Apr. 2003
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Check out Weeks ending: [5 Apr 03] [12 Apr 03] [19 Apr 03] [26 Apr 03]

Week ending 5 April 2003 (Bob) 

Memories of Aden, Yemen - We only spent 5 days in Aden, but will carry away memories to last a long while:

  • Friendly People - Above all, Yemen kids clowning for camera.jpg (22675 bytes)we will remember the friendliness of the people we met in Aden.  People waved on the streets, stopped us to welcome us to their country, walked up to us in restaurants, and genuinely made us feel welcome.  The only negative remark was a man who walked over to the 4 of us at a local restaurant and welcomed us New Zealanders to Yemen.  He then said "the only ones we do not welcome are those that attack others - you know who I mean."  People everywhere wanted to have their pictures taken, with us in the picture if possible, but otherwise just them. 
  • Salim - On our first day in Aden, several people approached us to help with things such as laundry, driving etc.  Our friends on yacht Herodotus used Salim, and recommended him highly and so we engaged him for the next 4 days - a wonderfully fortuitous choice!  Salim took us on a tour of the city, found us the best fruit and vegetable spots, told us the prices of local items, and generally steered us straight the whole time.  He was friendly, funny, and always had a smile on his face.  He even took us out to dinner on our last evening, and refused to set a price on his services - "just pay what you feel it was worth".  This was probably a good ploy, as I am sure we paid more than he would have asked.
  • Interesting food - We Yemen cook at local restaurant.jpg (17670 bytes)ate out at several local restaurants and the food was interesting - spicy stews and soups to be eaten with 20" pieces of pita bread (and no utensils, of course).  It was exciting and tasty.  In one restaurant the cook toiled away in front of 3 gas burners that resembled volcanoes- and sounded as loud.  On the last evening we had freshly seared fish with tasty sauces and pita bread - eaten on week-old Singapore Times newspapers!
  • Dilapidated city - It was sad to travel through the city and see the reminders of Yemen's recent warfare with its other half - North Yemen.  Although it ended 10 years ago, buildings still have bullet hole and war damage.  More insidious is the trash and debris - it is everywhere.  Any discarded item is dumped when no longer needed and trash clutters the streets, there are no public conveniences so the smell of urine, and worse, is common-place.  Although there are a few clean and modern-looking buildings, it has a worn and grubby feeling.  Despite this, across the causeway is Arab Town, an amazing display of new construction where hundreds of new buildings are going up, backed by Saudi's and others right next to crowded bazaars.  One stop took us to a local sesame oil pressing plant - 2 guys running a machine that was half steel, half tree-trunk.
  • Qat - Most societies have a permissible vice (think smoking and alcohol) - in Yemen this is Qat.  Qat is a narcotic leaf, similar to chewing tobacco chewed by many of the Yemeni men during their breaks and the end of the day.  They load large wads into their mouth, stuff it into a cheek, and gradually slide down the walls until almost comatose. Salim, our driver, felt it was very bad for the people and the country, and derided the people that used it.  
  • Tanks of Sheba - Yemen tanks of Sheba.jpg (16830 bytes)Just when we feel that we have really reached a primitive land, we find how little we know.  Despite the low rainfall in the area, in the days of Queen Sheba (2000BC, we think) the Yemeni people built large reservoirs and aqueducts to capture the rain.  An engineering marvel, ravines are dammed, and the over-flow goes to dams further downstream.  British estimates, when they 'discovered' them, indicated they stored 20 millions gallons of water for irrigation and drinking.
  • Veiled women - The Islam dictates that women should cover their faces affects everything.  In restaurants the rooms are segregated (we ate in the women's room, forcing many women to bring food to their mouths under their veil.  On the streets all Yemeni women were veiled, and many came out at night to shop.  The shops had lots of cosmetics, lingerie, fashionable clothing, and veils - attesting to the purchasing power of women.
  • Poverty - Poverty was evident on the streets, with veiled women beggars approaching cars at all intersections and coming out to wash cars anytime we pulled into a parking area.  Salim said these were mainly Somalis who were unemployed, but must have thought their life was better here than in Somalia.
  • Hot, dry, and sandy - Yemen Aden from the castle.jpg (16594 bytes)Finally, the climate and surrounding: Aden is built on a volcano crater and very little grows anywhere in the area and what little rain they get is in brief downpours.  Hillsides are carved up to provide building sites with good views, but no vegetation.  We were unable to travel to the interior, or capital of Sana'a, but understand it is high, green, and cooler.

