- Rhapsody Adventure by Karina & Tom Figl
Nowadays, in the time of space travel
and satellite photography, it is difficult to find a truly adventurous
undertaking. Where do you go to find a great spot, with reliable wind and a decent wave?
Hawaii, South Africa or Australia definitely have all there is to offer yet crowds do seem
to be part of the deal. The dream was borne to discover new spots in far The Red Sea has
one formidable character. The wind always seems to blow. Due to the south westerly monsoon
between April and September over the north Indian Ocean and the high over the Azores, the
pressure gradient channels the wind in a north to south direction within the constraints
of the Red Sea.
- (click pics to enlarge)
Furthermore, the chop which is caused by this
consistent wind should build up considerably over the length of the 1200NM Red Sea. Add to
this the very arid environment and a cultural interaction beyond anything we had as yet
experienced, and we were bound for an adventure of magnitude.
Karina (28, Austrian) and Tom (32,
South African) have a history of watersports and both decided to give up their
jobs as a knowledge manager at an internet consulting company and a managing director of a
water efficiency company respectively in order to experience the thrills of life again. We
wanted to discover new spots, deserted beaches and unridden waves... No
security nets, no back doors, no options left open, the trip was no compromise, an
adventure up and down the Red Sea, the last frontier...
We undertook the last alterations to Rhapsody,
a 42ft catamaran which enabled enough deck space to carry 4 windsurfers, 2
kiteboards and 2 surfboards and then still allow us to rig up comfortably, and set forth
from Cyprus towards the Red Sea. We had been forewarned of what we were going to encounter
with regard to the Arab mentality. Yet all we encountered were the most friendly, helpful
and generous people we had ever met.
As soon as we entered the Gulf of Suez, we
realised we had come to the right place. The wind had suddenly increased from 15 knots to
45 knots and blew consistently from the north. And it didnt stop! We took our time
down to El Gouna, stopping at numerous and countless reefs and bays, the Sinai mountains
towering dark and red in the background and offering an unbelievable setting. Generally,
most places we found were not accessible by car as we simply anchored behind an outcrop of
a reef, raced over the glassy water and launched ourselves into the windswell that had
been generated. Our only spectators were the occasional fishermen who regularly came over
and swamped our boat with fish, calamari and shrimps, sympathising with these crazy
idiots out on these small boards in this inhumane wind.
Sailing a yacht in these
conditions isnt fun. Rhapsody is an open bridgedeck cat and was reaching 17 knots
under bare polls ( no sails up). She does though have a rotation wing mast with an area of
8 sq. meters which means it is quite difficult to slow her down. The wind in the Red Sea
generally seems to be strongest around the Straights of Gubal, just at the southern
entrance to the Gulf of Suez. Here, we concentrated our search for good conditions and
found more than we bargained for! Yet initially our journey was south and the Egyptian,
Sudanese, Eritrean and Yemenese coasts are pristine when it comes to secluded and
remote areas. Upon leaving Hurghada, we didnt realise that we were now entering no
mans land when it comes to sailing and windsurfing. For the next 7 months, we saw no other
windsurfers and even more astonishing, we saw no other yachts. It is so remote a place,
that we only saw a total of 5 boats, of which 3 were fishermen on their dhougs and two
Sudanese dive charter boats!
In summer the northerly wind blows the length
of the Red Sea and joins the south westerly monsoon at the Straights of Bab El Mandeb,
thus making sailing south a pleasant journey. Every day we would stop off at
another bay or reef and either windsurf or kite or even dive. Our dives were
generally at the same places where we windsurfed and a peek under the water was in most
cases not a good idea if you wanted to continue windsurfing. Every dive in Sudan was with
numerous shark encounters, including the rather tame white and black tip reef, the grey,
the very moody silky and huge schools of hammerhead. But also always dolphin encounters,
which would play with us sometimes for hours...
