Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Red Sea

The coast of Sudan is all coral reef with lots of individual reefs within 5 miles from shore. The Red Sea is known as one of the best places in the world for scuba diving. This also makes for challenging sailing and anchoring. Only a very few of the reefs offshore were high enough above sea level to provide any protection for anchoring so we didn’t anchor at any of them. We anchored in bays called “Marsas”. We have never seen anything like these elsewhere in the world. They were small bays that formed naturally on the coast with a narrow pass through the coral and then opened up into a usually very strange shape bay (like a spastic starfish, or a Loch Ness Monster). We would weave our way through the coral pass and then drop anchor in beautiful clear water once we found a spot that didn’t have coral on the bottom. These Marsas were totally protected from the waves on all sides which was good because every time we stopped, we were usually stuck there for 3 - 7 days waiting for the next weather window.

Most of the time, we never got off the boat because it was so windy that we would get soaked going to shore in the dinghy only to get pelted by sand and dirt being blown off the desert which would stick to our wet clothes and make mud. We had to keep our mouths closed so that we didn’t swallow too much dirt. We won’t have to get our teeth cleaned any time soon because we had our teeth sandblasted.

While anchored in the Marsas, I did take the opportunity to go snorkeling. The coral was the best colours I have seen in a long time. Vibrant pink and purple and blue. I love to find coral that is about a foot from the surface of the water and then let the current take me over top so that I am really close to the coral and I can see amazing details that I miss when I am even 3 feet away. I have done this many, many times and love it but I eventually discovered the disadvantage of this system. As I was floating along one day, enjoying the coral 1 foot below me, I floated over top of the biggest moray eel I have ever seen. His head was the size of my bicep. I have no idea how long he was since only 1 foot of him was sticking out of his hole. He followed me with his head (full of teeth) as I floated over top but I guess he didn’t feel threatened since he let me pass without so much as a warning. Perhaps I should re-think this snorkeling strategy.

After a couple weeks of Marsa hopping the coast of Sudan, we crossed the Egyptian border. There is no line drawn in the sand but the big difference is the military presence. Every marsa was manned by the military. We were required to check in with them on the VHF radio and they would come out and check our papers. Surprisingly, they did not try to extort cigarettes or other things from us and we were so happy we gave them to them anyways. The first Marsa we entered in Egypt was right on the border and it had HUGE guns on shore and armored personnel carriers and bunkers in the sand. We were not allowed to go to shore (probably so we wouldn’t blow ourselves up) but we also weren’t allowed to go snorkeling. We were stuck in this Marsa for a whole week due to weather but luckily there were 4 other boats there so we would dinghy back and forth for coffee and to trade food supplies since we were all getting short of things. After about 5 days, a supply ship came in for the Navy ship (since the closest town was 40 km away) and we were able to get some tomatoes, potatoes and onions. It felt like Christmas.

After a week, we made our way to Port Ghalib, Egypt. The Cruising Guide said it was an Oasis in the desert. It looked like a mirage. After weeks of sand and dirt and mountains, all of a sudden there was a huge resort the size of a small city with gorgeous stucco buildings sticking up out of the desert surrounded by palm trees and gardens. We had not planned to stop there because we had heard it was outrageously expensive but the weather was about to take a turn for the worse so we headed in. As we wove our way in through the reef, we passed a sailboat high and dry on the reef who had apparently tried to sail in two months ago and crashed.

The resort is primarily for European scuba divers but there is also a small marina. The cost of the berth at the marina was not too bad ($25/night) but we chose not to eat in the restaurant or buy anything at the resort. We did however take full advantage of the pool and showers and stretched our legs walking around the resort and seeing how “the other half” lives.


Anonymous Pam and Bev said...

Wow Nancy and Steve, you MADE IT to the Red Sea. I remember us talking about it years ago - every diver dreams of seeing the Red Sea. I'm glad you got to see those colours and critters that don't exist in the caribbean (let alone at Tobermory).

5:57 AM  

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