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  february 2010


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02/02/10  So, on the way back from Port Sudan the other day, we discovered that 'new' Suakin is in fact about a mile inland and what we thought was new Suakin, was in fact, still Old Suakin - hardly surprising really as I could see no difference between the original town and that which we thought was the new town - it's all fallen down as you can see in the photographs!   I'm still without a watermaker despite several days of trying almost everything I can think of to rectify the problem.  I now need a few days in which to remove the membrane unit from the cupboard and strip down the Energy Recovery System - more on that later no doubt.  Anyway, we intend sailing tomorrow as the winds are about as favourable as they are going to get, and we hope to head straight to Massawa in Eritrea which is about 250 miles away.  My impression of Sudan?  In the main, they are a very friendly people who want to talk to you and help in any way and without the "rip off the tourist" mentality (there aren't any tourists here anyway). Children and adults alike seem very happy with their lot, even though the poverty level is extreme, there is no electricity in Suakin except for the occasional generator chugging away in the open air, few cars, goats wandering everywhere and donkeys used for just about everything.   The market stalls have a variety of goods - but not very much of any item, and once it's gone, they don't have any more until the next day.  Anything else that you require has to be bought in Port Sudan or transported from Khartoum.

03/02/10  Weighed anchor at 1100 local time and made our way out to sea with Storm Dodger (still no watermaker), heading in a general southerly direction for Massawa in Eritrea, a trip of approximately 280 nautical miles.  Just after midday, we had all sail up and were making good progress (perhaps too much sail up!) and at 1500 we had our first 'bite' on the fishing line.  I reeled it in, fighting it as it dived and swerved to escape, until it started to jump out of the sea and reveal itself as a Bluefin Tuna.  Thinking it was tiring, I began to reel in faster and easier until it suddenly went under and began to pull out the line again......"this is a big one" I thought.  Seconds later, it became easy again and I was able to lift it from the sea at the stern of the boat.  We could then see why it had dived and pulled out more line......there was only a third of it left.....bleeding and twitching.   A shark had decided to have it's dinner - depriving us of ours!!  Never mind, we caught a Kingfish a couple of hours later which went down very nicely with some mashed potatoes, which we ate just before nightfall.

Because of a misunderstanding, sail, seas and weather conditions, we became separated from Storm Dodger and unfortunately, in total darkness,  they were approached by a fast boat containing shouting men, whom Roger thinks were soldiers, demanding to know where he had come from and his destination - a frightening experience for Astrid and the children.

The sea state worsened throughout the evening and we were soon getting wet in the cockpit as waves thudded against the side of the hull.  70 miles covered by midnight.

04/02/10  Just after midnight and now almost permanently wet from incoming waves, we reefed the mainsail and reduced the genoa to less than half, still making 6 knots or so with the wind at Force 4/5 from the NNE.  Our electrical power became a source of concern, the batteries going down below safety levels and we were forced to run the engine to top them up on a fairly regular basis.  Quite a cold day with permanent cloud cover and the odd spot of rain.  Sea calming by 2359 and another 140 miles covered.

05/02/10  Sailing through huge rafts of seaweed which are parted by the bows, grey scudding clouds threatening rain constantly.  By 7am, the wind which was now directly behind us, started to weaken and at 11am we furled the last of the genoa away (the mainsail having been dropped during the night), started the engine and began our approach to Massawa Port, low flying pelicans gracefully gliding below our bows as we entered the harbour.  In the port, we were requested to tie up alongside a high granite wall and complete immigration formalities - not that easy to do while fending off the boat from the stone wall.  We were then not allowed to leave the wall until 5 hours later when rehearsals for their Independence Day celebrations were completed in the harbour.  When they were, we made our way to the anchorage and dropped the hook in about 10 metres, with another 70 miles on the log.  Everyone went ashore but I still had many things to do onboard after such a rolling passage, and I was more than a little concerned about the battery state.  Presently, we are not allowed to stay in Massawa for the festival, which is the 20th celebration of Fenkel Operation (Independence).

06/02/10  We went ashore at 9am to get our visa's, and then to find the tourist office and get travel permits to go to Asmara ..............a slow procedure which took up most of the day!  The town contains many buildings which are full of shell and bullet holes from Eritrea's war for Independence just 20 years ago and a new museum is being completed just by the tourism office. The rest of the day (and evening) was taken up with battery work.  New ones here cost around 9000 Nakfa which is about $300 US - an expensive job!  Fortunately for me, Colin on Moody Time had some he could lend me and came over to give me a hand replacing mine.  That seemed to rectify the problem in the short term AND possibly cured the watermaker problem in the process because I've now found out that the pump is power sensitive.

