Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Egypt - Where history began ... Apr - May 2008

Crabcastles in the sand at Ras Banas
26 Apr - 19 May 2008

We have been in Egypt now for nearly a month. Our run of dream weather with favourable winds came to a very abrupt end at midnight on the 26th April as we were crossing Foul Bay (aptly named) from Sudan to Egypt. We were hit with a nasty northerly of over 25 knots and experienced our first taste of the famous short steep chop of the Red Sea, unlike any wave action we have come across previously, basically they just stop the boat. So although our target had been Dolphin Reef we bore away about 20 miles short of it and headed in company with Gone with the Wind for Ras Banas. Its a very low lying, windswept, remote spot with a sandy beach and a small army outpost of just 2 personnel. The following 7 days saw more action at Ras Banas than probably has ever been seen. We ended up with a united nations collection of 11 yachts sheltering from the howling winds, 4 of them very skilled wind and kite surfers who were out enjoying every second and entertained us all. We even partook in windswept walks on the beach, choppy snorkeling, very wet dinghy rides and soaked up enforced downtime.

The magical Dolphins at Dolphin Reef
On the 8th day the wind eased just long enough for a mad dash up to Dolphin Reef to join up with another 6 yachts taking refuge in there. Dolphin Reef is slightly dry at all times so affords good shelter in flat water from the seas but no wind shelter at all, but the winds were easing and we had come to swim with the resident pod of dolphins and were not disappointed. We swam amongst over 100 dolphins of all sizes for over an hour, till our little legs just couldn't keep up with them any more. I can only describe this as a highlight of one of the things we are so lucky to be able to do because we have our own boat and the time and flexibility to wait for nature and the amazing sights she has shown us. Just brilliant.

Moving on the next day in calm waters we just kept on going about 64 miles and anchored the night at Samedi Reef. More underwater treats awaited us when we decided to snorkel the reef entrance. There were two huge bommies, with a good array of live coral, very clear water to 20 metres and an excellent selection of small to medium sized fish, with over a dozen varieties we hadn't seen before. This would have to go down as one of the best snorkels we have had since Papua New Guineas Louisiade Archipelago, even if somewhat colder water. Egypt was treating us after such a rough start!!!
Evening camel tour at Port Ghalib
We kept heading north while the winds were light and arrived in Port Ghalib to officially check into Egypt on May 06. Port Ghalib is under construction. They are building an entire new city and have started with the port and waterways area, to date there are a few “American” style restaurants, ATM machines, gift shops and a couple of hotels. The marina, at this point is a very long concrete wall to tie onto, with some med mooring spots also. We had no power facilities, metered water was available via an extremely long hose which didn’t quite reach us as we were at the end, rubbish disposable was charged at USD1 per bag, WIFI was available at USD10 per hour or USD20 per day (not a typo!!!!) but we did get plenty of free layers dust and sand from the building works, and the most flies we have had anywhere. However, check in facilities were reasonably fast and efficient and much cheaper than checking in at Hurghada the next option. Ghalib is really in the middle of nowhere but we relaxed for a couple of days then decided to brave it and try another overnighter to Abu Tig Marina at El Guana, about 15miles north of Hurghada.
All us on the marina wall at Port Ghalib
We had a good weather forecast and left with light winds and flat seas, put the throttle down and motorsailed in light winds. In the afternoon a light southerly set in, and although that is the perfect wind when heading north we were cautious from our previous experience across Foul Bay that southerlies are short lived and turn to strong northerlies at a moments notice, generally in the wee small hours. Unfortunately this was to be no exception and by 3am we had 25 – 30 knots from the Northwest with the short choppy seas that make headway difficult. Fortunately we, along with Gone with the Wind, had made very good time and were almost abeam of the reefs outside Hurghada. Skipper made a good call and as day broke we started heading in through the reefs and ran along the coastline in much calmer water. We passed Hurghada and continued onto Abu Tig for about half an hour but we got out of the reef shelter again and at 8am on May 09 turned back and went into Hurghada Marina and undertook with much trepidation in 30 knots our first “med mooring” experience!!!!

Hurghada Marina has a great location less than 5 minutes walk from the main tourist strip and the old town. It’s very touristy with mainly Russian tourists but compared to the rest of Egypt it is pretty laid back. The marina area is almost completed and will be smart when it’s all finished. Power and water were metered but not expensive, WIFI was free and accessible onboard, berthing charges up to 16m USD20 per day or USD300 per month and it wasn’t too dusty and will be better when all works are completed. It is a good place to leave the boat while off land travelling as it is close to Luxor and the Nile Valley. We took a day trip up to Abu Tig Marina to check whether it would be a better option. It is in an enclosed “tourist environment”, all western restaurants, hotels, very little privacy if stern to, pool club access by membership, WIFI charged and we heard from friends noisy at night with music into the wee small hours. We decided to remain in Hurghada.

For anchorage information on Egypt see the "Gulf of Suez - A sting in the tale" posting with detailed info on the above anchorages

See all our Egypt photos on our web album http://picasaweb.google.com/yachtbalvenie/2008Egypt
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