Red Sea

 

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Red Sea

 

My sister, Helen, made us part of her home once again, how good to have such siblings as Helen and Les. The only down side was the cold that Sasha and I had picked up in Egypt that started coming on en route. We spent almost a week trying to recover, it was a doosy. Apart from catching up with family and friends our big project was to renovate one of our rental apartments. A tiny bed sit, less than 40 square metres, we ended up gutting it completely and, with Ikea, started again after resurfacing the parquetry and replacing the vinyl with floating wooden floor. It was a hectic few weeks. Then not long before we were scheduled to return to Egypt the "revolution" to oust the dictator president Mubarak got underway and most western countries were evacuating their citizens. We spoke to our friend Neville and he strongly advised not to return, the airport was surrounded by tanks and in some parts of the country it was anarchy. The residents of his home compound were armed and patrolling the grounds with permission from the army to shoot any intruders. We delayed! To keep out of mischief we decided to replace the kitchen in another unit so off to Ikea again. A few more family and friends visits, another departure delay and before we knew it 7 weeks had slipped by and we were on our way back "home" to Ednbal.

 

President Mubarak had departed the scene several days before we arrived but still Cairo airport was deserted. Having landed at night we had decided to get a Taxi back to Wadi Dome Marina but were not quite prepared for the competition amongst taxi drivers to get our fare. After walking out of the airport with one driver a major argument broke out, seems our driver must have jumped the queue. In a few minutes it seemed to have been agreed we should go with another. The taxi was an old Pergot, about 1970 vintage, probably done several million kilometres. Our concern at it making the 150km journey was justified when it blew a tyre about 50km down the track. The driver pulled over to side of the freeway and had to flag down a small truck to borrow a jack in order to change the wheel. The replacement tyre was as bald as the blown one but at least once we got under way again it didn't squeal every time the driver turned the steering wheel. By midnight two very relieved people were back on board a very dusty brown Ednbal.

 

It wasn't until the next morning we realised how dirty she was, covered in dust mixed with liberal helpings of bird poo. We made good use of the one hose on the floating dock! Before leaving to sail South to Hurghada we needed fuel and LPG, cooking gas. Both were arranged by the marina although we paid the full foreigner price for fuel, our 20lt jerry cans were delivered after dark and we were told not to tell anyone that the marina had supplied us fuel, very strange. The most common LPG cylinder size in Egypt is 15kg. A small truck, packed with cylinders arrived early afternoon, I would have to decant the LPG into our 4.5kg cylinders using an adapter hose I had already made up. Only problem was that the Egyptian cylinder is provided on an exchange basis and I didn't already have one. Believe it or not the truck driver just waited while I decanted the gas, it probably took about half an hour all up for a total cost of E£20 (Egyptian Pounds), less than $4. We spent a couple of nights with Neville, one at his lovely villa right on the beach and one on board Ednbal to get the news of the revolution as well as to be able to say goodbye and thank you. After paying our marina bill we were told by the local "army man" (seems there is no such person as a Port Captain) that he would have to check us before we left in the morning, we arranged 09:00. By 09:30 on February 21st no one had shown up so we left anyway. True to form, for a region renound for strong North winds, we had a light Easterly and had to motor sail to our first overnight stop at Marsa Thelemet. Oh how wonderful to be moving and at anchor once again, away from the lights and noise of the marina. In the morning we set off at 7 for Shab El Hasa on the Eastern side of the Gulf of Suez. Again barely any wind enough to sail only 3 hours of the 8 hour trip. Now this anchorage was different. It was not a bay but a gap between two big coral reefs, each a couple of miles long, with the whole area littered with oil production platforms, 20 or more of them. Rig tender vessels moved amongst them, a couple must have tried a reef short cut and would move no more, while helicopters seemed to bounce from one to another. On shore there was a processing plant of some sort, maybe not a full refinery. The whole time the constant smell of oil. Now we were thankful for light winds as there was a significant current, a couple of knots, flowing between the reefs with the tide. An interesting if not inviting anchorage. Weighing anchor before 6;30 we set off for Marsa Zeitiya, very little breeze from South West and motor sailing again. After half a mile or so we found out why the oil smell was so strong, the water was covered in the stuff. Huge brown globules virtually touching each to form a blanket over the water.

 Later it would take some elbow grease to get it off Ednbal's hull. Entering Marsa Zeitiya was interesting, dodging the huge ships buoys with partially floating pipes to the oil installation on shore. Big rig tender vessels were anchored in the bay so we had to find a spot out of the way, closer to shore without getting mixed up in the coral bombies.

