Freebirdie's Sailin' Blog

22 November 2011 | Seattle
01 August 2011 | Santa Maria di Leuca
03 July 2011 | Greece
15 June 2011 | Gulf of Corinth
05 June 2011 | Athens
28 May 2011 | Poros Greece
25 April 2011 | Symi Island
13 April 2011 | Naxos, Greece
20 February 2011 | Istanbul, Turkey
30 January 2011 | Ephesus
28 January 2011 | Marmaris
16 January 2011 | Selcuk, Turkey
31 December 2010 | Marmaris
24 October 2010 | Cappadocia, Turkey
16 September 2010 | Marmaris Turkey
26 August 2010 | Fethiye, Turkey
19 August 2010 | Marmaris
03 August 2010 | Larnaca Cyprus
01 August 2010 | Mediterranean Sea
30 July 2010 | Ashkelon Marina

Leaving Dikneid Island, Dahlak Bank/Group, Eritrea

31 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
Sadly, we are underway this Good Friday morning from the last island in Eritrea. We had a very good stay here & would have liked to stay even longer but the weather is light so off we go to Sudan on an overnighter to Khor Nawarat.

We were greeted immediately upon anchoring by 4 young Navy men who are manning this remote outpost. They have radar & are checking all vessels looking for Yemenese & Sudanese fisherman mostly who are encroaching in their waters. Military service is mandatory in this country & these 4 are fulfilling their obligation cheerfully even though their conditions are extremely basic. They asked for cigarettes initially & we had bread & grape juice instead to share. We went ashore for our first beach walk in a while & was accompanied by the youngest one ~ Meran, who is the spokesperson for the group. His English was excellent & he talked about the island to us. We brought in coffee/tea/sugar/cookies/crackers. The next day we hiked around the island. Just when we were almost back to where we started from we came to a bay that was surrounded by mangroves & had to go all the way back around. It took us 3 hrs & we were pretty hot & tired as the sun is so relentless in these parts. The fellows invited us in for some tea & homemade Eritrean flat bread. They have a small freezer/tv/radio so we watched a bit of news. Meran asked for sunglasses & toothpaste so yesterday when we came back in to walk the beach we brought some floss, TBrushes too & did a quick demo along with all of our old sunglasses we could find. They made Dave some coffee. I brought in a big pot of steamed rice with sautéed onions & chicken bullion.

Gehru, the leader had a badly infected hand. We took him out to the fleet (there were 11 of us anchored in the bay)where a retired surgeon took a quick look & gave him some antibiotics. Hope that really helps as they are so far away from any kind of services. We came back in at sunset & showed them how to play Bocci Ball. They took to it immediately & were natural pros. Luckily we were just the coaches as they would have beat the pants off of us at our own game!!!! 2 of them went fishing & caught us some small fish for dinner & we shared them with a French boat that had come in late the night before. So, we 11 cruisers are all underway north during this brief weather window. Some are going as far as the winds let them, Egypt & beyond. A few of these boats are finishing their circumnavigation & can't wait to get back to Europe somewhere. The wooden classic French skipjack really has Dave's attention. When they came in the dusk undersail he couldn't wait to meet them. That's where we took the fish last night. The captain & his son are hurrying back to France to compete in a classic yacht race. Dave volunteered to crew and sent his credentials this morning.................................

Tucked in

31 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
We sailed 8 hours to the next island. Our plan was to sail overnight to a much better anchorage where there are nice beaches and kiteboarding. We couldn't make the full distance before night fall because of head winds and strong counter currents. No other boats were here. Four guys came out in a speed boat and stepped aboard. Luckily for us one spoke some English. They were from the Eritrian navy. We quickly made friends and gave them a some goodies and a pack of cigarettes A couple of other yachts showed up a few hours later while we were on the beach. Judy scored a few shells.

This morning Dave jumped in the water and scrubbed the props while being watched by a big barracuda. We did a few chores then headed in for some hiking on the island. A three hour walk circled the island. There were many beautiful beaches, coves and mangroves. The water is stunningly clear. It blends from light turquoise to deep indigo blue. The day was bright and sunny. A trio of flamingos flew by to top things off. When we returned to the beach our navy friends were waiting for us in their camp. They invited us for tea. We sat in the small makeshift house and enjoyed the tea and conversation before returning to Freebird for some lunch and a bit of reading, it was pretty hot out! A fishing boat came in and was anchored up wind from us. We noticed that they were having difficulty pulling up their anchor.... Guess what? Yep, they snagged our anchor chain and couldn't pull up their anchor. We quickly motored up to take the tension off the chain and they managed to get clear of our chain without pulling our anchor up. It was a little scary because we came pretty close to contacting them. Everybody was happy and they dropped a fish off when they went by.