On to the Red Sea - On 3 April we bit the bullet and set out.  Winds at Aden harbor were blowing 25 knots, but in the Gulf of Aden they dropped to 12 and even lighter at night.  We entered the Small Strait near the coast of Yemen at day-break of the 4th, and started our 1000-mile trek up the Red Sea.  By midday, winds had built to 25-30 knots, and the following seas were so big the autopilot could not handle it, so we hand-steered at 6 to 7 knots, across the shipping channels where all of the traffic from the Suez canal exits the Red Sea on its way to India, Asia, or Australia.  In the background, the VHF radio crackled with the sounds of Coalition Warship P603 as it interrogated passing ships regarding ports visited, cargo carried, and owner of the ship.
By sundown we were tired, and motored into Assab Harbor, Eritrea - the first port of the West coast of the Sea.  Calm returned as the wind died over-night and we were very glad to get a good night's sleep in the shelter of Assab's breakwater.  It was sort of eerie however - no one answered our VHF calls, there were no ships in port, and no operations underway.  This in sharp contrast to Aden and Salalah where the ports operate 24-hours per day.

Week ending 12 April 2003 (Bob) 

Working our way north - The southern 1/4 of the Red Sea generally has winds from the south this time of year, so they will help us along for about 250 miles.  After that, the winds are generally from the north, and we will have to plan our days carefully to avoid getting caught out in strong headwinds and seas.  Our first day in the Red Sea brought 30 knots from the SE and big seas - so strong we had to hand-steer all day and were glad to make it to:

  • Assab  (anchored 13° 00.17'N 42° 44.62' E) - As we mentioned last week, there was no activity in this port, lots of lonely cranes and empty berths.  This is probably a leftover from the recent war with Ethiopia and subsequent instability.  We anchored in flat water behind their breakwater (others went ashore and found the people friendly but the town fairly run-down).  Up early the next day we traveled 25 miles to:
  • Ras Terma  (anchored 13° 11.65'N 42° 29.76' E) - Light winds all days made for a pleasant combination of motoring and sailing downwind, but as soon as we turned to duck behind the cape that sheltered Ras Terma, the winds started to build, and by the time we anchored it was blowing 25-30!  We sheltered behind a small island, and as the wind dropped that night, the loud sea-bird colony on the island (gannets we think) squawked all night as they jostled for position on the 100' rock.  Up the next morning at 0515, we headed NW 60 miles and again, at 1500 as we pulled into the anchorage, the winds had built to 30 knots.  A pattern was starting to establish itself as we dropped anchor in: 
  • Mersa Duda (anchored 13° 51.89'N 41° 54.34' E) - We pulled into 15' of water off a beach with 2 volcano craters and lava flows as we tried to find shelter from the strong winds.  Just after anchoring we were shocked to see 2 guys had swum out to our boat to ask to see our "Passaports". One guy climbed up on the windvane and hung there while we showed him our passports. We then gave them 2 cold Cokes and a couple of candy bars and they swam back to their huts on the beach. They really were looking for "smokos", but we did not have any cigarettes.  This country is very poor (2nd lowest GDP in the world) and we were suddenly reminded of what real poverty is – these guys lived in huts in a desolate place, subsisting on fish that they catch while we were on a yacht with cold drinks, lots of food, satellite radio, TV, fresh, running water, clothing – all the modern conveniences. We wished we could have done more and really wanted to give them more things, but the weather was just too horrible to launch the dinghy to take things ashore. 
    We had planned to leave the next day, but the winds howled at 25 to 45 knots for the next 3 days so the anchor dug in deeper and deeper, and the boat became covered in dust as sandstorms blew from the beach.  It was very nerve-wracking. Every piece of gear, sails, shrouds, decks, cockpit, everywhere!!! got covered in brown dust. After 3 days, the winds eased as little, and we bit the bullet and continued 185 miles north to:
  • Massawa - This is the major port city of Eritrea and was the capital before it was moved to Asmara.  We arrived comfortably during the middle of the afternoon, formalities were easy, and that evening we slept like the dead in flat water in the most comfortable anchorages we have been in since Thailand.

Eritrea - We have not been in the county very long, but so far WE LIKE IT!  As usual, the people have been very friendly to us, and although the country is very poor, it is cleaner than Yemen or Sri Lanka.  Like many cruiser spots, there is a guy, 'Mike' in this case, that handles affairs (laundry, fuel, taxis, money changing, etc.) and presumably makes a little money on each transaction.  This is a secular country, so we can buy beer and other booze (first time in a while) and we have stocked up on fuel.  Next week we plan a land-trip to Asmara (the capital) and then will move on later in the week.