 

Now we were in what we regarded as the general Hurghada area, up to 20 or 30 miles of the town itself, where we planned to stay for several weeks. Our first island anchorage was South Qeisum. We motored slowly in, amongst the coral bombies, Sasha standing on the having heart failure whenever I went too close to one, to find nice patch of sand about 100m from shore. Coral island life at last, not a soul or boat to be seen. This is what we had been hoping for. Two beautiful days, swimming, walks on the island shore, zooming around in the dingy.

 It must be said that you do not come to the Red Sea for the islands. They are completely desolate except for occasional salt bush in some low lying shores there is absolutely no vegetation what so ever. They seem however to be a haven for Sea Eagle, Ospreys, whose nests stand out like the proverbial shithouse in the desert and now was nesting time. The first, of many, we saw on the shore of South Qeisum. With increasing winds and more forecast we headed for the very protected anchorage known as Endeavour Harbour, Tawila Island, a brisk sail in 18 to 25kt North winds. The low lying island, with several Osprey nests, one clearly visible from the boat, did not afford a lot of wind protection but did provide lovely calm water.

Several small local Egyptian fishing boats came in for the night. Open 25 or so foot wooden vessels with a tiny fore cabin and old outboard, looking about 30 or 40hp. Some of the outboards made terrible noises as they were nursed along for every last minute of their life. No brand names were visible under layers of old paint. Each boat, with 3 or 4 men on board went out again in 20 plus knots of wind the next morning.

Two big sailing catamarans came in and anchored. We met up with one of the skippers on shore, there were chartering, live aboard dive holidays, had 12 or more on each one, must have been close living! The second day the breeze dropped a little so we headed out for a reputed excellent snorkel and dive site, Shab Nmm Usk, a coral reef about 5 miles further off shore. As we got out into the open the wind seemed to pick up, soon 25kts from NNW, we decided to give the reef a miss as it was not familiar and trying to find our way into the lagoon area against the wind was not worth the risk. Instead we opted for Shadwan or, otherwise known as Shaker Island. Out around the point of the bay sounds easy but with depths going from 20m to almost nothing within only a few metres you have to be on the ball. As we came in, protected from seas and winds, we found a beautiful anchorage in a big bay a mile or so wide, coral bombies everywhere, no other boats save the odd small open fishing boat. It was still cool so only a little swimming but walking on the sandy beach spit was lovely except the concern for land mines. Our guide book, last updated 2001 advised against going ashore as the island was still land mined. We stuck only to the beach, the rest was so rough and desolate as to be most uninviting anyway.

 

Ten days since last provisioning, time to shop for a few things, primarily fruit and veg, so we headed pretty much due West for the shore and the resort centre of El Gouna. We anchored in the protection of a point to the North and shallow reef to the East, just North of the old Abydos Marina. A lovely spot with close, easy access by dingy to the canals of the resort town of El Gouna. First thing in the morning we headed of for a look around. The canals and resort hotels were certainly impressive but the whole area was all but deserted. Certainly no tourists post the revolution.

After parking the dingy at a small dock we walked through the shopping area and found a wonderful fruit and veg shop. For the grand sum of E£42, about $8, we had enough beautiful fruit and veg to last us the next 2 weeks. And it did, even the tomatoes, right to the last day, nothing went off, some of the best we've ever had. A couple of small supermarkets were not that well stocked but had all that we really needed. Back on Ednbal we had a visit from "the army". A very old and battered run about boat with two men approached and came along side. Apparently "the army" doesn't have any boats so they just get a local who can speak some English (the international marine language) to take them out. One spoke some English, the interpreter, who explained that the other was "the army". Both were dressed in casual clothes, no uniforms badges or any obvious identification. "The army" wanted to see our papers, we gave copies of cruising permit, passports, ships papers and crew list. Next we were told we could not anchor here, it was a water ski area. We showed our chart indicating it was an anchorage and said we see no water skiers. After some toing and froing we were left alone. Next morning we went in search of diesel fuel to the relatively new and swish El Gouna Marina. When we came in the dingy a group of 4 men in civilian clothes approached us, one was an interpreter, the other "the army". They wanted to know where our boat was and to check our papers. We explained that "the army" had already taken copies and after some discussion things seemed OK. The marina manager's office was in the next basin so off we went in the dingy to see him. The marina manager was not interested in seeing us, we could only talk to the office staff. It seemed that cruising yachties were not good business, El Gouna was after the megayacht market. Could we buy 40lts of fuel? No, you need to contact your agent. We rang Nagib at Felix, our agents. 40lts, they were not interested, they arrange tanker quantities: "Grab a taxi and take your jerry cans to a local fuel station" was the response. Again we asked the marina people. No. Hmm, seems we had a problem. We had heard that if we caught buying fuel from a normal road fuel station we could be in big trouble, apparently a couple of people were in jail already. Why? Fuel in Egypt is cheap, E£1 per Lt, $0.20, so foreign boats must pay duty $0.70 per Lt. No problem, well not quite, road fuel stations do not have the facility to charge duty, only local price. According to El Gouna marina only your agent can arrange. In these uncertain, post revolution times, no one wanted to get involved, so no fuel. For us the matter wasn't urgent. As we have found so many times before, it is all people. Likely we would find somewhere else with more helpful people. After a bit of a walk around and buying a few other bits and pieces we headed back to Ednbal late in the afternoon. We dropped off our bit of shopping and headed towards the old Abydos marina where I had seen a fuelling station through the binoculars. The old battered run about with "the army" (different guy) and interpreter intercepted us. A higher up person had apparently seen Ednbal and ordered that we must leave for somewhere else or a marina as we were too close to the shore (we were about 300m away) and it may be dangerous for us. We explained it was too late, not enough light to move now. We would leave first thing in the morning. And we did, in a light 10kn Nor-Wester, until we rounded the corner, when in almost no time it was up to 20 - 25 en route back to the Shaker Island anchorage.

