Wintering in Turkey Dec. 2010
This is now early December. Back home in Canada, the temperature is around the freezing mark, and parts of Europe are getting covered in snow from an early winter storm. But in this part of southern Turkey, we are still enjoying day-time temperatures of 20-plus Celsius, mostly clear blue sky, and mild evenings. On this refreshing Sunday morning of Nov 28, we are among a group of Kemer live-aboard yachties on a hiking trip up to the Chimera, which is known for its eternal burning rocks. Legend has it that Chimera was the offspring of two underground ceatures called Typhon and Echidna, a strange beast that breathed flames from its month, with a front of a lion, rear of a snake and a middle section of a goat. It eventually was killed by Bellerophontes, who rode the flying horse Pegasus. However, Chimera was breathing fire even as it was taking its last breath.
In reality, the Lycian Way (Likya Yolu) is a 500-kilometer marked trail that meanders through ancient Lycia, Mediterranean Turkey's mountainous Tekke region. Parts of the trail goes through lush pine forests, crosses clear mountain springs, and ascends into high peaks that provide breath-taking vistas of the Mediterranean. Some of the trails can be reached from Kemer within 30 minutes of car ride. Most Sundays we have such hiking trips that take us through several hours of moderately strenuous hiking, and sometimes at the end of the hike we reward ourselves with a lunch at a one of the fish restaurants which are nestled in the mountain.
Hiking is just one of the many activities available to us live-aboards here at Kemer Marina. The active yachties here organize events such as Turkish lessons, tennis training and tournaments, workout sessions, dances, concerts, dinners, movie nights, special celebrations … we’ve been so busy that we are pressed for time on boat work. It feels like being on a holiday that doesn’t end. Such is the life of living-aboard at Kemer Marina, which is well-known among cruisers as one of the best marinas in the Med. Surrounded by tall mountains and shielded from the worst prevailing southern winter winds, Kemer has a micro-climate that is warmer and milder than most other parts of the Med. When we were planning our destinations this year, we had two choices: keep sailing and leave the Med and perhaps cross the Atlantic; or hang around here for winter, for another year of sailing in the Med next year. After a summer of fairly active sailing and having visited all the Eastern Med, we decided to take it easy for the winter and to experience the live-aboard life style at a nice marina. So far we have not been disappointed.
The majority of the yachties here are retired couples, from UK, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, U.S., plus the odd Canadians. They typically come to their boat during the moderate months – spring and fall, and avoid the hot months of July and August. During the cruising season they cruise the Med and stay at anchorages or marinas. Most have been living this lifestyles for many years, and they have not run out of places to visit yet. We have also come across some young ‘retirees’, successful professionals who sold their business and started cruising in their large modern yachts. There are also the long-distance cruisers who are sailing on smaller budgets, but enjoying it just the same. You go to the marina’s pub, the Navigator, at happy hours, and you get to meet all types. It’s fascinating.
The yachties also host special events at the Navigator. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasion such as Halloween and more recently, the US Thanksgiving party there. We, the line dancing group, "performed" a few dances at the party and here's the video: http://www.sonovela.net/video/IFqSKWpS_dE/Kemer-Marina-Thanksgiving-2010.html
Comes December 6, we will be celebrating the St. Nicholas Day with the Swiss, (interestingly, St. Nicholas was born in Patara, an important Lycian city along Turkey's Mediterranean coast), and there will be parade and treats. For sure, there will be cookies. For days, air in the marina has been filled with aroma of freshly baked goods ..... hmm, yum!!!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Eliza trying to enjoy steering with a 25 knot following wind & sea
East Med Sailing
In mid-September sailing condition is wonderful around this part of the Med. The temperature drops to a comfortable 25C in the day, and is nice and cool at night. The Meltimi is still blowing and it extends further south-east to this side of the Mediterranean coast, and could provide for some exciting sailing. We headed north-west for another sailing trip for a couple of weeks, sailing by day and anchoring by night. This stretch of the Turkish coast is called the Lycian coast, and is known for its rugged mountains and majestic scenery. In ancient times this coast was feared by mariners as it’s exposed to the open sea with little protection, but now there are anchorages or marinas that are within a day’s sail. The first stop was one of our favorite cove, Cineviz Bay. Then we went to a small city, Finike, where we stayed at the marina for a few days for some sightseeing, and to get our batteries replaced. Compared to Kemer, Finike is a more traditional Turkish city, with little tourism, and has a rustic charm. The price of restaurants is also much better.
