We entered the Red Sea with some apprehension. From Bab-el-Mandeeb to Suez there are 1200 miles of adverse wind and currents, increasing in strength as we reach further north. The predominantly NW winds started well early, 200 miles into the Red Sea and the only way to get NW, which is the course to Suez, is heading W or NE. Motoring is useless and a waist of fuel as progress is painfully slow against the swell and strong winds. So the 500 miles passage from Aden took 7 long days. Now we are anchored behind reefs on the Sudanese coast and waiting for the winds to calm down. There are 2 other boats in the anchorage, Orca Joss and Chulugi. We met both boats very briefly, even though; Jenny from Orca Joss invited us for dinner. Such a treat having someone else cooking for you after a frustrating long passage!!!
According to the weather forecast, the following 7 days the weather is becalmed with very light NW. This is the best time to sail north, the only problem is that we don't have enough fuel until Port Ghalib, the next available fueling station. But we decided to take a gamble and go for gold.
04th April- Dolphin Reef
Furry reef is the home of a huge pod of dolphins . We stopped here very briefly just to swim with these animals and to pounce some fuel from another yacht. Luckily Yagoona was able to sell us 40 litres of fuel. The tropics are well behind us, result of this is that the water is cold, but we plunged in and braved it out. About 40 dolphins live in around the reef, there is no fish for food but as most of the resident dolphins are calves and mother we guess that this is where they stay until they are big enough to face the big sea. Keeping up with the pod was hectic, they swim fast and nonstop. Despite the calves, the dolphins were very tamed but kept at a distance; still we were able to get very close.
06th April -Entering Egypt
After 2 weeks at sea ,we stepped on terra firma, the excitement of being on land just wasn't there. That's because we entered Egypt, the land of Baksheesh. In Port Ghalib all the ten arriving yachts, were directed to quarantine whilst formalities were being processed by an agent at a pace of turtle. Half a day later we received our passports back and had to wait another day or 2 for a clearance!!! In the meantime we were requested to stay in the marina and enjoy their facilities all at our expenses. Together with Chulugi we decided to leave the same day to catch the last of the calm weather to make Hurghada for Graham's birthday, the clearance could be faxed to Hurghada Marina. Things are not so simple in Egypt and making exception to rules is unheard off. A pompous and uncompromising manager came to sabotage our plans. He even made some comments that yachties are known to be winging penny pinchers, which made us laugh, not far from true. We decided to try the Arab style of arguing, rose our voices a few decibels and threatened to publish on Noonsite (the cruisers website) some bad reviews about the Marina. He, then backed off and made a quick call, must have been magic, but our papers were ready in 30 minutes.
As soon as we left the marina we were almost regretting it... The wind wasn't at all becalmed and progressively throughout the night increased to 30 knots of headwinds. First time experience of the famous boat stoppers, these are typical of the Red Sea and as the name says, the waves stop the boat dead on the water. Of course we would rather die than to go back to Ghalib. Half way to the destination, the seas were impossible and again we were wondering about the fuel situation, so turned back to Al Quseir, 18 miles behind us. The "port" was less than adequate but that will have to do until the weather settles a bit. Some guys from a diving boat came by, we asked of possibilities of getting fuel. The diving boat could sell us fuel and water would be free, if needed. "How much?" ,we asked. "Up to you". We don't like that sort of answer... After we received the fuel, Graham was taken to the diving boat and was given one hundred litres of water and two bags of food, which we did not ask for. We paid $50, which was a nice profit for fuel. A while later the diving boat guys came back asking for money for the fuel again and now the water. The image we are getting of the Egyptians are that they are dodgy merchants, money do talk here very much so and corruption is imbedded deeply in their culture. The guys asked a nice round figure of$100! We told them to take the water and food back, paid another $20 and no more. After all this they felt a bit embarrassed and asked to keep the water and food as a "welcome present"...
Early morning came with extremely calm weather, so we pocked our nose out and 4 miles up the road we got hit again with 20knots and increasing and nasty choppy seas, so limped back to Al Quseir. Now we settled for the waiting game and to enjoy Graham's birthday, Happy birthday, Mr. Captain!!!.
Amazing that out of all Arab countries we have visited, Egypt is the one that receives more tourists yet the red tape is unbelievable. We were approached by the Coast Guard and told that we are not allowed ashore after 6pm and now found out that can't go ashore on Friday, being their prayer day. From our boat we can see the tourist coaches arriving and tourists around in the evening and Friday. Foreigners are welcome once they spend a lot of money in expensive marinas or hotels, but we may just be winging penny pinchers...
Left with some trepidation, the weather looked settled but that changes very quickly in the Red Sea. By the time the wind increased, luckily we were already behind reefs and not far from Hurghada. As we approached the town , the sun was coming up. This is a huge tourist resort, hundreds of power boats and hotels after hotels. Yacht Nadezdha was just leaving and told us that the weather is good for another 3 days, so this was a pit stop for us, although we longed for a stop, internet , shops and restaurants... After getting more fuel (Red Sea is eating our fuel away), water and some food we left for Port Suez.
