Friday, April 28, 2017

Suez Canal transit

In Suez (more accurately, Port Tewfiq) on the morning of April 27th at 10:00, the first of our 2 pilots boarded Sea Turtle for a 2-day journey through the Suez Canal. Jordan could steer if he wished but it was the pilot's job so we decided to let the pilot take control of the boat with us checking occasionally to see that everything was okay. Most of the first day was into a light breeze but with a helping current giving us about 6 knots over land, but less than the passing behemoths that crawled along at 9 knots.

The pilots preferred hand steering instead of using the autopilot and whenever Jordan offered to spell them off, they mostly declined. We spent most of the transit time on the internet trying to obtain the boat insurance that is required by most countries in the Med.

Scenery was typical of what you would expect. Unlike the Panama Canal that is cut through miles of hills, the Suez Canal is basically a ditch in a flat landscape of sand. That is not to diminish the colossal undertaking 150 years ago to do the 193 km (120 mi) of excavation. The residual material piled up on each side of the Canal makes up most of the scene. A few buildings were spotted along the way, as well as a lot of military depots and watchtowers. In many spots along the banks, we could see pontoons that can be quickly joined together to make a temporary emergency bridge.

Most of the Canal is a single channel not safely wide enough to allow for 2-way freighter traffic. So certain hours of the day are for ships going one way only. There is no limit to ship size and Maersk container ships like this one is huge at 1,312 feet long and 194 feet wide (400 x 60 m), carrying 9,000 40-foot containers.

Full of containers

We arrived at almost the halfway mark of the Suez Canal just before dark at a town called Ismailia where we tied Sea Turtle up to the cement wall for the night (N30°35.105' E032°16.354'). And this is when and where the first pilot was done. An obligatory tip was expected but as is so common in such a situation here, the pilot without a shred of pride, tried to intimidate for more.

The next morning we were awoken at 04:30 and boarded by a new pilot for the last section to transit. He seemed very polite and spoke very little English and like the last one, was absent of hat which we provided. Interestingly, at one point when the pilot saw me taking a photo, he quickly said No, no madam and adamantly asked that it be deleted. He said photos were not allowed of military areas.

Nearing the north end of the Canal and just before entering the Mediterranean, the pilot downed an ice cold Pepsi and gratuitously accepted his tip but then asked for cigarettes and a shirt. At least he was more or less polite about it but we had to say sorry. So at 11:30 a pilot boat was summoned and off he went with a big smile and wave. We continued with autopilot on and, after 3 and a half months from leaving SE Asia, we were off into a new sea, the Med!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The good the bad the ugly

We expected our stop at Suez (the south entry to the Suez Canal) might be just a few days. Upon arrival, our greeting and briefing by our good and efficient Agent, Captain Heebi of Prince of the Red Sea Co., bolstered our expectation of a brief stop here. What we didn't realize was that we were entering the twilight zone of the inept (with the rare exception of Captain Heebi).

As required of boats to transit the Canal, we were moored to buoys in front of the Suez Yacht Club until our clearance was given by the Canal Authority which Captain Heebi would arrange.

Now most boaters expect a yacht club to be a venue of natty sophistication where commodores and gentry, drinks in hand, lounge in a classical nautical theme. Well here our dinghy landing was a presage of what a bad definition Suez gives for a yacht club.

There is no wharf. It has long since been blown away. No doubt in a blinding desert sand storm. What's left are crumbling steps for you to crawl up to then navigate a path through dilapidated remains of floats and dinghies where you are then met at a gate by a bored round-the-clock policeman who dutifully does a security check of passport and carried items. This is a Port of Entry he explains.

No matter how many times we came or went, our passports and Visa dates and carried items were checked. The irony was lost when each time Jordan would say We are the same ones and those are the same passports.

Behind the gate is the Club's mostly boarded up building where only a partial redemption is found in its hot water showers and a lone washing machine albeit that takes 2 hours per load and a cost of $5.00.

A couple of days after arrival, a comedy of incompetence began with the Canal Authority rejecting our copy of our boat registry. Only an original is acceptable for proof of validity. The problem we had was that our recently renewed and currently valid original was mailed to our home in Canada. We had a copy of it which was always sufficient for use in all other instances of officialdom to date, but no amount of reasoning would do it for these guys.

As a remedy, the Canadian Embassy in Cairo could authenticate it. But that was a complicated and timely process. So our tack was to have Jordan's son Aaron locate our original and courier it.

Well with Easter holidays, courier closures, local Custom holidays - plus a hard to find document back home - we had our original Certificate of Registry in our hands a mere 10 days later.