07/02/10  Night time bacardi fuelled dreams and thoughts (do you 'think' in your sleep?) had me wondering again about the batteries and whether they weren't the result of the problem rather than the cause.  My theory is that the boat hasn't been connected to shore supply since the 11th January, so the battery bank hasn't had the benefit of a 'full' charge.  Meanwhile, there has been a constant demand for power onboard and because we are in the convergence zone which separates the weather patterns of the north and south Red Sea, we've had very little in the way of sunshine for almost all of that time - just grey overcast skies - which of course means that the solar panel isn't producing any 'free' power either.  Additionally, the battery bank may have been sufficient for sails of 3 or 4 days but is woefully undersized for extended passages where instrumentation, steering and navigation lights are a constant drain.  Furthermore, the alternator is under sized as well, and doesn't produce enough to charge the bank when running for short periods.  With all this in mind, and not wanting to throw away what could be perfectly serviceable batteries, I removed the batteries loaned by Colin and refitted my own, running the engine for a couple of hours with everything disconnected until an acceptable first level of charge was achieved.  What I really need is a full charge from either an external generator, shore power.......or some sunshine!  It seems that we are now being allowed to stay for the planned Fenkel celebrations which will culminate over the weekend of 13th and 14th.  The pelicans (a formation of twelve today) are a permanent visitor to the anchorage which teams with fish - the local fishermen having nowhere to export fish because of the embargo on the country, while about a dozen Egyptian trawlers lie at anchor, impounded for illegal fishing.

08/02/10  Putting battery worries aside for the time being, a bunch of us hired a mini-bus and took the four hour trip to the capital - Asmara.  The journey was interesting as it's a continual climb along a torturous winding road into the mountains, the scenery changing from the green, cultivated lower slopes, through the cloud base and into a more sunny and barren landscape.   Working camels carrying wood for charcoal making are a common sight.  Along the way, we passed through several villages and townships, one in the cloud layer which gave it a permanent 'foggy' atmosphere and where the locals wore coats all the time - it has to be a cold, damp way to live!  Below the clouds, the valleys were all terraced and maize was being grown with other grains but above clouds, cacti grew everywhere and vultures soared from the mountain peaks.  Not long after passing through the cloud, a colony (?) of baboons sat at the side of the road, scavenging food from passing traffic - one almost getting inside the open window where I sat!  At the village where we stopped for a break, children pestered us with their home made baskets or fruit they had to sell, fighting amongst themselves for ball-point pens that some on the bus gave out.  It seems that they will do almost anything for pens, even back down in Massawa.  We spent the day wandering around Asmara, which at around 7000 feet above sea level, is not as humid as Massawa, and it's tree lined boulevard is holding onto it's Italian influence with pizzas, pastries and pastas, although if you step away from the main street, you are back in Africa with donkey carts etc.  There certainly appears to be a much better standard of living in the capital, better food, better clothes and so forth - and English seems to be the second language rather than Italian.  The trip back  down the mountain was as interesting as the upward climb and obviously the lorries that make the journey suffer from clutch and brake burn out - some trucks overturned on bends, others have tumbled over the road edge and could be seen lying hundreds of feet below.  We arrived back onboard about 8pm and promptly adjourned to the nearest bar ashore for a few beers, then back to Rhumb Do for a few more.....and before we knew it, daylight was upon us and it was time for a couple of hours sleep!

11/02/10  Increasing numbers of people are arriving in the anchorage on boats which I would be loathe to cross the bay on, all happily smiling and waving to us as they pass by to shore or anchor.  Little boys paddle out to the yachts on bags of rubbish, using their flip-flops as paddles, and ask for pens.  Mistral, Easy 'n Free and Moody Time sailed this morning for an anchorage just 12 miles away.

13/02/10  Weekend - and the start of Fenkel celebrations.  The town is packed with people, a steam train (vintage 1930) chugged into the war damaged station, the driver enthusiastically blowing it's whistle every few minutes whilst the main street is a melee of men, women and children in their best clothes - all heading for the port to hear the presidents speech and to see the parade of boats in the harbour.  We all went ashore and into the port to see as much as we could (which wasn't much) but later, from outside the port we saw a simulated commando attack on a derelict building, bombs exploding amidst orange smoke flares and automatic weapons being discharged.  This was followed by the boat parade, some decorated in carnival fashion while others were military vessels of the Eritrean Navy.  O Khayam, who had left some days ago, returned to the anchorage because of an un-specified problem and announced they were on their way back north and were retiring from the Rally.

14/02/10  We received a VHF call from Moody Time, informing us that they too had retired from the Rally and were making their way back to Suez - reasons unclear at the moment.  We were again ashore, braving the constant mobbing of children wanting pens, t-shirts or clothes of any kind.  Sixty toothbrushes left with Astrid by Easy 'n Free disappeared in minutes.  The children are clearly well fed, but lacking in everything else and will walk through the dusty streets holding your hand all day if you let them.  Some speak a little English and all want books in English in order to improve their grasp of the language.  (photo's of Eritrea)

15/02/10  Time for us to get moving again - we've been waiting here too long for weather windows (the areas south of us are plagued with southerly winds), - and we weighed anchor at 0730 and made our way to the port, tied up to the wall and went to the Immigration Office for our exit visa's and sailing permits.  By 10am, all was complete, the boat had been searched for stowaways and we were underway in company with Storm Dodger and Esper.  Running the watermaker for two hours whilst motoring was successful and we made about 60 litres before switching off.  We motored 28 miles to the small island of Dilemmi and anchored in about 10 metres off what appeared to be fertile green pasture land with canopied trees (think of the film "The Lion KIng").  The green turned out to be weeds rather than grass but wild camels roamed on the horizon and goats were tended by locals along a shoreline of coral beaches and undercut cliff edges.  First crews ashore reported locals in need of antiseptic creams for open wounds on their feet and ankles and a collection was made around the boats for that and also fishing gear to replace their ancient rusty hooks etc.  Of course, the ubiquitous pelicans float leisurely by.  I'm coming down with the fever which has affected the skippers of Still Dreaming, Anthea and Shelter.

