Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Sudan - the last of the slave traders ... April 2008

Hai Mei Gui entering Suakin
13 - 26 April 2008

Here we are sitting in Suakin, Sudan, with Liam and Annie off Gone with the Wind waiting to leave but havent got our passports back yet from Immigration, and each minute we wait the northerlies are building. We are only planning on going 10 miles up the coast but still dont really want to bash into it so we will see what its like when we are ready. Had an interesting day yesterday, if we thought Massawa in Eritrea was a bit ramshakle you should see this place, basically the whole of Suakin is in ruins, the buildings were made of coral so eventually they just crumble, and crumbled they have!!!This used to be a very important port and goes down in history as the place the last boatload of slaves were sent from Africa to the US. There are a handful of cars here, mainly donkey and cart, dirt roads the odd camel, plenty of goats and lovely people. Most of the men wear the long white thobe and the women the very colourful wrap around that pretty much covers them all up, but its a pleasant change from the black in Oman and Yemen.

Time out for a coffee Sudanese style on the
Corniche in Port Sudan
Yesterday afternoon we caught the local bus about an hour north to Port Sudan. It is a long straight flat road through the sand, several settlements of what could only be called cardboard shacks, all looked somewhat bleak but most tidy and cared for. Port Sudan was alot bigger than we expected, very wide streets and some old colonial buildings in not too bad a shape. We went for a walk to the Port (cos it was over an hour since we had seen water!!!!) and sat on mats on the ground, drinking some rather good sweet coffee from one of 17 vendors on the Corniche (promenade), they have a little drum type fire permanently in the ground, with the big pots of water, tea and coffee bubbling away over coals. It was quite an experience. Then we wandered through all the streets and back to the bus station which at 5pm was a absolute hive of industry.

Downtown Suakin, hardly what you could call modern!!
After stopping for some fresh mango juice and spiced kebab meat chopped and mixed with tomato and herbs served in fresh hamburger type buns we went to find a bus back here. About 1/2hour later and still not being able to find a bus the 4 of us were deposited into a mini-minivan not actually sure of where we were being taken, just hoping we werent being kidnapped!!! All was well, one should have faith in Allah, as our driver took us to another bus station on the outskirts of town and we hopped onto the next bus home. It is just a two lane road and for some reason there were about 100 trucks backlogged and almost stationery, not to be deterred our driver simply drove down the wrong side for miles with some rather sudden breaking to squeeze between these big beasts, alternatively we went offroading into the desert sands to avoid oncoming traffic, one of the more action packed rides we have had, and happily we live to tell the tale!!!! Although the trucks werent marked as UN or were obviously carrying Aid we can only assume that that is what it all was, as there is almost zero industry here, maybe they were all headed for the Dafour region, many many miles away.

So we have our passports back now (but no Sudan stamp!!!) but the wind is up to 20knots so we are staying put and will leave at first light, which since our latest time change is now 4.30am eek!!! From here we do some marsa (reef) hopping up the Sudanese then Egyptian Coasts and according to those that have done this we should experience some of the best diving/snorkelling in the world. We have now moved out of the region of prevailing southerlies so will go as far as we can each time we have favorable winds - until we pop out into the Med.

The boys with their boats, ashore on
 Long Island in the Shubuk Channel
Another sunny day in Sudan. Yesterday we left from our anchorage north of Suakin and sailed up past Port Sudan out to the wreck of the Umbria, reputed to be the best wreck dive in the Red Sea. We picked up a mooring buoy and went for a snorkel over it which was pretty good as some of it is quite shallow so worthwhile doing, then we sailed out to a reef into an anchorage with GWTW and a couple of dive boats for the night. Today we sailed back into the coast and GWTW went up to another reef where Jacques Cousteau lived underwater for months observing hammerhead sharks and now they have joined us here at Marsa Fijab and we are going ashore soon to watch the sunset. There were camels on the beach when we came in but they have gone now. Tomorrow we will move again, trying to nibble away at the many miles we still have to go to get up the Red Sea. We were going to do an overnight tonight but all the boats ahead of us on the radio net this morning were getting 20-30knts on the nose so changed our minds.

