Thoughts on Cruising the Red Sea

We sailed northbound up the Red Sea and finished the trip with Egypt. Our experience of Egypt with the boat is limited to bashing to windward and then relaxing in Abu Tig Marina for almost a month before bashing to windward to get to the Suez Canal. Therefore, I can’t go into detail about anchorages up and down the coast but do beware that MASSIVE fines result if you drop the anchor on any coral at all, even in an emergency.

There are USAID moorings (funded by the hated US gov’t) provided at many reefs from Ras Bananas (Ras Baniyas) on up. These were strong when installed but naturally the locals don’t have an incentive to maintain them. One boat we know used one and it broke during a windy night. His boat drifted onto a reef and the authorities were right there to fine him for damage his boat had done. Be careful where you drop the hook.

Diesel can be found all the way up the Red Sea. Water is available too. It is better to have a watermaker but if you don’t have one and are careful you won’t have too much trouble. Expect a few sandstorms and fine desert dirt and camel dung to get in absolutely everywhere. Now in the Med all our rigging is still black! We are washing the lines one by one.

We spent three months exploring the Red Sea, longer than most, and really enjoyed most of it. Everyone reads or hears about how tough it is and how unpleasant. Aside from a few rough nights and dealing with the Egyptians it was overall a very pleasant experience and not nearly as bad as we thought it would be.

Of course, we did our homework first and are very conservative sailors with heavy duty ground tackle and a well maintained boat. Having said all that, our previously reliable workhorse of an engine, Mr. Perkins, did develop a head gasket problem and chose to give out in Eritrea!

Did you know DHL delivers right to the port of Massawa and there are no customs duties? Not a problem. Mechanics were also available if needed and, as always in Eritrea, the people were very nice. Having a reliable engine in the Red Sea is extremely important. If you are an engineless purist, read no further. If you are normal, like us, then well, you’re gonna use it! (And if you have no engine, you will not be able to go through the Suez Canal unless you pay thousands of dollars for a tow).

The Suez Canal itself was very easy, just remember your agent will lie and try to cheat you. I would strongly suggest investing in the fantastic Imray “Red Sea Pilot.” It is the best cruising guide we have ever seen and boats who chose to go without often came to grief. Buy it, don’t steal it.

Depending on when you enter the Red Sea (heading north) you may be lucky to have southerly winds push you all the way to Massawa. After that you hit a convergence zone where the winds are fluky but mostly from the north. Rain can be expected now and then and we know one boat (Marionette IV) lost all their electronics when they were hit by lightning while at anchor in Massawa! From Sudan up if it blows it will be on the nose.

We had a couple of times where we got lucky with southerly winds but they say this year (2004) was unusual in that regard. It seems to blow less strong 30 miles or more offshore than it does on the coasts. Our experience was that as soon as the wind picked up so did the waves and when the wind died the waves were also quick to follow.

More than the wind you will find the seas difficult. They are like shark’s teeth: sharp, steep and packed very closely together. It is not fun to slam into them and have every other one stop the boat dead with a shuddering BANG!

I am not sure about the whole “dew on the deck” theory but we did notice that if there was A LOT of dew at night then winds were benign the next day. For forecasting Bouyweather, although not very good, was more accurate than the grib files available on Sailmail which were so bad they became a running joke.

Once on land at Hurghada the best website for accurate wind forecasting was (and I’m not making this up!) a Czech windsurfing site: At the end of May it does still get chilly, especially as you have been cruising through the tropics to get this far. Once in the Med, it gets even colder! The picture below of Ariel was taken at the end of May just entering the Med. She has socks on too!