Saturday, July 24, 2010

Passage from Israel to Turkey

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

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

Israel & Jordan June 26-July 2

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 fa├žade 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.
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