 

From Ednbal it was a short ride in Tadpole to one of the many coral reefs. We tied Tadpole to a rock and fell over the side to some of the most colourful corals, clams and fish we had seen. If this spot, that did not even rate a mention in the dive guide books, was so good what must the others be like. We had a bench mark. What amazed me more that anything were the clams with their bright, multi coloured lips. In places there were several to the square metre, blues, reds, browns, mauve, grey and more. Bright clown fish amongst the Sea anemones, vivid pink coral, fish of all colours imaginable, it just went on and on. Later we snorkelled, Tadpole drifting with and attached to us, over coral on the outer, Western point, of the bay, amazingly different, new growth stag horn, coral "trees" (a centre stem with flat saucer like tops, often a couple of metres in diameter) and huge bubble corals. How could there be such a difference in less than a kilometre?

 

 

Not far, about 7 miles from Shaker we motored, on a perfectly calm day back to the dive spot reef of Sham Uum Usla. Here, according to our guide books, there were dive buoys to hang onto so as not to damage coral. We had expected to see floats with ropes attached for pick up by a boat but upon arrival could find only one. Over the side we went for a swim in the clear, mirror calm water to find a ropes, connected to the sea floor by pins driven into the bottom, in various spots. Seemed that the dive moorings, installed some years ago, to stop commercial dive boat anchors damaging reef, had not, as with most things in Egypt, been maintained. Later we saw how dive boats overcome the problem. They know exactly where the ropes, usually only in a couple of metres of water right on the edge of reefs, are located. A guy on the bow of the boat throws a rope and grappling hook into the water to retrieve the mooring rope from the bottom. In Tadpole we dingied across the reef lagoon to snorkel over some of the reef, very nice, plenty of coral and fish but not quite as good as Shaker. On the way back to Ednbal we were accompanied by a pod of dolphins that we had heard were almost resident in the reef area.

Keep in mind that the reef is about 1 mile by 2 miles. A size not at all uncommon in the Red Sea. With a forecast of a calm night, no wind until later the next day, we decided to stay out in the open, no land protection, for the night. At 4am however we had a rude awakening with the wind and seas piping up. At first light we set of to sail to Tawila Island, Endeavour Harbour, 31/2 miles west. Already the wind was over 25kts and by the time we got to Endeavour it was 30, we were glad to be in a very protected anchorage, with 4 small fishing boats and two other cruising yachts. We met up with Americans Elaine and Chris on Ginny and Swiss, Elly and Per on Sybaris. While we enjoy the tranquillity of our own company it is nice to interact with others as we had drinks on board Sybaris. Next morning, in company with Ginny and Sybaris and calmer weather, we sailed back to sham Uum Usla for snorkelling on the outer, drop off, side of the reef. On another unusually calm evening we all had dinner on board Ginny.

