Into the Red Sea

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By early February Quo Vadis had served her time in Salalah, we were both back in Oman, yachts were coming into port daily from the Maldives, we were ready to join them and move on!

We took an apartment in town while we prepared for relaunching, removing all the shade-cloth wrappings, cleaning from the top of the mast to the bottom of the keel, antifouling and generally getting her and us ready to resume life afloat.

A few days later again using one of the 100 ton cranes she was relaunched uneventfully,-we carefully checked for leaks around the new saildrive, the engine started and all was well! Happily, our repairs done back in April seemed to have fixed the problem!
After our 7-8 months out of the water however, we found all sorts of other little troubles, -electrical, electronic, plumbing leaks etc., the first of which was the holding tank! (my first day afloat was celebrated literally up to my armpit in the s**t!). All of these were just a result of being in the hot, dry and dust, systems unused for all that 7-8 months.
We got on top of those problems and were gratified that there appeared to be nothing that would stop us from going on.


Meanwhile the boats continued to trickle in to port.
The worry for everyone doing the next leg to Aden was the piracy and how best to be secure. Travelling in company of a large group, 20 or so boats close together seemed to be the best protection.
There was such a group ready to leave on 18 February, we were not quite so by then, we delayed, knowing there were many more coming and as we wanted to be sure all was well with the boat this time.


Instead, we took her away for a couple of days down to Merbat, a fishing town 30 miles along the coast away from the pirates.
It was an interesting exercise obtaining permission for such a short trip, as it appeared that the Omanis were not accustomed to yachts going coastal cruising, they could not decide on the level of clearance we needed and even for such a short trip as that, we were delayed for several days while the bureaucracy was sorted!
We almost gave up, but permission finally came, we went and enjoyed our 3 days of ‘camping out’.
We were once again gratified to find that Quo Vadis still seemed to be in fine form, ready for the Red Sea!


 We departed Oman on 4 March with a ‘superconvoy’, a group of 20 yachts as an antipiracy measure, but it was ‘super’ in name only.
In reality it was an experience of a lifetime, not one to be repeated!
It met the objective of getting us all to Aden in one piece and together, but made for an interesting study in human behaviour… putting together about 50, free-thinking, independent yachties, none of whom want to be there, to travel in tight military formation for 5 days, micro-managed 24/7 by Alpha 1, our leader on hand-held VHF… The quarrelling that developed within the group had to be heard to be believed!!!
So much for keeping radio silence so the pirates wouldn’t be aware of our presence, 3 VHF channels were constant bickering.
Of course we saw nothing resembling a pirate, in fact we saw very few fishermen who might conceivably become opportune pirates… I think they were all hanging out below the horizon, keeping clear, hearing the arguing on the airwaves and knowing that if they took us, we’d  just cause them a whole heap of trouble!
No fun, but it was what we thought we had to do to clear ‘Pirate Alley’ and in the large group we did have an undertaking of some support from the coalition naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden. Although they hadn’t the resources to take care of individual yachts making the passage, they took a lot more interest in our bigger group, on one occasion sending a helicopter, but we were otherwise in daily contact by phone and e-mail.
Much of the 5 days from Salalah we had to motor of neccessity as there was little wind and in the need to keep tight formation, so it was a real relief to be able to drop anchor in Aden Harbour and turn the engine off…

…and also, the relief that we had successfully traversed ‘Pirate Alley’!


We anchored off the Prince of Wales wharf, the old overseas ship terminal in Tawahi, the port.

As in the days before 747s Aden had always been a port of call for people travelling to Europe by ship, I had always envisaged the city as a glamorous, if not exotic, Middle Eastern port, but if it was then, it is not now!

Some of the old buildings dating back to the days of the British colony remain, but glitzy? -no!
The whole town is in a state of disrepair, the new Yemen is a poor country, the people haven’t many luxuries, even the city streets are quiet as there are so few private vehicles; the public buses and taxi fleets,like the buildings, sorely in need of maintenance.

But the people are warmly welcoming of foreigners in their streets, the most common English words spoken are ‘welcome to Yemen!

 Although as an Arab country it is a man’s world and the women largely in black burkha, it has the feeling of being a safe place,

inexpensive to visit and after the comparative dearth in Salalah, pleasing to find a ready supply of good fresh fruit and vegetables.
Despite the dry barren-ness of Aden, there are good growing conditions in the country to the north.

