Pt Said to Pt Suez
|Location of Ismailia
just north of the Great Bitter Lake
Sun 15 Nov 09
A group of 13 yachties take off in a minibus this morning bound for Cairo leaving the marina with a deserted look. Some cleaning up taking place onboard.
Groups of young men, obviously Army, Navy and Air Force are wandering about the marina concourse area. They gather in clumps here and there peering into boats but generally keeping to themselves. They appear to be having lectures upstairs in the marina building and coming out for breaks from time to time.
The Army guys wear heavy dark brown woollen battle dress reminiscent of the old British uniform worn in the Second World War, and until recently in the Australian Army during winter. They have red tags on collars and some have wing badges on the left breast. All have shoulder boards, a khaki shirt and dark brown tie. The Air Force guys wear a dark blue battle dress of similar design and the Navy guys wear black suits similar to that worn by navy people everywhere. What is it with these hot uniforms here? Point out to Roger that some are walking about arm in arm. They must be good mates.
Afternoon: Easy day aboard. Roger goes up to the internet cafe. Scores big points with the rest of us by returning with a big bar of chocolate and tasty Pringles potato chips.
Evening: Set up the laptop and we watch a movie after dinner. Very quiet in the marina all day. The group of travellers who went to Cairo return somewhere around 2200 hrs or so.
Mon 16 Nov 09
0800hrs: Still no word when anybody is leaving but people start to prepare their yachts anyway getting fuel and stocking up on food. Andy and I set out for the internet cafe while Roger stays behind to do what he calls housewifely duties around the boat.
The internet shop is closed. Shop owner next door indicates he will be open by 0900hrs so I decide to take a quick walk around nearby. Locate a post office, a KFC which won’t be open until 1100 hrs next door to a Pizza Hut. Return to the internet cafe to find Andy sitting on the stone gutter merrily chatting way to wife Jenni on Skype. The Wi-Fi signal can be picked up outside the shop. Send off an email of my own.
0900hrs. The internet guy turns up. Andy asks him if he can fix his Dell computer which isn’t working after giving off a burning smell. The guy cleans the fan with a blower then indicates it’s probably the power unit blown up. Can’t fix it because he doesn’t have an electrical plug adapter for the Australian three pin plug and the Egyptian two pin plug. Andy will have to return with the adapter.
On the way back to the boat meet up with Roger on his way to the Metro grocery shop. Andy and I return to the boat to fetch a shopping trolley and adapter plug and return to the internet shop to meet Roger. I get online and have a Skype chat with Delma. The shop owner decides he can’t fix the Dell computer because he hasn’t got the part.
Down a few shops is Egy-Tech, another computer shop.
“Yes, yes, can fix. Come back 9 o’clock tonight. Okay?”
Have lunch at KFC. Go to Metro shop and get groceries. Return to the boat with the groceries while Andy and Roger go for a beer at Georges. After unpacking groceries go to the Ismailia Museum which costs £15 to enter and I’m the sole customer. Three attendants stand around inside and four police security guards outside. The museum contains a few thousand smallish artefacts consisting mostly of jewellery and small statues, probably used as decorations on shelves around the house similar to how we have porcelain and glass keepsakes sitting on shelves today. A 4th century AD mosaic is laid out on the floor behind a roped off area. Out in the garden are various stone works dating back to Ramses II. It’s a long walk back to the boat.
During the afternoon Alan from Alice comes around looking for empty fuel jerry cans so he can refuel his boat with the cheap fuel available in Ismailia. After completion of this Hailá (pron hiley) offers to take Roger to get fuel for Jenzminc. Hailá does all the bargaining including the paying of baksheesh to the guards on the gate and not letting anyone get away with anything. She refuses to be bullied or patronised by chauvinistic Egyptian males and with a sharp tongue soon puts them back into their place. Roger is impressed telling her she’s a tough lady, at which she laughs.
Evening: Andy cooks roast lamb in the stainless steel barbeque attached to the stern railing in the cockpit. Alan and Hailá come onboard as guests for dinner. They’ve been cruising around the world on and off since 1986. Hailá was originally from Turkey growing up near the Syrian border. She became a dentist and immigrated to Australia where she met Alan. She’s a delight with a wonderful sense of humour, but can be a terrier if nudged the wrong way. Alan smiles that if anyone gives them any grief he just siks Hailá onto them.
Am concerned to learn the shower facilities here in the marina are uni-sex. We’d all thought the ladies had their own shower but they’ve been obliged to use the one’s we thought were the men’s showers since it has male urinal facilities. It’s also the laundry. I thought about the previous night about to get under the hot shower when an urge to piddle came upon me and walked out of the stall toward the urinal in the nutty. Imagine if a lady had walked in at that moment. “G’day – nice day hey?” doesn’t seem to quite cover the situation. Given the prudish culture of our hosts this does seem to be somewhat negligent in their treatment of tourists not to supply separate facilities. Hailá is understandably annoyed with it.
