Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dolphin Reef

Dolphin Reef
May 3, 2008
coordinates 24 10.157N, 035 40.521E

We departed from Ras Banas early in the morning when we awoke to the feeling of no wind. After so many days of consistent 25 to 35 knots it was a bit eerie. Traveling up the Red Sea is a bit like that game Red Light/Green Light that you played as a kid. Mother Nature is "it" and when she turns her back and fails to blow winds against you, you run like the dickens, when she turns back around and begins to throw her glances at you, you freeze right where you are and hope your not out. When she wasn't
looking we made our next dash up to Port Ghalib or Marsa Alam, but not before a quick stop in Dolphin Reef for one of supreme experiences of our entire lives. Mother Nature took a quick look at us and sent a bit more wind than we wanted to beat against so we took a quick stop in here and thank goodness for her.

As the name suggested, dolphins frequent this small bay created entirely out of submerged reef. No ground to stand on but very protected. We were fortunate that there was a large pod to numerous to count swimming within the boundaries when we dropped anchor, so we quickly donned out snorkel gear and took a swim with them. I do mean "with them". Scores of them were everywhere, calmly swirling around in only 20 - 30 feet of water. They didn't run away from us but they kept their distance initially.
As a smaller pods of them would pass by you a sentinel of sorts would break off to swim around you and check you out. They certainly were curious about us, but I don't think we are anything new to them as many, many boats stop in here and take a dive. I have heard though that some people have waited 4 days and never seen them so still we were feeling eternally blessed. It was nothing short of miraculous to watch them in their home, their own environment, no trainers, no tricks. Big ones, little
ones, mommies and babies, entire pods over us, under us, and we even had the great fortune to watch them mating. As two would begin their enticing dance together, two more would swirl around them, maybe to keep others away, we don't know. They would swim so close that we would swim with outstretched arms in hopes of just once, feeling that smooth rubbery skin but just as you were sure you were about to connect they would wiggle just out of reach. I swear they would look back at you with a twinkle
in their eye. But then it happened, as we each broke off from each other a bit in our snorkeling, nearly each person had the same experience of being encircled by 1 to 3 dolphins. As you held perfectly still, floating there they would swim tighter and tighter around you and then you realized they wanted to be touched. Our hearts began racing, as you held your hand out they continually ran their bodies under your touch, to be rubbed over and over like a cat rubbing against your leg. We could only
marvel at how comfortable they were with us and thank them over and over for the experience. It seemed to go on forever in that moment and we never wanted it to end. And then they moved on. When the adrenaline slowed it's flow did we only realize how long we had been in the water and just how cold we were.

We gathered ourselves up and back to the boats, pulled up anchor and as the sun set picked our way out of the coral to head on to our next destination, pinching ourselves all the way in hopes that what had just happened was not a dream.
until next time,
your Ohana Kai crew

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

First stop in Egypt

May 1, 2008
Ras Banas, Egypt
Coordinates 23 53.557N, 035 46.883E
Before heading into any new area we always do our reading and research on the best paths to follow, the best weather windows and such. Any such research regarding the Red Sea always contains some horrible stories regarding the terrible head winds of 25 to 40 knots and steep seas that sailors have ended up beating against. Hoping to avoid such a trip ourselves, when our grib files said there would be 4 days of little to no wind against us we took our opportunity and made a run for it. The up side
obviously means we make great time heading north; the down side would be that we are passing up a lot of opportunities to visit some amazing locations on land and blazing right over some beautiful waters for diving in.

We quickly left Suakin and marveled at our good luck with the weather. With light winds out of various directions over the next few days we were even able to sail a majority of this leg. We did take one quick lunch break to anchor on Jazirat Bayer coordinates 20 52.187N, 037 23.598E for a nice snorkel to view some coral, large schools of trigger fish, trevali and the occasional reef shark. Back underway to our next destination, all the boats in our fleet were quietly beginning to question the
decision to push ahead and pass these treasures up when the answer quickly arrived. The grib files were telling of the winds picking back up on the 28th but they arrived a day early. Luckily we only had a taste of 25 knots on the nose not 40. We bashed only a few hours that morning with the escort of dozens and dozens of dolphins and came to find refuge with a few other boats in a bay sheltered by the Ras Banas sand spit peninsula. Though we were hoping to make it a bit further north to Dolphin
Bay we ended up here, maybe for the better. We have heard that there is no land to stand on up there so we've been hunkered down here ever since. In fact, we have become pod people. Due to lengthy passages, weather or shore conditions, in the last 40 days we have only touched land approximately 14 times. Amazing when you realize just how small the living space is. It is a good thing we love our boats and love to spend so much time together. Our little vessel keeps us safe, sound and cozy.

Welcome to Egypt! The flat low lying sand magically makes it way to us over the water with such ease it's amazing. You can see the giant sand clouds form over the land and we are covered in fine brown silt. Everyone is trying to adjust with stuffed sinuses and a slight hacking cough. The water, though a bit cooler than farther south, is very clear and provides some nice snorkeling. And of course, since we are captive until the winds die again and we can make our way further north, make the best
of what you've got. Out came the wind surf board and kite surf gear! Vincent, Bart and Bruce have had a great time skimming the waters around the boats on their boards. Bart brought out little Soleil's wind surf board and each kid had a quick lesson. They popped up like daisies on the boards and took off. They are hooked. Looks like we will be purchasing more toys soon.
The kids, with the help of some local young military men posted out here, have also created some great sand castles. They had the opportunity, as budding archeologist, to dig up a partially exposed camel skeleton and try to recreate him. Our young military friends, though they speak nearly no English, got quite a lesson in anatomy as well.

