Bambola notes on the passage up


The following link gets you to the UK HO chart showing the 'safe corridor' in the Gulf of Aden.

These notes may encourage and be helpful to boats heading up the Red Sea. The Pilot book and charts make it look a lot harder to pick a good route than it really is. In fact the inside route along the West coast is the only really practical route for small boats and the multiplicity of anchorages makes it possible to find an anchorage when ever the weather turns foul.

Bambola Quatre is a 36-ft (11 metre Angus Primrose’ Moody centre cockpit sloop, with a 35 hp engine and 2-blade folding prop.   kindly provided ‘free weather’ info to the net, which was mainly accurate. It was broadcast each morning on the net together with the weather the other boats were experiencing. You needed to add 10 knots to wind strength – the land breeze effect and timing was sometimes a bit out. Lows in the Eastern Med produced Southerly winds – mostly..

There were about 90 boats in our year 2003, making the Red Sea passage. A few had engine problems but all were able to sort them out with local help and by spares coming into Red Sea ports via DHL – FedEx etc.. Because the ports all have cranes it is possible to get lifted out in most of them if that was necesasary.

In retrospect the Red Sea passage was not nearly as difficult or demanding as I expected and in many ways it was an enjoyable, different and interesting experience. The main ‘popular’ route is from either Aden or Djibouti inshore on the West Coast. You sail – motor-sail - between the reef and the coast and there are hundreds of anchorages. Only 2 boats went up the center, more or less non stop and they were very large yachts. It really is not practical for the average cruising boat. The people are friendly and hospitable in the ports. It is probably easier to bite the bullet and use/pay the agents to clear in and out and find fuel etc. in those ports that have them.

The following is Bambola's route in the year of 2003.

 (Because we spent two weeks waiting for spares in Djibouti after we had been attacked and robbed by pirates, we were amongst the last of the fleet to enter the Red Sea. We felt a need to ‘catch up’ hence several overnighters at the beginning. We could easily have ‘parked up’ each night and gone a bit slower.)

5th March: Following our pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden we entered Djibouti at night. (Very easy – well lit). Spent two weeks ordering and waiting for replacement radios and other spares to be shipped in from West Marine by DHL. Nice town with excellent supermarkets and facilities. Good wine and email.

19th March: left Djibouti at dawn and sailed up coast between Sawabi (7 brothers) and the mainland. With fair winds kept going overnight and next day until wind came on the nose. We made a night stop on 20th March at island of Dumeira 13°52’.84 N 41°56’.24E.

21st March: Moved to bay by Valano 13°52.84 N 41°56.74E. Very nice anchorage with lovely beach. Not rolly.

22nd March: Did overnighter and joined 5 other boats in Anfile Bay 14°46.594 N 40° 47.935 in the early hours of 23rd March. Easy night entry with GPS/Cmap and radar.

24th March: Left Anfile bay in late afternoon and over-nighted again to Port Smyth 15°.32 N 39°59E – the first real reef anchorage which needs good light to find. There is land in the background but Port Smyth is just an area surrounded by coral about 1 ft underwater  with some dry land on the Eastern side - Entered Port Smyth on 25th March.

26th March: Spent day in Port Smyth with 25 knots out of the North!

27th March: Spent day in Port Smyth with 25 knots out of the North.

28th March: Made short jump to Massawa 15°37N  39°29E. Where we enjoyed the town and fueled up at 15 cents a liter. Lots of other boats there and a nice place. We spent the 29th shopping and emailing. Friendly enjoyable place. Many other boats did side trips to local places of interest. Good place for receiving spares and doing repairs. Could be craned out.

30th March: Cleared out and made short hop to Harat Island 16°02.22N  39°.27.2E. Very large and comfortable anchorage – we were there with 2 other boats in 6 metres but room for 50 boats!

1st April: Departed Harat with forecast of 7 days southerly. Intending to make as much progress as possible. Wind came on nose in evening so we anchored behind Difnein Island in the dark! 13°39.53N  39°19.15E. in 10 metres.

2nd April: Departed Difnein and found southerlies and overnighter again to enter Trinket Harbour in afternoon. Need good light for shallow entrance and the military with big field guns did not like us anchoring near them in southern end and asked us to move to the northern end. All very friendly. 18°52.815N 37°24.882E.

3rd April: Spent day going through the very well beaconed Sudbrook channel. Very easy and a pretty place. At end of day got to our first masa the lovely Marsa Shiek Ibram. Need good light to follow the winding entrance. 18°52.815N  37°24.882E.

4th April: Waited until the sun was high enough to see the coral entrance then left for Suakin (Sawakin) Amazing anchorage behind the ruined island town of old Suakin. Very safe and secure but very, very poor people. A must see place. 6 other boats in there. Have to use agent but nice guy. Refueled here. 19°06.473N  37°20.245E

6th April: Headed north and anchored behind Towarit Reef 19°31.307N  37°19.552E all a bit open but protection from waves.

7th April: entered narrow gap to anchor in Sham Rumi 19°56.42N 37°24.18E the ‘Jacques Cousteau’ reef with underwater house. Big mistake. Despite what the pilot book says there is only shallow water (20 metres!) about 5 metres from the reef! All the rest is 30+ meters deep!

Near the anchor sign in the pilot book we found a disused laid mooring floating underwater and tied onto that otherwise it would have been very, very iffy!

8th April: Left Sham Rumi and anchored in the morning of the 9th at Kor Shiab 21°20.772N  37°01.530E Bit like being in a sand pit but a well protected anchorage with dunes all round and lots of good company with other cruisers.

9th, 10th, 11th April: Still in Kor Shiab waiting for weather. Good place for exploring, swimming and chilling out with other boats.