An official interrupts the dinner to tell Hailá that Alice will be leaving for Port Suez early in the morning, and that they need to pay their marina fees right now. Hailá heads off to attend to this and soon returns with a receipt.
Andy has to depart to go collect his computer and returns later with computer unfixed. They had agreed it was the power supply but it would have to be sent to Cairo to be fixed. No thanks.
It seems Alice will be more or less taking the same timeline as Jenzminc going to Oman, although I think they’ll be leaving later than we will. They propose at this stage to visit Cochin in India, maybe visit the Maldives and then bypass Sri Lanka. They haven’t made up their minds about their final route yet, but they know they’ll need to be out of the Indian Ocean by around May when the cyclone season starts. They mention they have friends from Gone Troppo back in Darwin.
They leave around 2200hrs or so with promises all round that we’ll keep in touch. Seems there is another Australian boat already in Hurghada further down in the Red Sea, but no one knows its name. Maybe we’ll be able to catch up with them, or maybe not.
Late in the evening Lo Brust drops by to tell us we’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Tues 17 Nov 09
0800hrs: Nothing much happening around the marina. Nobody has left yet. All those who are supposed to be leaving today are sitting around just waiting for their pilots to show up.
Approx 1130hrs. The pilots start arriving. A chubby fellow with moustache, wearing dark sunglasses, a sleeveless jacket and heeled shoes approaches Patricia from Moody Times. She asks him to remove his shoes after climbing aboard as she’d just finished scrubbing down. For some reason he gets offended, throws an arm into the air with a dismissive gesture and storms off, loudly making comments and gesturing back to Moody Times. Obviously wants a different boat. Dickhead. Another younger man comes along indicating he’s prepared to take off his shoes … no problem … and with a big smile climbs onboard.
All the departing boats start releasing lines, some using voluble and urgent instructions to a wife on the bow and start making their way out of Ismailia harbour towards the canal. They’ll be arriving very late in Port Suez tonight. See you there tomorrow. Alice is the last to leave, slipping away quietly and calmly. Hopefully we can get away earlier in the morning.
Afternoon: Nothing left to do. Have a nap. Laze around the boat.
1930hrs: Order pizza’s for dinner.
2030hrs. Watch a movie on board. A man turns up to tell us we can pay our marina bills now which is a good sign we’ll be leaving early in the morning. Andy goes over to the area where a table has been set up on the concourse and is presented with a bill for USD $147 being $21 per night – same rate as Port Said.
Resume the movie. Another man comes around to confirm Jenzminc will be leaving at 0500hrs in the morning. Name of our pilot will be Sayid. Only five of the remaining seven will be able to leave early as two of the pilots have had to work back late tonight. The last two boats to leave will be Esper and Rhumb Do at 1000 hrs.
Midnight: Finish movie and go to bed.
Suez Canal (2nd leg)
Weds 18 Nov 09
0500hrs: Rise and shine. Confusing babble of voice issuing from the many minarets around the area which keeps up for arund 15 mins. Disconnect the power from shore.
0540hrs: Our pilot Sayid appears at the stern of the boat and introduces himself. Politely asks if he may come aboard. Takes his shoes off unbidden and steps across the small gap. Lines slipped. Anchor up. Coffee for the pilot. Ease out away from the marina into a foggy half-dawn light. First boat away again.
Right: Sun comes up over the Suez Canal near Ismalia.
0600hrs: Sayid at the helm. Picking our way through the many small dinghy fishermen using hand-lines and stringing nets. Sayid calls out to them now and again, I assume to confirm where they’ve run their nets so we can avoid them. In a short time we’re out into the main canal and being overtaken by a large cargo ship.
0730hrs: Clear overhead but still quite foggy. Visibility is down to a couple of miles. Enter the Great Bitter Lake, an inland sea of about 5 miles wide by 15 miles at the widest and longest parts. Uneventful trip so far. Sayid sits in the cockpit steering and seems to be reciting or praying to himself while looking down at his mobile phone which he carries in his hand.
Sayid is an unassuming man probably in his late 30s with laugh lines at the corners of his eyes, slender build with a full bushy black beard and wears one of those white brimless crocheted caps. Has thick black trousers and a black jacket which he wears all day even when it got quite warm. Unlike our first pilot he doesn’t ask for anything not directly connected with the running of the boat. He keeps Andy informed about navigation and other important details and only talks on the radio twice during the entire trip. In all a professional and pleasant man who earns our quiet respect.
0800hrs: No land in sight. Plenty of anchored ships appearing out of the gloom all around. At one point I count 13 of them. More appear at the front and back as they catch up to us in the channel. Sayid tells us the anchored boats have to wait here until a convoy passes through from the south before they can resume their own passage to Port Suez. Also a few tug boats around. One of them is tied up to a channel buoy with the crew hand-line fishing over the side. Sayid calls out something to them. Waves and smiles exchanged.