Then we continued onto Kekova Road, a stretch of protected water that is known as one of the best cruising grounds in Turkey. The four-mile-long island Kekova Adasi provides shelter to the prevailing winds, and there are numerous well-protected anchorages. We went into a little bay called Gokkaya Limani, and were attracted by its scenic bays and fjord-like channels. The water was wonderful to swim in. A freshwater spring bubbles into the sea, and it was refreshingly cool on the top layer. There were ruins all around, adding another dimension of interesting sights to this anchorage. The largest concentration of ruins is around the middle of Kekova, with a large castle atop a hill with commanding view of the channel. We stayed for two nights here, relaxing in the clear waters under the clear blue sky of the late-summer. Around us there were many yachts and gullets, including some true mega-yacht, but overall it was quiet and serene in the little bay. At night a full moon peeked into the opening of the bay, as if seeking entrance into the channel, and then rose up and cast a cool blue light onto the bay, silhouetting all the boats slowly swinging at anchor.
North-west of Kekova by another half-day’s sail is a charming small Greek island, Kastellorizon. At one point it used to be a bustling town of 20,000, but today there are less than 200 inhabitants. The island itself is a bare rock rising up from the sea, but the town and the colorfully painted houses dotting the island have a certain harmony and charm, and it’s great for walking around after having been on the boat for a few days. We pulled into a small bay called Mandraki and met up with our friends, a Canadian couple whom we met on the EMYR. We dropped anchor in front of a reef and took the dinghy to get into town. We had a light lunch in a little restaurant near the waterfront and then strolled through the narrow streets to look at the delightfully painted and well-maintained houses. It felt wonderful. We stayed at this anchorage for 2 days. On the second night, a strong wind sprang from the sea, blowing at over 25 knots and whipping the water in the small bay into white caps. Two neighboring boats dragged anchors and had to leave. We held an anchor watch until well after mid night when the wind finally died down.
The next morning we decided to raise anchor and to head back towards Kemer before the wind picks up. Pick up it did, and once beyond the lee of the islands, we were in the full force of over 20 knot wind and large seas. Fortunately the wind was behind us, so we ran with our small head sail in case the wind further strengthened. It was an exhilarating ride, but keeping the boat on a dead down-wind course with a choppy following sea took a bit of effort, so after a few hours we had enough and we hopped back into Kekova Road and took shelter in our familiar bay. Throughout the day more boats and gullets piled into the bay, seeking shelter from the near-gale warning issued by the Turkish weather office. Such was the moods of the sea.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Gunkholing in the Med
In early September the temperature was finally comfortable enough for us to venture out and did some gunkholing around this coast. This stretch of the Turkish coast is known as one of the best cruising grounds in the Med, with numerous coves and beaches that are very scenic and well sheltered. We started with those that are within a few days sail. Around this time of the year, wind is mostly from the north, and mostly on the nose for going up that way. We went to Cineviz Limani, a beautiful cove just a few hours from Kemer. The Turkish Pilot guide describes this cove: “The deserted bay is magnificent, with awe-inspiring cliffs dropping sheer into the sea….there is no other anchorage on this coast as grand as Cineviz”. We dropped anchor in 5 meters of water, took another stern line to shore to limit the swing, and stayed in this comfortable cove for a few days. At noon the gullets (large wooden charter boats) crowds into the bay with their hoards of tourists, but by evening the secluded bay only has a few cruisers and some small fishing boats. The water is clear and perfect for swimming, and the view wonderful. Fishing is apparently good too, but we have no fishing gears on board.
Another bay we visited was Tekirova. The bay is very picturesque, with a large sandy beach, pine forests, backed by a tall cliff and distant mountains. What makes this location unique is the historical ruins: The ancient Phaselis is just steps away off the beach. Dating back before Roman times, the ruins are fascinating and well preserved, including an ancient harbor, a paved boulevard, theater, Roman aqueduct, and sarcophagi lying around as they fell. We anchored here, and on daybreak we went on shore and walked around the ancient grounds in the morning twilight, sat on top of the theatre watching the morning sun gradually brighten up Mount Solymnus in the distance, probably exactly the way it was seen in 600BC.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
In September our daughter Hazel visited us, and we decided to do some land travel as well as some sailing. We joined a 3-day tour to visit Cappadocia, an area with fascinating rock formations and underground cave cities. Located in the eastern region of Anatolia, it is more than 12-hours drive away from Kemer, so most of the tour is spent on the bus, but the drive goes through the high Taurus Mountains and is very scenic. Having spent the last five months mostly at coastal areas, it’s also refreshing to be in the mountains and to drive through alpine forests.
