Into the Suez


map 8 suez canal
Map 8 – the Suez Canal, Egypt

Tues 10 Nov 09

Being a later riser that I am, Andy tells me when I get up that the first lot of seven boats left at 0600 this morning. We wait for our agents to take the rest of us over to the Immigration Office and get our visa’s extended from the usual 30 days to three months since we’ll be in Egypt until the New Year.

Take a closer look at an Atlantic 55 fibreglass sloop with a Greek name tied up at the end of the dock. Looks a bit sad sitting there. Apparently it had been engaged in people smuggling and been seized by the authorities. The teak inlaid decks are splintered, twisted and broken. Hull is horribly marked with black stuff. Bowsprit looks like it’s been pulled partially out of the hull and the boom is detached.

Right: Dilapidated Atlantic 55 after being seized for people smuggling.93 refuge boat

Seems it’s been sitting in the water for some time so one can only guess at any potential osmosis in the hull. No bets on how old the rigging might be. Motor may be okay since we’re told the authorities had motored the boat from Alexandria.

Sayid says it could probably be bought for between 60,000 and 70,000 US Dollars. There’s no way it’s worth that. Might be an acceptable risk at 10,000 US Dollars if it doesn’t have osmosis in the hull and could be safely towed or motored to Finike in Turkey. But that would require it to be lifted out of the water here and surveyed.

1000hrs: Achmed and another man turn up with a minibus and a car to go to Port Said. There’s about a dozen or so of us but we don’t get far before a guard wants to see all our passports. Stand around while this is being done. I suspect a couple of passports get inadvertently checked twice. There’s a different guard at the main front gate this time so passports are checked again before we’re allowed outside. Finally manage to get back into our vehicles and drive them onto a ferry.

As we travel through Port Said the consensus view is that if a critical eye can be put aside, the place could actually kind of grow on you. It has its own special exotic attraction. Talking of eyes, the younger women in particular usually have quite striking eyes being a distinctive almond shape, very dark brown moo-cow pupils and clear with long lashes.

94 in suburbsLeft: Somewhere in the suburbs of Port Said

Eventually pull up outside a nondescript building. Stand about on the footpath outside for the next hour and a half whilst our visas are being attended to. None of us actually see any official, only Achmed and the other chap who run back and forth with various bits of paperwork.

The walls in the foyer of this government building are adorned only with painted Arabic notices and chipped paint. Rusted and faulty fluoro lights decorate the ceilings. The corridors haven’t seen a broom probably since the Yom Kipper war with Israel and it appears it must be a good place to drop and leave stuff if you don’t want to carry it around. Decrepit furniture is jammed against the walls at the end of a darkened corridor. Some of the offices with workers inside only have a single door. I don’t go upstairs but I can see from the worn stone slabs that form the stairs they’ve seen a lot of traffic over the years. Maybe the stairs are worn because the internal lift doesn’t work though the lights inside do.

1245hrs: Achmed finally comes out waving our passports with an expression of triumph on his face. Pile back into the vehicles and take off. On the suggestion of some of the British yachties we pull up at Cecile’s, one of the few restaurants in Port Said that sells alcohol. It’s a Chinese restaurant, at least it’s run by a Chinese looking gentleman but with an Egyptian waiter and it takes about an hour and a half to have your lunch. According to the waiter every meal is a special one. Only after you make your order are you allowed to tell him if you’re thirsty. After leaving Cecile’s we trudge around to the bazaar area to get some groceries. We learn that what we thought was a pear was in fact a kind of guava. Thus enlightened we return to the boat.

1630hrs: Arrive back at the boat and unpack the groceries including a slab of coca cola. Easy afternoon.

1900hrs: Andy cooks rissoles and rice for dinner. Somebody comes around later to tell us we’ll be leaving Port Said tomorrow at 1300 hrs.

The Suez Canal

Weds 11 Nov 09

Spend the morning just waiting around again, talking in groups with the other yachties. Really interesting to hear their stories. Between this relatively small group of 40 or 50, several yappy dogs and at least one cat there’s probably not many places left in the world where these people haven’t been, although few seem to have ever been to Australia.

