Sahula Cruising

14 May 2012 | England
25 October 2011 | Ipswic
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
25 June 2011 | Frankfurt
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25 May 2011 | Regensburg, Germany
18 May 2011 | Linz
12 May 2011 | Nova Sad
12 May 2011 | Vienna
05 May 2011 | Budapest
22 April 2011 | Viden
08 April 2011 | Constanta, Romania

Passage Repory #26

28 March 2009 | Suakin, Sudan
Goodbye Pirates, hello Africa

Aden to Suakin, Sudan

The pulse of country is usually clear within an hour of meeting its inhabitants. For the sailor the first meeting is with Immigration and Customs officials. So it was in Aden. Helpful, welcoming and efficient the entry formalities were soon over. Passports are retained in exchange for a shore pass. The shore pass is valid within the Aden city area. Travel outside required a visa (US$58). Customs smilingly announced "Welcome to Yemen), made clear his power and accepted baksheesh.

Stanley, bags packed, was first ashore revitalized by the prospect of adventures in Sana, inland capital of Yemen. He would return in time to rejoin Sahula.

Skipper enjoyed the delights of Aden and worked on Sahula's readiness for the next passage to Sudan. Repairs, fuel, water and food were required. 10 days not 5 days is needed. The Rally push gave little time to rest.

Sahula was anchored off Prince of Wales pier. Under the gaze of a bronzed Queen Victoria.. On the hill, a soaring replica of Big Ben, entire with clock, the ultimate kitsch power symbol, pointedly recalled home. Adenese recall fondly British rule and disparage communist Russia's past influence. Now a democratic republic, the President stoutly rebounds from every shop or public wall and billboard. His vestige, in suit and tie, is an ever present reminder of the separation between religion and State.

The prominence of Islam is clear. It is a man's world. Women adorned from 15 years in black burka's gracefully float by. They pray in separate parts of the mosque, eat in separate enclosed parts of a restaurant. Colourful women dress shops evidence that black is the public face. In the home there is a different world. Women students passing, through smiling eyes and muted hello, welcome Skipper. Through the black, women display a warm strength, curiosity and congeniality.

Males wear the "futa" waist wraparound and head dress. In relaxed dress, wide belts carry the ceremonial metal filigree scabbard and hooked knife.

Public places and restaurants resound with males talking in a rising crescendo. Noise is a feature of the Arab community whether from vehicles or people.

Battered taxis and buses, crowded at suicidal speeds provide mass transit on the "wrong" side.

It is a fast moving hectic world that stops and engulfs the visitor. It is a safe and secure society that enjoys its existance. Skipper has not found similar since Indonesia. Yemen has 20% poverty. It seems poorer societies build on the family, community and accept life as it is.

Market enterprise, materialism and the hussle exist alongside peacefully accepting Allah's designated lot in life. Business stops lunch to 1600 for rest and prayer. The resonating call to prayer is answered enmass in crowded mosques. In a seeming ancient world it is hard to comprehend that only recent times have given Yemen independence in politics.

Compulsory education from 8 years to college ensures that English is common. The internet café is crowded with young males playing violent computer games. Youth is short. Young males barely able to sit on a chair, are soon adult. Women have unseen, "Girls Net" cafes.

Refugee Somalis and Sudanese, nursing rounded babies, in poverty, beg for alms. Evidence of wealth is well hidden. Mercedes Benz's have less dents on well worn chassis.

An Aden tour emphasized the bone dryness of its precipitous mountains volcanic geography. The city seems to impossibly cling to life on the barest slope. Cemeteries bore their inhabitants above ground. A British military colonial ground bore young 17-20 age soldiers. Memories of a wasted past.

A beach further emphasized Islam's male world. Women bathed separated and fully dressed in black burka.

The bustle of the "Arab Quarter" market set the standard. A world of rampant enterprise selling the inconceivable to a bustling, surging crowd that seems to never sleep. Amed, the guide, mixed the spectrum with a Yemeni meal.

Quat, a plant and mild drug, chewed by males, is sold in a frenzy.

Group 4 of the Salahah passage reconstitutes for the passage to the Bab el Mandeb straits.. The pirate risk remains till the Red Sea. A few yachts unwisely sail alone.

Adel, an electronics engineer assists in repairing the Course Master Auto pilot. His coming aboard requires, a permit of the Marine Security police and Port Captain. It's Friday, a holiday; the latter will be back tomorrow. The Chief of Police permits the visit. Baksheesh (1000 Reals) is passed via a young boy intermediary. A weekend in Australia prevents the receipt of a wiring diagram. Pearl is retained as sole electronic self steering.

