Part 2: Alondra in the Land of the Pharaohs
René and Edith are sailing from Turkey to Thailand on their 60ft classic Phillip Rhodes sloop, built in 1965. It is a unique adventure that we will be bringing you in several exciting instalments.
This month we join René and Edith as they leave the shores of Cyprus and plot their course for Egypt. They find how this impressive country embraces you…Or maybe not. The water maker is broken but the parts are promised to be delivered to Port Said.
We start the crossing from Cyprus to Egypt almost due south at 180 degrees. It’s about 220 miles. We left at 4 o’clock in the morning to be in Port Said on time the next day. The crossing is easy as we are joined by a nice tailwind and we arrive in Port Said 36 hours later. Lots of shipping traffic and drilling rigs make navigation difficult. We call up ‘Port Control’, this is where the bureaucracy starts as we are informed that we are not allowed to enter the port. I decided to lie and claimed we are suffering engine troubles and require entrance. After this consultation, we are permitted to enter, however, only with a pilot on board. I lie again, informing them that we have a dog on board that bites. This has the desired effect and we are informed that a pilot (a high cost extra) is no longer necessary.
We motor into the marina of Port Said, although ‘inside’ may be a bit much. It is a quay with some ruins that are in serious need of renovation. The cheery customs clearance agent is waiting for us. A form here, another there, then we are asked for the stamp of the boat, which we did not have. In the absence of a stamp, we write ‘No Stamp’ on the forms. So, official number two can come on board, or not. That is always uncertain here.
The next morning some other yachts arrived. Together we moved to the other side of the port, to a larger harbour of Port Said. Here everything starts again. Form here, signature there, ‘crew list’, etc. Everything must and will come out of the closet under the watchful eye of many men who all do very little. Port Said is a colourful city. Filthy, messy but still it gets to you. Old colonial buildings that reveal its history but maintenance has been long forgotten.
We walked through the streets, meeting the friendly local people, but we noticed that power corrupts. For every little thing, we have to show our passports. They look at them, look again… is it a ‘no’… maybe a ‘yes’…it’s anyone’s guess.
After a few days, our parts for the watermaker suddenly arrived. Free delivery as agreed…Not so! The agent thinks $200 for transportation from his office, which is a mile away, is quite reasonable. “A lot of work, … blah, blah!” Only after I threatened to turn him and his office into a bowling alley, he came around. So it was free after all.
A few days later it was time to cast off the lines and head to the Suez Canal. On the morning of our departure we were restless. We paid the fee to traverse the canal, some USD $520, and we were on our way. We were warned in advance about the pilots that will be joining us
on board. Some pilots are only partially capable, some downright rude. Our pilot however was a nice and knowledgeable man. For Roterik, another yacht that joined us, it did not end as well. With the pilot at the helm, they hit an unlit buoy and sustained considerable damage. Chris, the owner, threatened to throw him overboard but in the end, gave up. We will hear the stories of others later. Most of them are good, a few are downright bad.
The Suez Canal is an experience. Dug from 1859 to 1869 (the opening) and 169 kilometres long, we sailed in a convoy of 5 other yachts at around 11 am and saw Port Said pass by. Pilot boats come and go, ships are waiting here and there, being unloaded or loaded. Soon this picture changes and we sail into the desert. The day is particularly beautiful with clouds and sun. Waving soldiers stood on the sides, the channel was well guarded. Halfway through the canal, we sailed towards the evening, it was already dark when we entered Ismailia and we almost collide with an unlit barge that just cuts us off … it’s very very close. Ismailia has a wonderful sailing club, it’s just a shame they don’t sail there! Laser dinghies were rotting on the side and a 470 lying there hadn’t seen any water in over a year.
Two days later we sailed to Port Suez on yet another beautiful day. Our next Pilot was less helpful but was generally OK. He asked for ‘Bakshees’, a kind of tip. He also wanted money for a taxi! So, with the tip of 10 dollars and a grumpy face, despite it being a quarter of his monthly wage, he disappeared… our canal trip is over. In Port Suez, we were moored for 20 dollars a day. Diesel costs 40 cents here and is brought in Jerry cans. We topped up the tanks and after 600 litres, I’m up to my ankles in diesel. But hey, it’s pretty cheap. I just pretend I like it.
