Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Skylax blog RED SEA 2010


This edited blog will cover our cruising up the Red Sea to ERETRIA, SUDAN and EGYPT before going through the Suez Canal and back into the Mediterranean. The latest entries appear first.












Skylax position reports

We will be posting position reports with Yotreps from September 2007 WHEN WE ARE ON PASSAGE. Position reports can be found at Yotreps from either THE REPORTING BOAT LIST that displays our position and a brief comment on Google Earth or you can download the YOTREPS POSITION REPORTER and locate our track and other data (wind, wave height, bearing) on the world map.

Yotreps  has a side bar menu with the reporting boat list and also a button to download the Yotreps Reporter (reporter software) and instructions on how to use it. The software is free.

You can find Skylax either by our call sign or name:


Call sign   MGAY

Yachts bound for the Gulf of Aden bale out


 A number of yachts heading for the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea are taking an alternative option of shipping their boats back to the Med. Sevenstar Shipping is arranging a dedicated service from Male in the Maldives to the Med in March.Loading is between 10th to 25th of March at Male.

Before you jump at the chance to avoid the passage through the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea you might want to contemplate that the trip cost $US650 per ft. You read that right. For a 40 footer you will be looking at $26,000.

Skylax coming home

Skylax coming home


Coming up the Red Sea Skylax was limping along. Not mortally wounded but licking her wounds. After over 30,000 miles on her circumnavigation there was general wear and tear and worse, some wounds we had inflicted on her.

In Malaysia in the last race of the Raja Muda an insane moment of adrenaline inspired racing put her briefly up on a coral outcrop. Worse I knew it was there and stopping dead from five and half knots was chilling.

In Ao Chalong in Thailand we dragged anchor in a squall and came to a stop on a robust aluminium boat. Aluminium boat one, Skylax nil and a lot of scratched gel coat and a mangled toe-rail.

Beating up the Red Sea is brutal on a boat and some known problems with the anchor locker bulkhead and the half bulkhead behind that surfaced.

Some of the sails had more than 50,000 miles on them and standing and running rigging was taking a beating. Chafe and more chafe, the perennial problem of ocean passages.

And the rudder. Ah well, another known problem with the mount for the top bearing. The ply pad in between the fibreglass had evidently delaminated and no amount of epoxy filler was going to solve the problem in the long term. Rudders take enormous loads in the Tradewind passages with huge forces on the rudder every time you come off a wave. Numerous boats had serious problems with spade rudders where there is no supporting skeg, but even on Skylax with a full skeg the loads were working away on the top bearing mount.

As we beat our way up the Red Sea, happy that the Mediterranean was near, but tired of body and soul, we needed somewhere to park Skylax for some necessary tender loving care. I've known Yusuf for over 20 years and Can for not much less. At Yachtworks they fix all sorts of problems and Yusuf re-built Tetranora, my beloved 31 footer before I took her to SE Asia and back. And I mean re-built. (I'll post the article on the web site at some future date.) So from Egypt a quick email confirmed that they would be waiting in Turgutreis for us... and for Skylax.

It's difficult to describe my feelings on getting back to the Mediterranean. Its not just another sea, it's home. A few tears, a slow exhalation of pleasure, and as it happened a gentle sail hard on the wind in a Force 3-4 and relatively flat water. Up to Kas to greet Turkey and relax, then overnight to Turgutreis and a beat from Rhodes up to the end of the Bodrum Peninsula, Skylax in her element and almost smelling the hay and the stable and some care and attention at Yachtworks. And so here we are after some 30,000 miles since we left, catching our breath and meeting old friends, all of us a little older and none the wiser. And slowly plotting some new adventures.

All photos copyright Yusuf Civelokoglu



Ismalia on the N side of Lake Timsah is the usual stopover point for yachts taking two days to transit the canal.


The buoyed channel up to the Ismalia Yacht Club is straightforward even if the pilot will want you to take a shortcut through shallower water. Use your own judgement.


Data   40 berths. Visitors berths. Max LOA 18m. Larger yachts can anchor off. Depths 2.5-4m. Charge band 2.