12th April: Pulled out of Kor Shiab with light winds intending to go as far as possible towards Foul Bay… at 11.30 the northerly increased to 20 + knots and we all headed into Masa Wasi 21°388.556N 36°.53.970E and anchored. 3 boats went through the narrow pass between the reef and the sandbank and found good shallow anchorages. Tragically Ewan Bellamy the skipper of Pollux died of natural causes at 14.30hrs. We spent the next week in Masa Wasi doing what we could to help Lisa - his 3-month pregnant partner.

20th April: Arrangements had been made to move Pollux to Cyprus and Sue from Tillinga Too having returned from accompanying Lisa to Sudan we headed out towards Foul Bay.

At noon the wind came up again to 25+ from the north so we entered Masa Gwilaib 21°58.5N  36°51.8E Long twisty entrance but good safe anchorage once you are in. Spent 21st 22nd here whilst it blew 30+ out of the North.

23rd April: In early morning followed ‘Josephine’ out of anchorage using GPS waypoints made on entering. Heading for Foul Bay but sadly after only a few hours the wind came up again and we headed into Umbelia 21°58.5N 36°51.8E - small but beautifully formed!

24th April: headed out with good southerly across Foul Bay. Felt it was very important to try to round Ras Baniyas without putting in there, as it is definitely one of the strongest wind acceleration zones in the Red Sea. Boats were stuck there for up to 2 weeks and running short of food! Once you get around the headland and head west the strong winds fade out.

25th April: late afternoon got into small round Sharm Luli 24°36.613N 35°06.853E. Very nice local fisherman/shopkeeper got us diesel @ 15cents US$ a liter plus veggies and tinned stuff and took away our rubbish. Excellent spear fishing.

26,27,28,29,30th April: Sharm Luli – waiting for weather – chilling out, partying!

1st May: Headed out into 17 knots northerly for Hurgarda 27°14N 33°51E   Long beat to windward. Wind eventually turned southerly as per Bouyweather and we kept going to get into Hurgarda in mid afternoon of the 3rd May.

Customs/Immigration note for Egypt: There is no point in getting a visa before you arrive. If you clear in at Safaga it is absolutely a DIY job by taxi – the visa you get allows 10 days to transit Egypt waters to Port Said. You can of course (illegally) make land trips on it but you have to pay again if you take the boat to Abu Tic or Hurgarda.

In Hurgarda you can do it DIY (we did) but major hassles – or pay agent +-$40US total– the Visa allows you 3 months in Egypt and you can park the boat in the excellent, safe, inexpensive Abu Tic marina and do land trips to pyramids etc. The agent is around $40US.

3rd May continued: Moved round to Abu Tic Marina. Civilisation. Showers.

11th May: Departed Abu Tic heading West with 17 knots northerly. And pulled into Marsa Zeitiya. 27°50N  33°36,5W With 15-20 on the nose… This is an oil refinery – good anchorage but smelly and unattractive.

12th May: left at first light in calm and found 25-30 northerly after half an hour – persisted for half an hour then went back and anchored. This is another major wind acceleration zone and boats have waited here for days for better conditions. The next day we left determined to do it and after 2 hours the wind moderated as it had for the previous boats!

13th May: departed at first light – found 27knots off the headland then down to 15 after another hour. Into the excellent anchorage of El Tur: 28°20.872N  33°06.781E.

14th May: Departed bound for Shab el Hasa on East coast but wind came up too strong so we reached across to Ras Gharib 28°21N 33°07E. Got in really close to the shore but still rolled all night with 30 Knots.

15th May: Headed out at dawn for with NW heading NE for Ras Abu Zenima 29°02N  33°07E. Had problems making the anchor stick in properly – not great holding but ok in Northerlies.

16th May: light Southerly all day – 5 knots – motored and made Suez Yacht Club in 11.5 hours.

17th May: Organised canal transit – easy. The agents will find you - all appear to charge the same and be connected to Prince of the Red Sea!

18th May: Took pilot on board and transited to Samalia

19th to 20th May: Stern to with showers and washing machine… The Marina is an excellent place to leave boat for Cairo visits – mooring buoys dodgy and holding poor if you anchor off and there is a strong southerly…. Earlier in the year several boats dragged badly here when the wind went south

21st May: the pilot due at 09.00 arrived at 05.30! Although we had not cleared for it he allowed us to go directly into the Med when we got to Port Said area. Very nice friendly guys the pilots - gave him packs of cigarettes as suggested in pilot but very hassel free.


We left Djibouti the 19th March and arrived May 16th in Suez. If you exclude the week spent in Masa Wasi it took around 6 weeks. We took the attitude that if it was possible to move at all then we went for it – a few days we made only 20 miles or so but other times we found good winds and just kept going. There were ‘weather windows’ all the way up and we never beat our brains out trying to go to windward when it reached 18- 20 plus. Impossible anyway with a relatively small engine and a folding prop. It is a trip to be enjoyed rather than feared and remember the Mediterranean  is cold, crowded and expensive when you get there. 

Baksheesh - officials wanting gifts for doing their job is endemic all the way up the Red Sea.  It is also part of the culture and maybe as guests/visitors it is not for us to try to change the customs of countries foreign to us. It is encouraged by the local governments because it means the state does not have to pay a living wage to its officials.  The government, by giving the 'person' an official job pays a minimum wage knowing that all people using this official will 'pay' him something directly .

Anyone using the 'service' customs, immigration, police etc helps pay for that service by giving small gifts to the official concerned. These gifts subsidize his income and makes it possible for him to support his family.  These gifts are different from bribery and would not commit the official to breaking the rules on your behalf - simply you are paying him, for doing work involving you and it is also regarded as being respectful and good manner.

  Very difficult for Westerners to get their heads around.  

I do not like the system but then it's not my country and it seems to work for them..

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