22 March 2023 | Anchored in Old Suakin Harbor, Sudan
19 March 2023 | Anchored in Old Suakin Harbor, Sudan
13 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
10 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
07 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
06 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
25 February 2023 | In the Arabian Sea, north Indian Ocean
14 February 2023 | Anchored off Uligamu, northern Maldives
09 February 2023 | Anchored off Uligamu, northern Maldives
04 February 2023 | Yacht Basin in Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka
28 January 2023 | Yacht Basin in Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka
26 January 2023 | Yacht Basin in Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka
24 January 2023 | Galle Harbour, southwestern Sri Lanka
14 January 2023 | Ao Chalong, Phuket, Thailand
11 January 2023 | Ao Po Grand Marina, Phuket, Thailand
05 January 2023 | Ao Po Grand Marina, Phuket, Thailand
23 December 2022 | Ao Po Grand Marina, Phuket, Thailand
15 December 2022 | Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina, Kuah, Langkawi Island, Malaysia
29 November 2022 | Pangkor Marina, Pangkor Marina Island, Malaysia
22 November 2022 | PD World Marina, Port Dickson, Malaysia

Leaving Suakin, Sudan

22 March 2023 | Anchored in Old Suakin Harbor, Sudan
Alison Stocker | Photo: Ruins on Old Suakin Island of the first bank in Sudan built in 1855
After a pleasant four-day stay in the delightful anchorage at Suakin, Sudan, we plan to leave tomorrow morning (Thursday 23rd March). I will eventually post the rest of our adventures in Djibouti and write more about our stay here and the reason for all the ruins that surround us. In the meantime, however, we want to use a weather window of light winds to head out to the reefs just north of Port Sudan. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy a couple of days with snorkeling before we have to take shelter in another bay while some stronger, northerly winds pass through. The only potential spanner in the works is that we are struggling to complete our US income tax online submission but the internet connection here is so poor that it is making that process very difficult. If necessary, we will have to dash as quickly as possible to our next port.

Whenever conditions again improve to light winds or, ideally, southerly winds, or if we have to get to a better internet connection immediately, we will then continue as far north as possible in the Red Sea. If we are not delayed for too long, we may try to go to Aqaba, Jordan, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. If we have to wait for a quite a while, then we will probably head straight into the Gulf of Suez and prepare to go through the Canal. Either way, we are likely to be without internet access for at least a couple of weeks (maybe significantly longer), until we get to either Aqaba or Suez. If you are wondering where we have got to, remember that you can track us at:

Arrived in Suakin, Sudan

19 March 2023 | Anchored in Old Suakin Harbor, Sudan
Alison Stocker | Photo: Cruising boats in Old Suakin Harbor, with the mountains of eastern Sudan beyond
We arrived in the very sheltered anchorage next to Old Suakin (a.k.a. Sawakin) in Sudan just after lunch today (Sunday 19th March). As in Djibouti, we were happy to be greeted on arrival by Eugenie and Paul on Deo Juvante, and George on Eucalypt I. By the end of the day there were 14 more cruising boats in the harbor. We are not sure how long we will stay here, depending completely upon the winds and possible anchorages in the northern Red Sea, but Eugenie has said that they have thoroughly enjoyed their week here, so that is encouraging.

Our six-day passage from Djibouti started well with the first quarter (162 nm out of a total of 648 nm) in beautiful sailing conditions. Initially, we were close-hauled but as we passed through the narrow southern entrance to the Red Sea at Bab el Mandeb, the wind veered to come from directly behind us. With a single reef in the mainsail, we were able to sail downwind between 6 and 8 knots for about 24 hours which was delightful.

By early Wednesday afternoon we had to turn on the engine and the rest of the trip was motoring in calm or light head winds. This was what we had expected from the forecasts and apart from a few hours of slower going when bashing into some choppy waves, we were happy that our progress was generally ahead of schedule. There were several other sailboats making the same passage (including our Djibouti-tour colleagues on CathayOz, Libby, Fernweh3, and Sea Pearl, and a boat new to us, Mystique), so it was fun to keep an eye on their AIS icons and communicate by VHF radio and Iridium Go emails. We mostly stayed to the west of the busy shipping channels, but we had to cross paths with a few ships in the wider areas where there were no designated traffic lanes. How we love the AIS features that show how close ships will come and if they are changing course to avoid us...or not.

We saw many brown boobies and plenty of dolphins including some that were very small. I will have to do a bit of research on the latter as my book does not show dwarf spinner dolphins in the Red Sea. The sea became a beautiful rich blue color during the day and had scattered bioluminescence after dark. Many constellations were visible at night and given how much we have heard about this place in history, it was amazing to think that we really were in the Red Sea.

Towards the end of the passage, Randall shortened our intended route by about 30 nm by plotting a pass between some of the reefs and islets southeast of Suakin. These small areas rise up incredibly steeply from water that is, in places, over 610 m (2,000 ft) deep. They must be the most incredible pinnacles.