So that's it. Our weather info claims that it will blow even worse tomorrow but then we may see a break come Saturday where we will try to make a push up to Port Galib. We have seen some beautiful lightning storms which make propagation not so hot for sending emails but slowly we get through. There are certainly worse places to be stuck.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


April 22, 2008
Suakin, Sudan
Coordinates 19 06.502N, 037 20.323E

It always amazes us when we turn a corner into a new country, town or anchorage and come to find a hugely developed civilization where we thought we would see primitive surroundings or run down ruins. Equally surprised, this time the opposite was true. We had heard and read from others that Suakin, Sudan was the place of choice to stop and check into the country. Ports of entry are usually fairly well built up with quite a few resources. Where we thought we might find a larger city we drifted
into a small, rather desolate town of Suakin. As you drift past flat dry desert plains dotted with occasional adobe or brick structures, we were excited to see the random camel walking or sitting by the waters edge. Mysterious ruins that originally were built out of coral blocks brought up from the sea floor by hand hundreds of years ago, have been left to decay. We were anxious to find the story behind these buildings in a town that is known to have been the last slave trading destination up
until WWI. We were sorely disappointed when their reply was simply, "They got old and fell down."

After a simple but slightly expensive check in, $360 USD including fuel, though the kids were free, we took a quick tour, dinner on shore and quickly came to love the feel of this simple and fairly impoverished town. The blazing heat both night and day and the wind storms have worked their magic over the town during the last few hundreds of years. Many buildings are simply left in piles of ruble and ruins until the next one is to be built. There were no trees or shrubs to speak of and only one
main road in this small corner of Sudan. Never fear though, technology has made its way here as evident by the cell phones that everyone is carrying. Even the oldest, most wrinkly little man we found could whip out his Motorola and show you his latest text message that was written in English!

Our first meal in Africa consisted of a bean dish (kidney or pinto) with cheese on top, slightly bitter and tasteless, salt helps. A whole chicken was $12 US, which was a bit rich for our budget. Instead we opted to simple bread similar to naan and a mystery meat on a stick cooked on an open flame. Enough of this tasty fare to feed 11 people for the low price. Including drinks which again as in every country has been coke or pepsi. The only thing that is found unanimously throughout the world
believe it or not followed only by plastic bags! The meat we ate that night was most likely to have been goat since they are the most prevalent animal to be seen around town besides the hundreds of feral cats, donkeys and occasional camel. Donkeys are the main source of transportation, carrying either men on their backs, or drawing carts behind them with a variety of goods including the water tanks for delivery from the Nile River we were told.
Matthew was our guide for the evening. With a name like Matthew we had to ask and yes, northern Sudan is 50% Muslim, 50 % Christian. We saw many many mosques in the less than 1 sq, mile that we walked but we never did see the other churches. We saw only one woman the first night and only a handful the next two days. Always dressed in full headdress but their faces were showing and their clothes were beautiful colors of purples, reds, and oranges, as well as black.
We visited the open market the next day where you can find just about any item of produce you might desire. Onions to oranges, beans to bananas, it was nearly all here depending on what you are willing to pay. The currency is a Sudanese pound with an exchange of 50 cents US to one of their pounds. 1 pound for 3 eggs vs. for 3 for an orange. We got eggs. 5 pounds for a watermelon and the goat meat, tasty looking though it was hanging out there in the dust, flies and sunshine was out of our price

A new acquaintance Awad was our self appointed guide for the day. Amazingly intelligent with a grasp of world geography and politics that would put most American's to shame; he enlightened us on many of their ways and helped with a lot of translating and trading. He is the town's local doctor and though we never could quite understand where he went to school, he certainly knew a lot about everyone and everything there. We spent a lot of time with the local shop smith of sorts. The shop smith
was diligently working on short daggers with handles made out of ebony wood. His shop had an array of whips, bridles and saddles made out of goat hair but built for camels. We were particularly interested in some very old long swords. A quick visit to a local tea house, we each tasted a new version of cappuccino. Tiny little porcelain cups that look like they should hold sake are filled ¾'s full with sugar. Next, the coffee or tea beverage made of cardamom, ginger and cloves that has been heated
in miniature aluminum watering cans is poured right over the sugar. Adding to the charm is the open flame charcoal fire inside the brick structured stove and tea house, in already 90+ degree heat, that has no way to vent to anywhere and the dish washing system run entirely by flies. It's a whole new flavor!

We always bring our cameras but have learned over the last couple of months to carefully hold it up first and ask if we may take some photos. It is often surprising who does and doesn't want a photo taken. And it never fails that if we forget to ask first, we get in trouble or at least certainly get the finger wag and a good talking to. Kelly girl will let you know first hand that photos of military buildings are off limits.

We topped off our stay there with an Arabian nights dinner and dance party on De Pelikaan. Each boat came in costume and together we celebrated the marvelous connections we have made and the memories we share. Once we get through the canal many of our paths will be separated as we each have different time schedules to keep on the other side and none of us wants to wait until it's too late to let the other know just how special they are to us.