We have decided to stay here because the wind is forecast to be strong from the north for the next few days. It's now 10:00 PM and there are 11 other boats taking shelter with us. One boat turned back and sailed 20 miles to join us. Three more have come in after dark. Not a fun drill. Fortunately the almost full moon is helping with visibility. The wind has started to blow and there is a swell coming around the point. It's a little bouncy but we are "tucked in" and secure....

Road trip

25 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
Well, our Freedom stamp worked.... We along with 5 friends piled into the trusty old smoking cab/van jalopy and headed for the hight country. Job, our driver wasn't really interested in making any speed records. We were stopped at the first of 5 checkpoints to check our "FREEDOM STAMPS"....They worked! Up into the mountains...steep windy switchbacks for 4+ hours. The seats in our vehicle weren't standard vehicle seats. They were made to pile as many passengers in for short trips as possible = HARD. We found ourselves changing cheeks and hanging on as we zigzagged up the bumpy road. Herds of goats, sheep, camels and cattle slowed our progress. Each herd was usually tended by a young boy dressed like he was in a 2000 year old flash back.... Long robe type garments with a turban on the head. The country side was dry and desolate. If rocks were in demand this place would be a world supplier. The rope across the road was dropped for us to proceed past the final check point and we entered the capital city of Asmara. This city was built by the Italians in the 1800s. Much of the architecture is still in tact. Also, there are many Italian restaurants and you can get an espresso on just about any corner. We rumbled up to our hotel to find that it was completely booked. After little looking around we found 3 rooms in 2 different hotels a block apart. Ours had an ensuite and even one light bulb that worked. (what do ya want for $10 a night!).. First order of business.... Pizza! (and lasagna). Judy was locked in battle with the "two step" and after the delicious meal we headed back to the room ~ pronto! After an hour or so she emerged from the bathroom and declared she was ready to venture out a little. We headed to the recycle market. What a place! There are shops here that are creating stuff from recycled material. They make everything from bedroom furniture to bicycles. Welding torches are popping and metal is being pounded into countless shapes.. the noise is a symphony of clattering, banging, pounding and popping. Each shop is producing a different product. Many are run by families. The kids are painting while dad is pounding out some creation from a discarded oil drum. A little something from nothing!!! Dave could have spent his entire time there. The workers were all really friendly and would stop, smile and strike up a conversation. I guess you could call it that. Mostly sign language.

There are really no tourists here. As a matter of fact, the US state department has recommended against us even being here.....So here we are. It's hard to find a place that doesn't have tourists these days. We feel like were seeing the real country. Next stop.......back to the room with the ensuite, tout suite! That was really all we did that day. Our friends headed out to dinner...we stayed close to the ensuite....caught up on some reading. TV was kewl...3 channels... All in Arabic ......Next morning.... Head out for a breakfast coffee and pastry. ... It's Palm Sunday.. we wander the streets meeting folks and looking for someplace open that serves a real breakfast.... No luck.. We heard there were some baboons at the garbage dump so half of us went out there. We opted out, hitting the fruit/veggie market instead. These are always interesting. You get to meet people and interact with them. There is always lots of activity and all the different fruits and veggies are stacked up in a colorful display. It's an overload on the senses.

After lunch "Italiano" it was time to head down the road back to Massawa where Freebird is waiting patiently. We (now nine of us) all pile in for the long journey.......First check point......They don't seem to like our drivers papers.... Back to the city where Job heads to the appropriate office while we sit the sun for 2 hours ~ waiting. We are on display. Soon people gather around the van. Most are just interested in the strange creatures inside. Some are selling their wares. Some are beggars. Soon we are all tired and cranky. There is talk of spending another night. We need to return to Freebird. The battery needs to be charged or we will loose all our food in the refer. We wait....our driver still doesn't show up. We wait some more.... Finally, Judy sees a van and flags it down. She asks if the guy wants to take us to Massawa.. NO, he says but he offers to take us to his friend who he thinks can do it. Dave jumps in the van and disappears around the corner for 20 minutes . After some negotiation, a price is agreed upon and triumphantly Dave returns with his prize. We all pile in and off we go..... To the tire shop. We put some nice new "used" tires on and away we go.... To pick up the real driver that has a Freedom Stamp to travel to Massawa. So off we go.... To the gas station... So off we Massawa! We did spot some baboons along the road. They came up to the van with angry smiles.