However, it is not the place to get serious business completed, as after midday almost invariably the men will be drifting off in a happy world of their own, sitting, like chipmunks with cheeks stuffed, chewing on the mildly narcotic green leaved ‘ghat’.
For the remainder of the afternoon they’ll remain in a state of semi-stupor, relaxed with no inclination to work, -not today anyway. 

 With ghat to chew and the nicotine boost of the aromatic, but strangling smoke of a sheesha water pipe, who needs alcohol to further numb the mind!

It’s a very poor society as a result of ongoing military conflicts, low productivity and bad administration, but there’s no outward sign of tension or unhappiness among the people.

Built in the crater of an extinct volcano, waterless and windy, Aden might seem a strange location for for a city, however it’s been a harbour from ancient times, the hills giving excellent shelter for shipping, high points to build forts for defence,

and in the small coves nestle fishing villages.
Given the size of the game fish, sharks, tuna and others brought into the wet-markets from these little coastal skiffs, fishing in the gulf is still pretty good!

Like Muscat in Oman, Aden has the makings of a very beautiful city as it is a town of many parts,

each one separated by dramatically rugged, rocky hills. Both places too have long histories and Sultanic, Muslim grandure in their mosques and palaces

but sadly, unlike Muscat, Aden because of its troubles, is now run down.

Out on a dry peninsula in desert conditions water for Aden has always been an issue

depending on water catchment from the occasional heavy rainstorms, storing it in reservoirs behind dams in the hills.
As a result of now bringing water by pipeline from ranges a long way to the north, these cisterns are redundant for that purpose, instead, with good intention, they have been made into a city park and swimming holes, -but sadly too, they are badly neglected.

But it’s not all bad being so dry and by the sea, there’s no shortage of salt by evaporation, it has long been harvested from the salt-farms on the flats of the peninsula joining the city to the mainland.

We had just 5 days in Aden. The political situation in the country doesn’t allow us to travel there readily and our limited entry permits restricted us to staying within the city limits.
We were keen to go north to Sana, the spectacular capital in the northern mountains and although possible to do so from Aden, it is not easy,  as it means going through troubled areas and since recent terrorist attacks on tourists, the permit process is complex, expensive and limited. It will be easier to fly into the city from elsewhere, we hope to do so at a later date.

There were good southerly breezes forecast and although by now feeling we had left the major pirate risk area so no longer needing the protection of a formal convoy, we departed with several other boats to day-hop along the south coast into the Red Sea…

…the 2 bit tanker in Aden a reminder however to still take care, Al Quaeda bombers are still active in the area.

The Yemen coastline is a dramatic one. Last year when we left Salalah on our abortive attempt to get to Aden, we had admired the cliffs and colour of the land features, whereas this year on the way to Aden we had seen none of that, the coastline obscured by haze and our anti-piracy course taking us out beyond its visibility. Our rocky hill anchorage here at Ras Imran was a small reminder of what we and others taking the more seaward course in the superconvoy  had missed.

Our next overnight anchorage was off the small fishing village of Ras Al Arah, and although breezy, it seemed a peaceful place in the evening.
Later however, we became a little less relaxed as there was a noisy party going on ashore, loud repetitive music and increasingly frenzied activity with,  most alarmingly, the random firing of automatic rifles!!!
Most of the shots were skywards as we saw from the tracer bullets, -but not all and although we know these weapons are a part of life in Yemen, how long before the man behind the gun in his party madness might take a fancy to shooting up a few yachts anchored out in the bay???
We had intended an early departure, we advanced that, quietly and without lights, lifting anchor and leaving in the very early hours.

It was great sailing on a southerly down to Babel Mandeb, the ‘Gates of Sorrow’ at the southern end of the Red Sea and with perfect timing we made our entry at dawn. Known for the constant wind and strong currents, early morning is said to be the most favourable time to pass through, even so, we made excellent speeds, sailing dead down-wind in near gale with a tiny sail.   
We crossed the shipping lanes to the Eritrea coast and in winds of about 30 knots continued good sailing in these conditions all day.