The anchorage is in a small bay that is reached by passing the island that used to support the city of Old Suakin. That city is now in ruins and the new town is mostly to the north on the mainland. With the mountains rising on the western horizon, there is an ancient feel to this place, and we look forward to going ashore tomorrow. Our agent Mohamed arrived soon after we were settled and he took our passports and will provide us with shore passes in the morning. I will write more of these procedures here soon, and I will also post descriptions of Djibouti and our inland tour there. Until then, it is time to enjoy a good night's sleep.

Preparing to leave for the Red Sea

13 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
Alison Stocker | Photo: Young camels waiting for their mothers to return from grazing
Time seems to have flown by and we have already been in Djibouti for a week. We are planning to leave at dawn tomorrow (Tuesday 14th March) to head into the Red Sea. We will aim for Suakin which is a city in Sudan, just south of Port Sudan and about half-way along the Red Sea. The forecast is not ideal but it will only get worse if we wait to leave over the next 10 days, so we will have to keep our fingers crossed. Passages through the Red Sea are rarely easy because there are often contrary winds and much dust in the air.

We estimate this passage will take about a week, depending upon how fast we can motor-sail when the wind is not behind us. There will undoubtedly be some motoring in calm conditions but that is preferable to strong opposing winds and waves. We shall have to see what we get.

We have enjoyed our stay in Djibouti, but it certainly feels as though it is time to leave. The dusty city is not particularly appealing to tourists but we did go on a two-day inland trip that was quite interesting. At the northernmost point on the African Great Rift Valley, Djibouti has some impressive canyons, the second lowest terrestrial place on earth at 155 m (510 feet) below sea level (the Dead Sea is the lowest place) with a large salt lake, Lake Assal, and huge areas of volcanic rocks that look relatively recent as there has been little erosion or vegetation, but are mostly several hundred years old. We spent the night in a camp in the mountains only to wake up to rain. It was a pity as it prevented us from hiking up to some waterfalls (ironic, eh?) but we did walk for several miles back down the track that we had driven up which was surprisingly enjoyable. Considering how bumpy the ride was with 12 people crammed into a Toyota Land Cruiser with side benches, walking was a more comfortable way to descend.

We saw plenty of goats and camels, including some young ones (see photo) in a creche waiting for their mothers to return with the herder from grazing elsewhere. There was also a Dorcas gazelle, various monkeys, and a few interesting birds. All of this I will write about during our passage and post when we get to Suakin. Now we have to prepare ourselves and the boat for a bit of a slog.

Life in Djibouti

10 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
Alison Stocker | Photo: Homes of nomadic people in Djibouti
Other than cruisers going to/from the Red Sea, merchant navy crews, military personnel, and trivia- or geography buffs, not too many people outside of Africa know anything about the country of Djibouti. I had never heard of it before we started planning our route to the Red Sea, so here is a quick primer with much of the information gleaned from Wikipedia.

Size and geography:
A mere 23,200 sq km (8,958 sq miles), Djibouti is the third smallest independent nation in mainland Africa (Gambia and Eswatini or Swaziland are smaller) and has the smallest population of a fully recognized nation on the mainland of 1.1 million (2021). Lying at the western end of the Gulf of Aden, it has 314 km (195 miles) of coastline between Somalia to the south, and Eritrea to the north. Inland is a long border with Ethiopia and eight mountain ranges with peaks of more than 1,000 m (3,300 feet), including the Mousa Ali range which has the country's highest point of 2,028 m (6,654 feet). Djibouti is considered to be part of the Horn of Africa.

Djibouti lies at the northern end of the East African Rift Valley, which continues south through Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Tanzania to Mozambique. In Djibouti, the East African Rift meets the Aden Ridge and the Red Sea Rift as a triple junction in the Afar Depression. Beyond the Red Sea, the Great Rift Valley continues to the Dead Sea Valley in Lebanon, a total length of 7,000 km (4,375 miles).

The triple junction is where three tectonic plates, the Arabian, African - Somalian, and African - Nubian, are separating. This has resulted in the lowest point of land within Africa (and globally second only to the Dead Sea Valley) in which Lake Assal is located. Lacking any outflow, evaporation from the lake surface has produced a waterbody with the one of the highest salinities in the world.

The triple junction is also responsible for volcanic activity in the region. While most of this has been in ancient times, the most recent eruption was in 1978. After being dormant for 3,000 years, a series of earthquakes was followed by the eruption of fissure vents on Ardoukôba, which is 100 km (63 miles) west of Djibouti City. Three cones developed, producing two basaltic lava flows within a rift that was 17 km (11 miles) wide and 800 m (2,600 feet) deep.