Three and a half hours and 5 check points later we spot Freebird's anchor light in the bay This will not go down as one of our more fun trips but who said it was all fun out here. We will always carry the memories with us of the smiling people of Eritrea..

As I write this we are anchored off a small island north of Massawa. We had a beautiful sail most of the way. We gave Freebird a bath to get the dessert sand off the decks. The moon is full, The air has cooled down. The breeze is light. We're working our way north again. Tomorrow we rise early to sail about 30 hours to our next destination.

Oh & yeh, well, when the other 4 hiked off to find baboons at the "dump", they spotted a few in the binoculars & got a far away photos. Well, on our way back down the mountains there were a large family along the side of the road. We pulled over as fast as we can & before we can get our camera's out we are surrounded. The few of us who had open windows were a bit intimidated but we have a good shot of one through the window for you when we get to the next internet. There was not a connection here in either Massawa or Asmara. We probably can't check the gmail/Facebook until Suakin in about a wk... sorry. Please write to us here if we haven't answered you lately on the gmail ok?

PS Here is the Wikipedia address for Asmara if you want to take a look, click here.

Checkin' in

25 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
Last night we reported to Quarantine and Customs offices as requested by "Port Control" upon our arrival. We were issued gate passes to leave the port area for a few hours. The process seemed simple and straight forward. Tomorrow ...we report to Immigration, they open at 7am.

Massawa is a city in ruins. The country is at peace now after 30 years of devastating war. Most of the buildings have irreparable damage. Some have been completely devastated by bombing. The city is literally falling down....turning to dust. We found ourselves at a little cafe drinking coffee and tea. The owner, Mike, changed our money to local currency. (back room, black market) .
War Torn Eritrea

This morning we reported to Immigration to turn in our gate passes for visas. We want to travel to the capital city of Asmara. We paid our $80 fee. So we're free to roam the country right?? Wrong.. You have to get a permit to travel within the country. Okay, we say, where to we do that? Oh, you need to take a taxi for that. What we weren't told is that we needed a taxi and a full day of dealing with a very cumbersome bureaucracy Along with 7 other sailors we piled into the old struggling van/taxi. We arrived at the building only to find that it was the wrong building. After groping around the city we finally found the "Tourist department". It took two guys an hour to fill our forms out. They handed them back to us with a big smile.. Okay! We're free!.... No, no....You must go the the Finance department and pay the permit fee before you can have your permit stamped with the special stamp that makes you "FREE". So down the hall we go. We pay our $15 "Freedom" fee and one guy takes over 45 minutes to make our receipts in triplicate with carbon paper. We take our receipts back to the guy for the "freedom stamp". We're FREE!.......Oh no.... We don't actually have the STAMP here. You must go to another place for that. Back in the old smoking van/taxi and across town we go. We pile out and head to the door.... Guess what? There is nobody there! We hang around for a while.....Nobody shows up....Our driver walks down the street and disappears into a building... He returns with the news.... The stamp man has gone home..What now? Back in our now overheating van/taxi and down the road we go.....We park in the shade of a tree and wait in front of his house..... We wait....and's hot.... We're sitting on the curb like a bunch of lost soles. Finally a man comes out and jumps in the poor old taxi/van with us and off we go.... We arrive at the original building that we went to at the start of our search for freedom.... He takes our forms and disappears into the crumbling structure.... We wait...and's hot... we're again sitting on the curb... waiting.....Finally the man comes out smiling carrying our forms .... with the "Freedom stamps affixed"........Finally we're free...right?? Maybe.... We'll see when we head to Asmara the day after tomorrow in our poor old smoking van/taxi.... It's just a couple of hours over the mountains ..........

Shuma Island/Port Smyth

22 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
It's Wednesday afternoon now & we are heading in to Massawa after all. Dave did not want to go, he wanted to catch up with our buddies on "Dream Keeper" & go kiteboarding but they got too far ahead, the weather was changing and we need some fresh food.... so looks like we are checking into Eritrea.

We really enjoyed our brief stay out at the island. Met a new bunch of cruisers from a different convoy. We met on the beach all 3 nights & played. It was a fun time.

