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Ocean outlook: Red Sea, Caribbean, Atlantic, Mediterranean

by Noonsite 1 Sep 05:53 PDT
Red Sea ©

Red Sea:

It seems Port Said, in Egypt (north of the Suez Canal), is still best-avoided as reports come in from cruisers who have cleared into Egypt there. Not only are the yacht club moorings greatly affected by the wash of traffic leaving the canal, but you are likely to be charged whatever the numerous officials think they can get away with.

Also in Egypt, the Suez Canal Authorities have decreed that from 15 September, 2023, any yacht that wishes to transit the Suez Canal directly without stopping as usual at the Ismalia Yacht Club, must pay a lump sum of USD $5,000 regardless of tonnage (this type of transit can only be attempted if the yacht's speed is not less than 7 knots). Stopping at Ismalia Marina currently is free of charge as there are on-going construction and renovation works, so all yachts have to anchor. In the past, the cost of a night in the marina ranged between $18 and $25. A regular canal transit (2 days with an overnight stay in Ismailia) costs from $250 to $600, depending on the yacht's tonnage. See Suez Canal Transit info for more details.

SY Leeloawadee are heading south out of the Red Sea and report; "We left Djibouti on August 25th towards Socotra. All weather models are more or less wrong in this area. We stayed between the two traffic zones heading East. There are warships all over, even from China. A Japanese airplane flew over us one time checking in and contacted us on channel 16. We checked in daily by email to UKMTO and got a return message after minutes. A Spanish Frigate sent me an email with contact details of all officers on duty and asked me to contact them for any help or in case anything suspicious happened. We felt safe all the time and had no issues while under way in the Gulf of Aden."

Caribbean Sea:

Cruisers report dredging operations are under way in Little Bay, Montserrat (the port of entry), making anchoring very difficult and uncomfortable. The Montserrat Yacht Club report that this is part of the port expansion project which will eventually see a new protective breakwater, marina, port facilities and ferry port.

Two Caribbean countries, St. Lucia and Curacao, have now moved their Immigration forms online, which can be completed by all crew in advance. Both these countries use the online system SailClear, as well, for pre-arrival customs clearance.

Visiting the French Islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin etc. is probably the simplest clearance procedures you'll come across in the Caribbean. Customs clearance computers are widely spread in many locations and online clearance is quick and easy - normally for a nominal charge of just 5 euros. Plus, the baguettes and croissants are to die for! Remember, however, that departments of France all require you to clear out of one before sailing to another.

Hugh Scarth of SY White Pearl 1, points out that clearing out of Sint Maarten (the Dutch side of St. Martin) is best avoided in Great Bay where fees are absurdly high. "We had moved from from Simpson Bay to Great Bay in April, where we anchored for about 4 nights and then checked out from the office at the port. We were shocked to be told that the fee was going to be more than US$400. The fee is a multiple of the length of the boat, 16.6m, and the gross tonnage, 56 tons, times a base rate. This is far greater than Simpson Bay. The officer in Great Bay was very apologetic and gave us a cut rate. She explained that the fees are set by the port and not the national government. One would think that the fees would be the same at both ports. In contrast, the fees on the French side are €5!"

Due to low water levels at Gatun Lake resulting from the ongoing El Niño phenomenon, the Panama Canal Authority is only transiting an average of 32 vessels per day until at least September. While delays are substantial for larger vessels, yacht delays (un-booked transit) are in the range of 2 to 6/7 days. It is strongly recommended to check with your agent if you are planning to transit the canal soon.

The Caribbean Safety and Security Net (CSSN) have reported on a nasty incident that happened back in May to a sailboat on transit from Colombia to Panama. After choosing to overnight in a bay at Isla Tortuguilla - the only boat there - and locking up for the night, they were boarded at 2200 hours by several men with automatic weapons. Forced to open up, the men ransacked the yacht and then forced the crew ashore at gunpoint and held them hostage overnight. The next morning the crew were returned to their yacht and the men stole their outboard engine.


The Atlantic hurricane season is now in full swing. Hurricane Idalia is the ninth named storm to form in the Atlantic in 2023 and made landfall in Florida's Big Bend yesterday. On August 10, NOAA revised their estimate for the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season predicting 14 to 21 storms, which is up from the 12 to 17 named storms they forecast in their May 2023 outlook. There were 14 named storms in 2022 after two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (A record 30 named storms formed in 2020.)

The build up to the World Cruising Club's 2023 ARC season has begun with the first boats already arrived in Las Palmas Marina in the Canary Islands, positioning early for the November departures. Read WCC's summer update and August News.

This month orcas have begun their migration north around the Iberian peninsula, with yacht interactions reported off Northern Spain in the Gulf of Bizkaia off the Basque coast. In a change of behaviour, orcas have also been sighted inside the rias of the Rias Baixas for the first time in many years (in both Ria de Arousa and Ria de Vigo). A French yacht was intercepted by orcas in between the islands of Salvora and Ons (at the mouth of Ria de Arousa) in 60m depths on 19 August with limited damage.

Galicia has also seen Portuguese Man of War appear in their coastal waters in August, a very rare sight - some with tentacles as long as 5 metres. These jellyfish are common in tropical and sub-tropical open water, although in the last few years they have also been found around the Mediterranean coast. But why now in Galicia? Winds and currents play their part with many southerlies this summer on the Atlantic coast, plus sea temperatures are much warmer. There are also declining numbers of turtles who are their main predator.


An increasing number of orca interactions are also being seen in the Mediterranean east of Gibraltar, including one off Ceuta in Spanish North Africa and another near Marbella in southern Spain. This is more new behaviour by the orcas this year, as previously they have only been involved in incidents in Atlantic waters.

This past weekend the Spanish Balearics were shaken by strong storms and near-hurricane-force winds as the extreme heat over the Mediterranean begins to break down. A strong cold front, in conjunction with a rapidly deepening area of low pressure, led to severe thunderstorms racing through the islands towards Sardinia. Palm trees were toppled and boats broke loose as wind gusts of 66mph (106kmph) were recorded.

Nobody knows the Greek seas better than Rod and Lucinda Heikell, who have researched and produced pilot books, in particular the Greek Waters Pilot, for years. This excellent interview with them both in online magazine "Greece Is" demonstrates how Greece has held their fascination for so many years.

If cruising in Greece, don't miss this information pack for sailors by the Ionian Environment Foundation, with tips on sailing sustainably, in particular avoidance of anchoring damage to seagrass beds.

Wondering where to head for the winter in the Mediterranean? Check out our Wintering in the Med article which covers every possible bolt hole with links to reports from cruisers who have wintered there. Help us keep this current and useful by reporting where you spent last winter - just drop us an email or post a comment on the article.

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