Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Into the Med - Cyprus ... June 2008

17 - 24 June 2008
***Balvenie squeezed into Paphos Harbour, we are the shortest mast right in the middle***Very much enjoying Diane and Clives home and pool set high in the hills overlooking the med ***Traditional Dinner out at their local taverna set down a real goat track***

After a delayed 11.30am start from Ismailia due to a warship transiting we finally reached Port Said at the top of the Suez Canal around 7.30pm. Our pilot had been far better than our previous one and the transferal of him onto the pilot boat went without incident and only one packet of cigarettes baksheesh to the pilot. We just kept on going after he had been collected. Finally we had escaped the clutches of the Red Sea, Suez Canal and the Egyptians!! We were in the Med, after 4 years and 38 days since leaving Auckland, we had made it. Of course this didn't mean that life got easy, we had a reasonably strong northwesterly blowing, sloppy lumpy seas, huge freighters in all directions, a couple of oil wells and it was nearly dark - everything comes at a price!!!

So in company with Tony and Clare off London yacht Hai Mei Gui we hoisted sails and headed for Cyprus as the sun sank in the West. We had a bumpy, noserly (wind on the nose!) trip but managed to sail about 30 hours until the wind died off in the early morning shortly before our arrival into Limassol on the southern coast of Greek Cyprus. Both Limassol Marina and the town harbour were full and turned us away but we were able to anchor in sheltered waters outside the Commercial Harbour for the night. We weighed anchor at first light and headed west hoping to find room in Paphos harbour on the Southwest corner of Cyprus. We motored along the south coast enjoying the spectacular scenery of the steep cliffs dropping straight in the Med. Because of this there are few natural bays or harbours to anchor so cruising Southern Cyprus is limited to the couple of marinas and fishing harbours. Paphos was very full but we were lucky enough to squeeze in as one of the police boats was away being serviced. After some time we even managed to get Hai Mei Gui secure as well, check in procedures went well, we had finally, officially arrived in the Med.

Paphos is a cute little place, the fishing harbour area is dominated by a fort on the seaward end. The harbour is still used by local fishing boats but now also packed with day trip boats, offering all manner of options for the crowds of tourists (mainly British) that arrive each year. Although touristy the area has been restored and extended tastefully and has a very nice laid back feel to it. It was great to be in somewhere that felt "normal" to us after so many months in Arabic and African countries. While in Paphos we were lucky enough to catch up with relatives of Mark's who retired to Paphos 5 years ago. Diane and Clive extended us excellent hospitality, took us to their local taverna for dinner, entertained us in their beautiful home set high in the hills overlooking the med, where we very much enjoyed cooling in the swimming pool and drove us to some spots we would otherwise have missed.

We shared a 3 day minimum car hire with Tony and Clare and took to the roads exploring all the nooks and crannies we could find along the coast then we headed to the hills.. It is so nice to smell the trees, hear the birds and enjoy all the varying colours of the landscape after months of being in desert environments. We visited small fishing villages then passed vineyards, olive groves, fruit tree orchards and as we headed higher drove through pine forests and bush right up to the snow level at Mt Olympus. We enjoyed a picnic lunch after a walk to the Caledonia Falls in the Troodos Region, a leisurely stroll around the beautifully preserved Kykkos Monastery and stopped at every opportunity to enjoy the views and local culture. We even fitted in a dip in the Med at Pissouri where the local hilltop village road was barely wide enough for us to fit our little Micra through.

We saw some great sights, everyone we met from check in officials to waiting staff could not have been more helpful or friendly, and I would certainly recommend this part of Cyprus, we love it and it was such a welcome breath of fresh air after Egypt. Sadly our space in the harbour was required again by the Marine Police so after provisioning and an easy checkout we headed for Turkey along with Hai Mei Gui, Tania and we rendezvoused also with Tactical Directions who were en route from Israel, hopefully this would be our last overnight passage for a very long time.