We are just nibbling away at the miles each day, Taila Island was beautiful and we would have loved to stay longer but we are getting towards the end of the season, we need to keep going, onto Wreck Recovery Anchorage which we arrived into too late in the day and it was very difficult to see our way, we took it very slowly and were ok. On next to Kor Shinab another stunning spot with a lunar landscape, met up again with My Chance, Sandpiper and Shiraz, nice to see some more yachts again. We would have liked to spend longer here too but we had a good forecast so onwards we go. Next stop was Elba Reef with some excellent snorkelling through the pass, we arrived late in the afternoon but the light was still good enough and it was one of the better snorkels we have had so far up here. From here we will do an overnighter across Foul Bay (sounds ominous, can't wait)

Hello all from Egypt, we think this is our 17th country in the past 12months and the 9th since leaving Rebak, phew no wonder we feel pooped. Actually we do feel rather pooped, we left Elba Reef (best snorkeling since the Louisiades) just south of the Sudanese/Egyptian boarder at 6am yesterday with a very rare southerly forecast of 10-15knots and had a great sail in those winds and flat seas for about 3 hours, then it just built and built but luckily still from the south but peeked at 30knots with some rather lively seas to go with it. It started easing after dark and at 8pm just died for about 10 minutes then whamo, 20-25knots from the dreaded northwest just where we were headed. So we bashed into it all night motorsailing, changed our destination and are tucked up in Ras Banas, no cover from the wind but reasonably flat seas. Besides GWTW, 5 other boats have come in too so far, so we will now just sit and wait. Egypt doesnt look to have nearly as many anchorages that we can do as day sails unfortunately so might have to do some more overnighters to get us the 401 miles left to the Suez Yacht Club at the bottom of the canal. Still sounds quite a long way really, but we are getting there. Got in at 7am so have had a little sleep, snorkeling looks good but a little choppy at the mo. Afternoon at leisure I think, well it is Sunday!!!!

Sudan Anchorage Info:
Shatira Islet at Kor Nawarat
- 18 15.00N 38 19.33E 8.9m good holding. Entered through East Passage around noon. Excellent visibility, CMap ok. Watch for charted shoals
Reasonable snorkel on outside of reef between Shatira Islet and Farrajin Island.
Long Island in Shubuk Channel - 18 46.39N 37 39.47E in 5.5m. We arrived late in day, visibility poor. We encountered some patches shallower than charted and took it very slowly. A boat anchored a little further to the west of us outside a natural indentation in the island nudged some uncharted rocks there. Interesting vegetation ashore, did big walk
Transiting Shubuk Channel - CMap is all off but it gives you a reasonable overview along with the waypoints in the Red Sea Pilot. I thought they were out but I think it may have been my fault. The channel markers are mostly in place and if you take your time its fine. Don’t recall any shallows to worry about. We motored through in light winds.
Suakin - 19 06.48N 37 20.33E 6m holding ok, very sheltered from everything. Final part of entrance a little tight and scenery amazing, the scenery is still there once you have anchored so just concentrate on getting in first!!! CMap pretty good and visibility excellent for commercial port. Don’t miss this place.
Marsa Ata - 19 17.42N 37 19.67E 12m sand Entry on CMap was close enough but rest out. Again go slow, have someone up the rig. Snorkelling was quite good on inside of reef, very shallow but good. We did a dinghy drift for happy hour, went up the Marsa for about 10mins in the dinghy, got the nibbles and drinks out and drifted back to the boats. We drifted under the bridge deck of GWTW without any manoeuvring, beat that!!!!
Umbria Wreck - Mooring buoys approx 19 38.45N 37 17.44E in about 14m. Take dinghy over to the wreck, there are little buoys to moor dinghy to. Wreck located approx 19 38.17N 37 17.44E (this is estimate), there are 2 funnels partly sticking out of the water, not that apparent. We snorkelled the wreck and it was interesting enough, Liam dived on it and thought it was excellent. We did not stay overnight but in calm conditions it would be fine.
Sanganeb Reef - 19 44.07N 37 26.74E dropped 12m settled 19m lots of coral (well it is a reef) and mostly quite deep. We arrived late and although not entering into the sun visibility was poor. Followed the leads 107o in, then turned right between marks, the port mark is snapped off at water level hard to see. Zoom CMap to 15,000. Didn’t snorkel here, late arrival & early departure. It is said to be good. GWTW went up to the Shab Rumi the ex Cousteau site and enjoyed diving/snorkelling there and managed to pick up a mooring for an hour enroute.
Marsa Fijab - 20 01.80N 37 11.46E in 4.5m holding ok. Entrance ok on CMap then eyeball, channel is apparent. We saw camels on the beach here (the only place). We continued north up inside the reefs
Taila Island - 20 38.05N 37 13.45E dropped 8m settled 13m. A lot of coral on bottom but water so clear you can pick your spot. It was lovely here, this along with Shumma Island back in Eritrea were my 2 favourites in the Red Sea. We went between Taila Island and the mainland heading north (its just a big grey patch on CMap) until north of Jazirat Magarsam then turned right through channel markers and over shallows. We followed the markers around to
Wreck Recovery Anchorage - 21 00.95N 37 18.57E in 13m coral everywhere. Visibility very poor, we had no wind but it didn’t look like there would be any shelter. Few of these reefs were above water, we were not at all comfortable in here but had a peaceful night and made it out again the next morning. This was our least favourite anchorage. Sailed up outside Qumeira Reef onto OUTSIDE ENTRANCE WAYPOINT to Kor Shinab 21 20.91N 37 03.93E can eyeball from there even in afternoon sun.
Kor Shinab - 21 21 09N 37 00.73E 10.5m good holding. CMap in channel all out but stay in the middle and very straight forward. Amazing place, worth the motor in.
Elba Reef - ****need anchor w/p**** 13m flat water. Very good snorkelling all around reef entrances. CMap for entrance gap was ok but for reefs all out. WAYPOINT IN ENTRANCE 21 59.12N 36 59.47E. Need very good light (we arrived quite late), must have someone up the rig and helmsperson must trust their judgement and have nerves of absolute steel. We could not pick the entrance without Mark up the rig, GWTW waited for us as they could not locate it as no mast steps.
Across Foul Bay (aptly named). Thought how lucky we were leaving Elba Reef with a southerly this far up the Red Sea and ran with it all day and into the evening. About 8pm it suddenly died and while the sails were flapping and we were thinking of what to do, the wind came in from the north. Within about 10 minutes it had built to 25 – 30 knots and we got our first experience of the Red Sea short sharp chop which really does stop you dead. We bore away and headed for shelter in Ras Banas our first Egyptian anchorage and ended up there 8 days sitting out 30knots. Welcome to Egypt and a taste of things to come.

