas are busy as usual.
Need I mention that Israel is another good safe option? The only problem with bringing your boat to the Eilat marina will be space. This winter slips are full, but the marina manager is sure to squeeze you in somewhere. Call in advance (972 8637 6761).
In my last blog I reported that the marina at Taba Heights in Egypt was closed. I would like to make a correction. Egyptian authorities say that the marina remains open to boats cruising in Egypt. However it no longer is a port for clearance.
Lo Broust has announced a new rally that will leave Turkey and sail south to Eritrea and back over the winter of 2012 and 2013. You can read the details here.
Well it has taken me a long, long time to complete this blog. So I would like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season. May the New Year bring peace and prosperity to this region and may all of you sail in safety wherever you are.