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“This dream will therefore remain in myself, like a leaven of energy  – a source of warmth where, without knowing it, I will be able to have the strength to undertake and fight  – no matter the chimera, only its pursuit is worth it – if the fortune, let’s say , does not like the old man, it is because they have become incapable of believing in these chimeras - these mirages of the spirit - the young people, they always hope to reach them and pursue them with enthusiasm, they overthrow the obstacle, without taking the time to measure it, or fear it”            Henry de Monfreid         


                                                                                           From Suez to Suakin    



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Night fell in Port Suez and an old man who Diego had spoken with came up to me- He was in his fish boat with a huge bulge covered by blankets - "Madam, Madam, where is my husband?" he asked me, and of course it sounded very comical - "My husband?", I ask, “Yes, yes” I informed him that the husband, his or mine, had left- He made me glimpse his cargo: he was carrying 200 liters of diesel that he intended to get on my boat without the police seeing us, since it was not legal- We had no choice but to ask help to that old fisherman, since the diesel station of the port was empty and that it was impossible to enter diesel to the marina with police control at the entrance-There followed a somewhat absurd scene, in which I tried to climb the gigantic oil drums with the help of both the spinnaker pole and the winch-  The old man was braking his back trying to help me from his unstable boat - I did not stop telling him to care his back while he realized the uselessness of the whole maneuver, and above all the absolute lack of discretion- At last I heard a voice behind me,  another man that Diego had spoken to - He asked me for permission to get on board - "Madam, I hope you understand this is not legal, you have to be fast- let me help you" - I did not hesitate to accept and from there my only participation was to tell both men to take care of their backs, which caused them a lot of fun-


           Early in the morning, Diego and I stay for a while sitting at the old dock, looking at the sea almost without seeing it- Everything was ready to go but we still wondering- -Since Greek we had found a sailors couple to navigate together from Suez to Tanzania-That option gave us quiet calm- They traveled to Cairo while we were sailing to Egypt- But when we arrived to Suez, the couple said to us that they could not come- Her family got afraid about the piracy risks and beg to her not to travel- Her couple decided to stay with her- Our next route will be by far the longest and hardest we have ever done- The sea could be big, the weather forecast access will not always be possible, the currents, the easy way that wave get big in the red sea, the hard Strait of Perim dreaded by the most old sailors, the endless Gulf of Aden, the enormous quantity of cargo- We have decided to jump into the route, with no much knowledge and with the boost that characterize us- We have found extra crew to ease with the most difficult problem we could face, the fatigue- The night watches divided in four means an incomparable rest- And that means not solo night watches too- From that moment, won´t be more ports with water pipes neither diesel pumps- The 500 kilos of water to refill the deposit should be made by the sweat of brow,  in jerry can transported in our row boat dinghy- Same with the 340 liters of diesel - But all this issue we did not suspect yet - It always seems to me useless to consider the problem in details that could arrive in the future: from far away always look like unbeatable, but when once is in facing the situation is possible to find the way to cope with it -                                                                                                                                                            


            Sharing some "mate" ( Argentinean tea) with Diego, we verbalized the idea about taking much care with the mood aboard, that could get worsen with the tiredness- We think also to set very clear the watches schedule, to talk gently each other, to not ask to the children to join the sailings activities and to thank them for helping – I took care about cooking- This is something that gives encouragement and it is fundamental to be good- After this short exchangewe got silent again- we were sittingone beside the other, looking at this crazy route that we have in front of u- Its tooks us maybe ten minutes of silence to decide to continue in any case-    


"Tortuga Vessel Tortuga Vessel Tortuga Vessel", I grab the radio, I answer, always amused and delighted to hear the name of my ship in the VHF, with such diverse accents- I am absorbed by the landscape, by the excitement of entering into the Gulf of Suez, in the waters of the Red Sea, trying to guess the sandy shores in my bow, saying goodbye to the shores of Egyptian village to my stern - "Yes?" "Tortuga vessel, a very big cargo boat is behind you, please take care" "Ok" I answer, not knowing what I am supposed to do- One minute later, again they call me on the radio "Tortuga, you are in the middle of the cannel, please, move out"-           