From Port Suez we made a quick visit to Cairo. We saw the impressive pyramids and of course the National Museum which was absolutely fascinating.
Back on Alondra, we started heading into the Red Sea. This is also where the reefs and wind begin… a lot of wind. Old pilots told us what to expect. You will not be able to enter the red sea, and once you’re there, you’ll never get out. And that seems about right; 30 knots and meter high waves roll beneath us from behind.
After a long day of sailing, we anchored in Marsa Thelemet, a kind of cove on the west coast. Around us are impressive deserts and mountains. We were next to a reef in 5 meters of water, with 60 meters of chain and we had 30 knots on the bow. All went well but it never felt secure. I put our hand GPS on anchor alarm and pretend I’m asleep. Going ashore is not allowed anywhere. It is only allowed in ports and with a special “permit”. The next day we left for Sheikh Riah, about sixty miles south. Another great but rough day sailing.
It happened around two o’clock in the afternoon. Tony and Susan onboard Gustavas Vasa (a 32ft/10-meter yacht), sailed on the reef in gale-force winds. Poor navigation leads to a little drama. “Mayday, mayday!”, we hear. Two yachts nearby come to the rescue. Sailing together proves itself useful again. Together you are strong. Tamata and Reckless of Hamble anchor off the reef and watch Gustavas Vasa list further and further. Towing off here is out of the question. Disembarking the crew seems to be all they can do. Tony and Susan, with all their personal items, were removed from the little yacht as night fell. More yachts anchor near the reef. The next morning it was decided that the Gustavas Vasa cannot be saved. Tony and Susan sat aboard Tamata, defeated and in shock.
It was decided to collect all of their belongings left onboard but Guy, from the French yacht Mailys, wants to make one last attempt. It’s high tide. Strangely enough, the Genoa came loose and it seemed to almost call the crew for help. With 4 men, a rescue attempt is made for the last time. With the Genoa out, the sheet full, Georgio of the Tamata is on the mast. Everyone watched intently as the yacht suddenly began to move about 100 meters out on the reef.
She’s sailing! Slowly bumping, it starts… then she stops. She doesn’t seem to want to go and then she does. The end of the reef is in sight…then she stops again. She doesn’t seem to want to take the last hurdle. In an ultimate attempt, the men do everything they can. Suddenly she shoots off free of the reef and a moment later she sails into the open sea. No water on board! No leakage! Nothing! The crew hugs each other. On the VHF radio we heard the screaming “She’s off! The Gustavas Vasa is off!”. Everyone cheered and Susan and Tony could hardly believe it. That evening we anchored in a sheltered bay and everyone enjoyed the yacht’s new found freedom. The wind still blew like crazy.
After this adventure, we headed for Hurghada. A town on the west side of the Red Sea in the middle of an area of reefs. By now everyone is used to it and alert. The harbour is new, we found electricity and water on the pier. Diesel came in Jerry cans again. Skimming from willing yacht owners continues cheerfully in this Egyptian place, everything is too expensive but you get used to it. The city is touristy and hopeless, however, the diving in this area is fantastic. From here we took a trip to visit the beautiful Nile Delta and Luxor.
Tony and Susan of the Gustavas Vasa say their goodbyes. The adventure on the reef had been a bit too much for them so they decided to sail back to Turkey in the spring.
We sailed 120 miles in a few days towards the southern harbour of Port Ghalib. There are no more tourists in this area but a city rises in the middle of the desert. Developed by a Kuwaiti developer who apparently was pumping $12 billion into it, the fact is that Port Ghalib will be the last bit of civilization that we are likely to encounter for the time being. A beautiful harbour that is obviously too expensive. Shops are not open yet but the hotel, with pool and bar, is, so we made the most of it. Secretly we already long for Sudan.
Next month part three, Sudan and Eritrea. Africa on the Red Sea.