Week ending 19 April 2003 (Bob) 

Trip to Asmara - We hired a driver (Solomon) and spent 3 days on a drive inland to Asmara and Keren. We were fascinated by a new culture and the friendly people of this country who have suffered so much in the last 4 decades.   Our highlights?

  • Drive thru mountains - A short distance from the port of Massawa the road starts its climb through steep and rocky mountains to 9,000' to Asmara, the capital.  The hills are dry , punctuated with cactus and scrubby little trees, and occasional larger trees in the ravines. All hills are terraced to contain erosion - efforts that must represent millions of man-hours of hard work!
  • Central Market - This was Eritrea Judi and boy at Asmara market.jpg (25526 bytes)our first stop as we checked out the handicrafts and local products. The market had fruits, vegetables, clothing, spices, and all manner of household goods.  A few stalls had handicrafts for the few tourists that make their way to Eritrea, but the slim pickings did not dissuade us!  Judi found a flyswisher made of a horse's tail that reminded her of Hercule Peirot of Agatha Christie fame and the locals loved to pose in pictures with us.
  • Chic cafes - Eritrea was colonized by the Italians, and their legacy is good architecture, wide, clean and pretty streets, and lots of wonderful cafes with tasty coffee and pastries - our first since Thailand.
  • Keren - TEritrea livestock market in Keren.jpg (26515 bytes)his was the highlight of our trip, a picturesque Middle East town where the central market sold grain, livestock feed, prayer mats, straw for weaving mats, pots, pans, clothes, gold jewelry, and much more.  On the edge of town was a livestock market where locals traded camels, goats, and cattle.  When we tried to take pictures of a camel and his herder, we were persuaded to climb aboard for our portraits - a really unique and somewhat scary experience.  Judi became the center of attraction as she took pictures with the digital camera, and was able to show the pictures in 'real time'.
  • 'Recycling Center' - One interesting stop in Asmara was a large complex known as the 'recycling center'.  In reality, it was a converted market where men and boys toil at converting scrap and spare parts into useful objects.  We saw old 'USA Corn Oil' drums being cut into pieces to make cooking stoves, dust-pans, french-fry cutters, etc., etc.  Men used old gears to shape metal, axes to cut tins, sewed inner tubes into water-carrier bladders for donkeys to carry, and generally were very innovative in recycling old materials.
  • Tanks by the roadside - Finally, no coverage of Eritrea would be complete without describing some of the recent war damage.  Near the anchorage is the skeleton of a palace with holes in the roof, and bullet holes in the walls.  Many buildings around the port have bullet holes and we saw quite a few destroyed tanks and armored personnel carriers by the roadside on the way to Asmara and Keren.

Reflections on Eritrea - 

  • After-effects of Colonialism - Eritrea, like many parts of the Middle East, is an artifact of European colonialism - in 1890 Italy collected a bunch of land, colonized it, and called in Eritrea.  They developed its infrastructure, converted many people to Christianity, and left a legacy of tasteful architecture, good food, and Western values.  They lost Eritrea in the aftermath of WWII, and Britain administered it for several years until the UN decided it should be part of Ethiopia.  The now-nationalistic Eritreans said 'no way' and fought for their independence. 40 years on, they have peace - of sorts, but the UN must administer it, and they still have not agreed on an Eritrea-Ethiopia border. 
  • Proud people - Our observations were that the people are quite proud of themselves and their country.  We saw few beggars on the streets, the cities are much cleaner than Yemen or Sri Lanka, and although they do not yet have much in the way of material goods, they have cautious hope for the future.
  • Poor - And poor they are, our driver cited $2-3.00/day as typical wages, and particularly in the countryside, the lifestyle is a subsistence one, with goats and camels playing a major part in an arid land with little hope of an easy life.

Chores in Massawa - Meanwhile, back on board Long Passages, we got ready to move on, piling on water and fuel, a little beer and liquor (first since Thailand) and downloading weather forecasts looking for elusive southerly winds.  By Friday, the forecasts predicted southerlies for 2-3 days so we said farewell to Tara 3 (nursing a leaky fuel pump as they set off for Asmara) and set off to catch up with Herodotus, now 3 days ahead of us.

