Take a look at the wind and waves. The
wind is blowing forty knots and Duetto, Balmacara, and Exit Only are
anchored at Ras Terma in Eritrea. There is a white out from blowing sand
lifted high into the air by a sandstorm. But at least the anchors are down
and holding, and we are no longer being hammered by the seas of the Bab Al
Two days earlier, we
left Yemen and sailed through the Gulf of Aden until we arrived at the Bab
Al Mandeb which is the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Bab has a
ferocious reputation because the winds in that area frequently blow at fifty
knots. Everyone sailing up the Red Sea must run the boisterous gauntlet as
they sail through the Bab.
When it was our turn
to sail those treacherous waters, we experienced first hand why the the Bab
al Mandeb is called the Gate of Sorrows. We pointed our bows north, pushed
open the Gate, and before long, we running downwind in a fifty knot gale
with turbulent steep seas crashing into our stern.
We went through the
Bab in the morning, and so we had plenty of daylight to work our way north
at about eight to ten knots. We hoped that if we got far enough north, the
winds would moderate, and the seas would lose their punch, and we would have
a more enjoyable and less risky sail up the Red Sea. Unfortunately, the Bab
showed us no mercy. The wind persisted at fifty knots all day long, and it
was apparent that it was going to be a long night at sea if we didnít find
shelter. We wanted to continue north as fast as possible, but we also
wanted to do it safely.
We had talked on the
radio with other people who had transited the Bab in similar conditions, and
they reported strong winds for up to thirty six hours. That was bad news,
and we didnít want to take a beating for that long. Our other option was to
head for Ras Terma, which was a deserted anchorage behind a high headland in
Eritrea about fifteen miles away.
We decided to go to
Ras Terma and hopefully ride out the strong winds in a sheltered location.
We tacked over on to a beam reach and headed for land. I turned off the
autopilot and steered by hand. I was afraid that the wild seas might
overpower the autopilot and strip its gears. Hand steering the yacht for
half a day in rough conditions was inconvenient, but at least I would be
sure to have an autopilot that was working when the weather moderated. We
needed the autopilot to comfortably steer Exit Only for 1700 miles up the
It took three hours of extremely wet
sailing to arrive at Ras Terma. We were beam on to the steep seas, and the
waves that struck the side of the yacht relentlessly dumped gallons of salt
water over me as I steered at the unprotected helm. Each new wave deposited
more salt into my clothes until my shirt and pants became stiff from the
accumulation of salt. My clothes turned into a pillar of salt.
Ras Terma proved to be a secure anchorage, but the
winds still blew at thirty-five to forty knots for at least a day and a half
before they abated. We hunkered down and waited for conditions to improve.
While we were anchored there, a sandstorm came through and covered our boat
with red desert dust. We shut up the boat to keep sand from coming inside
and creating a huge mess.
At least we had survived the Bab without damage. Caked
on salt spray mixed with desert dust is a small price to pay to escape from
the clutches of the Bab Al Mandeb. Once again, Exit Only had proven that it
was a strong and seaworthy vessel. It took a licking and kept on ticking.
While itís true that adversity had paid visit, it
didnít move in and become a permanent member of our crew. We are careful
about such things. When adversity pays a visit, we modify our plans, stick
to our purpose, and never surrender our dreams.
We hunkered down at Ras Terma for a couple of days before we set off on our
journey up the Red Sea. The blistering sandstorm is now history, and
we have only twenty-five knots of wind and steep left over seas to make our
Duetto rides the waves like a champ, although at times she looks more like a
submarine than a yacht.
No worries mate! The sandstorm is over, and we are turning north for
our run up the Red Sea. More adventures await, and for the first
couple of days we will be able to run downwind.