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Sunday, 15 June 2008

Excursion to Cairo ... June 2008

05 - 15 Jun 2008

**4000 year old boat in the Solar Barque Museum** **Pyramids Police on Camelback** **The Sphinx with the Great Pyramid of Khufu** **Pyramids of Khafre and Khufu at Giza**

We had a few days sitting in Ismailia, stern to at the little marina wall there. Ismailia is a nice place, pretty laid back for Egypt, good places to walk to for dinner, supermarket down the road, very very cheap diesel and petrol the only downside were the "guards" on the gate who wanted bakseesh for everything, it was almost at the point where they didn't want to let us in or out unless we gave them something, certainly getting the groceries in - bakseesh, taxi to drop us off - baksheesh, and to get diesel, very much baksheesh to bring diesel into the marina, its not like we are doing the marina out of business by not buying it there, because they don’t have any, its just the “guards” love the power of being able to refuse us access with anything we bring in, its all about the baksheesh/bribes/favours, whatever you want to call them. Also everytime we left they checked our passorts, if we went out 5 times in one day and saw the same person he would still check them, normally they would actually look at the wrong countries stamp, Eritrea seemed the favourite, even if we gave them the passport opened at the correct page, often they would hold them upside down! Sometimes this could take up to 5 minutes, I’m sure baksheesh would have made this quicker but you really have to draw the line!!!

Ismailia is just a couple of hours by road from Cairo so we had planned to do our Cairo excursion from here, and after a few days cleaning Balvenie inside and out to try and rid ourselves of more layers of red sea dust, dirt and salt we were ready for our Cairo minibreak. We used a driver with car recommended by other cruisers instead of the hassle of local buses, we felt Egypt had given us enough challenges, we were over challenges!! Mohammed, our driver, spent the 2 hour journey speaking with Mark about Islam while I sat quietly in the back seat, happily watching Cairo and its outskirts unfold around me. We had a slight hiccup on arrival at our hotel, we had understood our car to be EGP200 for the return trip, guess what – yep, that was only oneway! Egypt wins again!!!!

We had chosen a small hotel ph 022 7352311 on Zamalek Island, this is the “Embassy” district of Cairo, it’s a very leafy lane environment, small cafes, book shops, quiet and felt safe. The island is located in the middle of the Nile, close to the Egyptian Museum and downtown Cairo. The very clean and nicely furnished room with ensuite and aircon was 360EGP (approx USD70), including an excellent breakfast, free wifi, and several taxes which seemed to be a large part of the bill!!! We settled in then wandered out for a look round, had an excellent lunch in a very local café then tried to catch a cab out to the Pyramids.

Once upon a time we were steadfast backpackers, and we certainly still have that mentality, as do most cruisers we know, we are not on holiday – this is just our chosen lifestyle – so we are as frugal as our bank balance necessitates. In Egypt we broke these rules and lived entirely by “What’s the easiest option?”, Egypt was wearing us down, slowly but surely day by day, we needed to make things easy for ourselves so we could leave the country still with a sense of humour and a glimmer of hope that maybe, one day, we might want to return! So we decided the Lonely Planet suggestions on how to get to the Pyramids by local transport sounded way too hard from where we were and flagged down a cab, but he wouldn’t take us, Mark tried another one, same thing. Maybe it was a language thing but surely they know what the Pyramids are, so on our 3rd attempt we show the cover of the Lonely Planet with the Pyramids on it, we are in business. We also show EGP30 (EGP25 was the suggested price by the hotel) and it would appear we are in business and on our way. It’s actually quite a way into the suburbs to Giza Plateau where the Pyramids are so we had a good look around Cairo’s outskirts before finally arriving around 3.30pm. The last half mile is somewhat interesting, the touts for the camel/horse trips through the plateau actually block the road to get business, it’s a little intimidating but our taxidriver did a good job of getting us through without running anyone over. But then ofcourse it comes time to pay, and now the EGP30 agreed upon is not nearly enough, and EGP50 is required. After much to-ing and fro-ing we pay EGP40 and Egypt wins yet again.