           I look at the map then, and indeed I am in the middle- I get a laugh, and change course- The big ship passes, and then another- I look forward to the moment when we leave the gulf, to join the presence of those giants to port side and the oil platforms to starboard - Big jellyfish appear, the children are very excited- Mae observes that the sea smells different, and that it is saltier - The autopilot that we had repaired in Egypt works, and the crew is relaxed - we arrived from Greece only a week ago, and between loading the boat and the visit to Cairo, there was not much rest - But we know that this sea will offer us our first break- Port Suakin, Sudan, is at 800 miles ahead, with a bearing wind-The sailboat is provisioned with rich fruits- And the fact of entering this long-awaited sea has us radiant with joy- -                  


Oiuna read the text of an enciclopedia to her dolls


El Golfo de Suez


Maé fishing for squid during the night and prepares them in the morning-

                    When we finally leave the gulf, the wind blows, constant, from behind - The cargo boats are far, dolphins show up and go with us for a long time- We have not known that in the Mediterranean Sea; a constant wind, day and night, day after day- The sails balance is found, and the boat goes alone- On board, rich meals, readings and studies, games- I begin to read Henry de Monfreid, a French adventurer and sailor who lived and sailed the whole red sea a century ago;


los delfines que acompañan a la Tortuga 

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One day with more winds and waves than the others, our automatic pilot breaks again- From there, and for the coming thousands miles someone always have to be at the tiller. Something that will mean a tiredness that we never imagine.                                                                                                                                                 One night  two catamarans over pass us with Italians on board, they are skippers who take those boats to the Seychelles- They greet us by radio, they make jokes to us, they pass us, they go fast with the engine- They said us that wait for us with a wine- We will meet them again during the trip, and somehow it bring some warm to us, not to make the route so lonely-

From Suakin to South of Sudan

We knew that Suakin was our last stop with internet to see the weather forecast, before heading, more or less against the wind toward the Perim Strait (Bab el Mandeb), famous for being very hard, sometimes impossible- And given the number of miles that separated us, the weather would surely change a little. The Italians and an old Frenchman who lived there on his sailboat for the last 18 years, an admirer of Monfreid, were of the opinion that there was a window 7 day ahead that we could not miss it _ Then for 24 hours the wind would subside and it would be possible to pass. We decided to leave a day earlier, to stop in South Sudan 24 or 48 hours – The wind was very strong coming from our port side and we moved fast even though it was not very comfortable given the large waves that came from the bow- The waves passed us over and I had my arms white of salt- The dolphins accompanied us, very playful with the waves, jumping and throwing themselves into the white foam-     


arriving to Suakin, Sudan


Suakin market


Mae finds out about the lures that work in the area


With Surya, the mint tea seller invites us daily, with an infectious enthusiasm


goat meat cooked on hot stones


OIuna make friendship with local kittens


the only way to fill our water tank--- 


fishing boat, with a sail...a poem

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We sail all day and all night- When dawn came we wanted to turn towards land- A land that we knew was there but that was not glimpsed yet– A land protected by sand banks, where the sea was tamed between islets. When turning the genoa flew out of control, the sheet got stacked, and, having lost the possibility of piloting the ship, watching the battle of Diego in the bow I started the engine which made a strange noise and stopped. We had sailed eight days from Suez to Suakin, the autopilot had broken, the wind pilot did not work with those winds and seas, and we were 24 hours at the tiller-  The stop in Suakin had been very short- Since we had perceived a small window to pass the Bab el Mandeb strait and the locals had told us that such a clement time at this moment was not common- Besides, those stops with comings and goings rowing in dinghy to the coast, carrying hundreds of liters of water, food and diesel— Diego, clouded with exhaustion, told me that it had probably twisted the stern tube and that we had to set sails back to Suakin. I was surprised, it was as if he did not think clearly, and it seemed obvious to me that it was the lack of rest- I observed that perhaps there was only something stuck in the propeller, and that he would have to go and see- Fatigue, in this long journey, has undoubtedly been the greatest danger- Diego tied himself up and despite the waves threw himself into the waters:  In fact, the genoa sheet was trapped in the propeller- The danger discarded- Finally we head the bow towards land-         