Berth   Where directed stern or bows-to the quay. You need to take a line to a mooring buoy so have one ready. The YC does not have a dinghy to help you get a line onto the mooring buoy so it can be a bit of a palaver doing this.

Shelter   Good shelter from the prevailing northerlies. Strong southerlies could cause a problem though they are rare.

Anchorage   Yachts over 18 metres or so will need to anchor off. Yachts under 18 metres will be directed to the YC even if they anchor.

Note   You are inside the restricted port area at the YC and must pass in and out of the customs gates leading into town. They will ask to see your passport(s) and may check on your shopping etc. when you are returning to the port area.


Services   Water and electricity on the quay. Showers and toilets. Security.

Fuel   By jerry can if customs on the gate get paid baksheesh. When we were here one yachtsman decided to kick up a fuss about this and as a consequence all yachts were banned from getting fuel. Thanks mate and you know who you are.

Repairs   There are no dedicated yacht facilities but around the shores there are a number of large boat-building and repair facilities for tugs and workboats.

Provisions   Good shopping with a Metro supermarket in town. Metro will deliver you and your shopping to the customs gate for a small fee.

Eating out   Good local restaurants in town.

Other   ATM's. Taxis. Excursions to Cairo and other places can be arranged.


Ismalia is a convivial spot to stop over for a few days. In many ways it makes sense to stop here to wait for a weather window in the Mediterranean and then just transit the second half of the canal and keep on going straight into the Mediterranean. If you are late leaving like we were then this can mean heading out through the channel with a lot of shipping coming and going and lots of oil wells to wend your way through. It's a bit stressy but doable and the channel and the oil rigs are well lit.

The Yacht Club at Ismalia is a wonderful art deco affair from another era. In the 1930's you could imagine this being the hub of social life in Ismalia full of French and English couples drinking Pernod or Pimms and listening to the latest gossip. It really is a wonderful building that has been restored to something of its former glory.

The wonderful art deco YC

Suez Canal


Saeed the pilot, not the most chatty but OK

Things are pretty much as described in Red Sea Pilot or Indian Ocean Cruising Guide with a few exceptions.

  1. The Prince of the Red Sea and Habeebi Agents still operate in Tewfiq, but Felix Agency that used to be based in Cairo has now extended his operation to the south end of the canal as well. We used Felix as did a good number of other boats and they were efficient and friendly. Everything worked pretty much as it should. Felix Agency operates on VHF Ch 77 or 68. Email

  2. The boatmen, the pilots, the measurer and just about everyone else asks for baksheesh. For some reason this provokes a great deal of irritation amongst yachties who get on their high horse about the iniquity of it all. Hey guys: this is Egypt, you know its going to happen, its part of the culture, and you should pull in your own cultural outpouring of outrage and disbelief and get on with enjoying this quite wonderful country.

  3. For the record we gave the pilot $US20, 5 packets of Marlboro, and a pen. None of this was enough of course, but just ride with it and don't take it too seriously.

  4. The good news is that prices for the Suez Canal seem to have gone down (somehow) compared to 13 years ago when I was last through. A very agreeable $US366 for Skylax (46 feet).

  5. The pilots are still a mixed bunch. Our pilot to Ismaliya, where we are now, was Saeed who was agreeable enough and as usual steered nearly the whole way. Don't forget you need to provide lunch and beverages along the way.

If there are warships using the canal then yachts cannot transit... terrorists that we are 




(Port Tewfiq)

On the trots in the Suez YC

All yachts must go to the Suez Yacht Club unless they are too big - that's over 70 or 80 feet or so.


Theoretically you must inform Tewfiq Port Control that you are approaching the harbour on VHF Ch 14 and they will send a pilot out to bring you in. This is a hassle and the easier way of doing it is to email your chosen agent and then call him on VHF as you approach the harbour - say 10 miles off. He can arrange things with the harbourmaster and will be waiting at the Suez Yacht Club as you come in.

You do need to keep clear of any shipping moving in the anchorage areas or in the approach channel and the canal.

