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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