Then it came the wind from land- It carried that aroma of salt, iodine and oysters from the Red Sea, but in the background it contained a wonderful perfume, the perfume of a land that cannot be described, that cannot be covered, but we can speak of its smell; it is an aroma that intoxicates, that enters through the skin and fills it with happiness, well-being, a perfume that is a delight, and a charm, that attracts the traveler to the land, promising him rest;              

We went between islets, even with the GPS on always someone at the bow watching- The passage was narrow and shallow- Soon, the influence of the sea was no longer felt, there were no more waves- The camels, indifferent, watched us pass over that improbable shores-  We threw the anchor, to the shelter of everything, fascinated by the spectacle that was offered to us- It was two immensities that meet- The inhabited air of the silence of the desert expanded on the solitude of the sea- It was a different breeze- It was loaded with the slow movement of the dunes, and the relentless sun- This landscape had never been imagined by me- Never thought- The slow dunes, the shudder of the sand, lost in sight over the sea- The Sahara dunes strewn with giant shells that contained the song of the sea-The children got the dinghy to go to the shore- They back some hours later with bright in the eyes and treasures in the hands- Meanwhile, in the cloudy water, Diego was scratching the hull to get rid of all seaweeds and mollusks-


In the morning we went out, and we went even deeper into those waters, into the absurd search for a telephone signal to check the weather forecast- The man who appeared on that desert island among the other islands, with his piece of cloth as skirt and his turban in his hair, that man, yes, I had imagined-  The scrawny old man who makes signs to us and who takes us to his scarce shadow that is also his ranch, his woman, with wrinkled skin, a beautiful skin, which looks like wood worked by a sculptor, which looks like the dunes, the face carved by some ritual, the same deep lines that the woman had in Suakin- some goats around, fish meat and snails drying in the sun, flies, goat's milk- With a few gestures we understand that they thank God, that they have some health problem, the demand for sugar- We do not have sugar, but we give them other things-Lentils, rice, oat---           


La TOrtuga, dese el islote central de Khor Nawarat


The footprints, the slow steps, the ruins of a village that no longer exists, the water well, described in the texts of Monfreid-  The man who kisses our hands and watches us boarding our ship- All that yes, could be in me- Nevertheless the Sahara desert, that release this wind carrying solitudes over the sea, it is nature again,  that amaze me, astonish me - I would like to stay days, imbibing myself with that truth- But it is time to leave that space out of the world, to arrive on time and pass the Strait of Perim while the winds permit us- We know that a very hard transition awaits us out there- The waves, the wind, the struggle with the sea, we have to face the Bab el Mandeb, the strait of tears- How vain it is crying in the sea-

Bab el Mandeb

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Tortuga makes its way over the sea / The moon left, a while ago, and the sky was filled with stars - And in the water the seedling shines at each wave that we descend - We continue facing the wind and the sea, both concentrated, taking care of our hours of watches and rest, every three hours- The Strait of Perim was a serious and feared thing - We knew that in case the wind did not let us pass, we could not seek refuge behind the Hanish Islands, or in land: Eritrea was in a war situation and sailor are not welcome-    I have been told sometimes that I did not know fear- It is not that we do not know fear- It is that, when it appears, I go towards it until it dissolves like the smoke- I cannot bear to feel that a fear paralyzes me, so I do not listen to it. Fear is not, in me, an argument to stop or turn around-

Anyway, the wind was blowing totally against us, and we could not delay too long in making endless boards to advance a few miles- We decided to put engine combined to the sails- On the second night, Diego's voice woke me up- For some time now, I can recognize the way he calls me "Anna" during his guards if it is a need for technical help,  an emergency, a changing of the guard or a concern- Depending on the tone, I leave the dream with more or less speed, with more or less adrenaline- There, the Anna left no doubt: there was a problem- I got up immediately with my mind clear, Diego looked at me anguished- "We are running out of diesel"- That was serious- We could not even begin to consider passing that strait without diesel- That was the first time since we left Spain that we used the engine We have no much idea how many liter consume in different weather conditions- We estimate that we have fuel enough to do about 18 miles- Diego proposed to enter Eritrean territory,  and ask for help by radio- For me, it was not an option- I observed that there was an anchored cargo 17 miles to the east, but outside the territory of Eritrea- It was British- I proposed to Diego to bet our last engine miles on that cargo, and Diego changed course- I needed to sleep, exhausted and crushed also by the tension-  When I went to bed I had a dream, I dreamed that a dolphin came on board, with a sailor's hat on, to give us a hand- I woke up calmly, a dream with a dolphin meant that they would help us- I transmitted it to Diego (I do not know if it had much effect on him), and I continued sleeping more relaxed-

