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  NOVEMBer 2009

 

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01/11/09  We are being plagued by bees - it's the end of the season in Turkey and the hives have been removed, leaving nowhere for the bees to go.  Each gust of wind (and there are lots) brings dozens of the little critters crash landing onboard.  I've been stung twice today, once on the foot and once on the arm, that makes a total of five stings in the last month or so. 

02/11/09  Woken at 4am by the increase in wind speed, my rub-a-dub was trying to take off so it was a hurried donning of shorts and into the pitching dinghy to remove the outboard and stow it onboard before the whole thing turned upside-down  - as in France!  My new engine starter battery was delivered and fitted later in the  morning, so removing a worry about engine starting.  The winds continued throughout the day and the forecast still shows a strong depression heading quickly our way, which will give us gale force winds and heavy rain from the south on Tuesday evening.

03/11/09  With the predicted gale force winds heading fast across the Mediterranean, Roger and I decided  (discretion being the better part of valour) to go into Marmaris Yacht Marina and take shelter for the next 36 hours or so.  By 1015, we had both weighed anchor and moved into the marina - that would allow us to top up batteries (except there was no power where I moored) and water tanks before hopefully setting off again toward Egypt.  The anticipated blow arrived during the evening and lasted all night but apart from the rain drumming on deck, I hardly noticed it, as I was so well tucked into a corner of the marina.  Sometimes, things do go right!!

04/11/09  The wind and rain continued throughout the morning, the only really noticeable effect being when the wind veered to the west around 10am and my instruments recorded 38 knots.  I went into town during the afternoon and re-stocked on veggies, meat etc., before returning to the marina for a beer during happy hour and a meal in the restaurant with Roger and Astrid.  A chance chat with Paul of Zachariah - and suddenly I had a crew for the crossing to Port Said - he said he would like to do the trip for the experience and I have to admit that I hadn't exactly been looking forward to having three nights without sleep on a 400 mile passage.  So a hasty plan was devised to get his exit visa from Turkey and the only way it could be done was for him to catch the morning ferry to Rhodes and I would pick him up there tomorrow for onward passage to Egypt, then he would fly back from there.

05/11/09  Good plan.....shame it didn't work!  Paul went into town first thing this morning, only to be told the ferry had been cancelled due to bad weather - so back to no crew for the passage.  Made the boat ready for sea and bought a few 'last thought' type of things from the marina shop.  Slipped at 1015 and motored across the bay to Netsel Marina to top up with fuel again (19 litres), before making for the open sea.  The wind was on the nose (as it always seems to be in the Med), so it was a case of motoring on a set course for Egypt.  Storm Dodger caught up with me some 5 hours out and we made steady progress past Rhodes on a course of 148o, and settled in for a night of engine noise.  62 miles covered to midnight. 

06/11/09  Much the same sort of day but at least the sails were up!  We picked up a weather forecast from a passing tanker (Gaz Fidelity) of winds ENE 3 - 5 with 0.5 to 1.5 wave heights.  Both Roger and I had to execute a 90o turn to avoid incident with a Turkish freighter who should have been giving way to ourselves.  In radio contact with Jamie and Liz on Esper who are some 12 miles ahead of us.  126 miles covered.

07/11/09  Barometer dropping and seas increasing, 2 reefs in the mainsail with genoa deeply reefed.  By afternoon we were seeing up to 4 metre waves from our port side which made life a little uncomfortable onboard - a good job I had a big pot of beef stew already made!  Into the third night at sea.  We could hear other boats from the VdG Rally on VHF as they made their approach to Port Said from Larnaca - they also had been delayed by bad weather in Cyprus.  110 miles covered.