One particularly friendly couple Hale and Alan on Alice had left Australia in 1986 and are still cruising around the world. Alan is Australian and Hale (pron. harley) originally came from Turkey, I believe somewhere to the NE of that country. We all soon became friends.

1100hrs: Refill water tank. Wash down the boat with detergent. Agents still haven’t appeared. Waiting. Waiting. Dinghy secured to foredeck, power cable recovered, boom secured as we will be motoring. Boat generally made ready.

1300hrs: Activity happening. Our rally agents appear and set up a table under the timber trellised area and yachties begin to assemble. Jenzminc is the first called. Andy sits down and is presented with a bill for USD $465.00. This covers our extended visas at $30 each, harbour fees, port clearance fee, quarantine fees, yacht club fees for 5 days at $20 per day, boat measurement fee and expenses (unstipulated). We still have a sailing permit fee of an unknown amount to pay but will probably be around the USD $180 mark, at Port Ghalib when we will leave the country.

1315hrs: Start the motor and pull in most of the lines while awaiting the arrival of our Egyptian pilot. He appears soon after, a rather ebullient character named Mohammed who steps on board and identifies himself as the pilot. Last lines are slipped and we’re underway. Pull in and stow the fenders.  Jenzminc is the first of the seven boats. Sunnies on because it’s a really glary day and then stand by to act on any instructions from the pilot. They’re not long in coming.

“Drink of soft drink please?”
A finger is pointed to my Vasco da Gama rally hat, “Have you got one?”
Andy gives him a fairly new white Hamilton Island resort cap.
He then wants a Vasco da Gama T-shirt.
This is politely but adamantly refused. He accepts this with a large smile and a shrug but it’s only postponed to be dredged up again later.

95 Mohammad 96 leaving Pt Said
Suez Canal Pilot – Mohammed Leaving Port Said

1340hrs: The banks of the Suez Canal on the outskirts of Port Said would pretty much be the same as any other waterfront in any other large city. Lots of large ship building and repair facilities, huge cranes everywhere, cargo yards filled with containers, berthed ships.

1400hrs: Mohammed is proving to be a jovial sort of fellow. Makes himself quite at home. Asks for binoculars and spends time minutely examining various things ashore. Occasionally he pulls out and inspects items around the cockpit pronouncing each one “very good”. Upon sighting the fishing gear he becomes inquisitive about Australian tuna for some reason.

Not knowing whether the luncheon meats on board contain pork we give him tomato sandwiches along with a selection of dried apricots and nuts. Follow this with coffee. He tells us that of all the boats that pass through the Suez, Australians are #1. On the Mohammed scale of approval the English came in at #2, United States #3 with a scrunched face and wobbling hand. But the Chinese are no good – big time!

97 guard postLeft: One of the Police Posts and a watchtowers that appear regularly along the banks of the canal.

1430hrs: Wild grass, scattered trees, some bushes and occasional buildings line the canal on the west bank (African side), but the east bank is bare dirt. Nothing grows. Mohammed says nobody lives there. Can’t see past over either bank into the interior of the country all along the canal. A train trundles past on the west bank and a road runs alongside it. At evenly spaced distances a watchtower appears. Andy and Roger mentioned later that there were machine guns mounted on top. Every now and then a Police post appears. Some look fairly Spartan while others are complete with bushes and trees growing around it.

Mohammed spends considerable time going back and forth to the VHF radio chatting to various people, particularly at control stations where official boats are refuelled. He also seems to like talking somewhat animatedly on his mobile phone.

1515hrs: A long line of big ships pass by going the other way. Mohammed tells us there are 17 in this group. They can only let the big ships travel in groups one way at a time. Suez is fairly wide but not wide enough to allow them to go both ways. A large Hong Kong registered container ship passes by. The Chinese are “good” now, having been promoted for some reason in Mohammed’s view.

98 ships  99 ships
Big ships passing within a stone’s throw away. Container ship heading north in a bypass canal.
 100 containers Left: Containers stacked 17 wide and 6 deep on this ship – and it’s not the smallest one.