Yesterday was a work day for us. First I cleaned out the dinghy. It was a dirty mess with all the sand & dirt from those 2 nasty ports (Salalah & Aden). Then Dave joined me & we cleaned up DirtyBird's bottom. Dave took the outsides which had the most growth. I did the 2 insides BUT, he had the only suction cup & I had to kick to stay next to the boat. I was getting pretty tired so we teamed up & did the other hull together. We think she probably couldn't move very well with that 1 inch grass beard that she was growing. ICK.

We were starving by the time we got finished & had a late lunch, no snorkeling. Everyone met on the beach for a smoked fish dinner at 5:00. Two of the cruisers fished along the reef & caught 3 big fish which Bryce on "Silver Fern" smoked on the beach. It was excellent. YUMMY. Everyone brought a dish. I made black beans & rice with corn. It was tasty too. We played Bocci Ball & visited until long past dark. No mosquitos!!!!!!~!

A Break!

22 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
The wind has abated temporarily. We are anchored off the beach on Shumma Island. The water is calm and clear. We are here with 5 other boats. Last night we had a barbecue and birthday party on the beach. It was a fun time. The air was calm and warm..a beach fire.. a guitar, singing and lots of camaraderie. We slept like the dead last night. This morning Judy went grazing for shells on the beach. Then we hit the water on the outer reef for some superb snorkeling. We are thinking of staying here a day or two more. We have to keep an eye on the weather. If the north winds start to blow we can be pinned down for a week or more. It's a balancing act. We have to move North when there is a weather window, but we want to spend quality time along the way. What to do. The girl needs to get some fresh food tipping the balance toward a stop in Massawa...

Saturday afternoon ~ underway

17 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
We're still out here sailing away. Right at this moment there is a fishing frenzy! Big fish flying out of the water chasing the little fish & boobies, pelicans diving. Davey dropped his 2 lines in the water. Yesterday, we had to leave that super windy windy anchorage without getting to shore to hike the cinder cone. There was no way we could even think about launching the dinghy. We had to leave at 3AM in order to make it to the next anchorage before dark. At first we had southerlies but just at daylight it switched to northerlies, luckily for us ~ light northerlies. We sailed until the afternoon until the wind was on the nose & we motorsailed into the anchorage. There was only 1 other boat there that had sailed all night & stayed the day. We picked them up in our dinghy when we went over to have a potluck BDay party with our friends who was celebrating their guest/crew/friend's 65th BDay. It was our first time off of the boat since we left Aden last week. We sorta thought of it as "land time". It was a pretty big stretch considering monohulls are known to roll a bit... But we had lots of fun with it! We wanted to make it to Port Smyth/Shuma Island today for snorkeling but with the northerlies couldn't get in before dark so we just pulled into Adjuz. It's gotten overcast & not too inviting right at the moment. We came through a super shallow patch going between the 2 islands that had us terrorized momentarily when we got down to 2 ft on the depth meter but managed to get through there ok.... phew.... Davey caught a beautiful Travali or something.... oh yummm, dinner!

Marsa Dudo

17 March 2010 | Eritrea, Africa
Dave n Judy
Well, the Red Sea & i aren't going to be friends, for sure! Dave, the sailor (sailboat =wind) windsurfer/kiteboarder is ok with it. These constant HUGE hot stifle-ing winds aren't for me. EVER So far, we've had south winds from 25 to 50 knots, from the stern. Luckily we aren't beating into north winds... When we go to turn towards shore to anchor, sometimes as much as an hour, we have that off shore furnace blast of sandy wind pelting us & our boat. When we arrived here this afternoon after a 3 hr sail there were 6 boats here, 2 that had just left, & the other 4 pulling up anchor. I watched this single hander guy run forward & grind up his anchor, then when the wind would blow him back he'd race back to the cockpit & motor back up on it. By the time he ran forward again the anchor would be pulled tight & he'd have to run back to the cockpit & start over again. These wind bullets of 35-50 knots kept him at it for a half hour. Poor guy. We had to take our sail down & motor into it with both engines. Dave can't let the boat go backwards to fast during anchoring because it puts such a hard strain on the gear that it's a whole nother ball game. Got the wind generator working again & that poor thing gets whipped up so high that it shuts down at 50knots. It's hard to tell who'se going to blow first ~ me or it, as it revs my heart right up with every gust. The folks that live here must be really tough. They have my admiration. wow Dave has a totally different perspective. Tonight we have to leave at 2am in order to get to the next anchorage before dark tomorrow night... the trouble is ~ they are talking about the wind changing direction from the north. yikes I've been plotting getting picked up by a helicopter & getting dropped off on an aircraft carrier. Maybe getting towed behind a freighter. Kenmore AirHarbor in Seattle won't come & pick me up.... i can't think of one person who would trade places with me, some other wind junkie!! Something, anything!