Very occasionally we would be
invited for dinner by some fishermen who had caught a turtle or shark and we thankfully
declined. Other rules apply here, a different culture, where generosity and
honesty and friendship are the parameters that determine a mans value and not, no, by no
means his money. This never comes into the equasion. Sudan is amazing. The north
Sudanese coast has multiple indentations, almost fjord like formations which enable you to
anchor up to 15 km inland yet still among coral reefs and white sandy beaches. Yet this is
mainly flat water sailing and therefore the Maui Project Style came in very handy. We
would shoot up and down the various bays and sometimes venture out of the mouth, generally
a very narrow inlet only too concerned of the sharks that prevailed here. But especially
here the swell generated by 1000km of strong northerly breezes would beat upon the
delicate coral and peel across the reef cliff for miles and miles.
The central Sudanese coast bears beauties such
as Mesharifa Island and the Telat Islands where the chance of windsurfing with mantas is
100%. Likewise, we were often accompanied by dolphins, shooting about in front of
the tip of our boards, coming so close sometimes that their erratic tail wagging
would create enough turbulence to cause a spin out. Southern Sudan boasts numerous islands
that are uninhabited and covered in green mangrove trees, quite a change from the desert
like northern Red Sea. Here though, the immediate coast is to be avoided as the military
which is in constant alert due to the ambiguous relation to Eritrea can be quite
distasteful, as we experienced:
Upon entering Trinkitat Harbour, a Sudanese
navy craft immediately embarked upon us and the 10 gentlemen aboard, armed to the teeth
with kalasnikovs wanted to board us. A privilege I promptly refused, much to their dismay.
They then refused us permission to anchor in their bay, only preceded by another daunting
occurrence of them ramming us. Fortunately, their bow hit our dinghy and this acted as a
very large fender, propelling us forward in one massive leap. After initial apologies, we
were obliged to stay the night, something we were to regret as that night, without any
prevail, a Haboob launched itself upon us. The Haboob is a local south Sudanese
sandstorm that blew from the desert for 3 days, covering us in a thick layer of
dust with outside temperatures reaching 50 degrees and no place to hide. We left after 3
days, with a visibility of no more than 2 meters and trusted our GPS to guide us the
narrow coral minefield that barred the entrance.
Eritrea has an archipelago of
230 Islands just off the coast and opposite Massawa. Most have fantastic sandy beaches and
are swept by the northerly winds in summer and southerly in winter. Although the summer
winds are light, generally 10 to 15 knots, they are ideal for large sails and kitesurfing.
The only problem is the heat and Eritrea is the hottest country in the world.
Daytime temperatures reach 55 degrees at 90% humidity and up to 35 degrees water
temperature. It was almost to warm to swim in it, so we took our surfboards out and went
for a paddle instead... Our watermaker was running non stop just to supply enough drinking
water to handle the heat. Our bodies didnt and after coming out in all sorts of
rashes and warts, we ventured through the pirate infested waters of Bab el Mandeb and
south Yemen, eventually arriving in Aden.
Our trip should have taken us across to the
Maldives yet the elements were against us and the north Indian Ocean is no joke,
especially in a tropical depression! With winds consistently at 40 knots from the east and
swells reaching 7 meters, Rhapsody was taking serious strain, the centreboard starting to
crack. The decision was made and we would turn around and head for El Gouna, the little
paradise where, in its immediate vicinity, conditions had been best. It took 2 months to
get back to the first fresh water hose and decent shower but the trip was just as
interesting as the one going south. Sailing here is like being alone on the planet. The
fish had become so abundant that fishing was a matter of 5 minutes every 5 days. One time
we caught a 40 kg yellow fin tuna and we would eat tuna for 8 days,
breakfast, lunch and dinner: sushi, sashimi, pepper coated, soya sauce, honey mustard,
bread crumbs, garlic, stir fry, ginger, coriander etc. We became very creative... The
virgin spots we had discovered remain vivid in our minds and, especially now where we are
back in the comforts of a secure environment, we are again yearning for a return
to the remoteness of the Red Sea!