We arrived the town of Gerome at about 6:00PM, and the arrival was timed such that we could see the sun setting over the high plateau where the ‘chimney rocks’ are located. The view was stunning. Formed from volcanic lava eroded over the millenniums, the forest of tall, cone-shaped rocks are in many interesting shapes. In the distance a high canyon glowed from the setting sun. In Gerome, some naturally-formed caves are carved and expanded into dwellings, including many cave hotels that are claimed to be 4-star hotels. Our tour package is only an economic package and our hotel was quite modest. But it’s clean and tidy, and the package included a traditional Turkey supper. The evening temperature drops to a very comfortable level, in contrast to the stifling heat in Kemer.
The next day we started early to get on a hot air balloon ride. The ride is quite expensive, but it’s another one of those ‘once in a life time’ events, and everyone who’s been to Cappadocia all highly recommended it. The idea is to see Cappadocia at dawn, from high up. It was a very interesting experience, to see the giant balloons inflated by huge propane torches, became bigger and bigger and gradually took off from the ground. And then in the open space just outside of Gerome, dozens of colorful balloons all took off one by one into the sky. The balloons were captained by certified balloon pilots, who skillfully drove the balloons at the right heights to get the best views for the scenery, riding the light winds and using burst of flame to control the height.
We then spent the day visiting different areas around Cappadocia and saw more interesting rock formation and rock caves, including some caves that were carved into churches dating back in Roman times.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Life of a Live-on-Board Yachtie
We have been here at Kemer Marina for a month now. We decided to stay here a little while, explore the area, and enjoy life living on-board. Our original plan was to rest for a week or two here, and then keep sailing to explore other parts of Turkey, but the hot weather changed our plan. In August, the weather of much of Turkey is very hot, and often humid. Mid day temperature is typically 35C, with humidity it feels like 40C. It’s better at anchorages with a breeze, but it’s hot nevertheless. So rather than sailing off and getting broiled at anchorages, we decided to hang around the marina where we have shore power to run the air conditioner on the boat, and do some land traveling. Sailing will resume in September, when the temperature drops to a more pleasant level.
Kemer Marina is a first-class marina, with excellent facilities and within a short walk to town. The stony peaks of the Taurus Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop, framing the lush gardens and palm trees that dot the city. The marina is also part of a hotel complex, with a library, restaurants, swimming pool, and a tennis court. This entire area is a tourist playground, and an endless string of hotels line the beachfront, stretching for miles and miles. We are surprised at how well-developed the tourist industry is. Yes it’s a bit ‘touristy’, but we don’t mind, as we enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, with free evening concerts, beautiful beach-front settings, plenty of choices for restaurants, and Turkish coffee at side-walk cafés ….
Within a short drive, there are numerous attractions to keep one busy for the entire summer: numerous ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, diving, sea-turtle gazing, jeep safari, and rafting, just to name a few. We went rafting – under a blazing sun, the water was ice-cold and very refreshing.
We rented a car with some friends and explored the surrounding mountain regions. Compared to most other parts of the Med where the scenery is usually semi-desert, this region of Turkey is surprisingly lush, almost tropical. In less than half an hour drive down the highway from Kemer, there’s a good road that lead into the Taurus Mountains that rise to over 2,000 meters. A stream runs through the valley. The stream is just a trickle in the dry summer months, but there’s still enough water to keep some trout farms in operation and several restaurants, nestled in the valley by the stream, provide excellent seafood dishes. At the peak of the mountain, above the tree-line, one can see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, framed by dramatic mountains peaks. The road peaks at a little village called Ovacik, and there’s a nice mountain hotel with a commanding view of the surrounding valleys and where one can take a rest for breakfast. And then going north-west, the road descents gently into a rolling forest of lush pine trees. The forest drops into a deep valley craved by an ancient river, and behind the valley, another mountain range rises sharply into the sky. In the winter, the peaks will be all snow-covered. The road eventually winds back to the sea, the perpetually blue Mediterranean sea.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Passage from Israel to Turkey July 20-23
We ended up staying for three weeks in the Herzliya marina in Israel, doing a fair amount of sight-seeing, boat work, and just plain relaxing. We are slowly getting to the life of a ‘yachty’ – people living on board. Most of our EMYR friends have now departed Israel, all 70 boats dispersed to the four winds. We met plenty of wonderful people, but this is a transient type of friendship. You may never meet one another again. So it is now time to get on the open sea again, and embark on the long 300 miles passage back to Turkey. Israel is nice, but Turkey is where the summer cruising ground is, and also there are more choices for marinas with vibrant cruising communities for staying the winter.
