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 Red Sea & Suez






We are at anchor in a marsa! Or, to be precise, in a khor, which is a marsa at the estuary of a wadi (complicated people, hereabout!).

We are in Khor Shin'ab, a huge twisting cove extending for a couple of miles inland, along the northern shores of Sudan. All around the desert and low, rocky hillocks. In the distance we can see a trail where the occasional military truck is passing by, and from time to time we spot a lonesome dromedary.









(left) Shaula, taking advantage of its limited draft, leads the yachts in the treacherous entrance to Khor Shin'ab, where we will spend 3 days (right)

The place is spectacular, although our motives to stop here were the weather conditions, which were forecasted to become nasty as they became just after having anchored (what a timing!!...).

There are 9 yachts anchored here, and 3 more are in another marsa just north of us, while 4 or 5 are sheltered in Egypt, just north of the border. Typical Red-Sea situation this time of the year, when the wind blows from the northwest anywhere between 20 and 50 knots (!!!...) with short periods of 2-3 days when it slackens and one can take advantage of it for a quick stint north.

So far we had been very lucky to have the wind constantly from the south nearly up to Egypt, it could not last!!

Yesterday, we reached the marsa pushed by a strong south-easterly, and while we were settling-in the wind turned to the north; spectacular scenery, but no shelter: the low hills do nothing to stop the sand-filled wind and when it went up to 40 knots for about one hour our trusty anchor started to drag!!
Pulling the anchor up, with the engine at full throttle to keep the bow in the wind and then drop anchor again while avoiding the surrounding reefs has been a tough job!!

I do not dare thinking of having to repeat something similar in the middle of the night, with the chartplotter that shows our position as being in the middle of the desert! Yes, because the last survey in these waters was done back in 1834, since then no government has forked out the money to do a better charting of the coastline, which is of no interest to ships passing offshore. This is strictly eyeball-navigation country!

We have sand everywhere, by the time we will leave it will be possible to put a beach umbrella in the cockpit!!



We have sand everywhere, even the windward side of the rigging is brown, all ropes are brown, and our T-shirts are streaked in brown, it's a lost battle!!

After 3 days in a marsa with thye wind blowing at nearly 40 knots (the desert is not the best shelter from the wind!) the forecasts were promising three days of light winds, so we all upped anchor and motored north in the hope to reach Port Ghalib, a marina along the Egyptian coast.

Shaula sailing in the Red Sea

After less than two days, the forecasts changed, announcing the impending return of strong northerlies, so we changed course and came into Port Berenice. There is no port here, there was one 2300 years ago, and Berenice was the mother of the then king Tolomeus II, but since then the place lost its relevance and now there is only sand, plenty of it!!

We are beginning to wonder how come the desert still has some sand in it, by now it should be empty!!

Outside it's blowing over 25 knots, tomorrow should be the worst day, we spend the time resting and doing little jobs. Maybe we will be able to leave next tuesday or wednesday...



Egypt was a great organised state, with an effective state apparatus, already 5000 years ago.

Since then, apparently the system has kept building-up and getting more complicated, so much so that today's Egyptian bureaucracy is unequalled in its complexity.









(left) this sobering view at the entrance of Port Ghalib reminds us that these are dangerous waters! (right) Baby relaxes a bit at the visitors' quay

When we arrived last thursday, the port Ghalib Marina office, the only one in Egypt which is allowed to perform the entry formalities for yachties without having to pay expensive agents (or face the complexity and baksheesh-seeking of the system on one's own...), told us that we could not get our cruising permits before next Sunday, as the relevant office, located in Hurghada, is closed on Friday and Saturday!...

We are all annoyed, because the favourable weather window is forecasted to disappear by next monday, and a departure by Sunday may not be possible because of the weather, but there is nothing we can do and then we set ourselves at enjoying Port Ghalib which is a very artificial tourist place, but nice and very welcoming, and graced by several good restaurants, albeit a bit expensive.

Sunday morning comes, and the forecasts show that the bad weather may delay until monday night, so we all run to the office to get our papers and be gone, but we are told that the office in Hurghada has no paper for their fax machine (!!!...), and nobody knows if and when our papers will be available, maybe later today, maybe tomorrow!!!

After a couple of hours of gentle pressure, we have to give up and accept that we will quite likely not leave until the next weather window; some crews even get booked on trips to the interior for the next couple of days.

Then, at 15:00 hours, the surprise: the papers have arrived!! Some have given up by now, but 5 or 6 boats decide to leave and get the hell out of here while we can, and if the weather will become too heavy we can always seek refuge in a marsa somewhere!

Now it's monday morning, we are few hours from arriving in Hurghada Marina, and we are motoring in flat calm!! After all, it's been better this way, the delay spared us several hours of windward sailing during yesterday's afternoon!!