Is it tainted water? Opinions differ on whether the wharf tap is potable. Skipper fills one side with it and another with bottled water. Bleach is added to the "potable" water.

Is the fuel pump 10% out? The authority maintains the gauge is "god"; the yachties, that it's godless.. Yachts taking large volumes are not happy. The fuel wharf bathes in oil and fuel.

Skipper, for the first time since leaving Darwin, suffers a stomach upset. It seems the cause is the last supper ashore and a drop in standards (water and a salad).

What is an Agent worth? Agents assist in cutting through. They approach or hussle, when first landing, arrange deals thereafter. Skipper was recommended Amir. He assisted or manipulated, in finding items, and organizing an electronic engineer. He received $50 US as a service charge. The 2amp fuses and "Stanley" knife he acquired seemed rather expensive. Lesson: Agents are a last resort.

When to depart Aden? Some left midday, others late afternoon, some the next day. Grib files (weather forecasts from historic data) are assiduously studied. Skipper left late afternoon. It was a fair 15 knot wind and there was time to settle down before night fall. However, it was not to be the expected pleasant sail. Pearl (wheel autopilot) stopped. Sahula was back to hand steering. Crew was not happy. Skipper regretted not repairing the Course master.

Crew is learning that cruising is done on complex machines in a harsh environment. "Things" continually require repair. It is accepted as part of the "romantic" lifestyle. Fortunately, maintenance takes 60% of the time, but 10% of the memory.

The English fleet (Hinewai, Island Fling, Sahula) head to Ras Al Ara to effect repairs. "All for one, one for all." Al Ara, a fishing village at the head of a bay, is a set on a desolate, raw beachfront. Fishing gives it life. Locals (males) came alongside and willed fish and squid on their unexpected guests. The "port" official and accompanying army officer come out to act out the formality of a check on papers. They visit one yacht, confuse all the names, and leave.

Pearls most critical part, a small plastic cog, has disintegrated. "Plastimo" by name and nature. The childhood wonder glue, "Araldite," recreated it. An example of sailor ingenuity, based more on hope than reality.

Lesson: Always effect repairs no matter how long it takes if expertise (electronic expert) is available. Lesson Two: Rally schedules put pressure to leave. Lesson Three: No more Rally's. Cruising at your own pace is more fun.

Hinewai and Island Fling depart late afternoon.

Sleep reconstitutes Skipper and Crew. Sahula departed at midnight to pass through the Bab el Mandeb Strait at dawn. We may do so with the Scandinavian Fleet leaving Aden today.

Sailing down a moonbeam to the Straits of Sorrow (Bab el Mandeb). It is reputed to harbour strong winds and large seas. Sahula transits the Small Strait at daybreak in 20 knots and 1 m seas. The worst is in the main strait. Winds blow 30 -40 knots on 2 m seas.

Shipping drives through to the open sea. They bring Skipper memories of passing this way in the 1960's as a Cadet on the "English Star" (Blue Star Line, London). Skipper notes a small "motor boat" driving fast through the heavy seas. It resolves into the eerie sight of a submarine conning tower.

The first "sorrow" in the Fleet. Cool Change (Vancouver 26, solo sailed by Canadian, Peter) is sinking. She's hit an island while the skipper slept. Many yachts are lost in the Red Sea each year. Other yachts race to assist and she is later beached for interim repairs.

Skipper's first view of Africa is Eritrea, the irretrievable. Sahula enters the protected waters of Ras (cape) Terma, Eritrea, a bone dry, sand and rock pile. Its moonscape rejects all life except human. Impossibly, a village, housed in grass roofed, rock walled shanties, claims the ridge line. The bay houses the modern buildings of a military camp. Soldiers wander amongst the huts. Fish, crows and seabirds are the only visible natural food. Water, a mystery.

Lean, coal black village boys pass in a fishing boat. They laugh and smile, shout hello, where from, and pass on.

Yankee poled out, Arial steering, a strong SE'ly; Sahula bowls along gyrating over the building seas.. Crew writes poetry, Skipper sketches in coloured pencil the modernistic, "Red Sea."

Spectacular volcanic islands lead into Mersa Dudo. Yachts already there ride to 30-40 knots, funneling between the onshore volcanoes. Ashore fisherman eek out an existence.

Sahula stays a day. Skipper goes ashore to land on Africa, meet the "locals" (fisherman from Assab), and climb volcanic Mt. Dudo. The headman, recently returned from Europe, offers to converse in German, Italian, or English. Younger fisherman also speak some English. A visiting soldier wields a "Kalashnikov." Rice is exchanged for fish (shark). From nearby wafts the smell of sharks carcasses, minus their fins. Shark fin soup a delicacy.

High on the lee of a desolate, Mt Dudo, a small bird flits between rocks. On the summit winds scream across.