In July and August, the super-heated land masses of Turkey and Greece form a weather system that funnels strong winds that roar down the Aegean Sea, through the southern coasts, and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. This is the famed Meltemi winds, which blows North and Northwest at 20-30 knots. It slows down to 10-15 knots in the Southern Mediterranean, but nevertheless it means the passage will be mostly heading into wind, in seas that have been built up over a long fetch.
Once the coastline and high-rises of Israel receded from the horizon, there was nothing except the vast sea with endless shades of indigo blue dotted with white caps, under a friendly sky with a few patches of cotton clouds. Not a ship was in sight. We were truly alone now, unlike the EMYR where we were always sailing in a company of other boats and our position was always known and periodically updated with the team. We managed to sail about half the time, and motor sailed the rest. Wind was fairly steady at around 10-15 knots from NW, even through the night. This wind blows through two hundred miles of fetch, and at this side of the Med a considerable chop builds up. It was an uncomfortable ride, with the Nauticat ploughing through two-meter swells plus some steep waves. After the three-week rest in Israel, it took us a while to get our sea legs back.
We had intended to sail as much as possible on this passage, and only turn on the engine when the wind is absolutely too little. We did manage to sail a fair bit, but it worked out that we still had to motor-sail often. The basic reason is that we still had a schedule to meet: We need to arrive by Friday when the Turkey check-in offices are open, otherwise we would need to anchor somewhere during the weekend. Also if we had relied on sail only and tacked about, it would prolong the sailing time significantly, and open up the weather window to potential adverse weather. This is late July, after all, with a good possibility of heavy weather. Such are the restrictions of a longer voyage. So we ran the iron horse when needed and motor-sailed half the time.
By the third night, with the Turkish coast only 50 miles away, the wind direction shifted to westerly, on the beam. The sea was also much calmer. It was a nice smooth sail, a full moon shined through a cloudless sky and lit up the sea behind us. It was a nice way to end a 1,400 mile sailing journey.
Touring in Jerusalem
We travelled by bus to go from from Herzliya to Tel Aviv, then we changed buses to get to Jerusalem. All together it took about 4 hours, mostly driving trough Israeli’s nice but congested highway system. This time we did not book a hotel or tours ahead of time and we were just going to show up and see what happens. We checked out some of the hostels in the Old City, but found them to be less than desirable. We came across a guest house inside the Christ’s Church, just inside Damascus Gate, with a nice shady court yard. It’s almost like an oasis amidst the hot and crowded Old City. We stayed there for two nights and explored the town, spending time mostly within the Old City. The religious and historic sites in this town are absolutely fascinating. We came away with a deeper appreciation of the histories and relationships of the three major religions – Muslim, Christian, and Judaism.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Final Passage back to Israel June 26- 27
On a sunny, boisterous morning the EMYR yachts filed out the Arsenal Marina harbour, through the busy canal entrance, and retraced our steps North to Israel, this time to a different harbour, at Herzliya. With a 15 kt NW wind, our friend’s Beneteau sailed well at 8 kts and was soon ahead of the pack. This time, being in board daylight, unlike our incoming passage, we had no problems with fishing boats and other obstacles. It was a beautiful sail, steady wind, relatively flat sea. Following a gorgeous sunset, the wind continued well into the night under a full moon, and the sky and sea were lit up like daylight.
Touring in Jordan June 28 - July 2
The marina in Herzliya is a beautiful, first-class marina with all amenities. Right on the marina complex there are numerous restaurants and shops. After 6 weeks on non-stop traveling and sailing, we are happy for a change of pace and decided to stay here for a few weeks and to just take it easy.
We took a 4 day tour in neighboring Jordan to see some world-famous sight. My brother CY joined us at Amman, Jordan. To get from Herzliya it took a 1.5 hour taxi ride to get to the border, get through border checking and formalities, and then another 1.5 hour taxi to Amman. Altogether it took a whole morning, and it was an interesting experience to cross the Jordan River to pass from Israel to an Arab country which is in reasonably good relationship.
The tour started at about noon, with driver/guide taking our small party of three. The first stop was Dead Sea. The Jordan side of the Dead Sea is much better developed than the Israel side, with several nice hotels lining the shore. July being a low season, our package included a stay at the five-star Kempinski. It’s a gorgeous hotel, with beautiful pools and landscaping. After a dip in the Dead Sea and proving that one cannot possibly sink in its salt-saturated water, we went for a swim in the large hotel pool, and watched the sun setting against the quartz desert mountains in the distance, with the Dead Sea shimmering in the desert heat.
