Sailing Saudi Arabia
We were on our Red Sea passage from Djibouti to Egypt and we continued to debate two optional stops:
1) Eritrea, which is not very well developed from sailing perspective, and noonsite.com advised not to go.
2) Sudan, Swakin or Suakin reported to be friendly, very basic, with cheap fuel - at least that was my impressions after reading all the information I could find on Red Sea Route Compendium, Noonsite, and later Red Sea Passage Facebook group.
We were traveling 3 boats since Socotra and we all decided to do our best and go directly to Egypt. And that would save us at lest $500 USD for all the check in/out and agent fees in Sudan.
Indian Ocean Passage thought us importance of checking the currents, in addition to the winds, and we noticed that on the Eastern side of Red Sea the currents are more favorable for traveling north.
In the middle of our passage we were a bit disappointed - winds were picking up and we were beating into them. We would be facing a very slow and uncomfortable passage, but anticipating this, Zatara, our buddy boat, and us - Aquarius took on additional diesel in Djibouti. When Departed Djibouti we had 860 Lt aboard, more than we ever had for any previous crossing. The entire trip up the Red Sea we motored, or motor sailed, plus we ran one AC unit in the front cabin as the heat was unbearable; even water temperature was 94F or 34.5C. We thought we had enough fuel to get to Port Ghalib, still we were starting to get a bit uneasy with our fuel consumption knowing that the winds would remain on the nose, and the winds were forecasted to only increase.
Our buddy boat Zatara asked what info we have for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, we found little information on KSA from our sources, and according to Noonsite - Saudi Arabia was said to be very expensive, and very complicated.
We did have one data point from a delivery captain we met in the Maldives. He was sailing a Tyana 54 and she was dismasted and lost her engine and the captain was “lucky” enough to be towed into Jeddah. We wrote him on our SatPhone to ask about stopping in Jeddah…. He wrote back… Stay Away!
But Keith from Zatara kept working his channels, getting more information, and finally he informed us that we both would be welcome in Jeddah Yacht Club for couple of days to wait out the winds. The winds were forecasted to be more manageable in about 5 days.
We were happy and relieved - happy for the unique opportunity to stop in a country that only a handfull of cruisers had ever stopped, and relieved that we would no longer have to beat into the wind and waves for the next 4-5 days.
As we were about to enter Saudi Arabia, we sailed close to the coast and our phones with Google Fi sim cards connected, and therefore we were able obtain our Saudi e-Visas. Then we were greeted by Harbor Master and Jeddah Yacht Club sent a boat to greet us and show us the entry as the marina was still under construction.
As we arrived we were stunned: Jeddah Yacht Club was beautiful - all brand new next to the Jeddah Formula 1 track. The Jeddah Formula 1 goes off every March. The marina was surrounded by nice shops, restaurants, beautiful promenade near by, and the hospitality was incredible. We were just speechless - greeted by 7 people and gifted a huge box of Donuts. We had to pinch ourselves to make sure we are not dreaming. At night Marina looked like a modern scenery of Arabian nights - lights, music, lasers, people mingling… Wow!
We were helped by Jeddah Yacht Club staff - taken to Immigration and then for dinner, and shopping… We even got to go to IKEA and get all the things we been needing and not able to buy for almost 9 months!
After the initial surprise, we thought it was just a grand welcome for impression, but staff were so friendly, helpful and welcoming - they soon became our good friends. We went scuba diving together, dinners and they made sure we got everything we needed if it was available in KSA. Unbelievable!
Our unscheduled five night stay quickly turned into a month at the Jeddah Yacht Club. We also took the time to fly to Riyadh for a short 4 night visit to KSA’s capital city. Well, after a month, it was time for us to leave for Egypt as my mom had previously bought tickets to visit Aquarius in Egypt. It was bitter sweet to leave now our friends and this lovely place. And even more - again, thanks to our friends on Zatara we were the first foreign flag sailboats to cruise Saudi Arabia’s coastline, stopping in beautiful anchorages and diving on their prestine reefs… After all it’s the same Red Sea, famous for it’s underwater life…
We had such a good time… and as we checked out from Yanbu Port we met another group of very friendly officials, who took the best care of us…
As we left in dark and turned towards Port Ghalib we kept talking how happy we were with this unforgettable
semi-emergency stop in Saudi Arabia… As we shared our experiences on our YouTube channel we got lots of inquiries from other sailors, but we still not sure what conditions it will be but I can ensure you - sailors are very welcome in Jeddah Yacht Club and if you thinking to stop there, please do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. As far as I know they work hard to come up with a sailor friendly package for Red Sea Cruising stop.
Meanwhile we will keep these sweet memories - what an experience! And look forward to see our new found friends in Lebanon, Morocco or somewhere else!