Sudan Cruising Info:
Weather - We had blue skies and light northerlies right though Sudan. The waters are sheltered by the reefs and we managed to sail nearly all of it in the light winds. Hai Mei Gui and Yosun encountered their first taste of the Red Sea infamous short and steep between Shubuk Channel and Suakin and took shelter in Marsa Ibraham. It was just 15 knots but they could make no progress with the sea state. They were just one day behind us.
Security - Just no issues, felt totally safe on the boat, in Suakin and in busy Port Sudan. Recommended to keep at least 5 miles offshore when passing the boarders in and out.
Phone/Internet - No cells, possibly pay phone in Port Sudan not in Suakin. No Internet in Suakin but HMG found somewhere in Port Sudan (very very slow).
Checking in and out - Mohammed in his flowing white gowns will stand on shore waving at you. Take your papers in to him, he is English educated and easy to deal with, and organises everything. Cost was USD130 total. Yosun tried to checkin independently but gave up and used Mohammed too
Money - We changed USD25 for 50 Sudanese Pounds with Mohammed, he will change back any unused at same rate.
Tours - We took the local bus to Port Sudan and back, 14 pounds return for 2. The bus in Port Sudan does not leave from where it drops you (see tale above)
Provisions - Excellent fruit and veg market in Suakin, also good pita type bread. Chicken and goat available from the market – not for the faint hearted!! No other provisions but Port Sudan had some reasonably stocked stores and a good market.
Fuel and water - Mohammed organised fuel easily @ USD.74c a litre in our jerry jugs. We didn’t need water but probably can be done, there are water tanker donkey and carts that could come right to your dinghy if needed.
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Saturday, 12 April 2008

Eritrea - Land of contrasts ... Apr 2008

01 - 12 Apr 2008

***Barbie on the beach at Shumma Island*** Choosing a basket enroute to Asmara***The excellent fruit and Vegetable market at Asmara
***Donkey on Dhow in Massawa***

We have finally made it into the Red Sea. We left at 1am from a small fishing village on the southern coast of Yemen to the "Gates of Sorrow" - the southern entrance to the Red Sea then sailed up the middle to the Hanish Islands, still part of Yemen, a large volcanic island group in the middle. We had the most winds - 35 knots and biggest seas - 3 metres, we have had in a long while but coped ok and sure made good time. We have now said goodbye to Yemen and had a more enjoyable sail across to the African Coast tucked up in another stunningly spectacular volcanic spot on the southern coast of Eritrea at Mersa Dudo. We lost our fishing gear on the way over, taken by a big tuna that just wasn't ready to die. Oh well the freezer is pretty full anyway.

