Cruising Notes on Eritrea

Published 15 years ago, updated 6 years ago

Contributed by Amanda & Mark Church – Farrell (NZ)

SY Balvenie

Eritrea – Land of Contrasts

01 – 12 April 2008

We have finally made it into the Red Sea.

We left at 1 am from a small fishing village on the southern coast of Yemen to the “Gates of Sorrow” – the southern entrance to the Red Sea, then sailed up the middle to the Hanish Islands, still part of Yemen, a large volcanic island group in the middle.

Greater Hanish Island

13 40.63N 42 40.94E – dropped in 11m settled in 24m.

Already 3 others in before us and a lot of coral patches so difficult to find a spot shallow enough.

We had the most winds – 35 knots – and biggest seas – 3 metres, we have had in a long while but coped ok and sure made good time. We have now said goodbye to Yemen and had a more enjoyable sail across to the African Coast tucked up in another stunningly spectacular volcanic spot on the southern coast of Eritrea at Mersa Dudo. We lost our fishing gear on the way over, taken by a big tuna that just wasn’t ready to die. Oh well, the freezer is pretty full anyway.

Mersa Dudo

13 52.05N 41 54.39E / 8.5m sand, good holding, big bay, plenty of room.

Some wind bullets as closing on anchorage but flat seas. Had a great sail across to here. Very good walking here (we heard). We had a favourable wind window so left the next day for an overnighter. Some boats earlier in the season got stuck here for days in 40 knots.

We are now in company with 2 more boats and will make our way north taking advantage of the southerly winds when they blow.

We moved up overnight with gentle southerlies to Port Smythe at Shumma Island. Not really what you would call a port but what a beautiful little island. We enjoyed two nights there.

Port Smyth/Shumma Island

15 32.10N 39 59.49E / 7.8m – sand.

Whoever named this a port was overzealous. It’s a lovely little-deserted island anchorage entry in through the reef. CMap was pretty good, the sun is behind in the afternoon so reef fairly easy to spot, shows bearing of 055 on CMap scale 15,000, we entered on 071. Makeshift leads onshore didn’t look right so we eyeballed it from up spreaders. Bar-b-que ashore, beautiful. Snorkelling/diving very good.

We explored the nearby anchorage at Dehalak Desert. This lagoon anchorage was very interesting with Russian shipwrecks lying about and some sort of mining going on ashore, all rather weird really.

Dehalak Desert

15 40.82N 39 57.99E – 12m holding ok.

CMap ok and entrance through into lagoon very straightforward. Not a must do but worth seeing.

Next, it was across to Massawa, once quite a bustling port, but that was then! Although unfair to say Massawa is basically a town in ruins, it is close to the truth, but Eritrea has the 2nd lowest GDP in the world and it is evident here.


15 36.59N 39 27.84E / 7.7m – good holding.

CMap ok, channel easy enough to follow. Inner harbour enclosed anchorage very sheltered. Entered the convergence zone here, first cloudy days and very little fine mist of rain. After the convergence zone, you should expect Northerlies to be the norm.

A visit to the capital Asmara – from Massawa

The anchorage was very sheltered and although there had been some problems with locals boarding yachts at night and undertaking petty theft, we decided to travel inland and visit the capital of Asmara. We organised this through Mike’s Yacht Services at the Jasmine Cafe on the waterfront, he booked the minivan and driver and organised our hotel.

Everything went well except it poured with rain and was even colder than expected, about 12c, so that made things a bit soggy and none of us took raincoats. It was all very strange, no mobile phones (for international), no ATM’s- for a capital its all pretty backward. However, the main palm-lined boulevard filled with Italian style cafes with espresso machines and all manner of pastries, pizzas and pastas, with all the black African locals just sitting around sipping on something (lattes were 50cents so pretty affordable) was great. Then there were some flash shops selling Italy’s latest designs and then one block back you are back in Africa, markets, donkey-drawn carts etc. Quite bizarre. They are holding onto their Italian influence but only by their toenails!!

The market was amazing, excellent fruit and vegetable with basically everything. Next door was the 2nd hand clothing market with the tailors close by to adjust new purchases to measure, as was the footwear market with the cobblers positioned ready for minor adjustments. The Asmara trip was definitely worth it just to see this tiny piece of Italy in poorest Africa and the scenery en route was spectacular. As you climb higher and higher into the mountains, the temperature drops, the clouds appear, the hillsides are greener, the contrast from the desert scenery we had become used to was welcome.

It was time to start heading north again, from here on we could expect to start getting more northerlies so we needed to keep moving so on we went. We had one night anchored about 20 miles north of Massawa at Sheikh Al Abu, then we did an uneventful overnighter and headed for Sudan.