 

It was now 9 March, over a week since our stock up of fresh fruit and veg at El Gouna so, with strong Northerly winds forecast for the next few days we headed South, about 20 miles, to the resort town or Hurghada. Friends, Brian and Deb on Chinook, whom we last saw on the canal at Ismailia were in Hurghada marina so we were looking forward to catching up. We are never keen on marinas as we are all set up not to need them so we picked up a dive mooring about half a mile out from the marina and commuted via dingy. Brian and Deb had spent the winter in Hurghada so knew the lie of the land, most helpful. We were starting to get a bit low on diesel fuel so Brian tried to add our 2 jerry cans, 40lt, to his order of 50lt but it didn't work out. Three boats down the dock was Sybaris so before we knew it we were socialising full on, boozing on board, off to fish restaurants, birthday party ( Per hit the big 50!) etc.

 On one night taxi ride ride we, specifically I, was robbed. Egyptian money is Egyptian pounds and karush, 100 karush to the pound. One pound is less than 20 cents. I was familiar with E£100, E£50, 20, 10 and 5 notes as well a various karush coins. What I didn't know was that there was such a thing as a 50 karush note. Trying to do the right thing, sitting in the front of the taxi with three people in the back, I fished out my wallet to pay the driver as we neared the destination. In the dark, barely being able to see the relatively unfamiliar notes, I gave him E£50 for the E£10 agreed fare. He returned it to me, so I thought, saying it was not a E£10 note. Of course what he did was switch the E£50 for a 50 karush note. Me being so stupid and gullible gave him a E£20 note and he did the same thing, it ended up costing E£80 for a E£10 fare, robbed of E£70. What a flying start to the evening!! Somewhat pissed off you might say. None the less we had a wonderful meal and presented Per with a gift, one of my hand made fishing lures, complete with instructions and packaging that Sasha and I had spent most of the previous day putting together. From then on I decided we had been CHARed in mainland Egypt. (Cheated, Harassed, Abused and Robbed)

 

From Hurghada, with forecast lighter winds, we sailed 15nm further South to a small island with extensive protective coral reefs known as Hashish Island. Next day we were joined by Chinook and later by a couple of other cruisers, Tribal Cat and another 39 footer Andante with Frenchman, Paul, and Algerian, Sam, on board. Five yachts, very busy. Still low on fuel we threw a couple of jerry cans in Tadpole and headed towards a nearby town, a mile or so South, where we could see local dive boats through the binoculars. The first dive boat we saw we went alongside and asked where to go on shore to get fuel. "Not here was the answer", from the friendly dive boat skipper who introduced himself as Captain Alie. He then asked how much we needed and we pointed to the two 20lt jerry cans. "Come aboard, we'll fill them for you". While two of his crew took our jerry cans to the engine room Capitan Alie showed us around the boat, 70 odd feet, all timber, as are virtually all the dive boats. Apparently things were slowly picking up in the aftermath of the revolution. Then came the question of payment, he asked E£3 per Lt, fine by us and, we didn't even have to step ashore let alone carry fuel from a service station. Happy little vegemites, we zoomed back to Ednbal with enough fuel to get by for another couple of weeks. Back at Hashish we decided to go ashore for a walk and sundowners. First up getting ashore, the tiny island, perhaps a few hundred metres in diameter, has no beach and is surrounded by coral reef and low lying rock , great care required not to do the dingy a serious mischief. We tied Tadpole to a rock and clambered up ashore. Not one blade of green on the loose shale undulating surface but there were some Ospreys nesting, we didn't get too close. On a rock edge we sat down, legs dangling over the edge, to watch the sun go down with a GnT, cheeses, olives, pickles and crackers. Man life is tough!

 

After swimming over coral reefs and bombies for a couple of extraordinarily calm days, we headed a little further North, in company with Chinook, to Giftun Island, just a couple of miles East of Hurghada. Here we hoped to spend a couple of days swimming and walking while tied to one of the many dive moorings, since anchoring is prohibited, and protected from the forecast stronger North winds. Well the forecast was right but the mooring area was not that protected. The first day we didn't even try to put the dingy in the water as we were bouncing up and down in 30+ kt winds. It seemed only the hardiest of divers came out from Hurghada, just a few dive boats each day. After two days of doing very little we decided to head over to Hurghada to anchor South of the marina in what is known as the hotel strip.. Chinook did the same and we anchored close to each other. Ashore in Tadpole we were chased off two of the jetties, one by the military (keep in mind that post the revolution only the military was in control) and the other because it was apparently some sort of marina. A jetty in front of one of the hotels seemed to work, no one took much notice. Off to the supermarket to re provision then to contact Captain Heady, an Egyptian businessman friend of one of Sasha's cousins.