Approaches to Tewfiq


You tie fore and aft between buoys and Karkar at the club will be there with the agent. There can be a fair amount of current (sometimes as much as 1-2 knots or more, so allow for that. The new pontoon was partially destroyed in strong winds a few months before we got there and there is now only room for a couple of yachts if there is space.


Potable water on the jetty. Fuel is brought out to you in jerry cans by the agent. Naturally he charges a premium for this (diesel was 90 cents US in 2010). He is also the contact for beer and wine and as Suez is a 'dry' town this is the easiest, possibly the only way, to do it. Laundry can be done by Karkar, the boatman for the Suez YC. Tea and soft drinks at the club. Shops and some restaurants on the main road past the Red Sea Hotel or get a mini-bus or taxi into Suez town where there is a good market.

The amiable Karkar at the Suez YC

Everyone feels a sense of relief at getting up the Gulf of Suez and into Port Tewfiq. And it really is a quite pleasant place to be. The area immediately behind the club is the old colonial area with wonderful villas where the English and the French formerly lived. The streets are lined with trees that some topiary man keeps in spheres. The people are friendly and everything pretty much works. Wonderful.

|Gulf of Suez


El Tor sunset

Coming north up the Red Sea you get to the Gulf of Suez where the northerly winds are funnelled down the narrow gulf and increase in strength. Not many yachts have an easy time getting up to Port Tewfiq (Suez) although I have friends who fluked a wonderful run up with southerlies all the way. As for us - well dream on.

We left Port Ghalib with a forecast for light northerlies and later on light easterlies and even SE winds. For the day and through the night we had light northerlies, and were able to make good northing by motor-sailing. By the second day the wind was still light and then started to go NE and even ENE in the Gulf of Suez. I loved the grib forecasts as this stage and we even managed to do a bit of sailing to give the engine a bit of a break. By late afternoon we were motoring into 12-15 knots of NNW and I was still optimistic.

And then the wheels fell off. By early evening we had 20 knots on the nose and a short sea, but we were still making progress. By 2200 we had 25 knots and things weren't looking great. An hour later off the reefs at Sheratib we had 30 knots continuous and more in the gusts. Things weren't looking bright as we were making just 2 knots at fairly high revs and water was cascading down the side decks - and elsewhere. At midnight we turned around and ran off to El Tor about 30 miles south.

Running south under a pocket handkerchief of jib we were trying to go as slowly as possible so it would be light when we hung a left through the oilfields to get to El Tor. Fortunately dawn, or at least the false dawn was just after 0500 and we turned between some capped wells and navigated tentatively through the oilfield.

El Tor was a little haven once we got in and anchored in the outer part of the harbour. The inner part had five other yachts who had given up the unequal struggle as well. We waited two days before deciding to head off again. The gribs showed it going light and again even the possibility of easterlies. We were happy just to have 15-20 knots and to plug on overnight up to Tewfiq.

El Tor

The following may be helpful.

  1. None, I mean none of the grib files or other weather sources, get it right. We consulted the following: normal GFS gribs from Sailmail, Buoyweather (subscription and some people swear by it, though not me), Passageweather, Wetterwelt (a German subscription service that got closer then the others but was still way out), Wind Guru (both the free version and the subscription service), and Wind Finder. We also used text forecasts and weatherfax.

  2. The wind is likely to be northerly, usually NNW, and will be anything up to 10 knots and more over that forecast. Where the Gulf of Suez narrows around the Sheratib reefs and oilfield the wind increases as it is funnelled even more through the gap. Get 20 or 30 miles north of Sheratib and it decreases again.

  3. You can't really sail your way out of trouble in the Gulf of Suez. There are huge oilfields on the east and west sides AND in the middle between the shipping lanes. The shipping lanes are busy. The western lane is southbound and the eastern lane is northbound. Add to the mix lots of trawlers and supply boats and tugs and you need vigilance the whole way.