The next day we drove almost the whole day to Petra, the World Heritage site made famous by the Indian Jones movie. We stayed at the Marriott Hotel which overlooks the rocky formations of Petra that rise over the desert plain, casted into long shadows of pink and gold by the setting sun. At 8:30PM, we joined a candle-light tour of Petra. Unlike some other touristy evening light shows, this one at Petra was unexpectedly well done, and on its own would probably worth the trip to Petra. Over 1,300 candles were lit along the pathway to the first monument in Petra, about 40 minutes walk. Each candle was carefully placed inside a paper bag, and the bag was weighted down with sand. The tour group was asked to walk in a single file, in silence, along this ancient path lit by the unending possession of paper lanterns. Sandstone cliffs line both sides of the path. At the end of the path, we were asked to halt and to close our eyes, and slowly enter the clearing into the Treasury – as the first carved monument is called. It was an awe-inspiring sight. The ground was lit by hundreds of candle lanterns. The flickering light showed a glimpse of the massive monument, carved into a solid stone cliff, probably exactly the way it was seen by the Nabataeans two thousand years ago in a night-time ceremony. We were served with a cup of sweet tea, and then entertained by a short concert of native flute and reed whistle.
The next morning we went for the full tour at Petra - all the way to the last site called Monastery, and beyond. A flight of 800 stairs cut into the steep hills takes you up the mountain of Ad-Deir. This remote dead city is huge in size yet beautifully awesome, and walking through the whole ground took five hours of hiking. The elaborately carved stone façade was truly a feat of engineering genius. We saw why some scholars rank Petra as the eight wonder of the ancient world.
Leaving ancient civilizations, the next day we drove to Wadi Rum, a large desert conservation area covering over 700 square kilometers, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. The touring service is provided by native Bedouins. We went on a jeep ride that took us into the heart of the desert, visited landmarks where Lawrence supposedly stayed, and saw remarkable landscapes of sand dunes and rock canyons. We watched a desert sunset, and stayed in a Bedouin tent (presumably modernized for tourists) for the night.
To end this wonderful trip at Jordan, we went to the southern city of Aqaba, at the tip of the Red Sea. It was very hot, but the scenery was beautiful - the typical Mediterranean sandy beach, deep-blue sea, and palm tree lined resorts.BenI took the plunge and had a scuba diving lesson. It was awesome! It took a while for the body to get used to breathing under water. Ben dived down to 6 meters, and saw the beautiful Red Sea reefs and rich marine life, right there off the beach at the resort. And then it was time to leave, for the 5 hour journey crossing the border back to our temporary home at Herzliya.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Passage to Egypt, June 21-22
The sailing trip to Egypt goes through a hazardous stretch of water, filling with oil rigs, fishing boats, and passes through the busy entrance to the Suez Canal. After the docking challenge at Ashkelon, we pondered whether it’s worth the trouble for the 120 miles sail to Egypt, for a 3 day visit. In the end we were invited onto another boat for the trip. We were very glad that we took that approach. The sail to Port Said, Egypt, started with beautiful sailing conditions, 10-15 knots of wind on the beam under a sunny sky and flat sea. Of the 70 yachts originally with EMYR, many had decided not to continue onto Egypt, so there were only 38 yachts on this trip. The nice sail ended at about 4:30AM, on our watch, when we spotted a large, brightly lit vessel. From a distance one couldn’t tell what it was, or which way it was heading. It turned out to be an oil rig, the one we didn’t know about that we were supposed to take a wide berth to avoid. Soon after we passed the rig, we saw a large floating object, something that looked like an oil drum, or buoy. It barely missed our boat. That was soon followed by another one, barely a boat length away. Afterwards we learned that one of the EMYR boats did hit the oil drum and suffered damage at the bow. Soon after we passed these hazards, we were faced with a long string of fishing boats, some with lights, some without. There was one that appeared so close that we had to make a sharp turn to avoid it, and in the process put the boat on the opposite tack, with the genoa flapping madly. At the exact moment, the wind picked up sharply, and jumped from 10 knots to well over 20 knots. The commotion woke up everyone and all hands were on deck to help put the boat under control and also to keep look outs for fishing boats. At one point we counted hundreds of them on the radar. Wind continued to increase and was gusting at 30 knots.
The possession into Port Said, the terminus to Suez Canal, was pre-arranged with Canal officials. EMYR yachts were required to form a circle at an agreed time of 5:30AM, commercial traffic into Suez was temporarily halted, and all 38 yachts were to file into the Canal entrance, spaced 50 meter apart. That was the plan. Due to various delays, all the yachts had to wait outside the harbour for several hours, some anchored, some just circling slowly, on a choppy sea. Fortunately it all worked out in the end and by 10AM we were safely tied to the dock in Arsenal Basin, a secure area normally used for clearly commercial vessels.
