Life is full of Surprises.  A delivery job has popped up, delivering a ship from Bahrain to Trieste in Italy.

As I am in the area, its an easy hop from Dammam in Saudi to Bahrain, I have accepted the job and have changed my plans for return to New Zealand.

The drive across the causeway from Saudi Arabia was a first for me.  Some years back I drove from Bahrain to Saudi across the causeway, but I have never done the reverse trip.

Heading onto the Causeway. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Heading onto the Causeway. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

 The border crossing is an artificial island in the centre of the causeway.  Entry formalities into Bahrain are simple, the friendly immigration official issued me a visa for two weeks and welcomed me into Bahrain.

Approaching the Saudi Boarder Crossing. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Approaching the Saudi Boarder Crossing. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

I first stopped in Bahrain as a cadet when flying out to Singapore to join a ship.  The airport was not much more than a hut at that time.  But one thing I remember is that there was a fish tank (couldn’t call it an aquarium) in the waiting area.  It was the first time I had seen tropical fish in a tank – a goldfish was exotic in England at the time.

In 1974 I visited Bahrain again and lived there occasionally when working offshore Saudi Arabia.  At that time Bahrain was the jewel in the Gulf, an informal place you could relax with friendly people.  We used to have a wonderful time, eating, drinking, swimming and parties, a great social life among the expat community.

Now I am struggling to find old landmarks and recognise the place.  The pace of development, building and roading has masked the Bahrain of old.  But, from what I have seen so far, the relaxed and informal atmosphere remains, all the people I have met seem happy and friendly.

I am now perched up fifteen floors in a new hotel overlooking the American naval Base and Harbour.  Although I can’t see much detail as there is a lot of sand in the air making it hazy.

View from Hotel Bahrain.Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
View from Hotel Bahrain.Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

Soon I will be preparing for a new voyage ahead.  Once again through pirate waters, then up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal.  The weather for the trip should be good and the Mediterranean warm and calm at this time of year.  The rest of the crew should arrive in a day or two – I wonder who they are?


The trip from Rotterdam down the English Channel was quite nostalgic – we passed the old familiar headlands of North and South Foreland, Dungeness and Beachy Head.  Pre GPS, these were significant navigational marks, committed to memory – now they are just names on the chart for the majority of large commercial ships.

The weather was typical winter channel weather, grey overcast, cold and a decent sea running.  There is no heating on the ship as its destined to operate in a warm climate, watches on the bridge are chilly affairs with only a small portable heater to supply warmth.

Delivery RouteAfter three days we are clear of the channel and heading across the Bay of Biscay.  Its still cold and the Bay is giving us a bit of rock and roll – but not too bad and I have certainly had worse crossing the Bay of Biscay.  The ship has now switched from Diesel to heavy fuel for the main engines as we are out of the European Emission control area.  With each mile I imagine the temperature will rise as we get further south, but it remains cold.

Passing down the coasts of Spain and Portugal are now longer scenic affairs.  The modern traffic routing splits the north bound and south bound ships into lanes and separation schemes.  The southbound lane is now so far offshore that land, when you can see it, is just a distant smudge on the horizon.

After a week we reach the Straits of Gibraltar early in the morning for a spectacular sunrise.  The weather is a bit warmer now and the sea has calmed down for the first time.  At Gibraltar we are sending a service technician, who has been on board for the trip down from Rotterdam, ashore.  We slow down to rendezvous with a service boat coming out from Gibraltar.  The transfer only takes a few minutes and we are back up to speed an on our way again.  I look back at Gibraltar slipping astern and wish I could go ashore for a few hours.

The Mediterranean Sea turned on a strong northerly wind.  We had a nasty bumpy ride and rolled all the way along the North African coast.  People think of the Mediterranean as being sunny and calm – in winter it can be an unpleasant place.

The evening arrival at Port Said to transit the Suez Canal was the usual chaotic event.  Lots of ships calling on the VHF radio and everyone fighting to be first.  Luckily, we didn’t have to anchor and joined the early morning convoy.  As this is the ships first Suez transit there is a mountain of paperwork to complete.  As we enter the canal the pilot boards.  Followed by the agents, boatmen and their boat, canal electrician with his light and security personnel.  We also receive additional security equipment for the piracy areas ahead, which must be loaded with the ships crane.  A period of very intense activity before we can settle down to the canal transit.

Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson Yacht Truce
Entering Bitter Lake Photo Ray Penson

At the Bitter Lakes we anchored for a few hours to allow a northbound convoy to pass.  The weather is warm at last and its flat calm.  A very welcome rest and time to catch up on sleep before we head off again.

A few hours later, in the small hours we reach the pilot station at Suez.  Here we disembark our Egyptian visitors and their equipment and pick up a security guy who will be with us as we pass the piracy area.  Finally, with a sense of relief the canal is behind us, we can head down the Red Sea with the first 3,400 miles behind us.

Our next stop will be at the bottom of the Red Sea to pick up two more security personnel and their arms.  Until then it looks like we will have good weather for a few days with following winds for a change.  So nice to be warm again and switch the portable heaters off.


Approaching Gibraltar from the Mediterranean side in the early morning is always a special occasion.  As you get closer the rock rises above the horizon and features become visible and the Europa Point light house provides a reference for entering Gibraltar Bay.  Many generations of British Sailors must have felt relief in the past on sighting this Bastion of the British Empire and the shelter it provided.

Gibraltar Europa Point
Gibraltar Europa Point

As we approached closer, the Gibraltar Vessel Traffic Services informed us we were turn two for a pilot behind a large tanker.  Impatient and not wanting to be stuck behind a lumbering tanker I asked if we could speed up and get ahead of the tanker.  The pilot agreed and we rounded Europa Point at full speed to pick up the pilot.  Forty minutes later we were safely tied up alongside the bunker berth.

My first visit to Gibraltar was as a cadet during my first trip to sea. Gibraltar was then a very different place, full of sailors and British forces personnel, a wild and bawdy place, quite exciting for a teenager. Now the main street is populated with tourist shops, some of the pubs and bars still exist but the customers are quite well behaved now.

On the way into the berth I noticed we had to pass three very noticeable yachts.  The first being ‘Ice’, owned by Finnish car driver, the second, ‘Maltese Falcon’ a unique automated square rig sailing vessel and finally the massive and so good looking, ‘Eclipse’ owned by a Russian who owns a football club in London.  Little was I to know at the time but I had to
shift berth a further three times in close proximity to these mega yachts, something I managed to do without bumping into any of them!

Yacht Eclispe Gibralter. Photo Ray Penson
Yacht Eclipse Gibraltar. Photo Ray Penson

The stop in Gibraltar was for bunkers and to sort out some technical issues.  The trip through the Mediteranean turned up some minor technical problems that we wanted to sort out before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. By morning we were bunkerd and our on board systems tested OK and running well.  We ordered a pilot for 11:00 and prepared to depart.  I just had time to get a taxi up to the local supermarket and pick up some HP Sauce
and Frank Coopers thick cut English Marmalade, with these essential food items on board I was ready for the North Atlantic.

The pilot joined us at 11:00 and we let go to head out the harbour, as we headed for the breakwater the pilot jumped off after cheerily telling me to leave everything to port.  We headed down the bay, turned into the westbound traffic lane and by lunchtime heading into the Atlantic.  So ended a hectic 24 hours and now we get settled back into sea routine for another 11 days before arriving in St Johns.