None of this can take away from the magnificence of that first up close vista of the 3 Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, they are truly awesome. We bought our entrance tickets (50EGP each) and set off to explore. This was a great time of the day to visit, the light was good, it wasn’t quite as hot and the crowds start to thin as the tour buses leave. We headed first for the Barque Museum (40EGP each) as it closes at 4.30pm. We had the place to ourselves and spent ages studying the 4000 year old Solar Barque (boat – see photo), we viewed the spot it was discovered and saw photos of the reconstruction. It was an interesting “extra” and although expensive we enjoyed it (plus its air-conditioned!!!) Then back out into the heat of the dropping sun and we spent the next couple of hours wandering around Giza plateau admiring these wonders of the world. We didn’t go inside them as that is only available at certain times of the day but we certainly inspected all nooks and crannies on the outside and again because of being late in the day shared these historical marvels with just a handful of others. We were last to leave as the guards locked up behind us, and had planned to stay for the evening sound and light show but it was cancelled due to a concert by a Lebanese singer being held instead.

So after a leisurely drink, we farewelled the Pyramids and braved the awaiting taxidrivers. After some negotiation we agreed on 40EGP for the return trip to our hotel, but then to our amazement we discovered that it wasn’t the taxi driver we had been speaking to it was the middle man tout who then wanted his negotiating fee. We had had enough, Egypt did not win again, the negotiator was not paid, the taxi ride was uneventful and the driver received nothing extra, we were getting even!! After having had an early start, large lunch and busy afternoon we had a quiet night in the hotel with a couple of drinks and crashed.

Next morning we walked through Zamelak, along and over the Nile and after spending way too much time trying to cross all the roads through the chaotic traffic we finally arrived at the Egyptian Museum. The 50EGP entrance fee is well worth it and you could just spend hours and hours foraging around in here, they have so many exhibits, not nearly enough room and a lot of it is just sort of “plonked” all over the place. The Tutankhamen Exhibition is outstanding, most of the contents of his tomb from the Valley of Kings are on display here and they are truly magnificent, we managed to view them inbetween tour parties which was achievable and spent plenty of time reading all the excellent information boards and starring in wonder at these priceless pieces of ancient history.

There are several truly worthwhile pieces in the museum but for the most part it is cluttered, they do not have the space to display these pieces in the grandeur they deserve. We also visited the Royal Mummies Hall an extra 100EGP, we felt this was overpriced but did want to see the mummies. The overwhelming impression was of how small the people were back then, we expected these great leaders of early civilisation to be large and strong, still a few thousand years preserved and wrapped up probably doesn’t do anyones physique any good! Just a word for anyone visiting, there are actually 2 Mummies halls at opposite sides of the museum, the one ticket gets you into both but they don’t tell you there is more. We spent several hours in the museum, with a coffee break to gather more strength and did very much enjoy all the pieces on display. Then it was back to the hotel, we were smarter this time and found the under/overpasses to cross the busy roads, a much better idea!!!

Mohammed arrived a little after our agreed time, apologising for his delay which was due to him spending all day copying off “An understanding of Muslim” for Mark with a couple of special sections for me on “The women’s place in Islam”, just on 360 A4 pages in all, what can I say, all we wanted was transport to Cairo and back!!!! Our trip home to Balvenie was uneventful, Mohammed’s driving by Egyptian standards was very good and we had enjoyed Cairo, it was now time to move on from Egypt to the Med.

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Saturday, 14 June 2008

Gulf of Suez - A sting in the tale ... June 2008

29 May - 04 Jun 2008

**The Sinai Peninsular from the Straits of Gubal**Finally into flatter water with the Suez Canal in view**Annie and Liam from "Gone with the Wind", our welcoming committee into the Suez Yacht Club**

Day after day we sat tucked up at the Marina in Hurghada watching the wind instruments register the high 20’s. By now we had quite a collection of cruisers itching to get the last part of the Red Sea behind them. Finally everyone agreed the 29th of May was looking the best option with a 4 day weather window of lighter winds to get up the Gulf of Suez. Of course on the morning it wasn’t looking so good with over 20 knots still blowing from the north, but after Swanya, Endeavor, Margret, Skylark and Theleme left and reported the sea state as not as bad as expected, we, along with Hai Mei Gui and Gone with the Wind let the lines go and stuck our noses out too. We headed inside the reef and spent a quiet night at South Quesim Island along with Theleme, Hai Mei Gui and Gone with the Wind. All looked promising the next morning for the jump across the Straits of Gubal to the Sinai Peninsular and at 6.30am we weighed anchor in just 10 knots of breeze. All too good to be true and before we had even turned the boat we were up over 20knots in those particularly nasty short sharp seas the Red Sea is infamous for. We motored up inside the reef hoping for calmer seas but experienced one of the nastiest seas we had in the Red Sea, slamming into and falling off short steep waves and taking way too much water over the boat. We persevered and headed out across the Gulf, weaving through the shipping bound for and exiting the Suez Canal.