Week ending 26 April 2003 (Bob) 

Continuing North - On Saturday we set sail for Sheik Abu, a small island 25 miles north of Massawa. A short distance out, we looked at the weather forecasts and decided to sprint north while we had favorable winds and changed our course for Long Island.  Our stops included:

  • Long Island (anchored 18° 46.51'N 37° 39.44' E) - This was a delightful anchorage on the south of an island 1/4 mile long with a protected lagoon.  While there, we spotted pink flamingos and ospreys among the plentiful bird life on the island.  This was also our first stop in a new country, Sudan!  We would have liked to stay longer, but we pressed on to
  • Marsa Ibrahim (anchored 18° 52.81'N 37° 24.83' E) - The first of our 'marsas', this is an opening in the reef with good protection from the Red Sea, a view of bird-life and camels on the shore, and close to a dirt road that parallels the coast.  There are a few canvas-covered shacks near the shore, apparently used by fishermen who shelter in this marsa.  The path here was through the Shubuk Channel, a torturous 15-mile path through small islands and reefs where we followed waypoints supplied by the Red Sea Pilot and eye-ball navigation at some points.  The 12-18 knot winds kicked up a little chop making the trip a little uncomfortable, but we feel snug in this anchorage. In the morning we were visited by a fisherman, who was looking for hooks - we gave him some, and a few food items.  So snug were we that we stayed 2 nights as we waited for the NW winds to ease so that we could motor on to
  • Suakin (anchored 19° 06.48'N 37° 20.24' E) - After a short motor trip we pulled into Suakin, our first port in Sudan.   We tied up along the main pier and the health official came aboard to check us out, and clear us from quarantine and sent us to the anchorage.  Then Mohammed (naturally) the yachty 'agent', came out to handle the rest of the paperwork, take our laundry, and issue our 'shore passes' so we can travel locally.  

First Glimpses of Sudan - Our first sights in Sudan confirm what we have heard - overwhelming poverty where houses are really crude, clothing is ragged, vehicles Sudan man in bakery in Suakin.jpg (20364 bytes)are few, utilities almost non-existent, and animal transport is common.  Potable water is distributed by barrel on a cart towed by donkeys, phones seem few and far between and there are few satellite dishes.  Some houses have electricity, but generators are heard on shore to provide power to those not connected to the grid.  Although there seemed to be a simmering hostility from a few, most people were friendly and eager to say 'Hello'.  We were invited into the bakery in town and shown the technique for shoveling rolls in and out of the stone hearth.  The local veggie market had a great selection of fresh produce, but there were really no stores with common provisions or normal things such as clothing, toys, hardware, or electronics - their lifestyle doesn't include many of these items.

Suakin  - This is a wonderfully photogenic village when viewed from the anchorage.  Suakin used to be the prime port of Sudan, but in 1907 the main port operations were moved to Port Sudan, and this town became a backwater.  The old town is on an island near the yacht anchorages, and is a pile of rubble, as the buildings have been demolished over the years.  On the other side of the anchorage is the new (but decrepit) new town, busy with people bathing in the sea water, boats being built, mosques calling to prayer, camels wandering the shores, goats bleating, and donkey carts carrying all manner of goods through the town!  It almost seems like a scene out of The Bible with a few modern trappings around.

Port Sudan - The last day of the week we engaged a guide, Oman, hopped the local bus, and plunked down our $0.80 for a bus ride to the big smoke Port Sudan 20 miles to our north.  The bus was old and crowded but the trip fascinating: long camel trains, Bedouin villages in the desert, a 'Duty-Free' trade zone and more were seen along the good highway. Port Sudan is the main seaport of Sudan, and with 2+ million people it was bustling and dirty.  The markets had good produce, you could buy peanut butter in bulk, have tailors make your clothes on foot-operated machines as we murmured 'Ah Salam' to those we met along the way.  The port was dirty and busy with quite a few charter boats, mainly Italian.  We may stop there on our way north, but not for long.

The Red Sea, hard on Cruisers - The last few weeks have shown us how hard the long trek from Thailand to the Mediterranean can be on yachts and their crews:

  • Case 1 - One yacht has had engine problems since the Gulf of Aden and has been at anchor in Massawa for weeks waiting for parts.
  • Case 2 - A yacht traveling with us had their engine seize when approaching an anchorage and had to battle 15-20 knot headwinds, tacking through numerous reefs for 2 days, to get into Port Sudan for repairs.
  • Case 3 - A yacht just behind us suffered a broken headstay and then wrapped a line around their prop breaking the engine-prop connection and drifted 2 days before making repairs and getting into an anchorage.
  • Case 4 - While in Massawa the crew of a yacht came in seeking help as their yacht was up on a reef 15 miles south of the anchorage.
  • Case 5 - As we tied up in Suakin, a fitting blew out of our fuel injection pump so that we could not pull away from the wharf (repaired in short order, but the timing was very lucky considering how many times in the previous 3 days we had depended completely on the engine to keep us safe from reefs).
 

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