17/02/10  After another day of waiting for suitable winds, we lifted the anchor in total darkness at 0130 while the wind was at it's slackest and made our way around the northern edge of the island before turning southward.  We were immediately buffeted by winds from the SE and unruly seas which slowed our progress immensely.  It's going to be a long, slow slog to get anywhere near Aden in conditions like this.  With suspicions of the propeller being fouled by the huge areas of weed which continually drift by, we headed for Adjuz Island, where we lay a-hull in it's lee while Robby hung over the side and inspected the prop.  There was some weed but not enough to give the effect we were experiencing, so we continued our passage southward to join up with the other boats.  Dan on Still Dreaming elected to remain at Adjuz because of the fever.  After a few hours rest, he will resume course.  At 1345, we anchored in Freedom Anchorage which is just west of Aggabuba Island, most crews going ashore for a BBQ on the beach.  25 - 30 knot winds are blowing across the anchorage but rolling is minimal.

18/02/10  Another day waiting for the winds from the SE to abate. We are all worried about the next weeks because of the winds and will need to make progress southward whenever we can - be it day or night.  The straights of Bab-el-Mandeb loom ominously ahead of us!  Dan and Mary onboard Still Dreaming arrived in the anchorage during the morning.   Shelter may return to Egypt because of the fever and I'm feeling worse by the day.

20/02/10  Weighed anchor at 0645, hoisted the mainsail and once more started the battle into strong headwinds.  Caught a blue fin Tuna at 0800, so that's dinner sorted out!  Progress is very slow because of the sea state and the winds, and at 8pm some boats peeled off into Anfile Bay for shelter.  By midnight, we had only managed to cover 67 miles, Gipson of Mistral crewing for Shelter.

21/02/10  A rough night with boat speed down to less than 2 knots for most of the time - it became apparent that we would probably not make it to Mersa Dudo in daylight.  Mid afternoon saw a series of minor disasters.....firstly our mainsail topping lift became jammed and we were unable to lower the sail and the next alteration of course would mean a broad reach with full sail up.  As soon as that happened, the engine died!  Unbeknown to us, we had used a whole tank of fuel battling against the elements and the engine had now lost suction because of the amount of heel on the boat.  It would mean a very slow series of tacks to get into our alternative anchorage of Ed Bay, except now the genoa ripped!  Almost three hours later we had covered the 5 miles to Ed Bay and anchored off the village of Cod-Ali.  Refuelled from jerry cans and bled the engine but am still unable to free the topping lift or repair the genoa because of the strong winds.   The constant weakness and nausea brought on by the fever makes every single action very difficult, so it's a good job I have Robby to do any manual, or heavy work.

22/02/10  Weighed anchor at 0800 and motored (very slowly) the eleven miles to Mersa Dudo, where we anchored with the rest of the fleet.   The bay is overlooked by Mount Dudo and is volcanic, the edges are white sand and black lava rock with just a few simple fishermen's houses.  The weather and crew sickness will force us to stay here for some days.

23/02/10  Ignore the last sentence!  Early this morning we were visited by the military who insisted that we leave immediately.  We all refused and they became more and more agitated as they went from boat to boat (ramming mine) and screaming "Go, go!".  We told them to bog off, but after some hours they started waving guns about and we decided that it was perhaps better to move even though some boats (mine included) were in need of repairs to either sails or engines.  We moved three miles to the other side of the mountain but the anchorage wasn't suitable for the wind direction and we crossed to Sadla Island, anchoring first on the south western tip, then on the north eastern tip.

27/02/10  We spent a few uncomfortable days rolling badly and with me feeling terrible - stricken by this damn fever which will not go away.  We took the genoa down and with Roger's help, got the tear stitched up.  At 0100 this morning the wind went round to the north and we weighed anchor and moved to the other side of the island for six hours before all leaving en masse and forming a convoy southward.  Not too long into the journey, Cobble suffered engine failure and was taken under tow by Anthea.  We then suffered alternator failure and had to turn off all instruments, chartplotter and nav lights.

28/02/10  Just before 5am, we anchored in the lee of Dumeira Island to escape the constant battering that we were now getting from headwinds, and for a more than welcome rest.  At first light we started to repair the alternator but we were not allowed to stay there very long.....the military, armed with AK47's, turned up again and demanded our papers, then told us to leave.  By mid-morning we were south of the Eritrean/Djibouti border and crossing the shipping lanes. It was a great pleasure to take down the Eritrean flag and replace it with the Yemeni courtesy ensign, - we were out of the Red Sea at last and in the Bab el Mandeb Straights!


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