 

Captain Heady, and his Ukrainian wife Nadia, met us in there BMW, something you don't see too much in Egypt, and took us to their favourite fish restaurant for lunch. They had been married for two years, both with children from previous marriages, Captain Heady did not speak Russian, Nadia no Arabic so they communicated in English! We soon discovered that it was a case of forget political correctness. Nadia in particular had some fairly strong views on the level of intelligence of the average, poor, Egyptians. The term "monkeys" cropped up quite frequently but the way that she had of expressing herself, in good but limited English, had us in fits.

 

After going to their house, in a guarded compound, for coffee,they dropped us off at the beach, owned by the compound, just a block away. It turned out that the beach was almost next door to the hotel and jetty we used. Out of 10kms plus of Hurghada shoreline we happened to anchor virtually right in line with their house. On the way back to Ednbal we called in to see Brian and Deb on Chinook to relay the the days activity and just had to laugh all over again. Next afternoon we went ashore, with 4 empty jerry cans, to Captain Heady's "private beach" to meet up again. While Nadia and Sasha sat on wooden beach recliners, wrapped up in towels to keep warm, Captain Heady and I went to fill the jerry cans with diesel. Driving with Captain Heady was an experience. He wasn't off his mobile phones for more than a few minutes, no hands free of course. Captain Heady paid Egyptian price, about $0.18 per litre and would not hear of me refunding him. Back at the beach we put the jerry cans in Tadpole and I took them back to Ednbal. When I returned one of the military guys came walking towards me but fortunately it was Captain Heady to the rescue. They conversed for over 15 minutes and it seemed that Captain Heady had to do some fast talking. It turned out that the military were not at all happy about the jerry cans of fuel nor having a dingy from a foreign vessel on the beach. As we planned to have Captain Heady and Nadia on board the next day we went into Hurghada Marina for the exuberant sum of $30 per night, 3 times the price of Wadi Dome Marina. It was just as well we went to the marina as it was difficult there to entice Nadia to step onto Ednbal from the dock let alone into and out of Tadpole. Although we tried to get some more fuel from the marina it seemed it was all too difficult, in true Egyptian fashion, all was promised, nothing delivered!

It was time for some more island life so with a lull in the normal brisk North winds we motored 17nm back to the lovely Shadwan Island anchorage. Ah the peace and tranquillity, all by ourselves anchored about 80m off the sandy beach. Coral bombies full of fish to swim over off the back of Ednbal, we even saw a huge, 3m long Moray Eel swimming out in the open over the sand, not to mention Spotted Eagle Rays and Dolphins. Sasha was so close to the Dolphins that one brushed past her outstretched arm. Chinook wanted to join us but could not leave the day we did and were hemmed in to Hurghada by the wind for the next three. Later they joined us before we both headed for Endeavour Harbour under threat of South winds (Shadwan anchorage is completely open to the South) that, in the end did not eventuate. We had a great time socialising and walking on Tawila Island where the water clarity and coral was somewhat disappointing after Shadwan. Another disappointment was the all too clear evidence of nearby oil rigs to the windward side, thick tar like oil mixed in with rubbish, mostly plastic, in the little coves on the windward shoreline. The Osprey nests we had seen being built a couple of weeks earlier were abandoned, not successful this season. A couple of days later we parted company, Brian and Deb off up to Aquaba to road transport Chinook to Dubai to bypass the Somali pirates before continuing their round the world, us to El Gouna for re provisioning and fuel to get us eventually North to Suez and back into the Med.

 