08/11/09  Remembrance Sunday.  Still rolling and pitching, and still on a course of 148o with Storm Dodger keeping station about a mile away.  The seas quietened as the day progressed and we made our first waypoint of the oil platforms off Egypt around 1pm.  Our arrival close to Port Said anchorage was somewhat surreal as we motored through calm seas with poor visibility, the radar showing dozens of ships around us as we picked our way through.  Just before 5pm, as the light started to fade, we closed the fairway buoy for the Suez Canal approach and called Port Control for clearance to enter the canal.  It's a legal requirement in Egypt to take onboard a pilot but they were busy - so we made our way into the canal until eventually we were boarded at 5.25 for the final 10 minutes into Port Fouad, which is on the opposite side of the canal from Port Said proper.  Moored starboard side to at 5.35pm and we were met by Lo, the rally organiser.  All paperwork for visa application completed by the officials from Felix Maritime Agency almost as soon as we were tied up, visited by the doctor and given the all clear.  The 'marina' isn't exactly luxurious (it isn't a marina at all really, just a concrete walled small port) and the view isn't what we have been used to - convoys pass through the canal just in front of us and the wash makes the yachts bounce up and down somewhat......just the same as being at sea!!  However, tonight I could go to bed instead of snatching 10 minutes here and there, or the occasional half hour when Roger or Astrid kept watch for me.  91 miles covered.  No wi-fi internet available in the port.

09/11/09  So, here we are in Bur Sa'Id with it's lovely(?) views over the industrial port area!  We've swapped the cooling climate of Turkey for the hot temperatures of Egypt and it's baksheesh culture, and also said goodbye to the Mediterranean with it's fickle winds and uncomfortable seas.  Attended our first meeting of the VdG group for details of the canal transit and got our passports (with visa's) back.  Ordered fuel, which was delivered in huge jerry cans, more the size of an oil drum, before showering and catching the ferry over to Port Said with Roger, Astrid, Jordan and Leah, for a look around and to find somewhere to eat.  It's odd to be able to hop on a ferry in Asia and 5 minutes later be in Africa.   Returned onboard just after midnight.

10/11/09  The first half of the rally departed this morning at 6am to transit the canal to Ismailia, the remaining seven boats are due to depart tomorrow.  However, it seems our visa's were only issued for one month instead of three, so the whole group of us crossed on the ferry again and spent several hours at the passport office, where we eventually got our visa's extended to a total of four months.  On return to the boat, my stern line had snapped and the back end of the boat was swinging free in the swell - I hurriedly put out another line but will have to buy more at the earliest opportunity.  Saeed (the Felix rep.) came and told us that we would not be setting off tomorrow because a warship was using the canal, so it looks like another day sitting in Port Fouad.

11/11/09  At 1pm, we were told to pay our fees and get ready to go immediately!  30 minutes later, with my pilot onboard, I slipped and motored south down the canal with the other six boats in convoy.  A pilot isn't really necessary (what's difficult about following a buoyed channel within a canal?) - but it's a legal requirement so we have to abide by it.  The canal operates a one-way system, but small yachts can 'go against the flow' and we passed many big tankers and container ships heading northward as we motored through the afternoon and into the night.  Just after 20.15, in Lake Timsah, Cobble ahead of Roger and myself, picked up a fishing net which was strung across the entrance to Ismailia.  The same net subsequently got fouled on Storm Dodger's propeller - and I narrowly avoided it.  With engines stopped, I retrieved about 40 to 50 metres of rope from under my boat (photo right), then stood by whilst Maurice on Cobble freed himself.  Roger wasn't so lucky and could not get the rope un-ravelled from his propeller, finally being towed the last 200 metres into Ismailia by a small motorboat (crewed by Laurel and Hardy).  This whole performance took around 90 minutes and it wasn't until 22.15 that we finally tied up alongside the quay in Ismailia and the pilots dis-embarked.  With the first 40 miles of canal behind us, we all joined up for a drink onboard Divanty with some of the other rally crews, chatting away until 2am.  42 miles of canal covered.

12/11/09  Awoke to thick fog!!  I couldn't see a thing beyond the side of Storm Dodger!  Fortunately, it all cleared when the sun came up and burnt it off.  Helped Roger with his dive gear as he went under the boat to clear the fouled prop. - unable to complete the job as his air tanks didn't contain sufficient air for more than a half hour.  Rally boats now here are: Mistral, Divanty, Storm Dodger, Rhumb Do, Cobble, Adelante, Esper, Roam II, Full Flight, Still Dreaming, Jenzminc VI, Medea, O. Khayam and Moody Time. Still no wi-fi internet available - except a very sporadic and weak signal which isn't there long enough to actually do anything with.   Flies are a major problem - they are everywhere, in your ears, nostrils and eyes.....and it will apparently get worse in Port Suez and Suakin.

