March 2, 2023

Yetananesh: rowing the waters of Lake Tana for half a century

City: Bahir DarLifestyle

The former crew of the boat and other informants in the area don’t know or remember the manufacturer or brand of the boat

Avatar: Abiy Solomon
By Abiy Solomon

Abiy is the Editor-in-Chief of Addis Zeybe. He has intense experience in journalism, visual communication, and online media. Abiy has worked in various editorial positions for The Daily Monitor, The Reporter, Fortune, and BBC Media Action.

By Abinet Bihonegn

Abinet is Addis Zeybe's correspondent in Bahir Dar.

Yetananesh: rowing the waters of Lake Tana for half a century
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Credit: Abinet Bihonegn

Atitegeb, who owns a hotel in Delgi town northwest of Lake Tana, buys the necessary commodities for her business from Bahir Dar town. 

As the road from Delgi to Bahir Dar is not suitable in addition to the shortage of car transportation, she always prefers to catch Yetananesh boat in her travels to Bahir Dar. 

“I’ve traveled with Yetananesh for years. Its large size makes it resilient against the storm, making the journey comfortable for passengers.

Atinkut Belay, a merchant from Zege town, uses Yetananesh in his travels. He says, even when he’s busy, his commodities will be bought and sent to him via Yetananesh.

Other thousands of residents of Lake Tana islands are customers of Yetananesh to travel to Bahir Dar.

Darlingly named Yetananesh (you belong to Lake Tana) by the locals, the boat has rowed Lake Tana for the past 45 years. It is tasked with transporting passengers from Bahir Dar to destinations such as Dek, Kunzela, Delgi, Berbera, Zege, and Gorgora. 

Yetananesh covers seven harbors in its routes. It starts its journey on the daybreak at Bahir Dar and heads to Zege island. Unloading its cargo at Zege, it goes off to Dek island. Taking a brief break at Dek, Yetananesh keeps on sailing to lay off at Kunzila at dawn. Starting off afresh the next day at dawn from Kunzila, it goes past two destinations and finally returns back to its home Bahir Dar from Berbera harbor.   

Yetananesh’s longest destination is Delgi, an area known for chili pepper production. It takes the boat about half a day to reach Delgi where it anchors to rest. 

It’s said that Yetananesh was manufactured in 1965 and was imported to Ethiopia in  1968. Its history has it that Yetananesh had been cruising at a lake in Arba Minch town, southern Ethiopia, during its early days. 

When the water body at Arba Minch couldn’t accommodate the large boat, Yetananesh was brought to Lake Tana, replaced by a small boat from Bahir Dar. It was transported to Lake Tana dissected into seven parts. 

Tananesh’s dissected parts were assembled in a large workshop at Lake Tana Gorgora harbor and went operational on Lake Tana in 1978. 

In spite of the reputation and reverence Yetananesh is bestowed upon, the former crew of the boat and other informants in the area don’t know or remember the manufacturer or brand of the boat. 

Addis Zeybe’s brief research revealed at last that Yetananesh was manufactured by the renowned German ship industry Schottel and is one of the company’s products built in the 1950s. Schottel has a 100 years history in ship and propeller manufacturing. 

Yetananesh had many foreign captains in its half-a-century service over Lake Tana. Eventually, Ethiopian captains could take over the job, amongst whom Captain Seraw Asfaw is the first.  

Captain Setotaw Alamerew told Addis Zeybe that he’s currently the fifth Ethiopian captain of the boat. Captain Setotaw has been with the boat since 1995 and is serving as a captain for the past 15 years. 

He explains that Yetananesh has a capacity of carrying 400 passengers and 800 quintals of cargo. It can onboard about 1000 people without cargo loads. 

Tadiyos Tadesse, a tour guide and helmsman of a small boat, says, though there are various spectacular tourist attraction sites around Lake Tana, many visitors are observed getting attracted to Yetananesh, given its notable age and extensiveness. 

Yetananesh has a good name for not facing serious safety problems during its lengthy service. This is often attributed to its massiveness. According to the captain, Yetananesh weighs 100 tons (about 90,718 kgs) making it invincible to tides on the lake. 

The captain just recalls the recurrent damage the boat’s turbines sustained in 2002/03 when the water levels of the lake significantly lowered. The turbines were maintained with costly expenses by then.

Regardless of the mobility challenge Yetananesh faced due to the proliferation of water hyacinth on Lake Tana in recent years, the weed is no more a problem to the boat’s operation, the captain affirms. 

There was no major life-threatening incident in Yetananesh’s operation so far. However, the boat’s crew remember one case when a passenger who was mentally ill threw himself into the lake and his body was found after seven days subsequent to failed rescue efforts. 

Yetananesh sailed on Lake tana for 45 years to date. Boats called Dahlak, Fasiledes, Nigat, Andinet, and others provide transportation services on the lake. But Yetananesh stands out from its peers on Lake Tana in size and age. 

Yetananesh is an 8 meters high and 27 meters long two-storey boat. A passenger can relax without any extra fees on the second floor during the travel. It also accommodates two toilets, two bedrooms for the crew, and a refreshment cafe for passengers. The boat’s cargo is loaded in its basement cabin. 

The boat has two engines and can travel 11 km per hour only with one engine. It is equipped with a water leakage protection airbag. 

Heading into its cockpit, it consists of two steering wheels in a space wide enough for three people. 

Yetananesh however doesn’t have depth indicator equipment that notifies lower water levels. The captain says because of the absence of this equipment there were situations they were forced to reschedule journeys for fear of a lower water level. 

Captain Setotaw confidently speaks that Yetananesh is in a good shape mentioning the intact painting inside the boat owing to the lowest salinity of the lake water. 

The administration of the boats on the lake including Yetanannesh is now transferred to a federal agency. It is believed they will obtain the appropriate maintenance and equipment including the water depth indicator under the new management. 

Yetananesh and the other boats on Lake were first under an Italian company called Whisky. The first local company to assume the administration was Naviga Tana. A firm named Tana Transport had been handling the transportation and related services on the lake until recently replaced by the government agency Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services.    


Translated and co-written by Abiy Solomon