August 29, 2003

suez canal and my plans for the next year


here is a map of our sailing route
Greetings from Cyprus!

Well, it has been over a month since my last update and quite a bit has happened. When I last wrote we were preparing to leave Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. It took most of a day to finish up all of the formalities with customs and the other various officials, so by the time we got under way we were well into the afternoon on Thursday, July 31. We planned to travel straight through the night for at least two nights in order to reach the port of Suez on the south end of the Suez Canal, so the late departure time wasn't really a problem.

For the first few hours of the trip we had to head roughly southwest in order to clear some land and we were able to make good time using our sails for this first leg of the trip. As we entered the Gulf of Suez and began heading north
sunrise in the gulf of suez
the wind pretty much died so we had to start using the engine. We were still able to make fairly good time at first, but as the night wore on the winds began to pick up. By the time my watch started at midnight we were motoring directly upwind and the waves were growing larger by the hour. We had set up a watch schedule for the trip where each person would be on watch for one 3 hour shift every 12 hours. During the off duty hours we tried to stay caught up on our sleep.

We originally predicted that our trip to Suez would probably take about 2 solid days, but due to the very unfavorable winds it ended up taking over 5 days instead. For the first two days we traveled straight through the night, but the wind and waves reduced our motoring speed from a more typical 5 knots to under 1 knot per hour for much of the time (1 knot per hour is slightly faster than 1 mile per hour). It was particularly frustrating to wake and see roughly
my mom posing as we leave an anchorage
the same scenery after sleeping for 6 or more hours. In the morning after our second night underway we decided to try sailing for a while since the winds were very strong and we weren't making much headway using the engine. When trying to make headway directly upwind under sail power you have to tack back and forth since it is not possible to sail directly upwind. Usually you can still make decent headway by doing this, although our boat can't sail as close to the wind as we would sometimes like. After doing several tacks back and forth sailing at around 6-7 knots we found that we were able to gain ground towards the north about twice as fast as we could under power. On top of that the ride was a bit smoother and we could enjoy the thrill and peacefulness of sailing without the noise of the engine. Needless to say we continued to use our sails for the rest of the day.


one of the many container ships that passed us
Towards the end of the day we decided to look for a place to anchor for the night. We didn't feel comfortable sailing at night since there were quite a few oil platforms in the area, including some that were unlit so we would have had to switch back to making almost no headway using the engine. We also thought the idea of sleeping through the whole night without keeping watches sounded quite nice. Using a guidebook we found a fairly sheltered anchorage just as the sun was going down. We were well sheltered from the waves, but the winds were still very strong and it took several tries to get our anchor set. Since we were anchored near the shore the winds brought with them quite a bit of dust which coated everything on the boat including us. We were glad to get showers and spend some time below with all the hatches closed and the AC running to cool us off. By the time we went to bed the wind and dust had died down considerably and the weather had cooled off enough that we slept quite well with the hatches open again.


sunset in the suez canal
In the morning we decided to just stay put and take a day to rest and wait and see if the winds would change in our favor. After sleeping in we basically spent the day reading and relaxing with a couple of breaks to eat.

Monday morning we got up before the sun and raised the anchor. Our hope was to make some headway using the motor before the winds got strong, but that didn't really work out. The winds were already strong, even right at sunrise so we spent the entire day sailing. We managed to make some headway but decided to find another place to anchor for the night. This time we spotted some dolphins near our boat while we were at anchor and also enjoyed some swimming before watching the sunset.

Tuesday the winds were still against us, but we continued to make progress.
even submarines travel through the canal
Towards the end of the day the wind began to die down and we eventually started up the engine. The wind continued to die off and as it did our speed under motor increased. I think the waves were also a little smaller since we were getting close to the end of the gulf. We figured out the distance and decided that with the favorable motoring conditions we could keep going and make it to Suez by around midnight. It was a little challenging to come in and find a spot to anchor at night since there were lots of big ships waiting to pass through the canal, but we managed just fine. During the night we were awakened by a police boat, the crew of which asked a couple of questions about where we were coming from and going to before they moved on.

