Log #20c Bizerte to Monastir

June 27, 2001 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 20 Tunisia, The Logs

Log #20c Bizerte to Monastir

June 17, 2001
Written En Route to Malta
Covers the period June 2 to 9, 2001

We liked Bizerte. It was a good, easily accessed port of entry; had an economical and adequately equipped  marina with friendly helpful staff, with fuel, electricity, water, a dive shop and a small bar and restaurant available; was convenient to town which was large enough, but not a tourist trap; had a couple of internet sites, although we were not able to send E-mail from our laptop; had good train, bus, taxi, louage, car rental and air connections; and was a pleasant amalgam of the old and new in a representative small Tunisian city. We enjoyed the markets, and the atmosphere of the hustle and bustle in the picturesque old port area, not far away from the new hotels and lush beaches fringing the Med. We could have stayed there much longer, but wanted to get on down the coast and over to Malta. Initially we were going to head from Bizerte directly to Malta, but changed our minds to day sail down the coast before heading across towards Croatia.

We left at noon hour June 3 with pleasant light winds for a combination of sailing and motor sailing to Cap Farina 22 miles away. It is at the north western cape of the large Gulf of Tunis, on a stretch of lovely sandy beaches that extend for miles down that coast. We anchored just around the Cap, but shifted another mile down later to avoid the swell circling around the point. It was a wide open anchorage with good sand holding, but exposed to anything from the south to the northeast. This is one of the difficulties of anchorages in Tunisia; they are exposed to 50% of the compass, and you can find yourself on a lee shore if there is much of a wind shift. We spent two nights there (37˚ 10.5’ N, 010˚ 15.0’ E) strolling the beach, swimming, and climbing up into the hills to look at some seemingly abandoned ruins still occupied by one family, and ragged palm frond shacks that were occupied by lonely shepherds or fishermen, out in the middle of nowhere. I watched the fisherman/shepherd one evening as he walked out into the water, up to his chest on the sandy bottom, to stretch out his nets. I had to watch when dinghying along the coast to be aware of nets supported by floats close in to shore. Next day this same man was escorting five cows along a path, possibly to the small community a few miles down the cape.

We saw many small fishing boats going out early mornings, and several lights of fishing boats way out on the water at night as well. There is a large fishing harbour a couple of miles down the coast, but not suitable or spacious enough for cruising yachts, except as a harbour of refuge.

As we had a long 60 mile passage across the Gulf of Tunis, around Cap Bon to Kelibia, we left early, at 0445, just before dawn on June 5. The crossing to Cap Bon was a 39 mile motorsail in light variable winds. This cape is the northernmost point of North Africa, closest to Sicily and Italy, separated by the Sicilian Channel, an about 100 mile wide stretch of water, the narrowest point in the Med between Africa and Europe. That is why this area has been an important strategic location for commerce and warfare since the time of the Phoenicians. In WW II the central area of this strait was mined, forcing the British convoys towards the African coastline occupied by the axis powers or in Vichy France territory. These convoys were essential for the support of Montgomery’s forces in North Africa and for the supply lines to a beleaguered Malta, especially in 1941-42.

Kelibia (36˚50.0’N, 011˚06.8E) is a large fishing port with one jetty for a few local and transitting yachts. We found out from the local police that we ought to have brought with us the entry form we had filled out in Bizerte, which we should have picked up as part of our checking out procedure from that port. They faxed Bizerte for us and reminded us we had to have it with us when we checked out of Kelibia. No problems, they were quite friendly, but they need to identify the whereabouts of foreign yachts, and checking in and out with the local police at each port is the procedure to be followed. The port was a pleasant blend of the old and the new. We saw several wooden skeletons of large fishing boats in various stages of completion or repair. I was able to get a piece of pipe to secure the two broken ends of my whisker pole from a local metal shop in the port. We also enjoyed an economical meal at a portside restaurant for only 32 Dinars for both of us, in contrast to a rip-off at a restaurant up by the fortress which charged us 12 Dinars for two drinks at noon hour. I’ll have to learn to ask the price first to avoid being taken advantage of.

