Port Ghalib – and COVID-2019

21 March 2020 – Port Ghalib Egypt

We’re here, and whether we like it or not, we’re going to be here for an indeterminate period of time while the whole world struggles with COVID-2019 containment. The marina at Port Ghalib is hardly a marina, per se – at least in my experience. Its a bunch of resorts, restaurants and souvenir shops sharing a common bay and dock area (mostly for commercial dive and snorkel charters) with room for about a dozen sailboats. They advertise toilets and showers, but the toilets are the same ones that the fly-in tourists use, public toilets. There are no showers, none. They advertise wifi available, but in truth it costs $0.12 USD per minute to use the wifi in their office. A better solution is to buy a Vodaphone SIM card and use a hotspot. The “docks” are all concrete wall, Med-moor style, OK by me. Thankfully, we had assistance to get into this spot, as there was a lot of wind blowing from the side – at the time.

The marina staff helped to put their AC plug on the end of my electrical cord, so I didn’t have to buy one. They say the water is not good to drink, but I tested it, and its 237ppm desalinated water, probably better than what we drink with our own water maker. There are no minerals in the water, but I believe that as long as you balance that with a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables, there is no downside to drinking desalinated water. Some water makers now come with a system to add some minerals, just not salt. I haven’t yet been to the marina office, but I did request a month long stay. At this time of the year its a fixed price, $300 USD for a 16m boat, for a month. Its a good deal. I wonder how long that deal will last?

We took a walk about, and found this beached sailboat, a Beneteau, about 42 feet. It has been here for a few years and is pretty much stripped of anything valuable, although the Perkins engine is still there.

Like much of Egypt, there is a reef just past the beach. I can only surmise that this boat hit a reef, lost its rudder and went aground – quickly. These “bendy boats” (Beneteau) have a spade rudder, one that is vulnerable when hitting a reef, rocks or a sea container. They do, however, turn-on-a-dime when in the marina — but they are not seaworthy. Beneteaus are not worthy of ocean passages, in my opinion. Here is evidence that the rudder shaft (it looks like fibreglass over wood) sheared off.

There are 10 sailboats here now, most of them travelling North, when possible. The Suez Canal is open, but that’s it. All the Mediterranean ports are closed. One of these boats is a Dutch sailboat, moving South through the Red Sea – heading to SE Asia. Most of the owners and crew have flown back to their home countries because of the world wide corona virus pandemic. In fact, most of the staff working here have also gone home, simply because there are virtually no tourists to stay in the hotels, buy restaurant food, go diving or buy souvenirs. Egypt, like most countries, has closed its borders for two weeks to non-Egyptian nationals. At least with no tourists around, the internet is fast enough!

Two more sailboats arrived yesterday, one all the way from India. A German single-hander arrived two days before us and sailed (single handed) all the way from the Maledives. I think it was about a 28 day passage. In my opinion, it is foolish to consider most of these sailers as a threat. The risk of any them carrying the virus is zero, as evidenced by the long time at sea, under self-quarantine.

The camels are still walking around.

We are keen to see the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Asswan etc — but you can’t drive more than about 50km in this area before running into a police checkpoint. They are enforcing Egyptian law, and no unnecessary travel is permitted. All of these tourist sites are closed. In the meantime, we’ll just have to bide our time.

Diane sampled some of the local she-shaw.

I attempted repair of our bow thruster and now realize that I need two new solenoids. Maybe I can get them in Egypt?

Suakin Sudan and Northbound

15 March 2020 – Suakin Sudan and Northbound

We stopped in Suakin Sudan for only a few days. With the normally strong Northerly winds that blow through down from the Med to the Red Sea, we are finding ourselves following a pattern of “move North when the wind is light or non-existent”. We found ourselves at Port Suakin for exactly 3 days. The first two days, I didn’t even get off the boat. I was occupied with taking on 800L of fuel in jerry cans.

I found the people of Sudan to be polite, warm and open. There is very little English spoken here, or in the signs. Unfortunately, this country has suffered from being labelled by the USA as a country that supports International terrorism. Its a paradox that Saudi Arabia hasn’t been identified in the same manner, particularly when ALL of the hijackers that crashed those two airliners into the World Trade Centre in 2001 and killed nearly 3000 people – were all citizens of Saudi Arabia. Its something to think about.

The shore agent is Mohamed, and he has a solid reputation for supporting cruisers as they pass through Suakin. He supported us, and my only wish was that we could have stuck around longer, to see more of his country. Sadly, our weather window was upon us, and we were hastened to move on. This is a photo of our friend Steve together with Mohamed.

We’re getting less sunlight in the day as we move North, and we also notice its getting colder. In India, we were used to daily temperatures of 32-34C, and in Sudan, its more like 21-28C, due largely to that cool wind blowing from the North. The water temperature is noticeably cooler, and it seems that we’re less enthusiastic about going into the seawater every day. Its quite a bit colder. There is always sand in the wind, and it will take months to get the boat clean.

Our first stop was labelled as the best anchorage in the Red Sea, Khoo Shinab, about 166nm North of Suakin and about 290nm South of Port Ghalib Egypt. The anchorage was large, barren, and nearly devoid of any sign of human existence. This was our view as we entered this deep and well protected anchorage, the site of an ancient riverbed.

On arrival, we saw a couple of bedouins walking on shore, and I think they were fishermen. We also saw camels wandering around, but never seemed to be able to get a good photo. The reefs were amongst the best we’ve ever seen with abundant fish and brilliant corals. There was no internet though, not a whiff.