13/11/09  Happy Birthday David.  Attended second skipper's meeting in the marina cafe.  Roger managed to arrange a 'free diver' (of the clam variety) to clear the remaining rope from his prop.  This guy also cleared some debris from around my rudder which had been affecting steering in the canal.  I did a bit of shopping in the local supermarket - real cheddar cheese available - but a bit daunting when my small amount of shopping showed up as 260 at the till.  I should add that 1 sterling is the approximate equivalent of 10 Egyptian pounds!

14/11/09  We've more or less seen the 'posh' end of town, so today we went the opposite way and into the souk.  What a contrast!  The area was a mixture of derelict buildings, construction sites and rubbish dumps, amongst which the fruit, fish and meat markets were in full swing with live cattle, goats and chickens mixed in with it all.  The smell was awful, litter was strewn everywhere and puddles, mud patches and non-existent pavements made every step an exercise in alertness.  The people however, were extremely friendly and we were bombarded with "Welcome to Egypt", "Where are you from?", "What's your name?" at almost every stall.  Because of the piles of rotting food and rubbish, I would imagine that the entire area would be crawling with rats during the evening and night-time.  An evening drink onboard Storm Dodger, with Nigel, Debs, Terry, Fiona (Roam II), Liz, Jamie (Esper), Maurice (Cobble) and Colin (Moody Time).

16/11/09  My alarm, set for 0500 wasn't needed because I was woken at 0445 by the call of the muezzin from the mosque.  As there are at least a half dozen mosques in the immediate area, you can probably imagine the racket made by the different calls, and all electronically amplified of course.  No wonder that all the locals walk around with tired expressions!  We (Storm Dodger and I) had a taxi booked for 0600, to visit Giza to see the pyramids and we all crammed into Mohamed's cab outside the yacht club gate, Leah sitting on my lap for the 2 hour drive to Cairo.  Mohamed acted as our driver and guide for the whole day, showing us the pyramids, inside the Great Pyramid, the oldest boat in the World (4,600 years) and the Cairo Museum with it's mummies and King Tut. exhibition.  We returned to the boats around 8pm, all tired but having enjoyed a great day out.  (photo's)

17/11/09  Gave a little assistance to Roger who had gone with Mohamed to get jerry cans filled with diesel and also to get some charts copied for me, before heading off to George's Bar for a beer and a meal.  On our return we paid up our berthing fees in anticipation of departing for Port Suez early tomorrow morning.

18/11/09  A comic book start to the day!  Up at 0410 for a 0500 departure.  The pilots eventually turned up at 0530 but there were not enough of them for the seven boats, so Esper and Rhumb Do were told to wait until 10am for more pilots.   The difficulty was that I was rafted on the outside of Storm Dodger, so had to cast off in order to allow them out, before re-berthing alongside.  Jamie came onboard to help me but without anyone ashore to take ropes from us, there was a small contact between bow and wall which resulted in minor gelcoat damage to my bow - so I'm not very pleased about that and am not impressed with the organisation of things.  Mohamed, my pilot (yes I know, they are all called Mohamed!) turned up around 1020 and together with Liz and Jamie onboard Esper, we slipped and began our second leg of the Suez Canal.  On arrival in Great Bitter Lake, the southbound convoy was just departing and we had to skirt around the anchorage as all the big ships weighed anchor.  By the time we had crossed the lakes and entered the canal again, all had passed us and we were able to hoist our genoas and motor sail down the canal to Port Suez, (actually, it's Port Tawfik) arriving in the dark at 1830 to join the other 12 boats of the rally.  47 miles covered.

(Information on the Suez Canal)

19/11/09  All crews gathered for a BBQ in the Yacht Club garden during the evening, Lo (Mistral) presenting the club manager and the Felix rep with VdG Rally ornaments.  All skippers in return received small ornamental Egyptian Gods - mine being Anubis.