Cairo, June 23-24
We took a bus tour inland and travelled to Cairo to visit the famous sites in Egypt. The day started with three tour buses moving in a convoy with armed guards in a leading vehicle as well as in each bus. After a while we became used to the security arrangement. There has not been any terrorist attack in Egypt for years, so all this is just a precaution. We spent the morning at Cairo Museum. The display of King Tut is truly impressive in terms of the amount and quality of artifacts found. The technology and craftsmanship was quite an eye opener, given all this is dating back 3,000 years. In the afternoon we visited the Citadel of Saladin and several other sites, but in the 40C heat it’s hard to take interest in anything much except for staying in the shade and having a cold drink!
The day was ended with an enjoyable river cruising trip on the Nile, on traditional Egyptian sail boats that actually sailed very well in the light breeze and against strong river current. This was the famous Nile River, the longest river in the world, at one point the cradle of civilization. On the river banks were stately hotels and parks, including the hotel that Napoleon stayed and used as his headquarters. For the night’s stay, we were taken to a nice hotel near the Giza pyramids. Located just a short drive from Cairo, the Giza Pyramids were built on a high plateau overlooking the Sinai desert. As the bus went through the non-descript Cairo suburb apartments, the pyramid suddenly appear in the distance, emerging from the afternoon haze and standing tall above all the apartment complexes. Eloquent in its simplicity and mages tic in its size, the pyramid is probably best viewed from a distance. Nevertheless the next morning we took the tour to visit the grounds, and paid a healthy ransom for the obligatory camel ride and pictures. But this is once in a life time opportunity, and we were happy to have those pictures for keepsake, as we never buy souvenirs.
Final Passage back to Israel June 26- 27
On a sunny, boisterous morning the EMYR yachts filed out the Arsenal Marina harbour, through the busy canal entrance, and retraced our steps North to Israel, this time to a different harbour, at Herzliya. With a 15 kt NW wind, our friend’s Beneteau sailed well at 8 kts and was soon ahead of the pack. This time, being in board daylight, unlike our incoming passage, we had no problems with fishing boats and other obstacles. It was a beautiful sail, steady wind, relatively flat sea. Following a gorgeous sunset, the wind continued well into the night under a full moon, and the sky and sea were lit up also like daylight.
See more pictures at:
Ashkelon, Israel June 18-21
After staying at Haifa, we sailed 95 miles to another port in southern Israel. Ashkelon is modern city, with a nice new marina. The passage was exciting at first, with 20 knots wind outside the harbour, gusting at 30 knots. We sailed closed-haul with the genoa and main sail, watching the setting sun to our starboard. Soon the wind began to die and also moved right on our nose, so it was time for the iron horse. The good breeze resumed in the morning, still against us, so we motor sailed into port. The marina at Ashkelon is a nice modern marina, except that the shore crew was not organized and led us into a slip too narrow for our boat. These slips have metal pilings, and if the boat is too wide, or not aligned perfectly for entrance, the hull could be rubbed against the pilings and getting damaged. Several boats suffered minor damages as a result, and ours received some scratches – first time it happened during this trip.
The harbour front at Ashkelon is nicely developed and provides miles of landscaped walking paths and sitting areas. The day time temperature is stifling – around 35C under the shade. We took a bus tour to visit the Dead Sea. After driving for 2 hours through the Judea Desert, the Dead Sea materialized through the desert haze like a mirage. The feeding water sources to the Dead Sea have all been diverted to the neighboring countries, and the Dead Sea evaporates at the rate of 1 meter per year. Much of the waterline has receded in recent years and at many places resorts were abandoned, now being miles away from water’s edge. We enjoyed the unique experience of floating in saturated salt water and taking a mud bath, in 40C heat. After that, a cold beer in the shade never felt so good.
Friday, June 18, 2010
It was another night of motor sailing to our next port, Haifa. Completely windless, and the sea was butter flat. We took a course to stay 6 miles off the coast as required by security. Boats without navigational lights kept us on high alerts.
The next morning, en route to Haifa, we finally had some fun sailing closed haul between 5 to 7 knots, with all three sails. How nice to be sailing without engine! Given steady wind and relatively flat sea, the Nauticat pretty well sails on its own, without the autopilot. Once we entered Israel territorial water, we were under the watchful eyes of the navy warship, pilot boats, and helicopter. A navy ship circled each yacht, identified the yacht from the EMYR list, and call up the yacht by radio for further confirmation of crew details. When this is completed each yacht is then permitted to change course to enter Israel waters. When we were 2 miles off Haifa harbour, we were further intercepted by another patrol boat, with police and immigration authorities checking our identities. We were instructed to pass over our passports by dropping them into a fishing net held up by the Israel boat. After checking, our passports were returned to us in the same fashion. It was certainly quite an experience!