Sheikh El Abu

16 02.11N 39 27.23E – 7.3m good holding, still overcast skies.

From here we did an overnighter to Sudan back into the sunshine and we would not see clouds again until late October in Turkey.

Eritrea Cruising Info:


The winds howl most of the time up the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, the southern entrance to the Red Sea. They blow from the south, year round. As we entered the small boat strait (the eastern one) at dawn, the winds were light and seas flat, we thought we had done oh so well. As day broke the winds and seas built and built up to 30 – 40 knots with 3 – 4-metre seas, from behind.

We stayed east of the shipping lanes, but some ships were outside the lanes and we did have to cross as well, so you need to be pretty alert all day (and you have been up since at least 1 am, or longer if you have come straight from Aden).

As we closed on the Hanish Islands the seas calmed as did the wind, but as you round the bottom of Greater Hanish to head for the anchorages there were some strong gusts off the land but flat water. From here on we didn’t get more than 15 knots, until Foul Bay in Egypt. Enjoy light winds and flat seas inside the reefs.


Earlier in the season, a boat had been boarded in Massawa and a few things were stolen off the deck while they slept below. This put many of the fleets off stopping there, which is a real shame. We left the boat there while we did an overnighter to Asmara, we paid for 1 boat boy between 3 boats just to keep an eye on things, he slept in the cockpit. We put away anything they may have been tempted to steal, we had no issues.

At night we started putting out a portable entry alarm in the cockpit, which has a heat sensor on it and makes a hell of a racket. This gave us peace of mind that if someone came on board we would be awoken and they would get a big fright with the noise. We used it right through until Cyprus.

The night after we left Massawa an Australian yacht was boarded. They hadn’t been aware of the possible problems and unfortunately had laptop, camera and chargers for both stolen. Sadly they did hear noise but did not get up to check on it, their things were not recovered.

The Island of Difnien which is north of Sheikh El Abu has not got a yachtie-friendly reputation. One cruising boat was chased by men in a speedboat with guns, indicating they wanted them to stop and anchor at the island. They put their foot down and got out of there as quick as they could. It is suggested you go up the west side of the island and keep well clear if you are worried. Other cruisers anchored there just days after the incident and had no problems, but men with guns in a speedboat did want to check their papers.


As you enter Bab el Mandeb there is cell coverage briefly, so use up all your credit on your Yemen or Oman SIM, they don’t work further on. Ring or text everyone and tell them you’ve made it to the Red Sea!!!! No phones in Eritrea, SIM cards for local calls only. Payphone at post office.

Checking in and Out

Everything is in the harbour area, took a couple of hours. Checking in cost ENK10. We got visas for the 2 of us USD80 (can’t remember but think we only needed these if we went to Asmara, otherwise would have just been shore passes). Passports checked every time we exited and entered the harbour complex. Make sure you have them as friends went into town one day without them, got out without them but were NOT allowed back in in the evening. They ended up having to stay ashore overnight until they could go to Immigration in the morning!!!!, No charge to check out.


Change USD into ENK (Nafka), changed some with Mike at Jasmine Café (USD1 = ENK 17) and changed USD50 officially upon check-in (USD1 = ENK15). No ATM machines in Massawa or Asmara, no credit cards accepted. Start using those USD’s!!!!


Six of us shared a minibus (no aircon but didn’t need it) to Asmara, up one morning back next afternoon. Cost 870ENK our 1/3rd share. (There was a local bus). Hotel Central in Asmara, with bathroom and TV – 368NK double. It’s a lot cooler up in Asmara so take warm clothes and covered shoes, also rain jacket as it poured down on us. Our share of the boat boy was ENK80. Mike at Jasmine Café organised the minibus and boat boy and also booked the hotel and we paid them all direct. We then paid him USD5 to arrange it all.

Journey up and down to Asmara very interesting and scenic. Excellent Italian Restaurant on Main St. in Asmara, called something like Pizza House and has a logo that looks like Pizza Hut, lovely inside and great food. Heaps of little cafes. Don’t miss the huge market just 2 blocks back, and the recycle market comes highly recommended but it was closed due to too much rain.


Those that had been hoping to get alcohol were sadly disappointed. The beer bottling machine had broken down, not a bottle to be had. Wine in Asmara was off, basically, don’t plan on getting anything here. Excellent fruit and veg market in Asmara, we filled up here. Very little in Massawa, no supermarkets – get it all in Aden.

Fuel and Water

We didn’t need fuel or water. Could get diesel at the fuel station down the road, don’t have cost. Not an easy exercise as taxi not allowed into the dock area.

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