20/11/09  Twenty of us arranged to go several hundred kilometres into the Sinai Desert today in order to visit the monastery of Saint Katherine and we duly gathered beside two mini-buses at 8.30am.  There was a bit of a conflab about whether the monastery was actually open today but a phone call to Felix Agency apparently straightened out the problem and we set off just after 9am.  Second problem.....it's Friday....and Holy Day.....so there were no ferries across the canal and we had to drive miles to the tunnel in order to get into Sinai.  It was some five hours later that we finally arrived in the High Mountain Region of the South Sinai Desert, only to be told that Saint Katherine's was indeed closed!  A trip to the area where Moses allegedly received the ten commandments was a further 8km trek over rough ground, then a climb up 750 steps.  We all declined the guide's offer!  A while later, we were offered admittance to the monastery (I think the 'closed' bit was just a way of extracting baksheesh again) and we all trooped in.  Efforts to photograph the burning bush of Moses fame were then thwarted by falling darkness, so it was a bit of a wasted trip really.  Never mind, the experience of going out into the desert region, seeing camel herds and bedouin settlements was something I'll probably never do again.  The walk back from the monastery to the buses, in the dark, was proof of just how cold it gets in the desert at night-time and we were all glad to be back in the bus for the trip back to Suez.  I have been logging onto the internet via The Red Sea Hotel network, but today it's down - so no wi-fi connection.

21/11/09  The second group of three boats left for Wadi El Dome.  Roam II who should have gone in the first group yesterday, are still here with engine problems.  Roger, Astrid and myself went into Suez town for some supplies and although the people are as friendly as ever, the amount of rubbish on the streets is unbelievable - I find it difficult to understand why they are content to live in such poor conditions and squalor.  Still no internet.

22/11/09  The third group of boats left this morning.  Again went into town with Roger, Astrid, Debbie, Nigel and Maurice with the intention of pricing up a dongle for internet connection via the Egyptian telephone service.  It turned out to be too expensive for what Roger and I had in mind and we both decided that we would have to wait until we were in Hurghada for a reliable and affordable connection.  After a beer in Saint George's Bar (the only bar we could find, we all jumped on a bus for the return to the marina - what an experience that was!  We thought that some of the older dolmuş vehicles in Turkey were bad, but the ones here are much worse, torn and dirty seats, doors that won't close, windows hanging out and the driving skills top it all.  I've often thought over the last couple of weeks, just what my old colleagues in the driving test centres would make of all this - there would be more 'terminated for public safety' tests than completed ones!  I suppose the town is about 5 kilometres from the marina and the cost of a taxi into town was 5LE (about fifty pence) whereas the bus back was only 50 piastres - about ten pence.

23/11/09  So, today was our turn to break out of the Suez Canal - but we had to wait until 0900 for a northbound nuclear submarine to pass our position.  Our group of three consisted of myself, Storm Dodger and Cobble but we were also joined by Roam II who had finally got the engine problem sorted out, and we all made our way down the last couple of kilometres of canal and out into the Red Sea.  We had been expecting to sail across the Gulf of Suez on a northerly wind (which had blown for the last week) but sadly we had a very light south-westerly wind which forced us to motor the thirty-one miles to Wadi El Dome Marina on the east coast of the Gulf, arriving there at 1500.   After checking in and obtaining our three month cruising permits, we all had a walk around the local area;  it was as if we had been transported to a completely different country - all was clean and modern looking, as expected of a developing resort - but nowhere could we sit and have a beer except in the restaurant  inside the marina.  That's going to prove a problem with future tourism to the area!!  No internet either, nor will there be any now until I reach Hurghada. 

24/11/09  Roam II departed at 0800 and we (Rhumb Do, Storm Dodger and Cobble) slipped our moorings half an hour later.  We stayed close inshore, never going beyond 2 miles out from the west coast of the Gulf and the day was a mixture of motor-sailing and sailing under genoa alone.  We reached the anchorage at Marsa Thelemet about 3pm, passing a ketch which was grounded on the reef and with full sail up but no sign of anyone onboard.  I dropped the hook in about 10 metres of water and let out 45 metres of chain.  It's a fairly desolate bay, the other rally boats here are: O. Khayam, Esper, Still Dreaming, Storm Dodger, Roam II, Cobble and Moody Time. Within a couple of hours of anchoring, the wind started to blow 30 knots from the southwest, so dinner was an edgy affair watching for anchor drag.

25/11/09  By 0710 all boats except O. Khayam had weighed anchor and left on a heading of 130o across the Gulf to the east coast.  Winds got up to F5 and we were doing around 5 - 6 knots with just the genoa out (we were later passed by O. Khayam who was under full sail) and arrived off Rs Shrtb about 1400.  My depth sounder has given up the ghost yet again and it's becoming very nerve-racking going into shallow areas - especially those surrounded by coral reefs, as is the Shrtb Shoals and we know of two yachts lost on this reef in the past.  I followed Storm Dodger in and we anchored in about 8 metres behind Sha'B El Hasa reef.  One of the oil platforms (Mercury) contacted us and it was good to hear an English voice giving us local weather forecasts - apparently the wind of 25 knots will continue throughout the night and increase to 35 knots by Friday midnight ......not good!! The anchorage suffers from both northerly and southerly currents and combined with the wind, we have a 1 metre swell running which is making life very difficult.

