Egypt and Greece
Port Ghalib to Suez, Monday 5th April to Friday 16th April 2010
We spent five lovely days in Port Ghalib, doing all those essential boat chores, socialising, internetting etc. We were able to speak to Rachel and Chris and a few other folk back home which was great. It seems the weather there is beginning to improve at last with no more snow anywhere. We have been feeling cold for some time now. It's ok in bright sunshine, but at night or in the shade, we feel chilly. Apparently it's about 26degC so how on earth will we cope at home?
After the usual deliberating, debate and weather discussions, we decided that Saturday 10th looked reasonable for heading to Suez, so headed out into a calm, windless sea at 11.00 hrs for the 305nm journey.
By 22.00 hrs the wind had risen to 20 knots once again NW (on the nose) and the steep short waves made life uncomfortable. Through the night conditions worsened and eventually as dawn came we were heading into 36 knots. We tried going +30deg and -30deg, but the sea state was shocking. Then the 2nd reefing line broke. We were making only 2 to 3 (occasionally 1) knots through the water. I was adamant that Gordon shouldn't go out front to bring the main down. It was just too rough, but we really needed to bring it in if we wished to continue. We sought shelter in a charted bay, but once there realised there was no protection from either the waves or wind. In fact we were dodging around unchartered oil rigs and wrecks in a chaotic sea and at night.
Nothing for it but to turn back downwind taking down the main, and putting out headsails and headed for El Tor, a well protected bay at the foot of Mount Sainai, some 30 nm back the way we had come.
The view in the bay is spectacular with the peak of Mount Sainai only occasionally appearing through the cloud. Unfortunately we were forbidden to go ashore here, although we have not officially exited Egypt but 'in transit'. Egypt is probably the most restricted 'police state' we have visited. Foreigners are really only welcome at easily controlled tourist centres, hence the proliferation of desert bound tourist 'stalags'.
In any case we were with 'Skylax' and 'Stream Spirit' who also had sheltered here, so no boredom. I used the opportunity to bake and cook, having to be imaginative since couldn't obtain supplies. It was about time to actually use some of the many tins purchased en-route.
We pottered about for a few days waiting for the wind to change direction or at least die down and on 15th April, after coffee and brownies on 'Skylax' (thanks Lu) upped anchor to try again for Suez, 111nm away.
Suez Canal Friday 16th April 2010 Day 660
Having contacted our agent for transiting the canal (Felix Maritime) we made our way past the 'parking lot' where large commercial vessels wait at anchor and tied up (mooring buoy fore and aft) at Suez Yacht Club, passing on the way a Russian warship heading for the Gulf of Aden to join the Coalition Forces. There is no Yacht Club by the way, but there are many entrepreneurs waiting to serve your every need and for a price. Egypt takes bakshish to levels unimagined in other countries. Getting a fixed price for anything is impossible. They usually say 'You give what you think.' Then when you do, proceed to wail 'Am I not a good man? Did I not do a good job?' and demand, with real tears in their eyes, more. Make sure, if you sail here, to have plenty of old t-shirts, baseball caps, cheap flip-flops, cigarettes etc, but be warned, it will never be enough.
Over the next 24 hours we were measured, provisioned and readied for transit and on Sunday 18th at 1030 am left with Ahmed our pilot to motor the 40nm to Ismalia, the first port of the canal. We tied up stern-to to a very Art Deco building which must have been lonely in its heyday, but now a little run down. Had fab pasta on board 'Skylax'. Rod is not only a great pilot book author but a great cook too. (surname Heikell - buy his books!) His wife, Lu, is editor and photographer for these essential volumes.
We decided to abandon ship for a few days and visit Cairo. Our friends on 'Astra' had recommended a company called 'Adventures in Egypt' so knowing they had high standards, we used them too. They have a small hotel right in the centre of Cairo and provided us with car, guide and driver for four days.
I had my own personal 'Adventure in Egypt' since having dolled up for my visit to the big city, i.e. best trousers, shirt, jewellery, sunglasses, handbag etc, I then fell straight off the passerelle into the filthy harbour water. I didn't really fall off - the plank wasn't long enough and Gordon said 'it's fine'. It wasn't. Apparently Gordon was looking the other way when I fell and turned back, thought 'Where is she?' Then realised I had probably fallen in, actually thought he might go in after me - but didn't! He says I took ages to surface. Thankfully the swimming ladder was down so I climbed on board, the proverbial drowned rat. My friend, Trudy, appeared up top on 'Stream Spirit' and said 'Oh my goodness!' and shouted below for a camera. Cheers Trudi! I lost my sunglasses, ruined another phone and basically smelt like a sewer. Showered, changed and off to Cairo.