Arriving into Suez has a great feeling. The Red Sea is finally behind us, although overall we had a good trip. There was a lot of familiar faces in the yacht club. As soon as we tied the boat to the dock the agent was on top of us to take money for the canal, no chance of rest. Unless you are a masochist, using an agent is the easiest way to arrange the transit, arrange fuel and other bits. Captain Hebbe charged $80 for his services, but he also found a very good engineer to deal with our multiple engine problems. The engineer turned out to be a reliable and trustworthy Egyptian, probably the only one! He did work hard on getting parts and to get us ready to go quickly, Zaki thanks for your help and honesty!
Bought the necessary Marlboro cigarettes for the pilots, they not only expect gifts of cigarettes but are very choosy with the label, hence the canal has a nickname of Marlboro Canal ! Also we have some small denomination in dollars for the baksheesh, again for the pilots. So now we are ready for the transit. Getting fuel is impossible, the police is keeping guard outside the Club and are demanding so much baksheesh that prices are going up too much.
17th April- Transiting Marlboro Canal, first part.
The day started with request of baksheesh from the chap that releases our mooring lines. I gave him a hard time, told Graham to stay down below; he was very uncomfortable asking money from a woman... Eventually the words came out and he got his money but took a bit of abuse from me, which embarrassed him. They are not going to have easily with Nomad Life. At 5 am sharp 10 yachts left. Our pilot was not an early riser, as the morning went by he became more talkative, especially on the radio, which he kept always in his hand. Bearing in mind that Egyptians don't talk but shout, so our ears were sore after some time. While we were transiting, there was a continuous flow of cargo ships all heading North. In the afternoon it's the turn for the Southbound transit. The Canal is 165 km long and the transit is done over 2 days, with a stop in Ismailia.
18th April - Ismailia
Optionally yachts can remain in Ismailia for a few days, for us it was necessary as we still need to get fuel and wait for a good weather window in the Mediterranean. Quickly we realized that this is not such a great idea, in fact we are being held hostage of the Canal. There are at least 30 yachts here and all waiting for good weather, but not enough pilots to take the boats through. Additionally is illegal to get fuel from petrol station and the guards to the Yacht Club make sure to stop it. So now we will have to devise a way of smuggling fuel in, another of the many jokes that Egypt play on us.
20th April- A day trip to Cairo
By now we are so fed up with the Egyptians that we would have given Cairo and the pyramids a miss. But a friend of us recommended Mohamed as a good driver. Indeed he was pleasant and didn't ask for presents. It was an early start, Cairo is only 130 km from Ismailia but the sun is unbearable after 10am. Together with Geisha, Herbert and little Yannic we left at 6am. As soon as we crossed the river Nile and entered Giza, the outskirts of Cairo, we had the first glimpse of the pyramids standing very tall and impressively against the skyscrapers and smog.
The area were the pyramids are situated is fenced off and full of tourists. We paid 60 Egyptian pounds (£8) to enter. Once inside we were approached by the chaps selling camel rides, horse rides, trip of the Nile and all sorts of tacky souvenirs. But our driver, Mohamed, dealt with them all and we hardly got hassled. It took 3 hours to walk around and visit some of the burial chambers that were free. Kar, the architect who designed the pyramids, has a very nice chamber with statues and hieroglyphs over the wall. It was absolutely amazing to see one of the seven wanders of the world. Couldn't help to think that the Egyptians were so advanced during the days of the pharaohs, what went so wrong with the country?
In the afternoon we visited the Egyptian Museum. The most interesting part was the pharaoh Toutenkamon's exhibition. It included the three of Tut's mummy cases including the golden sarcophagus itself and a good explanation of his huge burial chamber and mummification process. The rest of the Museum was a hit and miss, lots in exhibition but no explanation of what things are. Cairo itself is a mayhem of cars that will happily run you over if the opportunity arises, stuffy hot and dirty. Now we feel that Egypt has been done and will be glad to leave. But tomorrow the President is visiting Ismailia, so may be still here held hostage, Insha'Allah.
The President came and left, but we still here...
At 5am we were ready to go, but found out at 10am that we are not going, no explanations. Baksheesh may have solved the problem... So far we paid baksheesh to almost everybody, but for what? Just for them to do their jobs.
It is too frustrating to write down our last days in Egypt, frankly not worthy. Suffice to say that we will never come back here and the feeling amongst other yachties is the same.
The second part of the transit was uneventful and long, by the time we arrived in Port Said it was dark and we had to negotiate the very busy waters at night, thanks to the Suez Canal authorities for putting us there at night! The pilot was a sweet man until baksheesh time. We gave him $15 and 2 packs of cigarettes, that just wasn't good. He got quite aggressive for more money and a whole box of Marlboros, before that he asked for t-shirts, caps, present for the wife. After 3 weeks in Egypt our patience was running thin, so we refused and all ended up in a shouting match. We were very relieved when we dumped him on the pilot boat. Now we are slowly realizing that things are missing on the boat such as mugs, razor blades...
Words cannot describe the feeling of entering the Med. Partly because we finally got out of Egypt after 5 attempts of transiting the second part of the canal. But it is nice to be back to familiar culture and people and some kind of "home" . The sad part is that very quickly our travels are coming to an end.