July 30, 2003

travel to egypt, snorkeling and sailing


april & thad
Greetings from Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt,

It has been 3 weeks since I last wrote an update and I've definitely done some traveling since then. After writing my previous update I spent the rest of the week visiting with friends.

On Friday I went downtown to a couple of the Smithsonian museums and then in the evening I went rollerblading with a bunch of friends. I hadn't been on skates in quite awhile, but it was really fun to visit the downtown monuments after dark again after being away from the DC area for over a year. As usual the Roosevelt memorial was one
relaxing on the beach
of the highlights with the many illuminated waterfalls.

Sabbath morning I went to church in Martinsburg, West Virginia which is a short (under 2 hour) drive from where I was staying in Maryland. After church I visited with some relatives over lunch before taking the scenic route back to Maryland. We drove on some back roads in West Virginia and Virginia before taking a car ferry over the Potomac River. In Maryland we also followed some scenic roads along the Potomac and saw lots of rabbits, deer and birds along the way. In the evening we ordered pizza and played some games at another friend's house.

On Sunday I went to the wedding of my friend April in Pennsylvania, which was very
caramba
nice. It was an outdoor wedding held at a country club and the weather couldn't have been better. I enjoyed visiting with more friends at the wedding and then met up with relatives for the rest of the evening before packing my bags and falling in to bed at about 1 am.

At 2 am I got up and my friend Rich drove me to the airport. Unfortunately, the airport I flew out of was in New York so the drive took around 5 hours, during which I got a little sleep, but not much. Rich had some other business to take care of in New York so it worked out nicely for him to drop me off.

I originally booked my flight from New York instead of Washington to make a
dolphins near our buoy
connection in order to get to Cyprus several days sooner. By the time my destination changed to Egypt it was too late to make changes to my ticket so I went ahead and flew to Cyprus, then caught another flight from there to Egypt. The trip was definitely the longest continuous plane trip I've been on with about 30 hours in the air and over 3 days of travel from Maryland to the hotel where my parents were staying in Egypt. Along the way I had layovers in Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and finally spent a night in Cairo before catching a 5 hour bus down to Sharm El-Sheikh.

In Cairo I got a good but short nights sleep in one of the church guestrooms in between landing at the airport and departing from the bus station in the morning. One of the church members was kind enough to arrange a taxi for me from the airport to the guest
dolphins with reflection of me on the boat
room and from there to the bus station in the morning. The taxi ride was an experience in itself. It actually took around 10 minutes for me to figure out which side of the road you are supposed to drive on in Egypt as we were using both sides, even on a divided highway including the on and off ramps. Nobody else seemed to mind though and we arrived at our destinations without incident (For those of you who read the MEU Musings newsletter, this was the same taxi driver mentioned there).

The bus from Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh was about an hour late, but once I got on it the trip went smoothly. The bus thankfully had a good AC as the entire trip was through the desolate looking desert, first with just sand and later with some tall mountains for a backdrop to the sand. Along the way we had to stop at several checkpoints where a
my dad fixing the stay
government person would walk through the bus checking papers of a few people here and there, which is pretty normal for Egypt. Upon arrival in Sharm El-Sheikh I caught a shared minibus taxi right to my parents hotel where I began to unwind. I stayed awake for the rest of the afternoon without too much trouble and enjoyed a buffet supper at the hotel before heading to bed.

Friday and Sabbath I pretty much spent just relaxing at the hotel enjoying the pool, beach and snorkeling. Saturday night I did take a quick trip to the boat with my dad to help install a new battery in preparation for our Sunday departure.

Sunday morning we packed everything up, checked out of the hotel and headed to the
my mom snorkeling
boat. Now, for anyone reading this who doesn't know already, the boat is named Caramba and is a 41-foot Morgan sailboat. My parents bought it instead of a house when they moved back to the US from Russia in 1997. They lived aboard for about 9 months while commuting to work in Maryland. We enjoyed many trips on the Chesapeake Bay over the years and when my parents decided to move to the island country of Cyprus they decided to bring Caramba with them. One of my dad's friends sailed the boat from Maryland to Gibraltar and then my dad sailed it the remaining 2000 miles from Gibraltar to Cyprus. The boat remained in Cyprus for over a year until about a month ago when my parents sailed to Beirut in Lebanon, then to Port Said in Egypt and on through the Suez Canal. They then sailed down the Red Sea to Sharm El-Sheikh where I joined them a couple of weeks ago.

cornetfish

It seems like this part of the world doesn't see very many private boats and until recently there were very high fees in place that effectively discouraged anyone from stopping here. Now that the fees are gone, people still aren't coming probably at least in part due to the red tape involved. My parents were able to get some information before coming thanks to some Egyptian friends, which was a big help. The port area where we tie up the boat is a secure area complete with a police checkpoint at the large gate out front. We are out at the end of a long concrete pier because we aren't allowed to park too close to a boat belonging to the president of Egypt. Whenever my dad wanted to take someone to the boat he had to fax a list of names to the authorities one day in advance, and only then would people be allowed in to take rides or do work on the boat. Our family is now all on the official
sohal surgeonfish and orangespine unicornfish
crew list so that makes it a bit easier to come in and out, although our bags and papers are still checked sometimes on the way in or out of the port area. Our main contact here is our agent, who basically helps us with the red tape and also points us in the right direction if we need some parts or repair work done. The agent speaks English very well, unlike most of the port authorities. In order to spend a few nights on the boat outside the port we had to get a special permit specifying the time period and how many people were allowed to stay overnight in which area. Getting things done here involves lots of hand shaking and greeting of all those involved and most things are possible with a little patience and waiting.