The view across Eritrean Africa is dry, barren, volcanic mountains and lava plains to the horizon. In the lava flows, goats graze on short trees under a wizened shepherd. He prays to Allah then greets Skipper with a toothless smile.

Beyond the fisherman's rude huts, a large graveyard, simple stone mounds, stands testament to Eritrea's demands on life.

A beached, red rusting, cargo vessel is testimony to Eritrea's independence battles.

The Plastimo is reassembled and works. Sahula has an "araldite" autopilot. The jury remains out.

Christiane, (Paddy and Caroline, IndoRally, Aden) reports in on VHF. They've passed unhinded along the "Protected Corridor" and had repairs done in Djibouti. They're sailing non -stop alongside the offshore shipping channel, riding the SE'ly.

Cool Change is patched and heads north in company with a Dutch yacht to Massawa, Eritrea, for full repairs.

The Rally Fleet is split into many parts; some riding overnight before the SE'ly or motoring into a light N'ly, others day sailing. Winds vary depending on whether off or in shore. All will meet in Suakin, Sudan.

Night anchoring is fraught with risk. Digital charts are suspect. Sahula's main compass (Morris Sestrel) has a sticking card. The digital compass gives a check. There is much relief after a long day, in 20 knot SE'lies, under moonlight, anchoring behind Handa Deset.

Winlink (ham, email system) has a "red" hole. There are no stations in close proximity to the Red Sea. Contact is made with YBOAJZ (Indonesia). It is intermittent, dependant on propagation (interference).Other stations are in Bulgaria, Austria and Europe. Critically, the only weather reports are emailed Grib files.

Sahula rode the SE'ly with Mollie (MPS) from Anfile Bay, to anchor behind Adjuz Island, Howakil Bay in company with six other yachts. The forecast is northerlies tomorrow. It seems the northerlies are further south than last year. Tanya (engine) is again to earn her adoration.

Red dust encrusts Sahula; paint, rigging, ropes, solar panels, flags... Visibility is through a dust cloud. The sun sets yellow.

Shumma Island, a flat, dry, raised seabed, spruiks its ancientness. More recent history is written in the name, "Port Smyth" given to a reef enclosed lagoon.. Sahula rests here with a fleet of yachts, amid a clear blue sea, beaches and birdlife.

Into the idyll, the military came; Sahula was long gone. Yachts remaining were boarded and asked to proceed to Massawa for official processing. The radio was abuzz. It was contrary to the international rights of passage accorded all vessels in territorial waters but it is the military...

Sahula is with five German yachts (Casita, Seranade, Pegasus, Antaries) motor sailing overnight, against the light northerlies to Khor Nawarak. The fleet bypassed Sheik Abu Island to avoid officialdom. Tanya is again doing overtime.

Red Sea barracuda and tuna prefer a stainless spinner (or plastic squid) to plastic fish. Two fish are caught in an hour. The first since Asia.

Skipper sketches the coloured pencil: Gliding Birds, Red Sea.

The Convergence Zone, between the north and south weather systems arrives. Sahula can expect light various winds and possible rain. Rivulets of mud run to deck in the first rain since Thailand.

In pitch black, relying on Maxsea digital charts, radar and faith, Sahula anchors at Khor Nawarat. After two nights and two days motor sailing, all is calm. The gods are smiling.

Hinewai (Australia) is the only yacht at the anchorage.

Fuel is a major issue. Sahula carries 210 litres in ship tanks and 180 litres in containers. Motoring against a northerly takes a heavy fuel toll. Tanya drinks 2.3 litres per hour at 1500 revs. At 2000 revs she is thirsty. Refueling in Suakin will include another 100 litres ie 490 litres in total, for the long haul to Egypt.

Experts correctly say, Red Sea passages require time. Rally time is around deadlines. Crew's wife arrives in Egypt on April first. Skipper wishes to enjoy a Red Sea cruise. Contradictions abound.

The Grib weather forecasts a southerly for 2-3 days. The Rally fleet again splits into two groups. Those who caught the previous southerly have had time in Suakin but see only the Red Sea. They now ride the projected Southerly further north. Sahula has moved with the Southerly but also anchored overnight. The passage has been enriched by the Eritrean anchorages. The price is motoring into northerlies or motor sailing with Easterlies. The northern Southerlies are however light winds which also require motor sailing. A conundrum resolved by each cruiser.

Grib files are the only weather reports and charts, accessible by email. Although based on historical data from NOAA in Washington, USA, they are proven accurate. They are mana to the fleet. They depend on access to Winlink.

A day of rest. Bread in the oven. Time to read and sketch. Crew pens poetry.