We made excellent progress up the coast but couldn’t stop! Two attempts at anchoring firstly at Fatuma Deset and then Ras Terma were both unsuccessful as the 30-40 knot wind gusts, spray and wind-blown dust made either of these normally good anchorages quite untenable.

We continued fast, the coast-line almost flashing by, then with a rapid turn to port made a night time entry into Mersa Dudo where we found at last good protection from the sea and the wind to be a little more moderate… at only occasionally over 30 knots…
We were joined by several others after first light.
The wind continued, sadly it prevented us from going ashore to visit the extinct volcanic calderas, which was disappointing. We should probably have sailed on later that day, but as the wind was showing no sign of abating and we were weary, elected to stay.  
In retrospect, it was not the best decision we made, as had we gone earlier, we would have been able to use the good southerlies to sail the whole distance to Massawa.
Instead, when we left the following morning, we still had excellent sailing with 30 knots of southerly from behind, we used it all day and into the night, making great speeds, until, precisely as forecast, at around midnight, the wind eased right off, went through several 360 degree changes then settled to come strongly from the north. With it came very unsettled confused seas, we could make no progress, so hove-to until the early morning by when conditions had eased.
We were then able to motorsail into the sheltered anchorage of Dergaman Kebir in Howakil Bay.
It was well sheltered and there was little wind, but the island was flat, brown and featureless, there was nothing to go ashore for.
The following day as northerlies were still forecast, we only moved within Howakil Bay to nearby Adjuz Island where we took a short leg-stretching walk on land,  -to set foot on Africa!

It too was a good anchorage behind a low featureless island, but we were beginning by now to realise that as we had been forewarned, this was what the Red Sea was all about, the sailing was difficult,  our usual interesting and varied land excursions were going to be limited and on top of that, the water was suddenly cold and murky green!

The following day the winds were forecast to be very light, we motored off from Adjuz in the hope of reaching Massawa but a mid afternoon squall with strong northwest winds put an end to that!
We ran off the wind into a very sheltered but otherwise unexciting anchorage at Dessai. We did not go ashore there, but instead left in the early morning before any wind rose to go to the port of Massawa to formally enter the country of Eritrea, we were in there and cleared before the mid day siesta.
That had been a little lesson in Red Sea tactics to us. Had we left Mersa Dudo when we had a feeling we should have probably gone, 18 hours earlier than we did, we would have arrived in Massawa 4 days before. By delaying, we had been put into uncomfortable northerly conditions and a different weather window, it affected our progress through the whole of the Red Sea thereafter!
As we had been told so many times, when making this Red Sea trip from south to north it is vital to use any opportunity of favourable wind.


Like Yemen, only more so, as a result of continuing wars, Eritrea is a very poor country. But added to that it has a lack of natural resources and despite a willingness to work, it really is one of the worlds most impoverished.
Massawa is an old port and the principle one for the country, it has a fishing fleet and a small cargo handling and container terminal, but as a reflection of the whole economy, it is not a busy place.

As a strategic asset however, it was a target in the last war with Ethiopia around 10 years ago and extensively bombed,  

as the remains of the old town hall

and a palace said to have been built by Haile Selassie, both still standing in ruins on the immediate waterfront, give testament.

There is a memorial to the heroes of that last war for independent Eritrea nearby.

Behind the row of attractive, but decaying, waterfront buildings, dating back to times of Italian occupation, is a residential area. As part of the port environs, it too was bombed extensively, sadly, as the buildings have many Turkish architectural features dating back to times of the Ottoman Empire.

Sad too that the people still must live in these ruins as the money just isn’t there to rebuild, but not so sad perhaps, is that maybe if it was, any rebuilding would be with structures far less attractive!
It is remarkable that even after 10 years of living in all these ruined buildings of the old port, the people still take a pride in their meagre homes. There is no rubbish, no filth, -the dirt is regularly swept clean…

…and the welcome is still warm,

…until the camera appears. It is unfortunate that the Muslim faith for women doesn’t allow for photography.
The black burkha of the Middle East isn’t so attractive and it is understandable that women might be hiding behind it and  ‘seen one, seen them all’,  but the show of colour on the Muslim women of North Africa is  quite irresistible with a camera!

The port of Massawa is on 2 small islands, the main town on the mainland linked by causeways for road -and rail, -if it was operable.