So off to the Canal Authority went Heebi our Agent to finalize our transit approval. But, oh no, the office chief didn't like the computer-generated signature on the original document so rejected it. Solution, he said, Go to your Embassy to get authenticated and stamped.

But we had another quick and reasonable solution (as though reasonableness had anything to do with approvals in this system). We had Transport Canada issue by email a Transcript of Registry complete with their official stamp that verified all aspects and status of our vessel.

No, not good enough, the chief said, then told us if we had our original Certificate of Registry stamped by Transport Canada, he would accept it. So after emails to and from Transport Canada explaining our predicament, they obliged and stamped, scanned, and emailed it back to us. Even after all that, the purveyor of bureaucracy wasn't going to accept it. Only after our exasperated Agent showed him the email from Transport Canada explaining that all Certificate signatures are computer generated, did he finally relent and the ugly affair was over.

So after about 3 weeks of boredom (not much to do in Suez other than seek and destroy the hordes of flies that migrated to Sea Turtle generated from the ubiquitous piles of garbage), we were released from captivity.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tour time: Cairo

On a bright sunny morning at 07:00, we and the crew of SV Jubilee hopped in a van with a driver and headed to Cairo for the day. Our goal was to visit the Egyptian Museum, Giza Pyramids, and the Khan el Khalili souk (market/bazaar).

The distance from Suez, where our sailboat was moored, to Cairo was only about 1.5 hours and the roads, unlike our trip to Aswan and Luxor previously, were in good condition, so we were off to a good start! The haze of brown smog preceded the arrival to the large City (2017 population of 9.5 million).

Our first stop was the Museum. On display were rooms and rooms of antiquities both large and small such as statues, items from tombs such as numerous sarcophagi with their inner and outer chambers, jewellery, mummified remains of the ancient royals, etc.

One room was dedicated to treasured items of King Tut. His solid gold death mask weighing 11 kg was on display as well as numerous other items of his of solid gold. We only managed to take 1 photo before being told that photos were not allowed.

Outer chamber of King Tut's mummy

Who can go to Egypt without seeing the great pyramids of Giza! So, after an early lunch, it was on to see these gigantic polyhedrons. To make the experience fun, everyone in our group chose camels as an apropos means of touring the site. The camels were joined together and a guide walked in front to lead the way first to a vantage point for a great photo op, where all 9 pyramids (3 large and 6 smaller) could be seen.

Ridin' high

Look waaay up

Our camel train then took us to the nearby Great Sphinx. It has had some restoration work done to it but still misses its nose. Rumour has it that Napoleon's soldiers shot it off. But more proof indicates that a dedicated Muslim destroyed it when seeing others worship the Sphinx; he was later lynched for this act. We may never know.

Judy and Jordan with Great Sphinx

The third stop of the day was the well known age old Khan el Khalili bazaar. Most of the shopholders are Egyptian and offer the tourist most anything you could want from golden or silver jewellery, beautifully decorated belly dancing costumes, fragrant spices with aromas, T-shirts, and souveniers galore. We wound our way down narrow streets and alleyways taking it all in.

Bazaar alleyway

With all our sights completed, it was decided to make a last stop at a large and well-stocked modern supermarket, something we hadn't seen in months. We filled our carts with items we couldn't get back in Suez.

Arriving back at Sea Turtle after dark, it was a long but satisfying day to be remembered for a long time...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Port of Suez

With an open weather window, we decided to make a run for the Gulf of Suez, even though Jordan was feeling a bit under the weather. With anchor hoisted at 17:30 on April 4th, we were off.

There was little wind blowing so it was motor-sailing. Later the northerlies started to blow against us, common in the Red Sea, so it was a bit of a rougher go. We entered the Gulf of Suez (not the Suez Canal), leaving the Red Sea behind us.

I was on watch the majority of the time as Jordan slept trying to recover. It was a tough slog into a strong opposing wind and waves. Freighters would come through a pack at a time as the Suez Canal has only one-way traffic in its narrow parts so traffic in the Gulf is in alternating convoys.

Just as Asia had a forest of fishboats to watch out for, the Gulf of Suez is full of oil/gas wells/platforms, hundreds of them.

Well/platform with its on-duty ship

And another...

Three days later on April 7th around 15:00, we entered Port of Suez (Tewfiq Harbour) at the north end of the Gulf of Suez and the south end of the Suez Canal.

A freighter passing from the Suez Canal

Our Agent, Captain Heebi from Prince of the Red Sea Co., was waiting and greeted us with a large cake and helped to tie us up to 2 mooring balls. He then quickly checked us in and took us to shore for hot showers.

Later that evening, we sat comfortably in the cockpit watching the freighters go by to the Suez Canal...

Finally the Red Sea bash was over!