26/11/09  After a night with very little sleep, we weighed anchor at 0730 and took the southern exit from the reef, passing two rig support vessels aground on our starboard side.  Mark (the English voice of the Mercury Oil Rig) called on VHF and wished us well on our voyage - he too was leaving today (by helicopter) and going home to Rye in Sussex.  It was a bit of a wallowing sail under genoa alone in an F4/5 from the west-north-west, the group splitting roughly into two some thirty miles down the coast, with half going into El Tur and the rest of us going on to Sheikh Riyh Harbour.  It's not possible to land in these anchorages, most are controlled by the military and even with valid visa's, a trip ashore is not worth the effort of getting permission.  Roger came over in his dinghy and picked up myself and Maurice from Cobble and we all had a very enjoyable dinner onboard Storm Dodger. We plan on staying here tomorrow and sitting out the increase in wind speed. 

                                                                                        Cobble at sunrise with the Sinai Peninsular behind.

27/11/09  Roam II and Esper sailed this morning as they have flights to meet in Hurghada in a couple of days.  Watching them leave the harbour and exit the reef was interesting - they were rolling and pitching until well out into deeper water.  Around mid-day the winds picked up and we then had consistent 30 knot wind with frequent gusts of up to 36 knots.  Reports back from Fiona on Roam II indicated that they did not have a pleasant crossing to Endeavour Harbour, experiencing 3 metre waves and the same winds that we had.  I dismantled the chart table drawers and shelves, removed the Navico computer and fitted my third (and last) unit - now the depth sounder works again..........but for how long?  I now have one duff unit onboard, another duff one with Ann in the UK, and the present working one.

28/11/09  My view today remains the same - the anchorage!  Strong winds out at sea meant another day here, other boats are prudently waiting in El Tur and Marsa Thelemet for a better window for onward passage.  It's safe here, the winds are lessened by the low lying desert sands and the waves by the fringing coral reef, but there isn't much to look at. There are no habitable buildings anywhere in the bay, just the odd car can be seen travelling along the road in the far distance and  a couple of  small blue rowing boats used by fishermen along the shoreline.   I actually caught my first fish today!  In fact, four of them - but none were of any useful size and I threw them back in, the biggest was about 10 inches long with big eyes and black spots on it's back, pale yellow tail and a puffed up throat area......I have no idea what it was!  We were also entertained by three or four dolphins lazily swimming around the boats, sometimes jumping two metres out of the water but mainly just basking in the sun.

29/11/09  Weighed anchor at 0615 and motored out over the bar, rolling badly until further offshore.  Light winds now meant motor sailing but the sea swell remained from the last few days, and we at times had up to three metre seas.  Just before noon, I was startled by a loud hissing noise and thought of engine troubles before realising that my fishing line had all been pulled out and the rod was bent like a banana - I had a fish!  It took a little while to reel in what I thought was a Yellowfin Tuna (I was reliably informed that it was a Dorado), however....on trying to gaff it when at the transom, I accidentally pulled out the hook and it escaped.  Never mind, two hours later I had another which I DID manage to get onboard.  It was 34 inches (86cm) long and weighed 4kg and as everyone was beginning to run out of fresh food supplies, it was very welcome!  After anchoring in Endeavour Harbour on Tawila Island at 2pm, Roger cleaned and filleted it, I took over some potatoes and butter - then Roger, Astrid, Jordan, Leah, Maurice, myself and Mutley had a lovely fresh fish dinner onboard Storm Dodger.

30/11/09  A relaxing day at anchor.  Tawila Island is fringed with coral reefs, the waters are crystal clear blues and greens.  The shoreline is much the same as the other bays we have been in, low lying sand dunes and totally deserted.  There is a cairn on top of a low hill, a couple of derelict one storey buildings and the remains of an old pier.......that's it, nothing else - no people - no animals - no trees - no birds - no noise - and of course no internet, not even a mobile phone signal.  Mid afternoon saw the arrival of Moody time and Still Dreaming who both anchored close by.

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