The jewel in the crown of Eritrea is Asmara, the capital city, high up in the hills and about 130 km away by road.

Built largely during the era of the Italian occupation and left largely untouched by the various Eritrean wars over the years since. People speak of it lovingly as being ‘even more Italian than Italy’ and certainly there persists a strong Italian theme of pizza, pasta and gelati not common in North Africa; a terrace cafe: some Italian influence in the architecture; a standard of dress rather more fashionable than on the lowlands and people who greet with ‘bonjourno’ and thank with ‘grazzi’, but being there didn’t overwhelm me with a feeling of ‘deja vu’ for Florence, -or Milan.

It was however well worth the visit and a pleasantly cool couple of days at high altitude away from the heat of Massawa.

As for some reason the railway from the port to the capital no longer operates, the options for getting there are by bus or hiring driver and private car. The latter was the more comfortable option and not expensive, it was a comfortable ride through beautiful hill scenery and towns to get there, 

and included complementary road side baboons.

The road runs alongside the railway for much of the route, crossing it under and over several times. Strangely, although the main length of the railway is non-functioning, excursion steam trains still run this route down around 20 km from Asmara, -attractive!

All over the higher ridges ‘orchards’ of man-sized cacti are grown for their fruit, our driver assuring us they were a beautiful form of fig!

Unfortunately they were only just coming into flower, so sampling the fruit to know what he was meaning was not possible, but maybe something along the line of the Asian Dragon Fruit?
(Whatever the fruit, I don’t want to be a cactus picker in Eritrea, -definitely hard, hot and a very prickly employment!)

Asmara has just one main street

and an attractive Roman Catholic Cathedral

with a byzantine style interior

a campanile with a carillon that works

and great views over the city.
Although the cathedral is the centrepiece, numerous other significant churches and mosques are dotted about the town.

There’s the grand mosque, but many others churches are of the old early eastern Christian Orthodox faith

including their own Cathedral.

Because the town has not been destoyed by war and money hasn’t been available to replace old buildings before they fell down, there are an assortment of building styles from over a period of time in the city, largely untouched from the original. Most attractive are the Italian buildings with clear Mediterranean form, but there are others having art-deco and cubist features, less striking but probably of greater interest to a purist!

The main market is the centre of town business.

The growing is good on these hills in this temperate climate and so there are great fruit and vegetables

but not only selling those, there’s almost anything else as well and you can even take your own donkey cart of wheat along to be ground to flour,  if you have one, and some…

Fascinating to everyone who visits and possibly unique to Asmara, also probably a reflection of the general poverty, is the recycling market where almost everything sold is second hand.

There is a bustling trade in re-usable construction materials.

Most interestingly however are the many very busy men cutting up, straightening out and beating flat all types of metal scraps to refashion or construct into useful articles saleable for a second time around! 

At the high altitude, although the sun is hot, the shade is cool and good to walk in.

I found the railway station, ever hopeful of a steam train ride, but unfortunately was going to be out of luck. The joy-rides were only once a week on Sunday, or on special occasions, I didn’t qualify.

Nothing was to stop me having a look however. I did and studied long and hard the little tank locomotives built in Italy in the 1930s, still burning coal and like everything else about the town, in original condition, maintained just well enough to keep on  running.

Although not Italy in a timewarp, Asmara is certainly a repository of old things Italian!

Returning from Asmara was just as interesting as the trip up. We stopped by at a small market town for lunch and as one does, with long lens, furtively from the shadows of a restaurant fore-court and the anonymity of the market ground crowd, to sieze the chance of a photo opportunity…


…interesting people, interesting subjects!

We stayed a week in Massawa having to delay our intended departure by 2 days because of continuing northerly sector winds.

Our first anchorage after leaving was just a short day-motor away inside the reef of Sheikh el Abu and a pleasant enough place to stop for a night.

The following day we moved on to Diffnein Island, motorsailing into the wind, to find a good anchorage in beautifully clear blue water off a small low island occupied by a military camp.
Fortunately they welcomed us walking ashore (with the caution of warning us away from the central part of the island where there were supposed still to be land-mines), but sadly, they were not happy about diving and snorkelling.
Of course some of us had to check that our anchors were dug in…and the range of fish encountered just in doing that was better than any seen since the Maldives and as the soldiers were often out fishing, their ban was probably just protecting their own interests…

It was 3 days walking the tiny island before we had the southerly wind change we needed for the next leg, a relatively long, overnight one over the border into Sudan.