Day 2 Red Sea

17 March 2010 | Eritrea
Dave n Judy
After two days sailing in 30 to 40 knot winds Freebird is covered in a crust of salt and red powdery dust. You can write your name in the grime. We're anchored behind a small low island about 300 meters off the shore. The sand is blowing off the beach and sand dunes. We can feel it sting our skin when we go out on deck. We won't see any water for boat washing for at least a month. Our new anchor is worth ten times what we paid. It's nice to not worry about that. Today we sailed 9 hours and 60 miles to arrive here. The Red Sea is one thousand miles long. If we choose not to sail at night and just day hop the distance.... It will take 16 more days like this one. Of course we plan on spending more time at the more interesting places. Today was down wind so our progress and comfort was at a premium. As we move North the winds will turn against us and we will be sailing to windward in heavy seas. Judy made some yummy bread today, which I almost missed smelling as I was soooo engrossed with sailing.. I had the fishing lines out but no bites. Maybe I should change the lures.... Too lazy... If I catch something, I'll have to clean it. ....too lazy. Sailing and navigation keeps me pretty occupied. Today we sailed with just the jib tacked to the rail. When the wind piped up I rolled it up to control the speed. At times we were sailing well over 10 knots Fun... There are 2 camps on the beach here. One is clearly the fishermen as there was one boat on shore. Later 2 more small craft came in with provisions. Huddled down the beach was a second group of very young men. At first they tried to wade out and then swam to us. Finally one older boy made it. The first thing he asked for was water. Well, how do you convey water to group of people. We put 4 ~1 litter plastic waters & 3 grape juices in a big baggie.. He could barely make it back to shore. Then his little buddy came out. He wasn't as strong & asked for "biscuits". We gave him a package & another water.. They had their teeth filed down to points. They stayed well away from the fishing group. At sunset they faded back up the hill to the other side. We hope for the best. The fishermen headed to sea. There are a few Somali refugees around...they are desperate. So sad....

We are the only boat here...we're alone, surrounded by inky blackness A sliver of moon followed the sun to the distant African mountains.. No call to prayer, no gunshots, no disco music. Just the wind in the rigging, desert sands and the stars above........Peace and love to you all..

Wecome to Africa

15 March 2010 | Bab el Mandeb
Dave n Judy
Here we are, we made it..... or are making it right at the minute any way. We left Ra's Al' Arah, Yemen last night/this morning at, 2:15 am, the last stop around the corner from The Red Sea Straits. We weren't far off of a military base & they ~ YES ~ were shooting off flares over our boat around 1AM. The automatic weapons fire went on for hours. Then, there was the call to prayer. Not sure if & when i've had a full night's sleep lately??? Because of the wind, currents & light it's best to hit the opening of the straits right around 6am, which we did. We heard on the radio about 8 other sail boats that were in that vicinity as well. Yesterday, when we got to the anchorage there weren't any boats there .... by the end of the night we were with 5 other boats.

For the Wikipedia info on the Red Sea, click here:

Later in the day:

Have the hook down at 11am, almost 9 hrs of sailing. We are officially in Eritrea, Africa!!! The straits weren't too bad.......... but when we turned to go to towards the anchorage, oh baby. Wind gustting to 40, rough beam seas. Had to roll the jib twice. We were going 11 knots there for awhile. It's pretty hot here and if we weren't so sand blasted off this tiny scrap of island we could open up more.... On the beach there are a bunch of folks huddled under some scrub. Just as i was putting down the anchor, Dave says ~ hope they aren't pirates. Well there you go. Another one of those nights! Alright !!! Another boat , our friends on "Sundance" have pulled in next to us so we somehow feel a little more secure.....
Vessel Name: Freebird
Vessel Make/Model: Grainger MC420 Catamaran
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Dave and Judy Howell
Dave started building Freebird in 1995 in a plastic shed on Camano Island, NW USA and launched her in April of 2001. He retired from the Fire Department in 1999 after 28 years of service. Judy Retired from dentistry in 1995 after 27 years. [...]
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