Once across the shipping lanes the seas finally started to flatten a little and by 4pm we were at anchor in El Tur on the Sinai Peninsular. There were several other yachts there waiting for better conditions to head north. Several of them had left Hurghada over a week before us and had been patiently awaiting better weather. When we awoke at 6.30am the following day there was only Gone with the Wind and ourselves left, we spoke to the others heading up the Gulf, they were having a hard time of it bashing north so we decided to stay the day in El Tur. The following day conditions were no better but Gone with the Wind decided to move on, we stayed, the only ones left!!

With conditions no better the following day and the forecasted easing of winds never eventuating we decided if the others could do it and get through then so could we. Over the next 2 days we had some mean little boat stopper waves, but just kept on ploughing our way through them and when we left our final anchorage 20 miles south of the Suez Canal the calm seas finally arrived and we motored north through the many anchored cargo ships to the Suez Canal. Finally we had made it to Port Suez and had the Red Sea behind us. We can’t begin to explain the feeling of absolute achievement and relief of getting to the bottom of the Canal. Sadly this is short lived when you then have to start the process of getting the boat “measured” so the fees for the Canal transit can be calculated. This is not as simple as the length or weight of the boat, this is after all, Egypt!!!

Port Suez is a good sized town but the harbour area has very little to offer. We went for an evening walk and joined many Egyptians out for an evening stroll along the Corniche, watching the ships motor by. There were no restaurants, cafes or any food vendors – everyone must eat at home. Finally we found a small local kebab place and had excellent kofta each, USD1.60 for the two of us, including a bottle of water, finally a bargain in Egypt.

The next morning after considerable negotiations with our agent and the measurer we finally agreed a price for our canal transit, port fees and agents fees of USD350 and without any delays our pilot was aboard and we departed Port Suez for Ismailia, 50miles up the Suez Canal. Many negative reports are said and written about the Suez pilots for small craft such as ours, unfortunately I cannot add anything positive. Our pilots boat handling skills were poor, manners appalling, he smoked nonstop in our cockpit when we asked him not to, he constantly complained about the speed we were achieving when we had adverse current and headwinds, demanded extra baksheesh over the USD25 offered then had the nerve to want the USD5 bill changed as he had ripped it when opening the envelope! Of the 15 boats we knew that transited the week we did everyone had similar stories to tell - Suez Port Authority it is seriously time you looked at your staff who we understand are paid quite well by Egyptian standards.
We arrived into Ismailia before dark and were helped into our med mooring spot by all our cruiser friends already there, just how you are supposed to pick up the very heavy mooring buoys that don't have any lines attached is a mystery to us all but Gone with the Wind were there with dinghy to take our lines and make life much easier, thanks
See our web album for more photos