The facility at Haifa for EMYR yachts is not a marina, but a private yacht club. Club members moved their boats elsewhere for 4 days to make room for our fleet of 70 yachts. This was very gracious of them, but space was extremely tight, maneuvering our large boat in the confined waterway, waiting for space to be available with little steerage, was a hairy experience. Eventually we tied up without incidents, but I think a bow thruster would be nice to have!
Once settled, the Haifa Camel Yacht Club gave us a warm welcome with refreshments, souvenir shirts and hat and later in the evening, a welcome party of dinner, music and dance.
Haifa June 16-17
We took a day tour to visit Northern Israel. The trip took us to the Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee, and Nazareth. Haifa is Israel’s third largest city, with a large commercial port, oil refinery, and a strong economy. Many highway projects were evident – contracted to Chinese construction firms. At the marina there’s always a cooling breeze, but once entering the arid valley regions the temperature rose to 30C. The much contested Golan Heights seems to be peaceful now, but its strategic position and water resource mean that there will not be a simple solution. Water from the mountain collects into the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a fresh water lake. This is largest source of fresh water in the region. Here Jesus performed the miracle of calming the sea, and also instructed St. Peter to take the helm of the church. On this day the water was completely calm, and we dipped our toes in the water of this historical lake. We then toured Nazareth, which is actually a sprawling metropolis, not a historical village with donkeys walking on stone-paved roads that one might imagine.
In the evening we had a different type of reception. A number of Israeli families hosted the EMYR visitors. Crews from 2-3 boats were grouped to a family. The idea is so that international visitors like us will gain a better understanding of life in Israel, and presumably will then be more sympathetic to their view point. Our host happened to be the past commodore of the Camel yacht club, who’s a retired journalist, very widely travelled and knowledgeable. There was surprisingly little discussions of politics. They indicated that they’ve been hosting EMYR for many years now, still no peace in sight…may be in another few years.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Passage to Lebanon June 9
Security concerns again requires us to sail at least 6 miles from the shore. The weather report showed moderate winds at 15-20 knots, but from the SW – the wrong direction. But that’s the way it is with sailing; so we took off early afternoon to make use of the wind for the 100 NM crossing to Lebanon. Under full sails, we sailed closed-hull at 6 knots, on a choppy sea. And then the wind became almost dead on the nose, so we motor sailed, against an increasingly choppy sea and a current of about 1 knot. Many smaller yachts could only motor at less than 4 knots in these conditions, and delays from our destination were expected. Our heavy displacement Nauticat ploughed through the heavy sea with no problem, with the autopilot performing faithfully. We were experiencing the rough side of the Mediterranean Sea: short, nasty chop builds up quickly, similar to Lake Erie at our home waters. The 1-meter waves occasionally washed over the entire foredeck and run over the pilot house windows. However inside the pilot house it was relatively comfortable and the cockpit remained dry. We took our usual night watches, keeping close eyes on surrounding yachts as some were motoring while some were sailing zig-zag course.
We approached the Lebanon coast by mid-morning. All vessels are required to stay at lest 6 miles away from the coast, and then once off the destination port a 90 degree turn is made to sail directly to port. A Lebanese gun boat was stationed at this way-point to make sure that no one makes any short cut. We arrived at close to our scheduled time, and managed to squeeze into our assigned tight spot. The marina is a large, full service marina with an Olympic size swimming pool, restaurants, tennis courts…quite a change from Syria.
Lebanon June 10-14
Known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, Lebanon is a modern, well-developed country with many first-rate harbours and beautiful cities. Despite its war-torn past, the capital Beirut is an attractive city, with a beautiful water front and stylish downtown. Luxury cars crowd the highways. The downtown is experiencing a building boom, with condos springing up overlooking the busy waterfront. Sheltered by tall mountains and moderated by ocean breezes, the climate here is cooler compared to the desert-influenced southern Turkey and Syria. Apartments fill the hills that overlook the harbours, and at night the bright residential lights brighten up the evening sky, reflecting off the water. Such was the view when we enjoyed our Rally Diner by the pool side, a delicious 4 course supper. Night time temperature is very comfortable, and during most of the year it almost never rains. The mountain and harbour views, luxury shops, bustling downtown sidewalk, warm nights – bears resemblance of another place with a colonial past – Hong Kong.