The ancient Pharaohs might have been right after all....

The windy but welcoming Hurghada Marina



One cannot come to Egypt and avoid being immersed in this country's ancient history, the history of a complex and technologically advanced culture that flourished when Troy was still a florid town on the Bosphorus and Athens and Sparta were two villages...

You think of the Pyramids, and it's difficult to realise that already during the "New Kingdom", 3500 years ago, the Pharaoh Thutmosis IV had to launch a program to unearth the Sphynx that was being buried by the desert's sand, being already 1000 years old...

Walking around Karnak, Luxor and the nearby Valley of the Kings, some names are recurring more often than others, and they are the names of some of the more famous Pharaohs: Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh's widow who reigned for some years, first as a support to the young heir Thutmosis III, and then as a self-proclaimed Pharaoh, making herself portrayed as a man in the many monuments she had erected.









(left) the funerary temple of queen Hatshepsut and (right) the mandatory felucca-trip on the Nile

And Thutmosis III, no little kid himself: he got rid of the stepmother, destroyed her monuments to little pieces, had the two sacred obelisks that she built inside the Karnak temple shrouded inside a wall, and then set himself on a long and successful military campaing that brought Egypt to its maximum extension.

And Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaton and launched what is purported to be the first monoteist religion ever known, together with his beautiful wife Nefertiti, whose bust is one of the most famous monuments of all ancient Egypt.

And then, even if he was in fact a minor Pharaoh, Tuthankhamon, who died (perhaps murdered) in young age and whose tomb in the Valley of the Kings was found still intact in 1922, with its extraordinary collection of items that makes to think at what would have been in other, more important kings' tombs, like the one of Ramesses II!

Right, Ramesses II, a megalomaniac who realised a lot of important buildings and monuments during his extraordinarily long reign, and also usurped many that were realised by previous kings; despite his self-aggrandising realisations, he also erected important monuments to his wife Nefertari, an exceptional case.
He was probably the Ramesses of the Bible, the one who ruled at the time of the Hebrews' hexodus from Egypt.

Luxor temple, a figurehead of Ramses II

The ruins in Karnak and Luxor speak of a rich society, capable of great realisations, whose decadence began many centuries before the foundation of Rome: when Julius Ceasar and Marc-Antony came to Egypt and were enchanted by Cleopatra's beauty (although she was in fact of Greek origin, being the descendant of one of Alexander-the-Great's generals), the Reign had long lost most of its territory and its importance.



We were forewarned, the 180 miles from Hurghada to Suez are the toughest, the Red Sea gets narrow and the wind always blows from the Northwest, with infrequent pauses of which we will have to take advantage with no delay.

When we came back from the Luxor trip, the forecasts were calling for few more hours of light winds, to be followed by one day of strong wind and then two days of calms: the options were obvious, either we left immediately without even undoing our luggage, or we had to wait a couple of days, hoping that the expected light winds will materialise and risking being late in Suez, where we should arrive within the 7th to be submitted to the admeasurement process (I will explai later).

Many boats decided to leave, planning to spend the expected strong-wind day in an anchorage somewhere, while we were too tired and decided to wait, also because with 4 stern lines, water and electricity connections, and a bike and a passerelle to be stowed under everything else in our huge cockpit locker (and to bury them at the bottom of the locker, we have to TAKE EVERYTHING ELSE OUT!) we need a good couple of hours of frantic work.

Our decision was comforted by Heidenskip, the Rally flagship with its 20 meters of length over-all, when they reported by radio to have had to take shelter in a marsa because the wind and expecially the seas were too big for them and were getting dangerous (for them?? 20 meters of boat???!!!...).

Luckily, for once the forecasts were right, and on Saturday morning (April 4th, it's really time to leave!) the wind had abated a little and we could prepare to leave; leisurely, as the wind was expected to abate a little more in the afternoon.
By mid-day we cast off and exited the marina just behind Jupiter, and then POOF! all instruments went dead!!! We are without autopilot but, more serious, without GPS or depth-sounder at the beginning of a route within the reefs!!!
Luckily, we could just tail Jupiter, so we were able to continue with Baby at the helm, while I started searching for the source of the problem. Do I need to say that the distribution box and the pilot's main unit are DEEP INSIDE THE COCKPIT LOCKER???
This time it's been tough, I could not find where the problem was and the boat's motion did nothing to help while I was crouched like a hampster at the bottom of the pit; I also dropped the pilot's fuse in the mess at the pit's bottom, and when I looked up in the f*****g manual I could not find any reference to the fuse and its rating!! Long after having inserted a fuse of a made-up rating, I discovered that a spare fuse was inserted inside the autopilot's cover!!

Getting desperate, I tried to take out of the power distribution the main circuit breaker, that looked suspiciously rusty, and .... look, we have the instruments working again!! It's certainly unsafe to have no protection on the power line, but we will have to make do for the time being.