Egypt Anchorage Info:-
Across Foul Bay (aptly named). Thought how lucky we were leaving Elba Reef on an overnighter with a southerly this far up the Red Sea and ran with it all day and into the evening. About 10pm it suddenly died and while the sails were flapping and we were thinking of what to do, the wind came in from the north. Within about 10 minutes it had built to 25 – 30 knots and we got our first experience of the Red Sea short sharp chop which really does stop you dead. We bore away and headed for shelter in Ras Banas our first Egyptian anchorage and ended up there 8 days sitting out 30knots. You can day sail this and it is probably a good idea. Welcome to Egypt and a taste of things to come.
Ras Banas - 23 53.62N 35 46.93E dropped 8m settled 14m well hooked to coral but there are sandy patches. No respite from the wind as land low lying, sea choppy but it was 30knots and comfortable enough. All 14 boats managed to get anchors up ok at the end of the blow.
Dolphin Reef - 24 10.06N 35 40.77E 10m sand, excellent visibility there are some big bommies but easy to see. Didn’t note entry waypoint but came into western anchorage and entered from the west. CMap useless. Excellent shelter from sea, none from wind. Several boats had sat out the 30knots comfortably here. Swimming with the dolphins here was an absolute highlight and must not be missed!!! Had a huge day, motor sailed in light winds inside the reefs and just kept on going until
Samedi Reef - 24 58.91N 35 00.13E 20m coral with sand patches. None of this reef is above the water line and in flat seas you have no idea where it is (could be nasty). We could not locate the entrance in the Red Sea Pilot and ended up just picking our way in with Mark high up the rig, more nerves of steel required. There did look to be some mooring buoys in the northern part of the reef but light was so bad we didn’t risk motoring up there. Once anchored we noticed a marker and went over in the dinghy. It is on an outstanding coral bommie and had the best snorkelling we had seen since Papua New Guinea. This is the port marker for entering. It is on the western side of the reef. The starboard marker was snapped, we attached a bottle but how long will that last? The snorkelling on both these bommies was great and this was at about 6.30pm with very poor light. ENTRANCE WAYPOINT IN THE MIDDLE OF THESE 2 BOMMIES 24 58.87N 34 59.82E about 20metres no obstructions.
Port Ghalib - Marina - Port of Entry. Big yellow entry buoy outside entrance. Quite narrow entrance but very well marked and in lee of any northerly winds. You will be directed to big concrete wall on right as you come in to complete entry procedures, very clear water looks shallow but depths all ok. Once completed staff come around into marina with you (basically they are useless don’t give them important job!!) We stayed 2 nights but I don’t have note that we paid anything, maybe it was included in our USD150 checkin. Some berths side tie, some stern to. Fuel available in jugs or alongside but much cheaper in Hurghada. Very sheltered, but flies and dust, yuk.
Hurghada - Marina - Had another lovely southerly when we left on overnighter to Abu Tig Marina, just kept waiting for the following northerly buster and it came around 3am. We dropped sail as soon as we lost the southerly and motored the rest. Came in through the reefs to Hurghada as day broke, CMap spot on right through. Stopped at Hurghada Marina. 20 nights cost 1758EGP (could have stayed 1 month same price), included water and power.
South Qeisum - 27 40.16N 33 44.40E 6.2m mainly sand. Flat water but no shelter from wind. Came up through the reef in fairly flat water to here. Left in 20knots following morning, horrible most of day. Went inbetween Sandy Island and Nth Qeisem, between the 2 small reefs then up Zeit Channel. Absolutely no respite from seas, possibly would have been better out in straits from beginning. The further we got across the Straits of Gubal the better the seas were, but it wasn’t one of our better days.
El Tur - 28 14.03N 33 36.72E 5.5m sand good holding. There is a reason this is a world renowned windsurfing destination. Do not believe any wind forecasts that say it blows less over this side, we were having 30knots when it was forecast 5-8 knots.
Sha’b el Hasa/Sheritab Shoals - 28 35.50N 33 11.55E 5m find a sandy spot. Much flatter than it looks it will be. Swung to current. BEWARE of some huge mooring buoys north of here around 28 39.65N 33 10.67E, about 5 of them. In choppy seas or early morning light not easy to see.
Ras Sudr - 29 34.94N 32 42.16E 8m hard to set, possibly hard packed sand base. ALSO BEWARE chopped off oil rig reported at 29 37.75N 32 37.85E
Suez Yacht Club - 29 56.85N 32 34.40E fore and aft mooring buoys. USD20 per night (rip off but nowhere to anchor and you are SO pleased to be here!)
Ismailia Yacht Club - 30 35.10N 32 16.35E mooring buoys to attach to then stern tie to big concrete wall. Pray someone gets in before you to help cos no staff. No lines on buoys so rather tricky to pick mooring up without actually climbing off the boat and balancing on it. Good luck!!!! 10 nights was 649EGP including water and power.
Breathe a sigh of relief, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean is done and you can now leave Egypt (well you can stop at Port Fouad or Port Said, but WHY!!!!!!)
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