  4. There are several good anchorages along the eastern side so it pays to stay on that side. El Tor was great although you can't go ashore - though I have heard of some yachties who say you can. I asked the guys on the windsurfer school rescue boat here and they said you needed to go ashore and get a permit from the military. They said it wasn't easy so we decided not to. In my experience the anchorages behind a reef in this part of the world are not great and its best to have a bit of land between you and the sea as at El Tor and several of the other anchorages along the coast. See The Red Sea Pilot.
  5. As you get closer to Tewfiq the seas ease a bit, although they are still short and stop you a lot. Tides are strong around here and you will frequently get 1 knot or more with or against you.
The shipping lanes are busy in the gulf with convoys of very big ships coming through and ...

... and oil rigs to the left and the right and in the middle.

Port Ghalib

Port Ghalib south basin... and beyond the desert

Port Ghalib is a vast hotel and apartment complex built on the desert coast. Incorporated into the resort is Port Ghalib Marina, an intertwining system of waterways and basins around which the hotels and apartments are scattered. It is huge and we are only talking about phase 1 here. The project is backed by Kuwaiti money and when it is finished there will be 27 hotels. It has its own power plant and reverse osmosis plant to provide fresh water. Behind the resort there is the workers 'town', a dormitory suburb to provide accommodation for all the people who work here.

Although the architecture is well done in a quasi-Egyptian / Mediterranean style, the resort could really be anywhere: on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, in the Bahamas, in Dubai. Somehow there is an anonymity to it and also a touch of the global reach of large corporations with a TGI Fridays and Costa Coffee. Many of the people in the hotels are here for the diving, there are more than a dozen large dive boats operating out of here, or they are here for winter sun and lying around the hotel pool.

For yachts coming up the coast Port Ghalib is a welcome respite from the northerlies blowing down and a logical place to clear into Egypt. It also offers that miracle of water and electricity on the quay, something most boats will not have had since Malaysia and Thailand.

Port Ghalib main resort loking from the south basin


The fairway buoy (R & W) is easily located and in good light the entrance between the reef on either side is straightforward. It is narrow, around 50 metres wide though it has small red and green buoys showing the channel. You should call Port Ghalib Marina when 10 miles out on VHF Ch 16 and you will then be asked to call up again when you off the fairway buoy. The harbour authorities answer any calls promptly. Once into the marina go alongside on the arrivals quay immediately inside.


One of the marina staff will come down with the necessary forms for you to fill in and wait while you complete them. You will also need one crew list. The papers and passports and boat registration will be taken away and it usually takes a couple of hours for the papers and passports to come back.

Costs are

$US15 per person for a one month visa

$US30 for customs

$US40 for processing the paperwork

Given that some other places will charge $US100 plus to act as an agent, the charges in Ghalib are very reasonable.


Once the paperwork is done and passports and boat docs returned you will be directed to a berth. Smaller yachts up to 14 metres will usually be directed to the southern basin off the hotel. There are least depths of around 2.8 metres in the channel. It is very tight in here for manoeuvring and the staff on the boat that helps you in are not the greatest at sorting out lines etc.

When we came in the wind was still blowing 20 knots onto the quay and backing onto into the space was not going to work after a couple of goes. So we got a long line and put it around a bollard on the other side of the basin and let ourselves down into the gap. The next day I noticed that some of the dive boats based here did exactly the same thing. To hold you off the quay you need to have a line ready to tie onto the mooring buoy.

Once tied up in the basin the shelter is excellent.

Larger yachts go stern-to tied to a buoy off the main complex just past the fuel basin. There is a lot more room to manoeuvre here and getting into a berth is a lot easier than in the southern basin.


There is water (potable) and electricity (220V but there seem to be problems with some of the connections) near every berth. Close to the arrivals quay there is a fuel quay.

The resort is geared up for people on holiday, many of them on all-inclusive packages, so there is little in the way of shopping. In the dormitory town for the workers (around 3 km away) there is a mini-market and a fruit and veggie shop and it here you will need to go to get anything. In the resort itself there is a restaurant and snack bar in the hotel in the southern basin and in the main resort there is a TGI Fridays, Costa Coffee and the Grand Cafe. These all do food as well as very good coffee. Grand Cafe and TGI Fridays have wifi.