We are now in company with 2 more boats, Hai Mei Gui and Mariah and will make our way north taking advantage of the southerly winds when they blow. We moved up overnight with gentle southerlies to Port Smythe at Shumma Island, not really what you would call a port but what a beautiful little island with a lovely beach for a barbie and some good snorkeling and enjoyed two nights there. HMG stopped before Shumma and TD and Mariah decided to get some miles under their keels and fast tracked to Egypt leaving GWTW and us to explore the nearby anchorage at Dehalak Desert. This lagoon anchorage was very interesting with Russian shipwrecks lying about and some sort of mining going on ashore, all rather weird really.

Next it was across to Massawa, once quite a bustling port, but that was then! Although unfair to say Massawa is basically a town in ruins it is close to the truth, but Eritrea has the 2nd lowest GDP in the world and it is evident here. The anchorage was very sheltered and although there had been some problems with locals boardings yachts at night and undertaking petty theft we decided to travel inland and visit the capital of Asmara with GWTW and HMG. We organised this through Mike's Yacht Services at the Jasmine Cafe on the waterfront, he booked the minivan and driver and organised our hotel.

Everything went well except it poured with rain and was even colder than expected, about 12c so that made things a bit soggy and none of us took raincoats. It was all very strange, no mobile phones (for international), no atm's - for a capital its all pretty backward, but the main palm lined boulevard filled with Italian style cafes with espresso machines and all manner of pastries, pizzas and pastas, with all the black African locals just sitting around supping on something, lattes were 50cents so pretty affordable. Then there were some flash shops selling Italys latest designs and then one block back you are back in Africa, markets, donkey drawn carts etc. Quite bizarre. They are holding onto their Italian influence but only by their toenails!! The market was amazing, excellent fruit and vegetable with basically everything, next door was the 2nd hand clothing market with the tailors close by to adjust new purchases to measure, as was the footwear market with the cobblers positioned ready for minor adjustments. The Asmara trip was definitely worth it just to see this tiny piece of Italy in poorest Africa and the scenery en route was spectacular as you climb higher and higher into the mountains, the temperature drops, the clouds appear, the hillsides are greener, the contrast from the desert scenery we had become used to was welcome.

Back in Massawa we took a day off to have a wander round town, took some photos, and saw all there is to see (which is alot of bombed out buildings). It was time to start heading north again, from here on we could expect to start getting more northerlies so we needed to keep moving so on we went. We had one night anchored about 20 miles north of Massawa at Sheikh Al Abu then with GWTW did an uneventful overnighter and headed for Sudan.
see our web album for more photos
Anchorage Info:
Greater Hanish Island
– 13 40.63N 42 40.94E dropped in 11m settled in 24m. Already 3 others in before us and a lot of coral patches so difficult to find a spot shallow enough
Mersa Dudo – 13 52.05N 41 54.39E 8.5m sand, good holding, big bay plenty room. Some winds bullets as closing on anchorage but flat seas. Had a great sail across to here. Very good walking here (we heard) we had a favourable wind window so left the next day for an overnighter. Some boats earlier in the season got stuck here for days in 40knots.
Port Smyth/Shumma Island - 15 32.10N 39 59.49E 7.8m sand. Whoever named this a port was over zealous. It’s a lovely little deserted island anchorage entry in through the reef. CMap was pretty good, sun is behind in the afternoon so reef fairly easy to spot, shows bearing of 055 on CMap scale 15,000, we entered on 071. Makeshift leads onshore didn’t look right so we eyeballed it from up spreaders. Bar-b-que ashore, beautiful. Snorkelling/diving very good
Dehalak Desert - 15 40.82N 39 57.99E 12m holding ok. Slight side trip to here but rather an interesting place in a weird way. Ex Russian military base and still some inhabited buildings ashore. CMap ok and entrance through into lagoon very straightforward. Not a must do but worth seeing
Massawa - 15 36.59N 39 27.84E 7.7m good holding. CMap ok, channel easy enough to follow. Inner harbour enclosed anchorage very sheltered. Entered the convergence zone here, first cloudy days and very little fine mist of rain. After the convergence zone you should expect Northerlies to be the norm.
Sheikh El Abu - 16 02.11N 39 27.23E 7.3m good holding, still overcast skies. From here we did an overnighter to Sudan back into the sunshine and we would not see clouds again until late October in Turkey