A man herding goats in the arid rocky landscape of coastal Djibouti

The climate and natural environment:
The cool season in Djibouti lasts from October to April during which time there is a pleasant Mediterranean climate. The rest of the year is an uncomfortable hot season. The habitats of the arid northeastern coastal areas of Djibouti are mostly xeric grasslands and shrublands, receiving less than 130 mm (5 inches) of rain annually. The central highlands are wetter with 200 - 400 mm (8 - 16 inches) of rain per year but even here, less than 1% of the nation's area can be classified as forest. The remnants are mostly conserved in the Forêt du Day National Park but 88% of the forest has been lost over the last two centuries, mostly within the last 50 years. Despite this harsh environment and small area, the nation is home to 66 species of mammal, 360 bird species, and 820 species of plants, many of them confined to remote parts of the National Park.

In this arid environment, plants have many strategies such, as these long thorns, to deter herbivores

Cultural history:
This area has been inhabited since the Neolithic, with evidence of various hominoid species prior to Homo sapiens, who had arrived between 200,000 (first evidence in Africa) and 100,000 years ago (first evidence in what is now Israel). Initially nomadic, there are signs that people had been herding animals since about 3,500 BC. Around this time the climate started to dry, having previously been much wetter than it is currently and allowing the area to be rich in fauna.

Small piles of wood by the side of the road, presumably for sale as cooking fuel

In antiquity, Djibouti would have been part of the Land of Punt along with modern Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. The Land of Punt was referred to as early as 2,500 BC as having close relations with Egypt during the time of the pharaohs. The close proximity of the Horn of Africa with the Arabian Peninsula meant that this region was the first area in the continent to embrace Islam by, at least, the 13th century.

During the colonial "Scramble for Africa", in 1862 the French government, purchased land from the Afars people so that they could establish a coaling station for ships that would be using the Suez Canal which opened in 1869. Prior to that, French ships had to rely on coal provided by the British in Aden, an untenable position if Britain and France were at war. By 1885, the Issas clans of Somalis living in the area that is now Djibouti looked to France to become their protectorate, with the Sultans signing a treaty that resulted in the establishment of French Somaliland in 1894.

The capital city of French Somaliland was Djibouti City (founded in 1888), a name that has various potential explanations but one of which notes the similarity with an Afars word for "plate", which might refer to the proximity of three tectonic plates. (This seems rather unlikely since the theory of continental drift was not described until 1912 and the theory of plate tectonics only accepted in 1967.) This City was a boomtown for several years while a railway was being built from the Gulf of Aden into Ethiopia.

During World War II, the Italians had taken over Ethiopia, while French Somaliland was under the Vichy government. By 1942, Djibouti City was occupied by 4,000 British troops. After the War there was pressure on many nations to grant independence to their colonies. Just ahead of Somalia's independence in 1960, a referendum was held in French Somaliland in 1957 in which the majority of Afars and French residents voted to remain associated with France, even though many people of Somali descent, wanted to become independent, with the eventual goal of associating with Somalia. A second referendum in 1967 resulted in the same outcome except that the nation's name was changed to the French Territory of the Afars and Issas.

Within the following decade, calls for independence increased such that by the third referendum in 1977, the vote for separation from France was 98.8%. The newly independent country, named after its capital, was the Republic of Djibouti. Established as a unitary presidential republic, the President is Head of State, Commander-in-Chief, appoints the Prime Minister, and presides over the cabinet (council of ministers). The unicameral legislature has a National Assembly of 65 members who are elected every five years, with a single dominant party although other parties are allowed to exist.

Djibouti has only had two Presidents, the first from 1977 to 1999, and the second from 1999 to present. From 1990, there was a decade of civil war with the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) opposing the Djibouti government which was supported by France. By 2000, a power-sharing agreement between the two sides ended the violence.

The economy of Djibouti:
While Djibouti could be a rich country if basalt/lava rock were globally valuable, the only exported natural resource is salt. This is collected at a large desalination plant (processing 4 million tons per year) on Lake Assal.

The desalination/salt works on the shores of Lake Assal

Due to the arid climate, what little agricultural production there is in Djibouti is mostly for domestic consumption including livestock, predominantly camels and goats, and fruit and vegetables. The marine fishery is also on a small, local scale. While many rural people live on a subsistence basis, food for the urban population is almost all imported. The rural population is declining as people move to Djibouti City, where the unemployment rate is a staggering 60%.

A man leading his two dromedary camels

Much of Djibouti's national income comes from its importance as a center for cargo transfer and refueling near the mouth of the Red Sea. With free trade policies and the role as the only seaport for the landlocked nation of Ethiopia, huge tax income is generated. Some of this must be spent on the modern docks, newly electrified railway line to Ethiopia, and maintaining the roads by which massive numbers of trucks and tankers carry cargo and fuel in and out of Ethiopia. The dominance of the cargo traffic into Ethiopia is visible not only in the number of vehicles but also in the more worn condition of the road surface on the side of traffic heading inland.