A free water taxi runs between the south basin and the main resort from 1000 to late in the evening every day.

There are no facilities for hauling or repairing yachts here. For the most part yachts are a bit like a flower arrangement for the hotels... we look good parked under the hotel.

So it is a weird place, probably somewhere you would never choose to go to if given the choice. But for yachties bashing up the Red Sea it is a little taste of luxury, of water and electricity on the quay, of wifi with a cappuccino, of just sitting around taking it easy and waiting for the next weather window to head north.

There are various versions of what happened to this yacht at the entrance to Port Ghalib. The most plausible sems to be that it was a German yacht heading south down the Red Sea. Somehow in the entrance to Port Ghalib things went wrong in strong northerlies and he ended up on the reef on the south side. The yacht was then pulled across the coral and up onto the land. Apparently he was fined $US150,000 for damaging the reef.


Getting up the Red Sea


And you don't want to make any mistakes

All across the Indian Ocean I've been sneaking a look at grib files for the Red Sea. On the two other occasions I've been in the Red Sea the wind has blown strongly from the north for the top two thirds of the sea. Getting up the Red Sea has been a matter of hunkering down and beating to windward in 15-25 knot winds and short steep seas.

So it's been a bit of a surprise to look at the gribs from Passage Weather, Airmail and Buoy Weather (a subscription service at around $US70 a year) and find that there seemed to be a lot more benign weather with some southerlies, easterlies and westerlies and generally lighter weather than I remembered in those distant non-grib times of 13 and 14 years ago. I assumed I had just got it wrong in those days and had beat up the Red Sea against northerlies when I could have waited a bit and motor-sailed or sailed with the sheets freed off instead of pounding into it.

Still there was a niggling feeling that somehow I had not got it so wrong. The winds stats for the Red Sea compiled for a hundred years or more had to give you a bit of a clue to direction and strength and that modern forecasting for all its wondrous bounty of information cannot yet model complex atmospherics as reliably as we sometimes imagine when we look at those coloured arrows on the map.

As per the usual wind patterns the wind blows from the south up to just before Massawa (see the entry on The Gate of Tears posted earlier) dependent on just where the ITCZ is. After that you are predominantly in for northerlies which vary between light sub-10 knots and boisterous 30 knots. There is a diurnal thermal component whereby the wind tends to be NW-NNW at night and veers to NE-NNE in the day. So it makes sense to sail on port tack through the night and tack over to starboard in the day.

We tucked into Sharm Luli to get a bit of respite from beating up in 15 to 25... and anyway how could Lu not visit Luli

So with all this weather info what happened. Well we left when the gribs showed light and often variable weather and still got 15-25 on the nose anyway. Others have been more lucky and have been able to motor-sail in the 5-15 knot range and even get a bit of sailing with the sheets freed off. But by and large all the grib models get it right for less than 50% of the time. And it's not Skylax carting around her own pocket-full of wind. Boats ahead of us and behind us have also had a lot more contrary wind than the gribs predict.

Gribs are computer generated and rely principally on models using pressure differences to predict wind speed and direction. They are not good at modelling thermal effects and the topographical effects of land masses and localised sea temperature differences. Here in the Red Sea it's not surprising that with two large deserts on either side that there are significant thermal effects. Add to that a comparatively narrow sea and you get a channelling effect from the land on either side.

Sitting here in Port Ghalib in Egypt we are about to set off for Hurgadha on the back of grib forecasts that show some nice light and variable winds. Hope springs eternal but in the back of my mind I'm ready to reef down and tighten up to beat to windward. At least Skylax can do good speed and direction to windward.

Sail repair in Sharm Luli

Port Sudan


Eeyore Eeyore Eeyore ways call me donkey

Most yachts headed up this way go to Suakin. There is more room to anchor and it's a more picturesque place than Port Sudan. More picturesque but not really the heart of Sudan. Port Sudan is crowded, noisy, you are tucked in with a giant container port on one side, and it's a bit dirty and frenetic. And there are lots of beggars. What it does have is a bazaar area with wonderful little grocery shops, bakers, fruit and veggie shops, hardware shops, spice shops and friendly people. A bit further out (take a tuk-tuk) is the souk under canvas with fruit and vegetables galore and freshly butchered meat (and flies), a whole area supplying Port Sudan with friendly people, though expect them to be curious and a little reserved as you will likely be the only Europeans there.