What a place! Take London, Rome, New York, Paris, put in a mixer, add a serious dose of overcrowding, sprinkle liberally with rubble, litter and sand, stir in the sound of mezzuin, street traders, loud music and dress with the aroma of strong coffee, spices and humanity - that's Cairo. 25 million people call it home and we loved it.
Our hotel, the 'Talisman' was lovely, very Egyptian, boutique style with friendly staff. Once settled in, having handed in my poly bag full of wet smelly clothes from my unexpected swim earlier, we set off with our delightful guide, Shamia, for lunch followed by a tour of Cairo Museum. It would have been very difficult to negotiate this vast place without her expertise. There is simply too much to see. She made sure we saw the best and most interesting exhibits in the time allowed. That night, Tariq, our driver took us to the Pyramids at Giza for a 'Sound and Light Show'. This means a voice sounding a bit like Richard Burton talking while they shine different coloured lights onto the pyramids. All a bit rambling and Walt Disneyish. I don't know what the spirits of the Pharoes would make of it all.
Next day we returned to see these mighty monuments and again Shamia filled us with useful information e.g. The Great Pyramid has 3 million blocks of stone each one between 2 and 5 tons. Took 30 years to build. Gordon worked out that means laying over 1,000 blocks a day. (They only worked on it four months of the year since the labourers were farmers who had to tend and grow their crops.) A huge community of several hundred thousand workers lived around the site during building, all having to be fed and watered.
I remembered from years ago when I was last here being horrified to discover that the Sphinx was looking straight at a KFC. Now add to that Pizza Hut and a Starbucks.
I'm finding it hard to be descriptive and enthusiastic about this part of the journey because it's very touristy. Not to belittle the splendour of the statues, monuments and history, it's just that it's so well documented and known already and maybe I am a little travel weary.
I will just say that our time was well spent and we returned to Ismalia on Friday 23rd April to prepare for the second leg of our Suez Canal transit.
Sunday 25th April 2010 at 05.10 we departed Ismalia for Port Said with our new pilot, Mohammed. Even though you have paid for this service through the agent, they will still expect bakshish, in this case t-shirt, torch, PJs for his wife, balloons and peanuts for his children plus 40 USD. So a lot of desert on the way. There are no locks in the Suez so just a straight run. At 1300 hrs we arrived at Port Said, Mohammed jumped over to a pilot boat and we carried on for the 345nm journey to Rhodes.
Wednesday 28th April to Wednesday 5th May - Rhodes
After three days of motoring (no wind) we arrived in Rhodes Harbour at 1300 hrs. We are back in Europe!
Delighted to see 'Stream Spirit' all tied up cosy, but no space for us. Contacted the marina agent on 'SS' advice and we were eventually tied stern to right beside the 'Pillars of Herculese' (one of the seven wonders of the world) where reputedly a massive bronze statue once stood, one leg on each side of the harbour entrance.
I asked Gordon what he was most looking forward to now we were back in Europe. His reply came within 2 seconds 'To sit in a Taverna with a cold beer.' It had been four months since this was possible, the length of time taken to travel through the Muslim world. So off we went and did just that.
The other major point is that everything has a price tag. No bargaining, although I wish we could - soooo expensive. I guess we're in Euroland. No signs of the bankruptcy that Greece is reportedly experiencing, but plenty of evidence of vast European investment in infrastructure and tourism.
The old walled city of Rhodes is very beautiful with Italian architecture from the time of their ownership of the island. Beautiful piazzas and narrow shaded streets with tavernas and little boutiques.
But joy of joys, in the new town I found - wait for it - Marks and Spencers! Just clothes, but I was overwhelmed by rails of unmentionables, warm sweaters and good t-shirts. Indulge me, it's been a long time. And we are cold, very cold. Suddenly the temperatures have plummeted to the low 20's 'Don't be daft', I hear you say, but in the last four weeks we have lost 10deg to 15deg of heat. Trudi and Geoff gave us a duvet, since we had given ours away in St. Lucia (They are stripping the boat out for selling.) They saved our lives with that kind act. We said one final goodbye to them on Friday 30th April as they left for Preveza. I say final because we've actually said goodbye several times and drifted into the same places again and again. (This happens.)
On Wednesday 5th May we departed Rhodes for the Corinth Canal, but true to form the wind whipped up on the pointy end and since we now have time on our hands we decided to give up the struggle and anchor in North Poros. The Greeks really know how to do fabulous anchorages. Turquoise water, visibility to the bottom, goats prancing about impossible slopes covered in scrub and poplars and tiny little churches dotted around for good measure.
We transferred another 86 litres of diesel into the tanks, essential since due to wind direction, current and a dirty propeller we have been using 2.8 litres per hour. This is horrible compared to the 1.7 litres per hour when conditions and boat is right. It's better to stop when this happens or just pour the diesel straight into the water!