The port is dominated by a large fortress on the hill overlooking the port, and containing remnants of Roman ruins as well as Byzantine and Moslem structures from the 6th century A.D. In the port area itself there were several sites of Roman ruins, with inscriptions in Latin and mosaic floors in open stretches of abandoned yards. The town of Kelibia was a few kilometers inland, but our major interest was in Kerkouane, a complete Punic town of the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. We hired a cab for the morning to take us there and back. The ruins were quite impressive as the entire town is there, with the walls of the houses, streets, temples, granaries, and even the water and sewage systems in evidence. In addition to the mosaic floors, still vibrant, were the bathrooms in individual houses with sabot shaped tubs in pink plaster with white marble flecks containing a seat for the bather. The town would have had a population of 2000 or more, but its citizenry waned after the Roman conquest, and it was an unknown, deserted ruin until rediscovered in 1952.

After doing some shopping at the local market in Kelibia, we went into a cybercafe to check our E-mail, as Tunisia does not have local access numbers that we can use from our laptop over phone lines. This was also the first we have been able to acces it since Mahon in Menorca in mid May. We tried in Bizerte, but the connections were faulty and we could not get a satisfactory link. To our consternation we found a message from a Yahoo service advertising my logs to be mailed directly to my address list. I had no idea where such originated. As I scrolled down through the 45 messages waiting, I had several friends upset at this invasion of their E-mail by a Yahoo service, and asking me to delete them from my mailing list. I still had no idea as to who set this up, but later was to find that a couple of acquaintances in Toronto set it up, thinking it would help in the problems I reported earlier from Palma with AOL. I have asked them to cancel it.

The port had economical rates, but lacked any facilities such as washrooms, showers, shore power or security. June 8th, it was a 40 mile motorsail on a calm day to Hammamet, a famous seaside resort where we anchored (36˚23.8’N, 010˚36.5’E) off the luxurious beaches and the whitewashed Casbah cloistered behind 15th century walls, the late afternoon call to prayer echoing from the local mosque.

We went ashore, but did not enjoy it as it was a tourist trap where we couldn’t wander the streets of the Casbah without constant irritation of the hustlers trying to con us in to their shops. Even the children were into it; I tried to be friendly to a couple of kids where we brought Sprite ashore. One gave Judy a small cluster of buds and asked 2 dinar. No way, but I gave him a half Dinar for it, and said he could earn another Dinar if he watched the dinghy until we returned. A couple of hours later when we returned there were three boys aged 9 or 10 there, and the first boy asked for a Dinar for each, as they all had watched the dinghy. I anticipated this and had three half Dinars ready, and said he could have one, or a half for each of the three, which was accepted. Then when we started to move the dinghy into the water, he helped pull it out until I could lower the motor, and of course he asked for another Dinar. No way! A half Dinar. No. So he took the small bouquet of buds originally bought from him and took off. We were glad to be rid of that place.

We left early next morning, at 0600, as the wind had shifted and we were now on an uncomfortable lumpy lee shore in a force 4 to 5 wind. Before noon we were going into a heavy force 6 wind and 1.5 metre waves. Heading into it our speed was cut dramatically, so we headed inshore with the possibility of heading to Sousse instead of farther south to Monastir. Angling off, our speed increased, and the wind veered as we got closer inshore, so we crept down the shoreline to Monastir. However, Monastir is on a promontory with an island a hundred yards seawards of it. The entrance was on the south side, which meant even though we were less than a mile from the marina, we had to motor another 3 miles out into the heavy force 6 wind and waves, around the island, and back to the entrance. Too bad they didn’t have both a north and south facing entrance to this lovely economical full service marina.

More about the enjoyable time we had here in Monastir (35˚46.8N, 010˚50.1’E), including our journey to the Sahara Desert in the next log.