Loaded cargo trucks on the way to Ethiopia

The other major source of national income is the leasing of land and facilities to foreign military bases. These bases not only provide countries with a convenient presence in Africa and close to the Middle East, but have also allowed the development of the multinational military coalition that provides protection from piracy for ships within the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

One of several US Navy vessels that would roam around Djibouti Harbor

The income from military bases in Djibouti includes US$65 million per year paid by the US Central Command and US$20 million by the Chinese. Other nations represented include France, Italy, Turkey, and Japan. It was a little odd to see Japanese military personnel wandering around the shopping mall and Djibouti has the only overseas support bases for Japan and China. Overall, the military bases subsidize at least 5% of the nation's GDP of US$2.3 billion (2017). The bases also contribute to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Djibouti City which has been nicknamed "The French Hong Kong in the Red Sea" (although technically not actually in the Red Sea).

International investment in the nation is being actively encouraged and includes the development of geothermal and wind power supplies. We saw a new windfarm with huge turbines in the Rift Valley which is expected to go online soon. A plan has been considered for the construction of a massive bridge (28.5 km or 17.7 miles long) to link Djibouti with Saudi Arabia at the mouth of the Red Sea. Such an undertaking would be enormous and is currently on hold...perhaps because the benefits are not very obvious, other than a linking of two strongly Muslim regions.

One of several massive wind turbines yet to go online

The people of Djibouti:
While the dominant ethnic groups in Djibouti are the Somalis, particularly the Issa clans, (60%) and Afars (35%) and those languages are among many spoken, the official languages are French and Arabic. Islam is the dominant religion accounting for 94-98% of the population. As part of this, most women wear diracs, dresses of lightweight fabric that cover them from neck to wrists and ankles, and married women mostly wear headscarves. A few women wear the black robes and full burqa with only their eyes visible. Men either wear fully western clothes or a long sarong called a macawi.

Men and women in macawis and diracs

Life expectancy at birth in Djibouti is the same for men and women at 64.7 years. Although officially made illegal in 1994, female genital mutilation is apparently still practiced by women in the community, allegedly affecting a shocking 93% of girls and women. This is one of the reasons why the nation has a poor ranking for Human Rights, with a downgrade in 2011 from "Partly free" to "Not free", as determined by the Freedom in the World Report. In addition to sexual violence against women, other negative situations include: killings and detention by government agents, harsh prisons, corruption, interference with privacy, persecution of journalists, and interferences with legal assembly.

Children around the world love to play soccer

Yacht agent Ahssan - our introduction to the people of Djibouti:
Within just a few minutes of our arrival between SVs Deo Juvante and Eucalypt I at the anchorage in Djibouti City, a launch arrived with a cheerful fellow aboard who announced that he was Phoenix. This confused us a first, as we had been in contact with Ahssan to announce our expected arrival time. This turned out to be Ahssan who wanted us to use the uplifting nickname, but since he kept referring to himself as Ahssan (as in "if people ashore bother you, tell them to talk to Ahssan"), Phoenix did not really stick.

After the brief introduction from his boat, he left only to return a few minutes later with two uniformed members of the Djibouti Coast Guard. They came aboard briefly, took some photos both outside and inside Tregoning, then departed. In the meantime, Eugenie and Paul came over in their dinghy to greet us and announce that they were leaving within the hour. George also swung by to ask if we were planning to use an agent and was happy to hear that we were.

Nearby in Djibouti Harbor was Logos Hope a former ferry that is now run by a German faith-based organization as a floating bookshop/library "an international ship sharing knowledge, help and hope through literature, cultural understanding, relief work and much more."

Ahssan returned soon afterwards to provide us with a data card (Paul had kindly given us his SIM card) which allowed us to use the internet for a week for 1,000 Djibouti Francs (about US$6 and included in Ahssan's fee). He also collected various papers from us including our passports. He then took us across the bay, past the military docks, to a dusty part of the old port where I made my first landing on the continent of Africa. We were shown into the modest Immigration office where there was equipment for photos or iris scans on the counter, but none of this was used on us. After paying US$60 each, we received visas for 30 days stamped in our passports. We returned with Ahssan to Tregoning to complete one more document and collect our shopping bags. He was not expecting any more boats to arrive until mid-afternoon, so he was happy to go to lunch with us and take us to one of the two large supermarkets nearby.

It is not required to use an agent in Djibouti and some cruisers completed their own paperwork to check in and out with little difficulty. We were ultimately pleased that we had hired Ahssan as he made our visit much more enjoyable both because we has someone trustworthy to ask when we needed help, and he was such enjoyable company. His fee is US$350, which for our eight-day stay seemed quite reasonable as it included the completion of all official documents except the visa fee.

It is possible to take a dinghy to shore for free within the main ferry harbor but we never did see how easy that was. Instead, we chose to use the so-called marina near the anchorage. There used to be a marina with floating docks extending into the anchorage, but it has gone. Instead, we went ashore at the Port de Pêche, where the small fishing boats and many day-trip charter boats are docked. If you take your own dinghy there, you are expected to pay US$50 a week which is pretty pricy. We opted to have Ahssan or his colleagues ferry us back and forth for the same price. It meant that we did not have to unroll our dinghy from its storage in the cabin and we did not have to be concerned about its safety in the "marina". We did not go to shore every day and when we did, we did not have to wait long for a ride to or from the shore, so we were very content with this option.