Sudan souk

Port Sudan is also a magnet for refugees from surrounding countries. Daniel the Ethiopian. Eretrians. Achmet and Mustafa, Nubians from near Aswan. You get a feel for the country here that is outside the desert trips to see some tame Berbers and camels. We by-passed Suakin and headed directly for Port Sudan


Call Port Sudan Port Control 10 miles off and again at the entrance. You are unlikely to get a reply and we headed in without getting through to Port Control.

The older commercial port has been massively expanded by reclaiming ground over the coral reef on both sides of the entrance. The lights were all working when we were there and the immediate approach is deep right up to the entrance and inside.

Once into the port head for the old basin where shown in the pilots. The south side of the basin is now a container terminal and it's busy. Anchor clear of the container quay at the west end taking care not to stray into the shallows. In good light you will see them. There is also a stick marking the edge of the shallows though don't rely on it.

Port Sudan

The dive boats, there are a dozen of them, anchor with a long line ashore to the north side and this is also an option. There are laid moorings for some of the dive boats and some use their anchor. The dive boats turn around on the weekend. Take some local advice if you want to find a gap to anchor with a long line ashore and ensure you let out plenty of anchor chain as the prevailing wind is on the beam.


There is really only one agent working here now as there just aren't enough yachts to keep any more busy. Achmet works for Hamid Agent and will come out to you once you are anchored. He doesn't have a boat so usually gets a lift on a dive boat tender. After that you will need to run him around in your own dinghy.

Custom officials on board... polite as can be and definitely no 'gifts'. The only thing they were worried about was going in the 'little dangerous boat' to and from the customs dock. Achmet is third on the left.

Quarantine will arrive in their own boat and you just fill in a form. Achmet will then get some crew lists from you and the boat papers and your passports. You then need to go across to customs (with Achmet) on the east commercial quay and then ferry the customs officer(s) to the boat. Achmet will guide you through the paperwork. You then ferry customs back and bring Achmet to the quay in the basin. He will go to immigration with your passports to get shore passes. You need to supply passport size photos for all crew. Immigration keep the passports. Achmet will return a few hours later with the shore passes and you can go ashore.

Fees are $US30 for customs, $US35 for five days in the harbour (you can do several cumulative 5 day extensions), and $US50 for Achmet. It's really not worth trying to do it yourself. When you leave give Achmet some warning and he will take the shore passes and retrieve the passports.


You take dinghies ashore to a stubby little quay - Achmet will show you where.

You can get diesel either by anchoring with a long line to the stubby quay and get a tanker to come down or for smaller quantities Achmet will jerry can it from the petrol station. He charges a bit of a premium for this so jugged diesel cans cost around 80-90 cents US a litre.

Water can be obtained by water tanker or by jerry cans. It should be treated.

Ashore there are small provision shops, fresh fruit and veggie shops and of course the huge souk under canvas, excellent small restaurants or international fare in several of the hotels like the Palace Hotel. The Palace Hotel also has broadband either on their own computers or wifi.





When I first visited Eretria in 1996 and then again in 1997, the Civil War with Ethiopia, all 34 years of it, had just ended in 1994. The city was a bombed and pock-marked place with the bare minimum of services. But the people were over-joyed the war had finished, Eretria had won, and great hopes for the future. An interim military government was in place and democratic elections were promised in two or three years. 

Sadly the military are still in power and have tightened there grip on keeping power and keeping the ordinary people in line (what’s that they say about absolute power…). There foreign policy has also become somewhat bizarre. When I was in the Hanish Islands in 1996 Eretria invaded the islands which had traditionally belonged to Yemen. Some sort of rapprochement with Yemen is now in place. They have also been accused of helping Somali insurgents which seems odd given a large proportion of the population is Tigraen Christian. Then again its not so odd when you know that the Ethiopians are helping the provisional government in Mogadishu and Eretrians just love to hate anything to do with the Ethiopians.