By that time a sizeable fleet had gathered at the island, we all left together and it was a great sail, -for us anyway, outside the reef to stay clear of the border area, -all the way to Long Island.
This is a low island with a lagoon and lots of bird life, -including flamingos. It is in a cluster of islands, reefs and waterways on the inner channel route to Suakin and Port Sudan.

The following  day in calm conditions we motored up the Shubuk Channel, carefully navigating among coral outcrops, for once ignoring the computer as it was totally inaccurate, using our eyes, binoculars and even hand-bearing compass!


Suakin (Sawakin) is an old town in the history of the Sudan and one of the last of the slave trading ports.

Now as we entered the harbour and saw the ruined old town on the island ahead, it had every appearance of being an old abandoned movie set 

and when we had completed the formalities and went ashore…

…the supporting cast were on stage, definitely it had all the makings of a religious film about to happen!

We were anchored alongside the old city film set with the other yachts, at the head of a near enclosed marsa and it gave us excellent shelter from the strong northerlies that blew for the next 5 days.

We enjoyed the little town, back water that it now is, where the people were friendly and happy,

it had a good little market with cheap fresh food, often quite good, although depending on the time of day,

freshly fried falafel in flat bread and barbecued takeaway lamb (including head to suck on, if it takes your fancy!)

But we couldn’t go past the excellent fresh bread rolls

delivered hot by donkey cart several times a day.

For us Suakin was an introduction to the reality of ‘donkey power’…donkeys far outnumbered motor vehicles. We got accustomed to the early morning braying, (an unfortunate habit they have!) but found it hard to believe their docility and their  tolerant obedience, -despite harsh conditions and treatment. 

Northern Sudan is now a fundamentalist Islamic state, it is a man’s world, where women play a lesser role,

and a man must have his weapons; sword-making remains a serious business in the small town of Suakin…

The ruins of the old town are on an island separated from the present town by a causeway.

There are remains of many fine buildings dating from when it was for centuries the centre of a bustling port, but now it is just a crumbling ruin.
In the 1930s the port was superseded when the British built a new commercial harbour, about 20 miles up the road in Port Sudan and this old town was quickly deserted.

Although the port has been brought back into use a little and there are regular ferries across to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Suakin still carries little shipping and the attractive old town constructed of coral block and soft wood, held together without mortar, has rapidly fallen into decay. There is some attempt being made to preserve the site, but funding is short and the job is big.

Just out of town is the main highway from Port Sudan to Khartoum,

busy with freight trucks

and lined with nomad tents, grazing camels and windblown rubbish.

It is just a half  hour bus ride from Suakin to Port Sudan. That is the major town for the area, a busy commercial centre so far more western in it’s ways, but not at all attractive.

The port itself has a busy container terminal and is also reasonably yacht-friendly, -although for some reason, maybe to discourage us from visiting, the clearance fees are much more than in Suakin.

There’s a good market in the town, good internet in places and many other useful services, but it is a town with Arabic signage, difficult to find the way around and English is definitely a minority language!

It is not easy and it is hot.

We stayed in Suakin 5 days, taking the opportunity of lighter northerlies in early morning to press on, our first stop was only a few miles away at Marsa Ata.
It was a fine anchorage inside a secure little marsa, but although we were out of the sea, the wind blew hard, we were confined to the boat, watching the pelicans, flamingos and other water birds in the lagoon from aboard.
The following day was again quiet in the morning, we moved on only to Port Sudan and altough intending to go further, by then the head wind had returned with a vengeance, there was little point in just 1-2 knots progress!
We took shelter in the commercial port but were once more confined to the yacht as we had technically cleared out of the country. To clear back in there with the higher fees would have been an expensive process, just to visit a town we didn’t really like!

The following morning at daybreak we were off again, motoring north and that day, the wind stayed manageable throughout, we made good progress, even under sail alone, up through the inner channel of the reef. By late afternoonwe were anchoring at the delightful little white sand cay of Taila Island.
It would have been a nice place to stop for longer, but the next day the weather was very suitable for carrying on again, we felt we must use it as we knew strong northerly winds were forecast.
Like the previous day. we made excellent progress, often with sail alone through the channels of the inner reef to a large marsa, Khor Shanab.