Sun is starting to give a little warmth. Fog, smog or smoke or whatever it is starting to lift. Doing seven knots with a slight headwind of just a couple of knots.
0815hrs. A small felucca fishing boat sails past with its triangular sail set and a crew of three men aboard. Several others appear at various places out to the horizon.
1130hrs: Out of the Great Bitter Lake and back into the canal proper. Suez is tidal and we’re pushing against 1.4 kts of current. Other yachts later report currents up to 2.5 kts but I suspect they may have been out in the middle of the channel more. We stick constantly over to the side. Wind from the north is at around four knots. It’s not as wide here as between Port Said and Ismailia and even less interesting scenery. Banks are higher but occasional breaks afford a glimpse into the interior of the western side. Nearly always some kind of vegetation including date palms, tall grasses, trees and sometimes buildings. The eastern bank is nearly always completely bare.
There is a heavy military presence along this stretch of canal. There’s at least one military base. Every couple of miles or so we come across groups of big square steel bridge pontoons on the western side of the canal. These are mounted on angled concrete bases fitted with rollers so that they can quickly be rolled into the channel to form a heavy duty bridge across the canal. Each pontoon has interlocking tabs on the sides to keep the bridge straight.
Every now and then a curious little white beehive structure with little arched windows cut into the sides appears high up on the western bank. These turn out to be sentry boxes. Later at different places a soldier can be seen standing beside one of them with a machine gun mounted on a fixed monopod, which is pointing into the interior. They usually stare and wave, then turn and desultorily kick a few stones or take a seat inside the sentry box to get out of the sun. A military truck filled with soldiers in the covered back moves down the road probably to relieve the sentries along the canal.
1230hrs: Approaching the outskirts of Port Suez. High mountains in the distance to the south-west and east. The yacht club comes into view shortly after.
1255hrs: Tie up at the Suez Canal Yacht and Rowing Club. Total distance 43.66 miles which took 7 hrs 10 mins. No anchor required. Long bow lines are attached to embedded buoys. Stern lines are fixed to a floating, almost plastic pontoon finger which comes complete with water, power and lighting. A few power yachts are tied up to some fore and aft moorings nearby. The area looks quite nice with reasonably tended gardens, at least relative to what we’ve seen so far. Andy remembered it’s Roger’s birthday today. Happy Birthday duly sung.
|Ocean going ships travel passing out into the Red Sea||The Port Suez Yacht Club is actually quite close to the actual canal and subject to prop wash from the big ships|
Afternoon: The anchorage is tending to be quite rolly as the big ships move past just a few hundred metres away in the canal proper. Waves from their prop wash regularly send moored boats bobbing around. Lo Brust introduces us to the Felix representative Mr Magdie who presents each boat with a small gift box of cakes in welcome.
More boats start to arrive and are getting slightly squeezed together side by side with only a small distance between. A man calling himself Mr Kar Kar identifies himself as the Felix contact man. Pleasant young man who busies himself going back and forth between the yachts adjusting stern lines from pontoon, then uses a dinghy to adjust bow lines so that masts won’t touch as the boats jump rock around in the regular swells. Later he asks if we have any empty gas bottles to fill. We give him a small bottle which cost £52 to fill.
Go to check out the toilet facilities ashore but which is still inside the marina enclosure. Don’t even reach them before a plain clothed man sitting under a tree wants to check my passport. C’mon fellas, let’s get real.
Late afternoon: Sundowners in the various cockpits around Jenzminc. Cobble to starboard, Full Flight to port, Esper directly across the other side maybe two metres away and others. Several others within comfortable talking distance from our own cockpit. Crews collectively sing Happy Birthday to Roger.
Evening: Take a walk outside the gate to find a restaurant to shout Roger a birthday meal. None of the guards seem interested in checking passports this time. A soccer game is being projected onto a big screen near the front gate. Seems the soccer game between Egypt and Algeria has to be replayed tonight because it resulted in a draw last week, even though Egypt had won the game 2 to Nil. Egypt eventually lost the game.
Turn left at the gate to what looks like a seafront restaurant. Politely told, “No foreigners” at the gate by a security guard. Go to the nearby Red Sea Hotel. A little sign in the lift says Mermaid Restaurant on 8th floor but the button doesn’t work. Go to the 6th floor instead and find the Mermaid Restaurant here. Order meals. Nigel and Debbie from Roam II turn up and join us at the table. Reasonable meal except the caramel ice cream didn’t arrive. Cancel it and get the bill. Soup and the main meal cost £300 (about AUS $60) for the three of us.
Return to boat. No one checks our passports. Early to bed.
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