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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