It was several miles into the anchorage at the head of the marsa and a picturesque spot it is with low hills, rocks and many colours.

A chance to climb a mountain!

Quoin Hill just by the anchorage is a wedge-shaped hill,all of 60m high but in the early morning and late afternoon when the wind is light and the sun is low gives great views over the marsa and the desert behind.

We had to spend 2 nights in Khor Shanab, the day in between was windy, 30+ knots of northerly through the anchorage, again we were ship-bound.
The following day the wind was reduced in the mornning, we left again early, getting as far as Marsa Wasi,a few marsas north, before the rising wind stopped any further progress. We took shelter in there and were comfortable, although the wind and dust whistled overhead…

The next day was quieter again and for longer, we took the opportunity of motoring out to Elba Reef. This is a semi-circular reef, several miles from land and giving good shelter from a northerly sea. The anchorage had good holding although in coral and we spent a confortable afternoon and evening. The snorkelling around the reef was good too, although large fish seemed to be away for the day.

As the wind was to be rising again, the following day we moved back onto the mainland, to Marsa Umbeila.

Although very small and with room for just 3-4 boats, this proved to be our favourite of all the marsas. The shelter from wind and sea was good, the hills around were beautiful with ever changing colours with the light, the water was clean and the snorkelling on either side of the entrance some of the best, -ever!
The corals were of a much greater variety with many delicate and beautiful fan and lace corals (an indication that it never gets too rough in there). The fishlife too was fascinating with many species new to me and many very large, including turtles, sharks and eagle rays, -not to forget the dugong cruising around the bay, grazing on the sea grass.

Behind the beach there is a cave and a place frequented by nomadic bedouin with primitive shelters made from scrubby bushes, scattered bedding, other belongings and graves marked by heaps of coral stone.

The people called from time to time,but they didn’t stay, we used the cave as a sheltered spot for ‘sundowners with a view’.

This was also a place to go for walks ashore, to go inland over the sand/rock ridges was both interesting and made good use of legs unaccustomed now to exercise…but walking north up the beach almost proved to be our undoing!


We knew we were near the border between Sudan and Egypt. A line on our chart shows a ‘political’ border about a mile north of where we were anchored and an ‘administrative’ border 30 or 40 miles north, we also knew the border was a subject of dispute.