Sadly Massawa seems nearly as pock-marked from the war as it did 13 years ago with the exception of a few of those memorials that military governments like to erect for themselves. The people still lead a life blighted by shortages of just about everything including diesel, good sanitation, communications and food.

Said to be Haile Salassi's Palace...or ex-palace

Happily the people are still wonderful. Poor maybe, but welcoming and friendly. Mike the laundry man mentioned in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide is still there and now has a café, the Café Jasmine, on the waterfront. As ever he is immensely helpful at organising things in a country where most things are hard to come by. And he does a wonderful expresso.

Manchester United v Liverpool so the telly is out on the pavement and everyone is wrapped up in the match


Things are pretty much as detailed in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide. Massawa Radio answers promptly and you will usually be directed to go alongside the commercial quay for formalities. The doctor will arrive for quarantine with a form to be filled in. Then another man or two (I’m not sure if they are actually from customs and the harbourmaster) with more forms and you will need three crew lists. You then go with the ‘men’ to immigration within the dock area where you will be stamped in and shore passes issued.

Alongside the tug and betwixt and between on an unusually busy commercial quay... for Massawa

You then go to the harbour dues office and pay for your projected stay. The cost is $US15 per day and you get NO refunds if you leave earlier. You can however extend the period you stay by going back to the office.

You get 48 hours in Massawa without a visa. If you want to stay longer then you need to go to the immigration office just outside the harbour gates (not the same office as immigration within the harbour area) and get a visa which allows you to stay for up to two weeks. These visas cost $US40 per person. You will also need a passport photo, photocopy of the passport and purchase a folder (for 11 Nacfa!) for each person.


If there is room you can berth alongside the commercial quay. Alternatively you can anchor off the commercial quay clear of the channel and the quay in case it is needed for ships. This is pretty much east of the large mooring buoy. The wreck shown on my plan no longer seems to be there. The bottom here is mud and good holding although there are obstructions, probably from the war, on the bottom. We got tangled up on one such obstruction and whatever it was, it was pretty solid.

Yachts are no longer allowed to anchor in Talaud Bay. The officials here cite ‘security’ reasons. Whether that’s a security problem with things being stolen off yachts or a security problem in that yachts are not in there direct purview you can decide for yourself. When you go ashore from the anchorage you must go to the port area and show your passport and pass to the guards on the main gate.

There are steps at a dog-leg on the quay where you can leave your dinghy under the eye of soldiers and walk to the main gates. 


Getting water is difficult. Apparently you can get a tanker down to the quay (quoted cost $US8 per ton) with water although no-one I know of actually did this. Fuel is difficult to get. You will need a fixer. One called Johnny has been mentioned and he claims to be the only one licensed to get diesel. When he approached me he reckoned he could get diesel but really wanted a memory stick to put his music on… ‘I’m a DJ you know and my CD’s are all scratched’.

Fruit and vegetables are scarce and provisions in the shops are limited. A bakery opened up a month ago and you can fresh bread rolls. Asmara beer is still made and you can buy it in some shops or bars. Mike can help with all of this and is probably the best way to go. And he still does laundry.

Mike ... in the Yasmin Cafe 

Internet access is difficult. There is an internet café on Talaud Island but we are talking dial-up speed so it can take ages just to get email. We gave up after getting one lot of email. Forget about loading web pages. There is also an internet café next to the Seghem Hotel in Dagga, but the connection was down when we went there.

You can get simple food at the Yasmin (Jasmine) Café and the Salaam restaurant is still open serving good fish cooked in a clay oven in Massawa. There are several hotels serving food, but the Luna Hotel (recommended by Mike) was disappointing and the staff positively rude.

Good fish in the Salaam

One last thing. It is illegal to change money on the black market in Eretria. The official exchange rate is 15 Nacfa to the dollar. The unofficial rate is 30 and sometimes higher. Do the maths yourself.