El Gouna, more excitement with the military. As soon as we dropped anchor a small, old, patched run about came to us from the Abydos marina jetty with an army guy, dressed in regular civilian cloths, and an interpreter on board. We tried to explain that we needed fuel from the marina filling station, they said we should come ashore with our papers, which we did. After much discussion the marina manager flatly refused to sell us fuel saying he did not have a way to account for the duty payable. Then an American, Isaac, appeared and suggested we go talk with him. Very simple he explained, "I am working on that old wooden boat, which once belonged to Adolph Hitler, I have 16 people working on it, just bring your jerry cans to the boat and I'll have one of the boys go to the fuel station up the road, should have them full for you by 4". Sounded too good to be true. We dropped off our jerry cans and went ashore to re provision, mostly fresh fruit and veg although we also had to supplement our red wine stocks. At 4 I went over to Hitler's boat in Tadpole to find that things too good to be true, as usual, are not. The local army guy had seen the jerry cans and warned Isaac not to fill them. Back to square one. Next try was our agent company, Felix. We had met the Felix Red Sea Manager, Kareem, in Hurghada, so gave him a call. He would come to meet us at the marina, after arranging customs duty payment, 10 in the morning. His fee, on top of the $1.00 per litre, $50 to get 160lts, either by jerry cans or from a tanker. A tanker for 160lts? On shore at 10, surprise surprise, Kareem no show. I phoned him "what marina are you at?" he asked again. Now there are two marinas in El Gouna, the up market Abu Tig and Abydos. "Abydos" I repeat a number of times, then ask one of the stand around locals to explain to Kareem in Arabic. Now keep in mind this guy is the Red Sea area manager for one of the larger shipping agents, his office is in El Gouna, he lives about 30km away in Hurghada and he doesn't know where Abydos marina, with its long breakwater, complete with sealed road and fuel station at the end, is! Monkey springs to mind. My local "interpreter" gives me back my phone. "He is in Hurghada, is on his way". Half an hour later, still no show. I ask the local to call Kareem again. "Hasn't done the customs duty papers yet, will here at 12". Back to Ednbal, need a drink! On shore at 12, still no show. Time to call his boss, the chairman of Felix, Nagib Latif in Port Said. I explain to Nagib who says he will call me back. A couple of minutes latter he is back, "Kareem will be there today, he will call you". A couple of minutes later Kareem calls, first time he has actually called me, "will be there at 6pm, what marina are you at?" I couldn't believe it. Abydos, I spell it, alpha bravo yankee, delta oskar sierra. By 6 its getting dark, two cars are heading out on the breakwater, I head in to the fuelling dock in Tadpole with jerry cans. Kareem emerges from a cab chassis vehicle, half a dozen guys, military and marina blokes, tumble out of the car. Kareem seems fairly smug, I guess the locals don't think he will have the customs duty document but he waves it at them and the military guys scrutinise it. Apparently not good enough, Kareem must call their boss, which he does. After what sounded like agitated explanation we are off the a fuel station, in Hurghada, where Kareem has just come from. Apparently it is a BP that Felix has an account with. Out the marina, down the road a couple of hundred metre to first cross road. Kareem turns right. At the next round about he stops to talk to the traffic attendant (each round about has one, a guy dressed in light coloured clothes with a batten that he waves, red or green). Draw your own conclusions on his job with cars passing only every few minute. Anyway, turns out that Kareem has already taken a wrong turn and is lost. Back we go and take the opposite road at the cross road. At the next round about he checks with the attendant, we are on the right track! A couple of kms up the road is a check point with a barrier. Apparently anyone entering the El Gouna area must hand in their ID card at a check point and pick it up on the way out. No police in El Gouna just military and local security Twenty kms or so down the road and Kareem wants his money. No way am I parting with a cent until I have the fuel. At the BP station we get out the jerry cans. "Not enough here for 160lts". I explained that we had discussed on the phone I only had 4 jerry cans, two trips required. Kareem is not a happy little Vegemite! On the way back asks for money again. Again, not until I have all the fuel. Now he gets upset so I offer to pay for the first lot. Apparently not good enough so he phones Nagib. It is good enough. Monkey! Heading back into El Gouna, drop off ID to one of the 6 men at the security barrier, so far so good, through the round abouts but, oh bugger, overshot the marina turn off, back we go. Kareem drops me off, I'll go out to Ednbal and empty jerry cans, he has to go to Abu Tig, will be back in 20 minutes. To my surprise I see his headlights coming about 20 minutes later. Off we go again, out through the check point, hesitating at one round about, went round it twice. About 5kms from the BP Kareem gets another phone call, he has been on the phone most of the time. "I have to back to Abu Tig marina, trouble with the coast guard." I am a little pissed out might say and argue that the BP is just up the road. No avail, u turn and we roar off back, now at top speed, cigarette in one hand, mobile phone glued to ear. I fear for my life! Next, hand banging the steering wheel as the mobile is discarded

I ask if I can call Sasha to let her know I'll be late, if at all! His mobile is out of credit. What's that I hear about monkey? We screech to a stop, literally, nose into the curb, outside some apartments next to Abu Tig. Kareem jumps out, says he will be back in 5 and sprints off between the buildings. I sit and wait. After 20 minutes decide to go take a look and find my way to the marina dock where I see Kareem talking to 4 men. He must have been about finished as he walks over to me and we return to the car. On the way out he stops and picks up another man, now what? There is much conversing and the second guy on his phone as we head back to the check point. Out we go and around to another check point where the second guy jumps out, we wait, he comes out. Off to another check point, seems he can't remember where he left his ID! Well third time lucky and we are of to BP once more. I asked the second guy if I could borrow his phone to call Sasha, OK. We fill the jerry cans and head back to the marina. This time Kareem overshoots the mark for the check point turn off, another uey. Then overshoots the marina turn off. Neither of them knew the way and asked me! All I could say was we went past the turn off but no idea how to get back from here. Kareem stopped to ask a couple of times people on the side of the road and eventually found his way back. I handed over the rest of the money and thanked my lucky stars. Monkeys!!!