Once ashore, Ahssan bundled us into his friend's green and white taxi (which like most in Djibouti had seen better days) and asked if we would like a western-style lunch or something local. We chose the latter and he took us to an upstairs restaurant that was busy with diners who looked like local businesspeople. Ahssan ordered enough food for about six of us including salads, noodles, rice, chicken, and a chicken sauce with Ethiopian pancake-style bread. We were indulged with forks and spoons, and it was all very tasty.

Ahssan and Alison at lunch with Ethiopian "bread" and chicken sauce in the foreground

Aware that we had no Djibouti Francs, Ahssan very generously paid for our lunch as his welcome gift to us. Once it was obvious that there were plenty of leftovers, Ahssan had the waiter wrapped it in six foil packets which we took with us. He then encouraged us to give the packets to people begging on the street, starting with an elderly lady lying by the restaurant door and finishing with children who were cheeky enough to ask the taxi driver for his bottle of water too. To Ahssan this was the reasonable way of distributing aid to those who were less fortunate, and it was a valuable lesson to us.

Most sailing boats pass through Djibouti between February and April, so Ahssan has other work for the rest of the year, but with up to a dozen boats in the anchorage at a time, most of which use his services, he is kept busy as an agent at this time of year. A native of Djibouti, he speaks an impressive seven languages of which his English is very good. It is not as fluent as his French and becomes a little harder to understand when his mouth is full of khat (a mildly stimulant leaf that many men here chew) but it was much better than with us struggling in French.

After lunch, we were taken to the Casino supermarket (a few miles from the Port de Pêche) for an hour of grocery shopping. This was the only local supermarket to sell pork and alcohol. There were three ATM machines which, interestingly, provided either Djibouti Franc (DF) or US dollars. Although Ahssan needed payment in cash at the end of our stay, he was flexible about these two currencies. This sounded fine to us as we were keen to save our US dollars for the cash payment required for the transit of the Suez Canal, so we would get Ahssan's payment out of the ATM...or not. None of the three machines would give us any cash in either currency. This was going to be a problem. If we had to pay Ahssan for everything including fuel from our US dollars, we would be short for the Canal...yikes. There was plenty of money in our bank accounts, it was a problem with the ATMs or our cards, which had worked just fine through all of Asia.

Luckily, the Casino supermarket accepted credit cards and after testing this by purchasing a bottle of vodka, we shopped for groceries, not being sure whether we would have such an opportunity again. In theory, we could have used a credit card to get a cash advance from the ATM (and quickly repay it online to minimize the high interest rate that would start being charged immediately) but neither of us knew our PIN numbers for this. The only way to get such PIN numbers is to make and online request and the PIN would be mailed to our mailing service! This would not help us much in Djibouti but we applied for them just in case we had problems later.

On hearing of our cash-flow difficulties, Ahssan gave us 20,000 DF (about US120) to be added to our final account, and 4000 DF to pay the taxi driver who had stayed available both after lunch and after the trip to the supermarket. Ahssan also arranged to fill three of our diesel jerry jugs for us (60L or 15 gallons at a cost of US$1.40 per liter)...yet more cash to owe Ahssan. He was so relaxed about all of this (we were probably not the first cruisers to have such problems) that we felt truly grateful and were very impressed by him as an agent.

We have had problems when my credit card was blocked (but Randall's always worked) and my debit/ATM card number was stolen in Panama so had to be replaced, but this is the first time that we have not been able to get cash at all. It is a particularly awkward time, given that our supply of US dollars that we have carried around untouched for almost 15 years is disappearing fast. As Tregoning's financial officer, I was getting quite worried about all of this and wondered if we should be spending any money on an inland tour. But we finally decided that we would never get such a chance to see Djibouti again and somehow we would have to be able to get cash, either by begging for help from our Credit Union (bank), or finding someone in the US who would be willing to wire cash to us through Western Union. We have not done this before so had no idea how difficult it might be or how long it might take. In the end, we did sign-up for the inland trip and were very glad that we did for the cash supply...well, both of these will be covered in the next episode of our "Life in Djibouti".

Plenty of company in the Gulf of Aden

07 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
Alison Stocker | Photo: SV Deo Juvante with warships beyond in Djibouti anchorage
Well, thanks to my earlier plot-spoiler, you know that we survived the second half of our passage and, more significantly, made it safely through the Gulf of Aden and past the coast of Somalia. Was this trip without incident? No, but nothing too dramatic. Most of what I will be reporting was only notable because of our heightened sense of tension due to our location.

When we sailed to New Zealand for the first time, it was only once we had safely arrived that we realized quite how tense we had been about the passage. The typical interval between low-pressure weather systems in that area is shorter than the duration of a passage from Tonga to New Zealand, so we were constantly somewhat anxious about what unpleasant weather might catch us on the way.