When I got up early we were arriving at the side of the cargo, and we communicated by radio- I explain them the situation and they explained that they had to wait for the offices in London to open, but that they were sure they would help us – Actually, I was sure too-They had a small boat moored behind and we moored to that ship- We were greeted by the captain, Englishman,  together with a man from Kenya and another from Sri Lanka - All adorable and smiling - "With two children and a cat on board, said us the captain, do not doubt that we will help you" -


tying Turtle to the small boat tied behind the cargo-


The cargo crew comes to help us

We understood that they rented the service of armed men to pass the Gulf of Aden, classified as a risk zone of piracy- A century ago, when Monfreid was sailing in these seas looking for pearls or transporting hashish, the British do also business with weapons- In the tense situation that we were, we decided to focus in the positive side: Diego could sleep meanwhile i cooked some crepes, and we got the weather forecast too- You have to think quickly in an unexpected situation in the benefit that might offer you to catch the opportunities and transform the moment- We took advantage of the hours of waiting to cook, do some school, rest- They brought us the printed forecast _  The news was good, the window had run for a day-  We would arrive in time to pass-  At 11am, we had diesel in the tank, and we continued our course - We passed the strait without problems, I inhabited by the stories of Monfreid, observing that passage and the lands of both countries - After the experience of diesel, I see the cargo boats in a different way- I think that behind those steel monsters there are humans, and for the first time I decided to communicate with them on the radio to ask them to take care of us. As long as a cargo had not changed its trajectory within four miles from us, I called them by the radio, I greeted them and they answered me 4 times over 5 with a kind voice- Then we observed that the course of the position changed slightly, to pass away from us- Even those who did not answer changed course- We even cross all the corridor to do a shortcut to Djioubouti, passing in between two islet with whale shape- There, where the birds gathering to fish, and the turtles to lay eggs and where Monfreid found a fisherman without canoe, almost dying- The survivor was cheated by some boat of deserters who transport  African people to fight in Europe in 1914-                       


No longer having an autopilot, and with currents and winds preventing us from using the wind pilot, someone had to be at the  tiller, 24 hours a day, for thousands of miles-

It would not have been the same, traveling without Monfreid books and his texts - After leaving the place of Khor Nawarat,  I found in his sentences a word: "It is a space impossible to imagine"- He also talked about the crickets, the stories of the islets - a hundred years later I meet him again in the sea - That reading was essential for me in these places - it opens the doors of the shores that I barely glimpse - I sink into the Red Sea a hundred years ago, and I fill the coasts with adventures and legends - But it is also amazing and somewhat magical to rediscover the nature he describes, immute, identical- the closed islets, with their deserts on the murky and calm waters, the smell of iodine in the sea, and that aroma, unmatched, of peace and happiness of its coast - the winds, and the waves - the semi-naked nomads with their mollusks drying in the sun and even the crickets accompanied by fearsome legends whose sound song accompanied us during the passage of Bab el Mandeb- I navigate through its clumsily written pages, - he is forgiven for the clumsiness, of course - he was not a writer, but a sailor and an adventurer, and I thank him for sharing-        


La Tortuga, en los parajes de Khor Nawarat

By the way, Monfreid writes about the permanent struggle between intuition and reason that inhabits humans, between Sancho and Don Quixote- and the idea of the mind that fights with arguments against certainty in the irrational- It is true that all humans have these internal struggles and many of us have tendency trying to silence intuition, or to not be able to listen it anymore-  What beauty,  what joy and poetry, when it is Don Quixote who advances- 

With love, Anna

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