A black shoe floats by right way up along with other intermittent detritus such as plastic bags and bottles, sundry garbage and vegetation. Every now and then we pass by a small rowing boat with two or three raggedy looking men aboard fishing with lines or nets. Some wave. Others ignore us. Occasionally one of these boats has some kind of sail made of whatever material they can scrounge such as plastic sheeting. Apart from such interesting observations there’s really not that much else to see and it starts to get pretty boring after a while.

Right: Fishermen using a plastic sheet for a sail.101 fishermen

1715hrs: Dusk. Pass under a massively high bridge. Mohammed calls it “Jaban” but the small township at its base is identified as Al Qantarah (pron el kantara). The town spans both banks of the canal. Andy and Roger say they saw two military tanks on the east (or Asian) bank, and they didn’t look they were just monuments. Along with the watch-towers it’s another reminder of the tensions that can exist between countries in this part of the world.

 102 bridge  103 car carrier
The bridge at Al Qantarah.  A shallow water marker lies dead ahead of us centre right of the furled headsail. Sometimes it’s necessary to move right over to allow big ships to pass by. Same ship shown top left is a huge car carrier that dwarfs us as it passes. 

1915hrs: Coming into Ismailia which was built on Lake Crocodile and extends into a large harbour area off to one side of the canal. Very dark with the moon not yet up. Don’t know what to expect but it’s still a surprisingly big place considering it’s out in the middle of a desert. Confronted by a sea of lights. Lots of resorts.

Mohammed identifies a hospital right alongside the water. He’s back on the phone again in another animated conversation. I wonder if he’s intending to take us on a land tour because the depth sounder is reading really shallow and starts alarming. Given that we all become pretty animated ourselves pointing to the depth sounder he responds, “No problem – no problem,” and gets us back out into the main channel where a highly visible yellow fairways buoy (middle of the channel) is flashing away.

1950hrs: Anchor goes down while reversing into the docking area. Tie up with plenty of willing hands from the first group standing around to welcome us in, some of whom are already a little more celebratory than usual. Probably the drinking water. Get the power cable connected to a shore outlet.

We’d been warned the pilots would try to make the run as fast as possible and that they’d urge skippers to speed up. In some boats going above certain speeds can put a strain on it so a maximum limit of six knots had been suggested.  We weren’t in convoy and had covered 45 miles in six hours 25 minutes. Some of the other yachties were impressed with our time. Others with a blinkered view less so.

In Jenzminc’s case she can do seven knots at 2,500 rpm easily with no strain on the motor. And in any case we’d kept a radio scan going on Channel 72 which had been proscribed for use by any of the group that might strike problems.

Mohammed launches his second attempt to obtain a Vasco da Gama rally T-shirt which is emphatically but politely refused again. Gesturing to his newly acquired cap he now urges Andy with what sounds like, “beebee”. Finally work out he wants a Vasco da Gama cap or shirt for his baby. We’d established earlier that he had a daughter. Andy ends up giving him 30 Euro and he appears happy with that. We were to learn later that many pilots have babies that probably have babies of their own.

Similar stories come from other boats about hats. Some pilots apparently taciturn. Others greedy and yet others with no problems at all. They generally seem to come onboard not wearing any hat. One wonders how many of these hats the pilots can collect in a year and what do they do with them? Even so some of the yachties seemed a little hostile and could have been be a bit more tolerant I think.

Right: SV Storm Dodger secured to the end of the dock at Ismailia.106 storm dodger

2300hrs: All yachts have arrived and are secured to the dock. Most seem to be socialising with other crews on other boats. New friendships are being made and groups starting to bond.

Two boats Cobbles and Storm Dodger had problems within a few hundred metres of the dock after running over an unlit fishing net set by a couple of young lads in a small boat. One of the lads dived down and cut Cobbles free but Storm Dodger’s propeller had become fouled. She was towed to her berth with the guidance of several chiefs and fewer Indians. As she neared the dock she was warped along with a couple of cases of anxiety here and there until secured sideways along the end.



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