Arriving safely in Djibouti, we had a very similar feeling of relief as we did in making landfall in New Zealand. The difference was that on this passage towards the Somali coast and through the Gulf of Aden, we were very much aware all of the time of our anxiety about security. This meant that every encounter with a vessel that was not a huge cargo ship or tanker, triggered a much more suspicious response that usual.

Our first such encounter was on Day 12 when we were about 50 nm from the eastern tip of the Yemini Island of Socotra and 200 nm from the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. Four mid-sized fishing boats appeared on the horizon heading southward. We could track them with the AIS and they were steadily moving at about 7 knots and were spaced about 1-2 nm apart. They were crossing our path and although we would be able to avoid each vessel, we did not know whether they were towing anything or if there was anything between them. Calling on VHF 16 we got the response of "no speaking English" which was fair enough. Feeling particularly cautious, we did not want to go between them. We could not get ahead of the leading vessel and turning right we would have to tack and go backwards before the last boat went past. Instead, we back-winded the jib and hove-to for about 20 minutes and just drifted until the last boat had gone past, then continued on our way.

Our next fishing boat encounter, we think, was about 20 boats on the southern horizon as we were approaching the mouth of the Gulf of Aden and the start of the shipping separation channels or IRTC. According to Wikipedia, "the International Recommended Transit Corridor is a shipping route through the Gulf of Aden that is patrolled against pirates by international naval forces. The IRTC is 490 nautical miles (910 km) long and 20 nautical miles (37 km) wide." We reached the IRTC on Day 14, when we saw several boats that looked similar to the fishing boats that had crossed our path earlier. They were moving eastward, parallel to us and most of them were towing smaller speedboats with high prows. One of these latter boats with a single person aboard, crossed our path quite a distance ahead of us, heading north. We watched it with binoculars until we were quite convinced that it was not going to approach us. Again, an incident that would normally be unremarkable, created a moment of tension as we tried not to think about pirates and kidnappers.

AIS icons for cargo ships and tankers entering and leaving the IRTC in the traffic separation lanes (pale purple boxes which are 5 nm wide) with us (dark boat shape in the middle) between them ( the dotted lines in front of the ship icons show their path relative to us for the next two hours)

Similarly, on Day 15 when a small, local cargo boat made a diagonal crossing of the IRTC from northeast to southwest and was aiming straight for us, it got our attention. Using small speedboats coming from a bigger mother vessel was the pirates' typical mode of operation, so it was rather disturbing that the boat remained on a collision course as it entered the separation zone. It was one of the few times that we were running with the engine, so I put Tregoning in neutral to slow us down. The cargo boat continued on its course, passing across our bow without any hesitation, and I started to breath again.

The small cargo boat that was determined to cross our bow

And then things really got weird...

Early on Day 18, we received a message via Iridium Go from Wayne on CathayOz. They were with a fleet of five boats who had left the Maldives together (several days after us) and were now only about 100 nm behind us. One boat in their group had received a message from the MSCHOA (Marine Security Center - Horn of Africa) warning of a report of suspicious activity around location "A". This was a bit disturbing on two counts. Firstly, we did not receive such a message despite sending our position reports to MSCHOA twice daily, and secondly, we did not know where "A" was. Was it behind us or still ahead?

Around 9 am, an Orion (maritime surveillance) aircraft flew over us and we were hailed on VHF 16 by them, the Japanese Coalition Naval aircraft. They reported that they were flying over the IRTC and if we had any problems we should hail them or the nearest warship on VHF 16. We had received a similar message a couple of nights previously from one of the unseen warships (they do not use AIS for obvious reasons). Both times we confirmed that we had received the message and that all was well with us. But this time, we asked the plane crew if they knew anything about the warning of suspicious activity that we had heard about second-hand from Wayne. They did not really respond to this, so we left it. A few minutes later however, we heard the aircraft calling a warship, who identified themselves as an Indian warship. The aircraft crew asked them if they were aware of any suspicious activity, and they answered that they were not.

This was reassuring in the sense that there were aircraft and warships in the area, and they were aware of our presence. It was less reassuring that there was not necessarily good coordination between these units and the security agencies to whom we reported our position. Randall subsequently sent an email message to the MSCHOA asking them about the warning and why we did not receive it. It turned out that the report was based on observations from a commercial ship of multiple speedboats near the entrance of the IRTC. These were probably the same, or similar to, the boats that we had assumed were fishing boats, that we had seen a few days earlier. The main point for us was that we were well passed this area.

