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:
Monday, June 28, 2010
Passage to Egypt, June 21-22
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.