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.