The reason we did not receive the warning was because MSCHOA does not contact ships directly with such warnings but sends them to the land-based security contact that was designated on registration with MSCHOA. For commercial ships this would result in a call to the ship from their land-based security contact. Since we do not have a land-based security company, we should have provided our Iridium Go email address. Instead, not realizing that this related to the forwarding of warning messages, we had given them our land-based email address (which is inaccessible while at sea). Randall had gleaned much of the information about contacting the security services in this area from the Red Sea Facebook Group run by fellow cruiser Wade. This site is accessed by review only, so your request to join is vetted before you can be included (to try to keep the bad guys out). The information has been very helpful and Wade is providing a magnificent service to the cruising community. Randall will send him a message suggesting that cruisers are advised to provide their at-sea contact information instead of land-based contact when registering with MSCHOA.

Thus, after a few hours of angst about whether we were leaving, or heading into, the area of suspicious activity, we were relieved to learn that it was the former and probably not a significant problem. But this was not the end of our non-routine communications with the security agencies.

On Day 19, Randall received an Iridium Go message from Rob (our dairy dessert consultant from SV Avant) saying that he had been watching our progress on PredictWind and had seen us make a sudden 90 degree change in direction and slow right down on 4th March. Worried that this might be the result of us being boarded, he had phoned UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Organization) to report his concern. They had phoned us via Iridium around midnight but we did not have the phone connected to the Iridium system at that time so missed the call. When Randall saw these messages and missed call at 6 am, he quickly sent emails both to Rob and UKMTO thanking them for their alert responses and reassuring them that all was well with us.

Later communications revealed that UKMTO had requested a ship (we are not sure if a commercial or warship) to detour slightly to look for us. Apparently, they came within 3-4 nm and reported that we seemed to be progressing just fine. Exactly how much they could see from that distance I suppose depends upon what sort of surveillance equipment they had aboard. We can only assume that the apparent 90 degree turn, followed soon after by another turn back, was a glitch with the GPS, Iridium GO, or PredictWind systems because at that time we were steadily sailing downwind on a pretty straight line within the separation zone. We were very appreciative of Rob's diligence, and it was a sobering reminder that we were not the only people a bit anxious about our passage through this tricky area.

Six hours after we missed the call from UKMTO, we left the shipping channels behind. The channel made a big turn to the north to approach the mouth of the Red Sea, while we continued straight on towards Djibouti. Crossing the 5-nm-wide south- and then east-bound lane required some attention as there were five ships that could have potentially come close to us, but, luckily, we were able to pass between them without changing course and speed.

By that night (Sunday), we were getting close enough to Djibouti to see the glow of city lights on the horizon. There were also a number of boat lights in every direction other than behind us. These boats did not show upon the AIS, and many of them did not appear on radar but given the proximity to our destination and their concentration over shallower areas, it seemed likely that they were small, local, wooden fishing boats. We kept an eye on them hoping that none approached us, and happily none did.

It made us realize that during our days in the traffic separation zone, we had not had to worry about fishing boats, nets, or crab traps, a pleasant change after the crowded inshore waters of Indonesia and Malaysia. The passage of many large ships on either side of us (westbound ships to the north or our right and eastbound the south or our left), was somehow comforting. Although there was not much that they could do if we were confronted, under which circumstances we would presumably have to rely on a high-speed launch from whichever warship was closest, it felt as though we were cocooned within the shipping channel.

As dawn arrived, the strings of lights ahead of us faded into a low, dark, hazy mound of land just visible above the horizon and we burst into a very happy rendition of our "Land Ho!" song. Approaching closer to Djibouti, we could distinguish some of the many ships anchored offshore as well as various naval vessels. On the VHF, we heard a French warship talking to an Italian warship (they do not use names or numbers just nationalities to distinguish warships here), asking them to keep their distances as they were "hunting for mines". Since we could not see where the ships were on the AIS, but they had to be close enough for us to hear on the radio, this was a little surprising but we assumed that the channel into the harbor was likely to be clear.

We were followed in by a large French warship and were quite impressed by the number of different naval ships of various nationalities were tied up at the dock. High-speed inflatables with armed crews were making sure that no one came too close to these ships, and periodically military helicopters flew over. It felt as though we had arrived in a multinational version of Norfolk, Virginia (one of the main navy bases in the US). A large proportion of Djibouti's national income is provided by various nations paying to have military bases there.

Military watercraft and aircraft in and over Djibouti Harbor

It was a delight to recognize former rally boats Deo Juvante (Eugenie and Paul) and Eucalypt I (George) in the anchorage and we happily anchored Tregoning between them. There were three other boats that we vaguely recognized so it was a very reassuring feeling to be in the company of other cruisers. Eugenie and Paul were about to leave for the Red Sea so we were pleased to have a chance for a brief chat and we will hope to catch up with them if they linger in Suakin, Sudan, about half-way along the Red Sea. We had not considered stopping at this port ourselves until Rupert on SV Southern Cross called us on the VHF radio as he passed us on day 14. He was delivering the boat to Turkey so was not stopping at Djibouti, but he highly recommended a stop at Suakin, just south of Port Sudan. It is possible to wait there for suitable weather to make the passage through the northern half of the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, usually tacking into opposing winds.