On Friday 7th May we reached the Corinth Canal, paid 163 Euros (making this inch for inch the most expensive strip of water anywhere!) and motored for the half an hour it takes to go through. Spectacular though, hewn out of soft rock which is continually crumbling. This means the channel can be quite narrow at times.
As we headed up the Korinthiacos Kolpos, which separates Peloponnesas from mainland Greece, surprise surprise - 30 knots on pointy end. Into Vidhavis, a rolly but picturesque bay. We tried to leave at 1900 hrs, but went straight out into 31.7 knots, guess where, yup. So back in, anchor down, night night.
At 06.40 the next morning, tried again and did ok until 19.40 when things kicked off again. Pulled into Nisis Oxia and crept into a tiny bay corner of a very large bay - the only bit shallow enough to anchor and not taken up by fish farm.
Tuesday 11th May we arrived at Fiskardo. This is the first place on our trip that we had sailed into previously since we chartered a boat about 10 years ago. I remembered this particular spot with great fondness. We had an old friend on board at the time, a non-sailor, who was unimpressed by the force 8 we battled through to get her back to Nidri for her flight. I remember her only concern was the loss of an earring on the voyage, which we advised her, should be looked on as an offering to Poseidon for safe delivery. Happy days.
So here we are, probably at the end of the blog. From here on it's all preparation for lifting the boat out in Preveza. We have already thrown out bags of unwanted stuff and now I see how much space I could have had for souvenirs. I realise how many toiletries have never been used and cosmetics never applied.
We are sitting here with much mixed feelings, desperate to see the kids, family, friends, our home in Edinburgh. For me the thought of that bath full of bubbles, a washing machine forever ready.
We are excited about the house in Italy and sharing it with those who want to come there.
I am finishing with a poem (what I rote). It summarises the highs and lows.
I will post poems, limericks, recipes etc later but till then, thanks to everyone who read and replied. It meant a lot.
When first we talked of going to sea
Around the world, him and me,
My heart was filled with dread and fear,
Which worsened as the time drew near.
But I told myself "just get a grip".
I'd agreed to do the trip.
"You'll be OK, just get up and go",
Knowing that it might not be so.
Our goodbyes said we released our lines
And headed off for sunnier climes,
Though first endured five months of rain,
And the Bay of Biscay to get to Spain.
Gently at first in little hops,
Sailing by day with overnight stops,
The miles began to accumulate,
My fear though would not dissipate.
In Las Palmas things were pretty frantic
Preparing to cross the big Atlantic.
Suddenly in my heart I knew
This was a bit I couldn't do.
So I shopped and cooked and vacuum packed,
Made sure the fridge and cupboards were stacked.
Flew to St. Lucia full of shame
And met other women who'd done the same.
We found our rooms and unpacked our bags,
Then gathered together, all us W.A.Gs. (Wives and Girlfriends)
Discovering over a Pina Colada
That we weren't cut out for the Spanish Armada.
The common denominator, truth to tell,
Though we'd all sailed far and done pretty well,
Was the fact we'd all got into a state
Undertaking this voyage to please our mate.
Now that this voyage is almost complete,
I look back on that time as my only defeat.
I've faced mighty seas, force eights and nines,
Surrounded by lightning, battling with lines.
But more than this, oh so much more,
I've found the joy of an approaching shore,
I've smiled at whales and they've smiled back,
I've sat by a volcano as it blows its stack.
I've watched something happen to my old man,
From short back and sides to long hair and a tan,
And then, what the hey, he had nothing to lose,
When in Hiva Oa he got some tattoos.
I've crouched in the jungle all fingers and thumbs,
Weaving baskets with women by the light of glow worms.
I've watched, stunned to silence, as out of the trees
Descended Orang-utans which brushed by my knees.
I've drank evil brews not minding a bit
That it's traditionally made by being chewed and then spit.
I've bargained for molas in dug-out canoes
And traded for bananas with a pair of old shoes.
Danced barefoot on beaches where tree frogs call,
And a huge brilliant moon is my disco mirror ball.
I've wobbled in dinghies and fallen in once,
Though the water was warm, I felt such a dunce.
I've been in a convoy from Oman past Somali,
Which is known by many now as "Pirate Ally",
And having survived it, came through safe and free,
Found myself interviewed on Yemen TV.
Oh the people I've met in these forty some lands,
With their welcoming faces and waving hands,
The like-minded sailors who when this all ends,
I'd like to imagine will always be friends.
These are the memories more precious than gold,
I'll conjure them up when it's wet and cold,
And I thank dear old skipper for helping me through
The times that were difficult. Quite a few!
Anne and Gordon Campion