We stopped at an anchorage to relax a bit before leaving the protection of the reef, but then we had to carry on, with the confidence of knowing from the boats ahead that conditions were windy but not the seas were manageable.

We found exactly what described, and in fact during the night the wind went up to over 25 knots, exactly on the nose and therefore forcing us to motor in the narrow gap between the shore and the border of the shipping lane; when the current does not help we do only 3 knots, but we progress!
We continue like that the whole day, zigzagging around the many oil rigs, and we hear over the radio that "Cayuco" has engine problems, apparently air is getting into the fuel line (and if Tony, the official Rally diesel engineer, cannot find it, then it must be tough!!).

On the second night, the wind reversed from the south blowing at over 20 knots: we were too fast and risked arriving around Suez in the dark, so it was not a great problem to turn back for a few miles to get near Cayuco, whose engine has now stopped for good.
We reach Cayuco at dawn, just when Tony has found the problem: a new fuel filter which is letting air in. So we can resume our course towards Suez, enshrouded in a thick fog which does not allow us to see the many ships at anchor.

After a short stay at anchor near the canal entrance (and luckily it was brief, as it was VERY rolly!!) we receive permission to proceed to the Yacht Club (which is inside the Canal) and we charge in, together with the other Rally yachts, before a ship that we see in the distance gets in the entrance as well. All ok for us, but "Stargazer" has an engine problem at the worst moment and the Pilot boat that immediately came to the rescue rammed into them causing quite some damage: they reached the Yacht Club in a very sad mood.

IT'S DONE, we are in SUEZ!!

No no nononononoooo, we cannot say it's done until:
a) we will have done the 80 miles of the Suez canal, to be done al full speed in order to do the crossing in one day, and
b) we will reach Crete, after a likely 500 miles beating into the wind that in this season is often strong from the Northwest.

P.S. The admeasurement process: it's supposed to be used to determine the Canal-fee, but it turned out to be a joke, they did not even have a tape-measure, so they just made up a few figures and were gone in 5 minutes!









(left) from Suez, visiting the Pyramids of Giza is a short trip. (right) the "sun-ship" recently discovered interred beside the Pyramids



Friday evening, the confirmation: tomorrow we transit through the Canal! We will get through in one day, so the departure will be very early, wake-up at 4 a.m.!! We are lucky as usual and are drawn as one of the boats with a pilot on board, and will presumably enjoy the relevant baksheesh requests and all that.

Saturday morning, 5:30, all yachts have left the moorings except the three that are waiting for the pilots, because one of them is late: ours!! Finally the guy arrives, jumps onboard and we cast off quickly and get into the canal; we do not even have the time to settle in formation and get the boats' speeds right when the first big ship arrives and overtakes us! The first times it's a bit impressive, then we grow accustomed: only problem the ships' bow-wave, which luckily is not too bad because they are only going at 9 knots...









(left) "Neva" and "Marianne" leave port while a huge freighter is approaching, but after a short while we get accustomed (right): there's plenty of room!

One of the group's boats manages to complicate its own life by hitting one of the channel markers (but how did they do it?? Stray current, fell asleep???...) and the pilots claimed that they had damaged the marker's light and demanded payment of the damage. Those on the boat refused, saying they had made no damage whatsoever, but when we reached Ismailia they were literally towed away and brought to an anchorage, where they had to pay a huge fine of 3000 US dollars, otherwise they would have not been allowed to continue!!!

Every few miles, the pilot boat in front of the convoy is replaced by another one, and some of them go along the convoy asking for baksheesh (presents, money, anything goes...); we had been instructed to give nothing, and some of them become insistent, but then all of a sudden the pestering stops: orders from above??

We have been relatively lucky with our pilots: the first was a likable guy, a tug sailor who moonlights as a yacht pilot (the ship pilots, the real ones, are a different bunch). A bit hyper-active, but at least we talk and can establish a reasonable relationship.

The second pilot, a bearded fellow who speaks only arabic, did literally NOTHING through the whole time with us (he even slept a couple of times!), except occasionally SHOUTING in arabic over the radio.

Dark was falling when we got rid of the pilot in Port Said harbour and proceeded in convoy along the very long breakwater: outside, strong north-easterly wind, big waves, and a MESS: ships, ships everywhere, at anchor or moving in all directions amidst poorly-lit buoys. We head north to get away from it all as quickly as possible, then we set sail and head towards Crete at full speed.

The weather forecasts calls for strong head-winds in a couple of days' time, so we must hurry up and get as close to Crete as possible by when the wind will turn.

We are now 160 miles from Crete, we still hope to get there and be sheltered by the shore before the strong winds hit, tomorrow afternoon.




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Last Update: 21/09/2014

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