As we turned off the engine at 9:42 am in Djibouti harbor, the feeling of relief to have successfully crossed the Indian Ocean and made it through the Gulf of Aden was tremendous. Of the 457 hours of the passage from Uligamu, we had motored for 36 or just under 8%. It actually did not feel that much, especially when we were drifting and resisting the temptation to start the engine. But we arrived needing only to replace about 60L (about 15 gallons) of diesel, which was pretty good. Most of the motoring had been around Days 14 and 15 when we were approaching and first in the IRTC when there was very little wind. Previously, we had been able to sail in light winds using Nevil (asymmetrical spinnaker) but that required being able to sail in whatever direction kept the wind about 120 degrees off the bow. After entering the IRTC we had to maintain a straight course within the 2-nm-wide separation zone where the wind direction was around 150 to 180 degrees off the bow. However, we were able to sail downwind with just a double reefed mainsail and Susie (the self-steering windvane) coped remarkably well despite 2 - 2.5 m (6 to 9 feet) following waves moving our stern around.

In fact, all the systems on Tregoning behaved well. We had no problems with the sails, steering, power generation, and engine, a welcome change after all the repairs needed between Langkawi and Galle. The only incident was that on Day 15 the starboard lazy-jack broke at its small block about half-way up the mast. The lazy-jacks are thin lines that help to keep the mainsail confined when it is lowered. They also hold up the sides of the on-boom sail-bag. This broken line meant that the starboard side of the sail-bag was hanging down which was not a problem while it was on the leeward side in light winds but might not be good if winds picked up to 20 knots as forecast.

Top: The collapsed starboard side of the sail-bag
Bottom: The port side showing how the sail-bag should look

We probably could have used sail-ties to secure the bag but while the wind was still fairly light, we decided to rethread the remaining line through the block. This required hoisting me about half-way up the mast, a process that was much aided by our electric winch handle. We had to time the lifts between rolls of the waves so that I could cling onto the mast when it was swinging around. Once at the block, however, it was a very quick fix, and I was lowered down again within just a few minutes of starting the whole operation and with a minimal number of bruises.

Tregoning's mast after we had fixed the lazy-jack, with the arrow pointing to the tiny block through which I had to rethread the broken line

The tension of the passage between Somalia and Yemen was certainly eased by the good sailing conditions. Nature also provided us with some moments of joy such as when red-billed tropicbirds circled above, wedge-tailed shearwaters swooped ahead of us, and a masked booby standing on a floating item bobbed past. One afternoon, I was alarmed to hear the roar of an outboard engine rapidly approaching from behind us, only to be delighted to see the distant splashing of a huge pod of dolphins racing along parallel to us. It was remarkable how loud the noise was considering that they must have been a mile or two away. And just before we entered the IRTC, a pod of about 20 small black whales crossed our path. With various sizes and shapes to the dorsal fins, I think that they were short-finned pilot whales, the first whales that we have seen in many months.

A masked booby appearing to stand on water

With such a long, occasionally tense, passage finally completed, it would be understandable if we had turned off Tregoning's engine and taken nice long naps. However, our enthusiastic agent Ahssan (who likes to be called Phoenix) had other plans. Arriving in a launch within minutes of our anchor being set, he was ready to get us cleared into Djibouti. With CathayOz and four other boats expected to arrive mid-afternoon, we were lucky to have his undivided attention for a few hours, so naptime was going to have to be postponed...but more of our adventures ashore in Djibouti later!

P.S. If you are wondering whether I had an anxiety-tune stuck in my head during this passage, I am pleased to report that with Randall practicing on the guitar many afternoons I was able to maintain a pleasing medley of several songs. The three that seemed most prominent and relevant were: "What's Up" (Four Non-Blonds), "End of the Line" (Traveling Wilburys), and of course, "I will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor).

Arrived safely and happily in Djibouti!

06 March 2023 | Anchored in Djibouti Harbor, Djibouti, Africa
Alison Stocker
Just the quickest of notes to say that after a 20-day passage of over 1,890 nm, we arrived in Djibouti this morning (Monday 6th March). On the whole it was a very good passage...some calm spells but also plenty of downwind cruising, although mostly quite rolly.

Our agent Ahssan, came to greet us soon after we arrived and he got us all checked-in, took us to a very local lunch, and then to the very European-style supermarket. We are tired but very happy to have got through the Gulf of Aden. More soon...
Vessel Name: Tregoning
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan Classic 41
Hailing Port: Gainesville, FL
Crew: Alison and Randall
About: We cast-off from Fernandina Beach in north Florida on 1st June 2008 and we have been cruising on Tregoning ever since. Before buying Tregoning, both of us had been sailing on smaller boats for many years and had worked around boats and water throughout our careers.
Extra: “Tregoning” (rhymes with “belonging”) and is a Cornish word (meaning “homestead of Cohnan” or “farm by the ash trees”) and was Alison's mother’s middle name. Cornwall is in southwest England and is where Alison grew-up.
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