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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