Since we don’t own a drone, we had to get an “overhead view” the old fashioned way, by walking up the mountain. The views were spectacular!

A few days before leaving, Gabriel discovered that there was an engine coolant leak, that worked out to be about 20 drops per minute. I fretted over this for more than 24 hours, and we had Gabriel and Mariona apply many layers of epoxy putty over the suspect area. The result – it leaks very little when the engine starts cold, but after a few minutes stops leaking altogether. Hopefully, this is an issue that can be examined more closely later on “down the road”.

We motored the next 310nm directly to Port Ghalib Egypt and arrived on 14 March, just two hours before a whopper of a storm!

Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

19-28 February 2020 Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

In the end, we never took the Djibouti tour, it was just too expensive at $400 USD. Also, the guy who was supposed to be working on our sail did nothing, so after 7 days – we took it back. Together with Steve and Liz on Liberte, Diane and Mariona made the necessary repairs. Diane used her own sewing machine as well as re-stitching a lot of the sunbrella strip on by hand. We rented an office space in the “marina” for $100 USD (for a day) and went at it.

All told, we stayed 10 days in Djibouti. Its a shame really because we ended up leaving with a bad impression. It seems there are lots of angry people shouting at each other. Its not a culture that I can appreciate. When checking in, I noticed the tidal range made challenging the wall at Customs a bit of a challenge, so I made sure to check the tides with TidesChart.com before going back there. Since our weather window was vanishing quickly, we sailed on in the morning of 17 February, bound for Massawa Eritrea. We had strong winds for most of it, but in the last 12 hours had to motor in, and this bird sat on our whisker pole for most of it, taking a break.

Our “buddy boat” for a lot of this trip is Liberte, Australian flagged, with Steve and Liz Coleman on board. We first met them in Trinidad, about 8 years ago.

Massawa is a dirty, impoverished East African port “city”, important to the war-torn country of Eritrea. Here in a nutshell, is their history. They have been at odds with Ethiopia for hundreds of years. In the 1920’s, Italy colonized the country and made big improvements to their infrastructure and sent nearly 100,000 Italian emigrants here in the 20’s and 30’s – to settle. You can easily see the Italian influence in the roads, bridges, building architecture – and even people’s faces. In WWII, the British supported Ethiopia, defeated Eritrea and merged the two and drew inconvenient and non-sensible borders (as they did). Then, the Eritreans started to fight for their independence again, and finally in about 2000, a peace was declared and UN peacekeepers were here for a while. Eritrea has its independence, but is very low on the scale of development, even for African nations. This was our first view on arrival. It was a magnificent building at one time.

We went out for a local meal, together with Steve and Liz.

We could get some fruit and vegetables in the night market (forget about lettuce, broccoli etc, its just not in their diet) and there are a few shops or supermarkets with nearly nothing on the shelves. The night market was located on the edge of town, and people were really shy about getting their picture taken, so we had to be careful not to offend anyone.

I paid this young woman extra for the potatoes we bought from her, just so I could get her photo.

I’ve heard Eritrea described as the North Korea of Africa. Now I know why. For $50 USD per person, we got 30 day visas, and together with the correct internal travel permit (everybody needs it here) we found two good days to make a side trip to the capital city of Asmara to see the best that there is on offer. Even in the capital city, there were dozens of Internet cafes, but the odd few that were operating offered Internet at speeds equivalent to what we saw in Canada in about 1995, and can’t support any Apple apps or software. Just forget about it. Cuba is at least a generation ahead of these guys. Although they have plenty of natural resources, I don’t know how or why any Western industry would brave coming to this country to setup, its just way too risky. We had to wait until we got to Sudan to get Internet access.

The road trip up to Asmara was very interesting. The bus ride was cheap at about $3.50 USD per person, but very rough and at times nerve wracking. At an elevation of 2300m, the climate was cooler and really above the clouds. It was chilly in the evenings and you needed at least an extra shirt or sweater. Locals in Asmara rarely make the trip down to Massawa at sea level, where the temperature in July/August can reach 42-45C.

Its hard to see in this photo, but these was a swarm of locusts, huge “grasshopper like” insects flying along.

Much to my surprise, Asmara was a very clean, organized and pleasant city. Eritreans in general are very friendly and calm people, but in Asmara, there was a distinct Italian flare to everything. Cafes and bars were plentiful, and people seemed to have a very calm and tranquil lifestyle. Most Eritreans are Christian, and this was the Catholic Church in Asmara.

There was also an Italian government funded public school with some Italian staff. Although the people in Asmara suffer from drought, and our overnight stay at the African Pension was impacted, the people seem to be quite happy and carrying on. At least there is no war! We ate pizza, spaghetti, Italian deserts and gelato – and had cappuccinos. Gabriel was in heaven, it was so much like Italy. In fact, when questioned about it, he was completely unaware that this country had once been an Italian colony. Locals asked him: “why did the Italians leave?” “when are they coming back?”.

This area of Asmara is called the recycling depot. Here, we saw all kinds of goods come in and get recycled into hundreds of different products. There is a carpentry area, a metal working area, gears and springs – you name it. Obviously, this guy made his own “welding mask”.

Gabo struck up a conversation with one of the thousands of Italian descendants remaining in the city.

After a stay of 8 days, was time to move on and head North to Suakin Sudan. Again, we had a hitch-hiker, this time a hoopoe, the national bird of Israel (not a sea bird). It is from the Kingfisher family of birds.