 

Now fully fuelled we headed out first thing in the morning for Shadwan via a reputed dive and snorkelling reef, Shab El Erg. Past a couple of dive boats we anchor on sand and rock further into the lagoon and go snorkelling over the coral fringe reef in the lovely clear water. We had dropped the anchor in 9m of water and pulled back. When we swam over it we could see it was wedged in some rock and could be hard to pull. Hmm. I decided to try and get down to it to pull it forward and out, but 30ft down, that would be pushing it free diving. Down I went and to my, and Sasha's, surprise managed to lift it out. In the run up previous days "fuel run", we didn't get a chance to refill outboard petrol tank, as it was almost empty. So now its the trick to ask safari boats, as the week long live aboard dive boats are known, around if they can spare some petrol. We pulled up to the first one and spoke to a young Spanish woman dive instructor who had just come up from a dive with all her gear still on. She checked with her captain, yes we could have benzine but only with oil already mixed. Alas no good for our 4 stroke outboard. She suggested we try the bigger vessel next door. We did, what a wonderful welcome. The captain took our fuel tank and gave it to one of the crew. He then chatted to us about our cruising life and insisted we take some packs of fruit juice and asked if we had any dive tanks that needed filling. The crewman came back with the tank completely full so we tried to pay. The captain wouldn't hear of it, all we could do was give a couple of tiny furry Koala bears!

 

After a beer and lunch we sailed back to the lovely Shadwan for a walk on the beach. While walking our local fishing friends came in and anchored right next to us as the wind turned South. We exchanged good, beer and cigarettes for fish, a beautiful Moon Grouper, and a bottle of coke thrown into our dingy. What great people.

As darkness fell the sea, with South wind, became quite lumpy, our neighbours moved, yelled out "we find a new home" and re-anchored in a shallow more sheltered part. We stayed put and pitched until the wind died and swung to the North during the night. That was about the only uncomfortable night we had the whole time in the Red Sea.

 

Next day, disaster. I was doing an email reply to my sister Helen when the PC came up with a message about being unable to access the hard drive. Checks by Sasha showed that the hard disc, we had bought and she had installed less than a year ago had crashed. Sasha started the backup PC that we had last used the night before and got a dreaded blue screen. Believe or not that one died too. Over the next 3 days Sasha spent most of her waking hours trying to recover things, initially using an old 80GB disc that we had replaced because it was extremely slow (took 20 minutes to boot up on each start) and naturally suspect. She managed to copy most of the critical data from the primary PCs hard disc to another back up drive and install windows 7, given by Grant on to the accessible part of the disc on the backup PC. We had enough to get by, without having to go back to Hurghada, to get us through to our next major stop, Italy. By the end she was about spent but we had our HF radio email, weather reports and back up navigation software all up and running on Win7!

 

We swam, had a driftwood bonfire on the beach, cooking fish we had caught and potatoes, wrapped in al foil, in the coals, walked the sandy point watching hermit crabs and generally had a few more wonderful days in the lovely warm sun. We even polished Ednbal, deck and, from Tadpole, the topsides. Then, bonus. On one of our morning swims I saw something that looked like an anchor with some chain in the sand in about 3m of water. A quick dive down, unbelievable a stainless steel delta style anchor. We swam back to get Tadpole and while Sasha circled above I dived and attached a rope to the chain. Once cleaned of the sea growth we had an almost brand new stainless steel 11kg anchor, still with the original US makers sticker on the side complete with lovely stainless swivel. A little small for a main Ednbal anchor but OK as a spare stern anchor. It was stowed away in an aft locker.

 

It was getting towards time to look for favourable winds to start moving North towards Suez, through the canal and heading for Sicily. A "Weather window" here, to head North up the Gulf of Suez, is any time the wind is not blowing from North. We'd hear many stories of people bashing into it trying to head North. In a couple of days the wind was forecast to die out to a calm, maybe a little soon for us to leave our underwater paradise but sometimes people wait for weeks for such an opportunity. We planned to take it and weighed anchor at 07:00 on 16 April, next stop Wadi Dome marina to restock and watch for a favourable weather system in the Med to carry us from Port Said to Sicily, via Crete. Of course the big dependency would be the time to get through the Suez Canal.