A fast passage to the Shubuk Channel. Mollie (spinnaker) strains to an early morning Easterly. Its "fish on demand" as the silver spinner again hooks a large fish. The lagoon at Long Island (anchorage at Channel entrance) is alive with birds. Skipper enjoys his first sighting of pink Flamingos. Predator free, a sea eagle family nest on a mudflat.

Maxsea proves completely misleading in the Shubuk Channel. Sahula wends between the visible reefs to Suakin.

The preconception of Suakin is a small port town. A large modern port looms up but once passed the scene is the visual shock of utter desolation; of a town comparable to immediate post war Dresden.

Suakin, the last African slave port (to the USA), was abandoned for nearby Port Sudan. The coral structure of the city quickly crumbled. Present, Suakin exists in all its poverty, wandering camels, donkey carts, markets, amongst the devastation. No electricity service, ensures generators beat the pitch black night air.

An Australian crew (Gold Coast), proclaimed, "I'm glad I came here to see that people lived like this - I would never have known!"

Yet the people are welcoming, friendly, and helpful. Skipper feels as if safe among friends.

Sahula anchored in the inner fishing port amongst colourful traditional fishing boats and other yachts.

The agent, Mohommed (university educated; Conservation) in flowing white and cap, welcomed yachts and efficiently completed the formalities. His battered Mercedes Benz, the best car in town. He is an "agent" worthy of his fee. He organizes fuel, water, money and anything else, with a smile and understanding.

Sahula's voyage halts in Suakin. Crew opts to disembark, prematurely, to rejoin his wife in Egypt. Skipper is initially frustrated, then resigned to the challenge. A cruiser cannot afford to dwell. Survival depends on resolving and moving on.

Sahula is effectively out of the Rally as the fleet proceeds north. The Rally has effectively collapsed as participants were unwilling to remain as a group. Skipper welcomes having no timetable other than inclination, wind and the seasons.

Skipper must now proceed solo or find another crew. It is a prospect full of risk. The autopilots must be repaired or face fulltime hand steering during day sailing between anchorages. "Day sailing" means, at best, motor sailing into prevailing Northerly headwinds for some 600 nm to Hurghada, Egypt. Hopefully, Sahula can join another yacht for the passage.

A crew is unlikely. Skipper has seen no westerners apart from fellow sailors and two UNAID personnel. Tourism is non existent.

Electronic expertise proves more probable. In Port Sudan (Pop: 2 million), Skipper is guided to another "agent" who contacts a Technical College, electronics lecturer who agrees to assist.

Both autopilots manufacturers declare their product old technology with no stocked parts. It is repair or replace. The latter difficult in remote Sudan.

Lesson: replace or update critical electronic items in the cruise preparation stage.

Money access and limited funds, adds to the issues. There are no ATMs or Banks using Visa, providing overseas funds. Western Union, in Port Sudan, is the only lifeline.

Khartoum is reported wracked by political disturbances due to ICC indictment of the President. Westerners are being told to leave. Mohammed assures sailors there is no overflow to Suakin or Port Sudan. "It is just politics," he says. Skipper ensures Sahula is fully prepared for immediate departure.

Internet facilities require a bus trip to Port Sudan. Port Sudan is a featureless, dusty teaming, Arab port city. Skipper welcomes mobile calls from Turkey and Sydney and emails and skype with daughters and friends. Remoteness contracts into the ether.

Skipper meets Gaylani on a crowded bus. Buses only depart when packed full. He is a semi retired local fisherman, restaurant owner and English speaking, merchant seaman. He advises locals sail east (offshore) with the early morning land breeze, returning to the coast with the later Northerly. Skipper surveys a chart. A continuous line of near offshore reefs would require local knowledge to regain the coastal anchorages.

Gaylani, phones to arrange a meeting.

Skipper accompanies Crew to a "luxury" room in a rundown hotel in a dusty city street. Skipper appreciates an icecream then a hot shower. Crew is left enjoying four walls and a TV.

"Home" is a cosy, welcoming, Sahula. Above deck, the Northerly sweeps the bay. The yellow sun sets through a dust cloud. Suakin's jagged skyline, pierced by mosque minarets, melts into utter darkness.

Next Report: Suakin to Hurghada, Egypt

Vessel Name: Sahula
Vessel Make/Model: van de stadt 36 extended to 40 feet
Hailing Port: Townsville
Crew: David - single hander
David is retired (60 ish young) academic who taught potential environmental radicals environmental law, law of the sea and coastal law. He's now setting out on a global cruise aboard Sahula. He's travelling solo except when potential crew take the plunge and join up. He welcomes worthy souls. [...]

About Sahula

Who: David - single hander
Port: Townsville