You need to get a permit to go to Asmara and the trip is still worth it according to all who went there. We were on a bit of a time constraint, Lu still wasn’t feeling that great, so we opted not to go. You can take the local bus along the wonderful Italian corniche or get a car and driver. 


Some of the foregoing might sound a bit disheartening, but I still have fond memories of Massawa. The people and the kids on the street are friendly and happy to see you despite the poverty all around. The old Italian colonial architecture in Massawa is crumbling, but still wonderful. Colonnaded walkways, high ceilings, great doorways and doors, big windows with lattice shutters so the wind can cool the rooms, it reminds me of faraway Havana in Cuba where wonderful buildings from another age could look so wonderful and special with a little plaster and a lick of paint. Well some of the more bombed buildings will need a bit more than paint… And hope springs eternal for the Eretrians themselves.

Hopefully a brighter future than at present






The Gate of Tears


Bab El Mandeb... The Gate of Tears 

Bab El Mandeb is the southern entrance to the Red Sea with the small channel on the east side and the main channel, including the shipping channel with separation zones, between the Yemeni island of Mayyun with a coastguard station on it and the Djibouti coast on the other side. Currents mostly flow northwards here, but there are tidal streams as well that will increase or decrease the current.

In December 1996 I left Massawa for Aden. It was the wrong time of year and I knew it. Passages down the Red Sea are best made in July or August during the SW monsoon. Once around to Aden or Salalah you then catch the tail end of the SW monsoon in September or the faltering start of the NE monsoon in October across to India. If you are later into the Red Sea then you have strong winds blowing from the south up to around Massawa. You also have a current of around 1-3 knots against you (i.e. N-going). 

When I say there are strong winds blowing up the Red Sea I mean up to gale force winds. The trip down to Bab El Mandeb is one of the worst trips I have done beating to windward against a 35 knot true wind and being pushed back up the Red Sea by the current. By the time we got to Aden we were all bruised and battered and I had to send one of the crew back home as he was exhausted.

For more on this trip see The Wrong Way to India

 Its worth filling up in Aden on the (grotty) fuel quay/barge as it can be difficult to find fuel further along the way... at keast until Sudan.

Going the right way and heading north up through Bab El Mandeb into the Red Sea is definitely the easy way to do it in November through to March. The wind channels through the strait and can blow up to 35-40 knots at times from the south. We had 35 knots for around a 6-8 period after the strait along with up to 2 knots of north-going current and flew up here with just some genny out. Lu had eaten something that didn’t agree with her in Aden so I was on my tod for the night and opted to keep things simple with just the roller-furling genoa. As it was we did close to a 185 mile day helped by all that favourable current.

There was some debate over whether to use the small east channel or the main channel. I opted for the main channel (having done it before going north) as it leaves plenty of room to manoeuvre. Ships heading north or south are pretty well spaced and it’s easy to cross the shipping channel more or less at a right angle and then sail up just outside the west side of the south-bound channel. 

The Vasco de Gama Rally heads south down here to Aden at this time of year and you have to feel for anyone doing the trip. Having done it myself, albeit in Tetra at just 31 feet long, it’s a tough trip and every year there are a few retirements from the fleet. Its hard on boats and people and my recommended option is to do the trip in July/August when there are light winds and you mostly need a shed-load of diesel to get down. The objection to this timing for the trip is that it’s hot, but frankly it’s pretty hot in the Red Sea and Yemen anyway.

We opted to head straight for Massawa although we anchored off Adjuz Island 50 miles from Massawa so we didn’t arrive in the middle of the night. A good number of yachts anchored in various places on the way up, although you do need to take care as theoretically you are not supposed to do this. No yachts I know encountered problems with this strategy this year, but in years past there have been problems. 

Anchored off Adjuz Island. A lot of the islands are flat and featureless like this, a bit like anchoring in the desert

True to form the southerlies started to die around 80 miles from Massawa and a northerly kicked in for the final sail in though we were able to lay Massawa hard on the wind and Skylax just flew for the last 30 miles when we could crack off a bit.




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