Cruising Info:
– The winds howl most of the time up the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, the southern entrance to the Red Sea. They blow from the south, year round. As we entered the small boat strait (the eastern one) at dawn the winds were light and seas flat, we thought we had done oh so well. As day broke the winds and seas built and built up to 30 – 40 knots with 3 - 4 metre seas, from behind. We stayed east of the shipping lanes but some ships were outside the lanes, and we did have to cross as well so you need to be pretty alert all day (and you have been up since at least 1am, or longer if you have come straight from Aden). As we closed on the Hanish Islands the seas calmed as did the wind, but as you round the bottom of Greater Hanish to head for the anchorages there were some strong gusts off the land but flat water. From here on we didn’t get more than 15knots, until Foul Bay in Egypt. Enjoy light winds and flat seas inside the reefs.
Security - Earlier in the season a boat had been boarded in Massawa and a few things stolen off the deck, while they slept below. This put many of the fleet off stopping there which is a real shame. We left the boat while we did an overnighter to Asmara, we paid for 1 boat boy between the 3 boats just to keep an eye on things, he slept in the cockpit. We put away anything they may have been tempted to steal, we had no issues. At night we started putting out a portable entry alarm in the cockpit which has a heat sensor on it and makes a hell of a racket. This gave us peace of mind that if someone came onboard we would be awoken and they would get a big fright with the noise. We used it right through until Cyprus. The night after we left Massawa an Australian yacht was boarded. They hadn’t been aware of the possible problems and unfortunately had laptop, camera and chargers for both stolen. Sadly they did hear noise but did not get up to check on it, their things were not recovered.
The Island of Difnien which is north of Sheikh El Abu has not got a yachtie friendly reputation. Tactical Directions were chased by men in a speed boat with guns, indicating they wanted them to stop and anchor at the island. Tony just put his foot down and got out of there as quick as he could. It is suggested you go up the west side of the island and keep well clear if you are worried. Hai Mei Gui and Yosun both anchored there just days after TD’s incident and had no problems but men with guns in a speed boat did want to check their papers.
Phone - As you enter Bab el Mandeb there is cell coverage briefly, so use up all your credit on your Yemen or Oman SIM, they don’t work further on. Ring or text everyone and tell them you’ve made it to the Red Sea!!!! No phones in Eritrea, SIM cards for local calls only. Pay phone at post office
Checking in and Out - Everything is in the harbour area, took a couple of hours. Checking in cost ENK10. We got visas for the 2 of us USD80 (can’t remember but think we only needed these if we went to Asmara, otherwise would have just been shorepasses). Passports checked every time we exited and entered the harbour complex. Make sure you have them as HMG went into town one day without them, got out without them but were NOT allowed back in in the evening. They ended up having to stay ashore overnight until they could go to Immigration in the morning!!!!, No charge to check out.
Money - Change USD into ENK (Nafka), changed some with Mike at Jasmine Café USD1 = ENK 17 and changed USD50 officially upon checkin USD1 = ENK15. No ATM machines in Massawa or Asmara, no credit cards accepted. Start using those USD’s!!!!
Tour - 6 of us shared a mini bus (no aircon but didn’t need it) to Asmara, up one morning back next afternoon. Cost 870ENK our 1/3rd share. (There was a local bus). Hotel Central in Asmara, with bathroom and tv 368NK double. Its a lot cooler up in Asmara take warm clothes and covered shoes, also rain jacket it poured down on us. Our share of the boat boy was ENK80. Mike at Jasmine Café organised the minibus and boat boy and also booked the hotel and we paid them all direct. We then paid him USD5 to arrange it all. Journey up and down to Asmara very interesting and scenic. Excellent Italian Restaurant on Main St in Asmara, called something like Pizza House and has a logo that looks like Pizza Hut, lovely inside and great food. Heaps of little cafes. Don’t miss the huge market just 2 blocks back, and the recycle market comes highly recommended but it was closed due to too much rain.
Provisions - Those that had been hoping to get alcohol were sadly disappointed. The beer bottling machine had broken down, not a bottle to be had. Wine in Asmara was off, basically don’t plan on getting anything here. Excellent fruit and veg market in Asmara, we filled up here. Very little in Massawa, no supermarkets – get it all in Aden.
Fuel and Water - We didn’t need fuel or water. Could get diesel at fuel station down the road, don’t have cost. Not an easy exercise as taxi not allowed into dock area.
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