Wednesday morning we motored the last mile or so in to the Suez Yacht Club, which is really just a small area for boats to tie up. They only have one short dock so we had to row ourselves to and from shore using our dinghy. While our
this is the only bridge over the suez canal
agent for the canal transit took care of all the formalities my sister and I caught a share taxi to an internet cafe several kilometers down the road to check everyone's email. On the way back we stopped at a fruit stand and picked up some fresh, ripe figs which were very sweet and really hit the spot for supper.

Thursday morning a pilot assigned to us by the canal authorities joined us around 10 am and we began the first leg of our journey through the Suez Canal. Traffic in the canal runs in only one direction at a time as it isn't wide enough for two large ships to meet each other safely, although there are a couple of wider parts where the north and south bound convoys can safely pass each other. There are usually two north bound convoys and one southbound convoy each day with traffic traveling right through the night. Smaller boats
customs building in port said
like ours however are officially only allowed to transit the canal during daylight hours and usually have to stop overnight in the town of Ismailia, which is about half way through the canal. On the first day of our trip we started out right at the end of one of the north bound convoys, but also met the southbound convoy along the way. Since our boat is so much smaller than the large cargo ships it wasn't a problem to just stay along the edge of the canal when meeting the southbound traffic. Part of the Canal travels through a pair of lakes which are quite large, although traffic usually stays within a well marked deep water channel. Along the banks of the canal there were many police posts and our pilot had to check in with authorities along the way via radio. By the time we arrived in Ismailia the sun had already set. After dropping off our pilot we took a walk in to town where we enjoyed an Egyptian style supper of koosheri and falafels. Koosheri is an excellent dish made from pasta, lentils, and tomato sauce while the falafels
under sail in the med
were served in pita bread with fresh veggies and some strong cheese. We ate in a small cafe and paid a whopping $1 total for the four of us to eat until we were full, and the price even included a soft drink. For dessert we bought some mango popsicles from several vendors along the way as we walked back to the marina. At the marina we moved the boat a ways out from the pier and dropped our anchor for the night.

Bright and early Friday morning we were awakened by our pilot for the day and continued our journey north through the canal. Along the way we met many more large ships and even got to see a US Navy submarine that was transiting the canal. We also passed under a tall bridge which was built in cooperation with the Japanese. It is the only route over the canal, although there is at least one tunnel under it and there are many car ferries which cross it at various points as well. Most of the land along the canal seemed to be rather desolate
still sailing in the med...
and unpopulated, but in some areas there were more people and buildings. In the more populated areas we saw people fishing and swimming in the water, especially in the hours just before sunset. Some entire families were out enjoying the water, although most of the women kept everything except their faces covered at all times, even when splashing in the water. Thanks to the early start of our day we made it to Port Said, which is at the north end of the canal, fairly early in the afternoon. After a boat came by and picked up our pilot we continued directly through Port Said and out into the Mediterranean.

Once we cleared the shallow coastal waters of Egypt we set a course for Cyprus and raised all four of the sails. Thankfully the winds were favorable for the rest of the trip and we didn't have to tack or even lower any sails for the entire 2
sarah climbs aboard after an evening swim
day trip to Cyprus. The winds did get pretty weak for a couple of hours once or twice, but they never completely stopped so we were able to keep on sailing without the engine until we reached Cyprus.

We arrived in Cyprus Sunday evening, but decided to anchor out one more night to wait for the customs office to open up Monday morning. We dropped our anchor near the marina and enjoyed a nice sunset swim and a good nights sleep. In the morning we packed everything up, loaded the car, got cleared by customs and immigration and parked the boat before driving the 40 minutes to my parents apartment in the town of Nicosia.

In total I spent just over 3 weeks on the boat and definitely had a good time. The sailing itself was lots of fun, but the snorkeling and quick trips in to town
my parents car after sitting under a tree for over 5 weeks
were also very interesting. It was also especially nice to spend time with my family.

