Sail to Tunisia

16 September 2020

Since long Tunisia was on our desired destination list. However, traveling 2020 under the Covid-19 threat is different. Elaborate planning and preparations come before you can leave Europe. We always harbour some fear that they might not allow us to return home. The last 24 hours before leaving the safety of a friendly port always comes with trepidations for us.

Motoring out between the islands after leaving Carloforte (Sardinia, Italy) calmness gently overcomes us. Throw in a light breeze, blue sky and sunshine and hours later we are truly relaxed.

Our major worry are the entry procedures in Tunisia. Complicated further because we want to continue to Sicily within hours. Upon arrival we reevaluate the quick turnaround scenario and risk to stay for some days. This could be troublesome if Corona cases balloon and related closures occur. Our primary worry is that Europe might close their border to Tunisia. Illegal migrants coming from Africa and Tunisia are a considerable risk and we are thinking about that too. 

Our destination is Bizerte on the Northwest corner of Tunisia. Phoenician traders settled the town 1100BC. Bizerte is promising even so 2020 we reduced our cultural program to stay safe.

The distance from Sardinia is 140nm, a distance we often sail in 24 hours, ideal for coming to Tunisia. We don’t want to arrive at night or sail during the night through the coastal waters of Africa.

Preparations:

We have a pre departure checklist we always go through before leaving port. Checking and adjusting the tension of the rudder cables, we found another “hmmmm, not good”.

These pictures are about our Raymarine backup autopilot. They press the top bolt into the quadrant from above. The bolt transmits the action of the autopilot arm to the rudder. The thread of the nut is just 30% engaged. Only removing the quadrant will tell me how easy or difficult it is to repair.

Last minute preparations

No Kinder Chocolate for us. Fueled 160 liters this way 🙂

17. September 2020

Early morning the Admiral works the galley. While I supposedly clear up the deck but make photos 🙂

Underway we take sailing more and more easy these days. We frequently hoist the Genaker alone for downwind sailing. With the right wind strength and direction, it’s efficient and good enough for us. We don’t have to worry about accidental gybes damaging the rig. We can sail deeper (180°) and directly to our destination. Underway we experimented with going 5 to 10° to the wrong side of the wind direction for the genaker. The Genaker took it gently without folding. That makes straight downwind sailing relaxed and fun. Net we loose maybe 0.5knots but who cares.

Genaker sailing

Sailing offshore feels like sailing away from the corona stress. And it’s not a deception. Within 100 miles there is no case when we are underway.

Pitch black night sailing. No moon. Looking up, seeing some stars and the mast top lights. Red is the preferred night light color onboard. It does not disturb your night vision.

18. September 2020

During sunrise the next morning we add the mainsail. The wind changed favorably the direction and increased to 15kts. The added sail speeds us up and we arrive at noontime in Bizerte.

Morning Time: Africa in sight.
Last minute damage. Furling in the genoa for the last time today this little block disintegrates.

5nm north of the port of Bizerte we get hailed via VHF radio by the Tunisian coast guard inquiring about crew size and destination. That was all formality up to that point. We use the northern entrance to the port, which is a shorter distance to the marina. Well, I forgot to change our chart-plotter to show high definition depth lines 🙁 
In the port entrance, deep water mysteriously disappears. 5m, 3m, 1.1m under the keel within seconds. At 3m I idled the engines and at 1.1m REVERSE!!! We didn’t touch the sandy bottom. To the left is the picture of the standard nautical chart. To the right, you see the high definition depth lines.

This is the official nautical chart. We came in from the left going to the right, closer to the green light. We were somewhere between the 14 and 15m depth line 🙁

And while it says 4m, it’s not. Completely silted and shallow. The silting extends much further to the northeast towards the red marker. Looking down from the bow, we both think 10 or 20 meters further and we would have touched Tunisia with our keels first.

Immediately after arrival on the customs dock, they quarantine us. A Border control officer is unhappy about our courtesy (guest) flag. We took the bag which said ‘Tunisia’, but it had a ‘Turkish’ flag inside – not good. The border control gentleman didn’t like that. A marina employee brought us quickly a Tunisian flag. Thanks, Marina Bizerte!

The whole marina is super well organized. This includes customs and immigration. Within an hour we were Covid-19 tested. The lab reported the results 17:00h same day. Wow! The marina manager, Monsieur Mohamed Ali, picked up the Covid-19 test from the laboratory in downtown Bizerte for us the next morning- thank you.

Ben Ammar Mohamed Ali,
Directeur du Port Marina Bizerte

We have seen nothing of Tunisia yet. But going by our positive experience with the arrival formalities, we are happy.

The lab technician lady is born Russian, living in Tunisia. Migration, the constant normal in this world.

PCR testing with a swab. The expectation is worse than the actual sampling.

For a marina next to an industrial port, the water is clean. These jellyfish are 30cm (1 foot) large in diameter. These are non poisonous, we are told. Didn’t try my luck and touch 🙂

Swimming by the side of LUNARA

During quarantine you sit in the cockpit of your boat and just watch the world go by. If you look, you can see. You know what I mean.

I wonder what their talk is about
Fisherman heading out for overnight fishing
Russian Tanker leaving port
Evening fishing. Is he just looking down?
Food supply and entertainment combined.

We close our day by sitting in the cockpit enjoying the view as in the pictures above and have a traditional LUNARA style dinner.

Cheers!

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