Although there is plenty of red tape to deal with, all of the Egyptian people we have met
how many feet?
here have been very friendly and welcoming. Many are rather surprised to learn that we are Americans since they mostly get European tourists around here. They certainly don't hold that against us at all though and most of the time the first thing they say when learning we are American is "Welcome to Egypt!"

Sunday afternoon we departed the port with our permit in hand and headed for Tiran Island which is about 15 miles away. Near the island we located a buoy to tie up to for the night since anchoring is not allowed in the protected area around the island. We ended up spending the following four nights tied up in the same spot, although we did take a few side trips during the day for snorkeling. We also spent one evening hoisting my dad up the mast to do some repair work as one of the main stays had come loose.
raspberry coral
Stays are the cables which hold the mast upright and since just one of the several had come loose there was no major damage and the repair job wasn't too difficult.

Thursday night we came back to the port and took a trip to the supermarket to stock up on fresh fruits & vegetables, eggs, bread, drinking water and juice. We also stopped by a repair shop and ordered two more batteries for the boat. The boat has three batteries, one for the generator, one primarily for starting the engine and one mainly used as a house battery for things like lights, navigation equipment and computers. Two of the batteries weren't holding a charge any longer so we decided to replace all three.

This time when we came back to the port we had a new neighbor. A very large yacht
scalefin anthias
which apparently belongs to the prince of Saudi Arabia is now tied up just down the dock from us. This is by far the most luxurious private boat I've ever seen. They have a staff of about 30 people on board and the extra "toys" include at least 3 large power boats and a helicopter, all stored on board.

Friday morning we hired a taxi to the airport where we picked up my sister Sarah who flew in from Baghdad, Iraq where she has been involved with some humanitarian work for the last month. We didn't have to wait too long at the port to get permission for Sarah to join us on the boat, and spent the rest of the day installing the batteries and doing some troubleshooting on the boat. In the evening we headed back out to our Tiran Island buoy where we tied up at nearly midnight. We used the GPS to find our way to the unlit buoy
masked pufferfish
in the dark, which worked very well. It was nice to spend Sabbath out at sea instead of at the port and we were glad to be away from everything again. At night we have enjoyed clear skies with lots of stars visible, including quite a few shootings stars.

From our buoy we could swim a short distance towards shore to reach a reef with lots of beautiful coral and fish, which we enjoyed viewing many times during the past couple of weeks. During the day we usually would start up the motor and explore some of the other nearby dive sites which are frequented by locally hired dive boats loaded with tourists. A couple of the sites are marked by shipwrecks where large tankers missed the channel years ago. Most of the sites have a shallow reef with a sudden drop of around 15-30 feet at the edge where the coral and fish life are the most abundant. A couple of the
blue spotted stingray
sites have much longer drops of several hundred feet so that you can't see the bottom below as you snorkel. This makes for one of the most dramatic backdrops to the colorful fish and coral.

Most of the navigation around the reefs is done by sight since the water is very clear and it's easy to see which areas are too shallow for boats when the sun is overhead. Since no anchors are allowed most of the dive boats just tie up to what are referred to locally as shamandoras. These are ropes which have been wrapped around large rocks or outcroppings of coral and are left in place for boats to tie up to. Most of the time they are unmarked and only a few of them have ropes which float all the way to the surface so they can be rather tricky to find if you don't already know where they are. Sometimes we
lionfish
were able to just raft up with the dive boats instead of trying to find our own place to tie up. The dive boats would raft together as many as six different boats and they were all very friendly to us and we even got invited to lunch a couple of times. Other times when there weren't other boats around a couple of us would jump overboard and swim around with a mask and snorkel until we spotted a good place to tie up.

The underwater scenery is of course amazing as this area is one of the top snorkeling and scuba diving areas in the world. During the past couple of weeks we've spotted eels, stingrays and sea turtles in addition to the tons of colorful fish. The coral and sea plants are also very colorful and varied. On a couple of the days we saw a pod of about 7 dolphins from the boat on our way back to our buoy. One of the days they came very
school of lunar fusilier
close to the boat and couple of them swam along right underneath the bow, playing in the currents generated by the boat. When not swimming or snorkeling we've mostly been sleeping and reading between our 2 main meals per day. The weather has been quite hot, but as long as there is a breeze blowing it has cooled off enough at night to sleep fairly well. We also used the two AC units on board a night or two, although the generator that powers them hasn't been working reliably.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we decided to come back in to the port after another great day of snorkeling. On the way back we had favorable winds so were able to sail almost right up to the dock before we started up the engine to park. In the evening we went in to town and wandered around the touristy area where they have everything from Pizza Hut to the
bedouin restaurant
Hard Rock Café. We tried to go out to eat at a Bedouin restaurant with a nice view, but they only served drinks so we found another place to get food after enjoying the view and some fresh fruit juice at the Bedouin place. It was fun to walk around town watching the hordes of tourists, but it was also nice to get back to my bunk aboard Caramba. While in town we were also able to get a generator part repaired so last night we slept soundly in cool air-conditioned comfort. I've been on the boat for nearly 2 weeks now so when I get back on land I still feel like I'm moving gently up and down on the waves. It can be rather disorienting when you are sitting in a restaurant on dry land but keep feeling the sensation of motion. I even felt a little seasick before I got some food in my stomach last night.


our next boat with onboard helicopter
Later today or perhaps tomorrow morning we're planning to check out of the port here in Sharm El-Sheikh and start the trip back towards Cyprus. We haven't decided on our exact route in the Mediterranean yet, but we plan to travel up to and through the Suez Canal over the next several days to get there. I'm sure we'll decide on a next stop eventually, but options include Syria, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. Whatever route we take, we're planning to end up back in Cyprus sometime in August.

Well, I guess that's about it for now so I'll close and try to get this posted.

Until next time,

Andrew

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