For the first week back here in Cyprus we mostly just got caught up on laundry and sleep, although on Friday we decided to go camping with some friends. We spent the weekend at a campground in the Troodos mountains which have a considerably cooler climate than the rest of the island due to the elevation. We enjoyed sitting around the campfire and of course made camp bread a time or two. On Sabbath we visited a nearby waterfall and took a couple of short hikes out of our campground. On Sunday we stopped at some touristy shopping places and also drove up Mt. Olympus on the way home. The Cyprus version of Mt. Olympus rises to 1952 meters (6400 feet) and is topped by a military compound. This was the first time that we were able to drive up the access road, which has been closed in the past, and we were able to walk around the
we all enjoyed our visit to this mountain waterfall
top of the mountain, staying just outside the military fence. One of the four ski lifts on Cyprus also ends near the top of Mt. Olympus, although the hot weather right now isn't very good for snow skiing.

Most of last week we stayed at home, but on Tuesday we drove down to the beach. As part of my birthday present my sister and I went parasailing behind a boat near the beach and also spent a few minutes on wave runners thanks to a combination deal. It was pretty fun to go so high above the beach and it was also fun when they dipped our feet in the water before bringing us back to the boat. It was also lots of fun to ride the wave runners in the ocean where there were bigger waves than you get in the lakes where I had ridden before.


sarah even went for a swim in the cold stream
On Thursday my sister flew back to Maryland. Her flight was delayed and she missed a connection or two, but still made it in time to enjoy the weekend before her college classes started.

On Sabbath we had an ordination ceremony which went very well and was followed by a nice potluck. During potluck I enjoyed visiting with the very friendly and international church group.

Sunday morning my dad and I took a couple of families out on the sailboat for a couple of hours. There were some small kids along so the short trip was just the right amount of time to spend on the water with them. We sailed a little, but also stopped for some swimming along the way.


our campsite
Yesterday (Thursday) my mom and I dropped my dad off at the airport where he caught a flight to Kuwait. After dropping him off we drove along the coast for a couple of hours and found a couple of nice beaches that weren't too crowded. We even found one that has a small fishing shelter which may make a good destination for a weekend sailing trip some time.

This morning I helped one of my dad's coworkers move into a new house. Many people here in Cyprus live in apartments with narrow stairs and no elevators, and the one that we moved furniture into today is one of those. To make the moving job easier we hired a special truck that has a platform on a long retractable arm which can easily lift all of the heavy stuff up to the balcony for easy unloading. These trucks really help to speed up the moving process and in fact make it possible to bring larger pieces of furniture that would never fit in the stairwell directly into the house.


parasailing
Not too much else has been going on this week, although I have been finalizing my plans for what I'll be doing next. I am now officially going to Guam where I will work with Adventist World Radio for about a year doing mostly computer related stuff. I'm scheduled to fly directly from here to Guam, leaving this coming Sunday and arriving there on Tuesday. My only stops along the way will be in the Dubai and Manilla airports for a few hours each. I'm definitely looking forward to the challenges and new experiences that I will have during this next year.

For anyone who doesn't know, the island of Guam is a US Territory in the Pacific Ocean about 3,700 miles south-southwest of Hawaii (actually, Los Angeles is closer to Hawaii than Guam is). It is about 30 miles long and the width varies between 4 and 12 miles. If you want to learn more about Guam you can check out http://www.gov.gu/ for details including maps and pictures.


heading out on the waverunners
I realized the other day that I've basically been traveling for the past 5 months with only a short 3 week break to finish up my work in Cambodia. It has been lots of fun, but it will also be nice to settle down in one place, at least for a few months. Well, I think that's it for now and my next update will probably be posted from Guam.

Until then,

Andrew

Posted by andrew on August 29, 2003
Comments

We are planning to visit Egypt in December this year.

We want to see the Suez canal. We will be staying in Cairo for 3/4 days.

Can we do it ?

What is the best way - are there day tours ?

Regards,

Mike

Posted by: Mike Agate on May 16, 2005

Mike,

I don't really know much about this but I think there are day trips to the canal from Cairo. You might try looking at http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com or searching on google for more information.

Andrew

Posted by: Andrew on June 26, 2005

Love the pics, Drew. You sure seem to be a cagey Med sailor. Hope those stinkers at the canal didn't fog your portholes. See you in India!

Toodles,
Rence

Posted by: Lawrence (of Arabia) on September 27, 2005