Beirut is not without problems, of course. Military presence is heavy and there are check points everywhere manned by machine gun totting solders. Scars of their civil war are still evident, and regional power players continue to use Beirut as their pawn. However, outwardly this city is a normal, bustling city.
We took tours and visited some famous sites. The air-conditioned bus took us up and over the mountain to Jeita Grotto, a huge cave system with fascinating crystallized limestone formations. The cave is much bigger than similar caves we’ve ever seen. Next we visited Byblos, a biblical Phoenician city with crusader castle and traditional Souks. Then we enjoyed a delicious Lebanese lunch at a restaurant with a beautiful view overlooking the sea.
After a good nights rest, we took another tour, and visited Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley. Leaving the relatively affluent areas of Beirut, the bus took us over the mountain and travelled in-land, into the Bekaa Valley where Hezbollah holds control. Recognized as a terrorist organization to some countries, Hezbollah is an accepted political entity in this country and has legal representative in the Lebanese parliament. In theory the national army still is the main armed force here, and on the streets one is surprised to see there are no militias manning roadblocks. Everything seems quite normal. The Bekaa Valley at one point in history was the breadbasket of the Middle East, its fertile soil once produced and fed much of the Roman Empire. Known as the City of the Gods, the Roman temples of Baalbeck is the largest known Roman temple ever built. Its construction took over a hundred years. After two millenniums, much of the temple is still standing. The building technology is fascinating.
The next day we simply relaxed and enjoyed ourselves at the marina, with its 5-star amenities, strolled around the city, had ice cream for supper, breathed the warm sea air at night...and then it was time to move onto the next port.
After some last minute delays with passports, we left Mersin at 6pm. For a change, there was a good breeze. We sailed close-haul, with 10 knots of wind from the south-west, doing 5-6 knots, bouncing on 1 meter swells. We would have been happier if we had left in early afternoon to take advantage of the breeze, but things seldom work out the way you want. The good wind lasted for exactly 2 hours, and then it was motoring time again. At 22:00PM we were informed by the earlier yachts that a large fishing fleet was laying nets directly on our route, so we all took a detour and gave the fishermen a wide berth. No one wants to get their propeller tangled by nets!
Syria June 4-8
The cradle of civilization where agriculture and metallurgy were invented. The cross road where the East meets the West. The last strong hold of the Crusaders. A place with 5,000 years of continuous history, but a country barely a few generations old. Drab cities with uniformly run-down building from the sixties. Apartment blocks of stark concrete, exterior paint is a luxury not to be bothered with. Buildings half finished, the bottom half lived-in, the top floors still with exposed steel rods and concrete posts, waiting for building funds that might be available someday….or, one of the options to evade paying property taxes. A ‘rogue state’ deemed by some countries, but people seemingly living in peace and there’s little outward sign of police presence. Christians and Muslims living in harmony. These are one’s impression of Syria. But of course one come to Syria mainly to visited historical sites, many of which are from Roman times or older.
More pictures can be seen at our photo album at:
The sail to Mersin was unfortunately mostly motoring. The issue is that given our late-afternoon departure schedule, the wind has already died by 6:00PM, plus the fact that we are now heading north to Turkey, against the prevailing wind, so whatever wind there was, it was dead on our nose. So we kept the engine running for most of the 100 mile course. As night fell, a sea mist came over us, decreasing visibility to only a couple of miles. With 68 boats sailing together, there was a real danger of collision. We turned on our radar and every 15 minutes did both a visual and electronic 360 scan. Finally the sun came up, and with it the mist cleared along with a light breeze. We raised our sails and motored the rest of the way into the large Mersin harbor which was busy with commercial traffic. This city does not have an existing harbour for yachts (there is one in construction), but the fishermen graciously gave up their slips for our 5-day stay. So the EMYR yachts were able to dock side-to, only one boat-deep, right at down town Mersin.
The evening on our arrival, we were treated by the city to cocktail party at the city convention center. Mersin is a large city with over 1 million people, and the water front is very well developed. Within 15 minutes one can walk to the old-town, where all kinds of things are being sold, very inexpensively, including fresh produce, fish, meat, bakeries, etc. A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice can be had for 70 cents! The old town became our favorite place for meals whenever we didn’t feel like cooking. But it was hot! The air temperature was 28C, but in mid-day, under the sun, without any breeze, it felt like 35C. And this is only early June, their spring time!
On the day of departure to our next stop, the city of Iskenderun, there were bad news. The Turkey navy there had been attacked by terrorists and seven sailors were killed. The city was in mourning and not in the mood to receive us. So last-minute changes had to be made to go directly to Lattakia in Syria instead.