With 2 Dutch friends off another yacht we set off along the beach toward the north, not to find the border but just to walk and chat.
We saw buildings in the distance, interested in what they were, we continued on, they appeared deserted.
Near the buildings, we passed  broken down razor wire fence, it was unsigned, deserted and ended a hundred metres from the beach. Joking, we congratulated each other as having made it into Egypt and as there was still no-one in sight, carried on.
Near the first building, which we had ascertained to be a desalination plant, a man without uniform appeared, saw us, beckoned us over and invited us in for a drink, he took us inside the compound and sat us down around a coral table and offered us cigarettes.
A second man came, the first went and made tea, we sat around ‘chatting’ -as much as possible with no common language! Hot sweet tea arrived and we all drank and in the meantime several other men arrived, some in pieces of military uniform, one spoke quite good English and we sat some time as he ‘practiced’ it on us.
The other men sat patiently around.
It came time for us to leave and suddenly it was clear that we were not going to be able to do so, that we had entered Egypt without permission or papers and were to be held!
As we tried to reason our way out suddenly guns appeared and the demeanour of the soldiers (as it rapidly became apparent that they were) changed, they were holding us and would use their firearms if need be!
We conceded and were led away by the English speaking man, -he and another (with rifle) became our keepers.
After a lot of discussion and reasoning 2 of us were allowed to return to the yachts to pick up passports and papers, as we had nothing.
The other 2 of us remaining were kept under watch outside a small hut and we knew it would be some time before the others would get back. We were told by our keeper that someone would be coming from the next base to sort us out, but we could get no idea of how long it might take and he said that it would likely be a day or 2, especially as their radio link to the next base was now broken, there was no cell-phone coverage and we also understood that camel was the only means of transport!.
It would soon be dark.
We thought this had gone on long enough and rather hoped our keeper might thnk the same way!
After a lot of discussing, reasoning and arguing in his 50 percent English, we seemed to have him persuaded to take us over to the border fence to await the return of the other 2, -or preferably, to let us go, -as since he claimed to be in charge, he should be able to make that decision.
He was reluctant, claiming that the other soldiers would not allow to see us go, -but we counter-claimed that in the dusk they wouldn’t see us, unless he attracted their attention…
We had him almost convinced and all started walking over toward the fence.
Almost there, he with us, he seemed to have a change of heart and started shouting loudly, calling back the other guards. We decided to make a run for it, going for a broken down bit of fence and would have quickly got over it and away -had he not called us back, saying there were mines….!
Instead we made to get under a broken wire gate where the road used to go, were half way under when the guards caught up to us and we were trapped, one on each side of the fence. Guards with armed automatic rifles and bayonets were aimed at both of us, -and men were needlessly holding me down in a choke-hold!
They meant business with their weapons and would have needed little further provocation to use them!
It was incredible that the man who had originally invited us in tothe compound and then sat congenially around as we drank tea was the most aggressive, like a mad dog, he was the one most menacing with the bayonet!
We had failed in our ‘negotiated’ escape bid and were were marched back to the hut, point of bayonet touching skin through the ‘t’ shirt on my back, dripping blood from my grazes -and this time, we were locked in the hut with armed guard!!!  
As darkness fell, through the one window we had persuaded them to allow us to have open, we were relieved to see a utility truck drive up and 2 smartly dressed men get out, one in uniform, both speaking good English. They were apologising profusely to us, but shouting loudly at the soldiers, apparently berating them for their ill-treatment of harmless foreigners…
However,we were still not to be immediately released, -even they were unable to make that decision!
We gave them all of our details, one drove off to find cell-phone coverage in order to call a higher power. We waited, the others returned, they had our papers, we all waited and by this time were allowed outside the tiny hut.
The utility returned, the officer still couldn’t allow us to go, he required more information and another ‘phone call. With more of our personal details, they both disappeared again.
In the meantime the soldiers watching us were profusely apologetic, asking our forgiveness for the way they had treated us, offering us more drinks and to make us a full meal, -but  we largely declined their hospitality. Getting away was more important.
Eventually our liberators returned although by that late hour we had wondered whether it would be that night. They too had brought us cold drinks and eventually the permission to leave.
We didn’t linger making small talk…

The lessons from this little incident are that a border fence might still be a border fence even if it has enormous gaps and there is nothing to say so; political might mean administrative (or vice versa); that the absence of guards probably just means they are all asleep; an offer of a cup of tea is not neccessarily a friendly gesture and lastly, most importantly, you don’t mess around with the Egyptian Military!

In deserted outposts like that one, the soldiers are posted there for months, there is no normal life for them, no women, no nightlife, no cell-phones, no television, so not surprisingly, they are  uneducated, bored, frustrated young men who will with the slightest provocation go completely crazy!   
Apart from that happening on our first day in Marsa Umbeila, we really enjoyed our few days there and would happily have stayed longer had a weather ‘window’ not come allowing us to make the next leg over Foul Bay.
It was about a 30 hour trip, mostly motoring in the quiet but with some good sailing to get to Dolphin Reef (Sataya). The northerly built again soon after we arrived and was strong for several days.

It’s easy to spend some time there as it is a secure reef anchorage, large, in 2 parts, and almost completely enclosed by reef just above the water level. Although the wind may blow strongly the water in the lagoon stays relatively peaceful, it’s of the clearest blue and with perfect white sand beneath.

It’s a ‘must-do’ anchorage and frequently visited by dive-boats from the mainland resorts, at any time 2-3 are in residence.
Snorkelling and diving all around the reef is good but the main attraction is to swim with the dolphins.
Large schools of them frequent the 2 lagoons, passing through but often staying for hours and not worried by human company! It’s very easy to swim with a pod of 50 or so, often being right in with them, -under, over or immediately alongside, -within arm’s reach, but not to touch… Although they will out-swim the swimmers, they will circle around and you will soon be amongst them once more.

Sometimes they stay longer than others, but likely it will be the human who gets tired of the game first…

It is indeed quite an experience!  


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