 

Motoring most of the way, largely on mirror seas, we arrived at Wadi Dome the following morning. The people at Wadi Dome welcomed us back with open arms. Time for a big boat wash down to try and remove the Egyptian Sahara dust, changed engine oil, fuel filters and generally readied Ednbal for the next 1,100nm trip. Top up with fuel, oh not again I hear you say. This time very easy and cheaper but we were asked not to tell anyone that we got fuel there, Mohamed, one of the marina staff, showing us crossed wrists to indicate he could end up in jail. Don't think they will be reading this journal!

 

On 19 April, with a forecast of a week of East wind I the SE Med, against the prevailing NW, we set sail for Suez but ended up motoring half the 30nm trip. About 2nm from Port Ibrahim anchorage Egyptian naval patrol boat came roaring towards us and called on VHF. "Stop your engine and come along my starboard side" was the order. How did he think I would come along side with no engine? It was completely impractical to try and tie along side a patrol boat hugely bigger than us so, as he drifted I bought our bow to his starboard side so that Sasha could try and talk to the commander, above the roaring noise of one of his starboard side exhausts, who stood on the deck, arms folded, reminding me a little of Horatio standing on the burning deck. He wanted to see our ships papers and passports, which Sasha passed up to a crewman’s outstretched hands, ship to ship, in a more or less waterproof bag. The commander took the papers leaving Ednbal tethered with engine idling in reverse to keep us off. Ten minutes or so he returned, the bag was handed back, I just managed to touch with our anchor, no damage, we could go to the anchorage. Off roared the patrol boat No 765 we motored to the anchorage. As we were looking for a spot to drop the hook a police boat came to us, not again thought I. Two officers stood on the bow as old wooden boat with huge steel chain plates on its sides, came along side. They wanted to know what we were doing, they came so close that Sasha screamed thinking they were going to hit us. We had heard of similar instances before with no chance of any compensation for damage I swung Ednbal's stern away just enough to avoid a bang. After that we yelled from a distance enough to tell our plans of going through the canal. Eventually they left us in peace.

 

After finally anchoring I called the local Felix agent Magdy, we could go to the marina dock tomorrow at 9 to meet him and be inspected by the military. At 08:30 I rang to confirm, Magdy responded that 10 would be better. We arrived at 10 to find Magdy but no inspector. We must stay at the Suez Canal Yacht Club marina until for inspection as Magdy took our passports and ships papers. After tying up we waited, couldn't go anywhere without passports. Later a Suez Canal Authority officer came to measure Ednbal, again. We had already been measured at Port Said on the way in but apparently it must be done again, OK. At about 5 a military inspector came and did his thing. All done. At 20:00 the marina guy, Calcar came and said we could go tomorrow, be ready at 05:30 for the pilot. I rang Magdy to get our papers back, he says we cannot go, he doesn't have permission from the military, may be with 10 other yachts going there are not enough pilots. I rang Naguib again but it seemed he couldn't do much about it as, according to Magdy, the military still had our ships papers, originals at that! Yes, between a rock and a hard place. At 5 in the morning we were woken by the commotion on the dock as yachts got ready to go. One pilot was late, the last yacht left at 9. We decided to pay our marina bill and go back to the relative serenity of the anchorage. No visitors no hassle this time. In the evening I phoned Magdy, we were clear to go tomorrow, just pay agent fee, port clearance fee and passport fees. But we had already paid, up front, all our return costs and had email from Felix to that effect. I'd deal with that tomorrow at the marina when we pick up our pilot at the arranged 09:00. We arrived at the marina, Magdy was there, gave us our papers and tried to get agent fee again. Heated argument and phone call back to Felix office Port Said, no, agent fee already paid, but, although our email copy clearly stated one cost for port clearances we must pay again or no pilot, who was standing there. We were being held to ransom. We paid, no option, $40 down the tube, more the principle. Sasha let him have saying that the revolution should get rid of corruption like this. Maybe I should have called Naguib but all we wanted to do was get out of there. The pilot climbed on board and we were gone. The paper that Magdy sold us was not even a port clearance but a Port Permit. As we were to find out later, Suez is not even a clearance port and you need no such document, its all a scam. It did however have one redeeming feature, it stated, in Arabic, our official Suez Canal Net Tonnage, as measured by the guy the day before. Why is this significant? Well, I had been told, even by Nagib, that the Suez Canal Authority does not give out this information to yachts. On top of that, using our pilots Arabic skills, we found our Suez Canal Net Tonnage was 8,000kg, 8 tonnes. At Felix quoted rate of $9 per ton equates to $72. Felix had charged, and we had paid, $275. Cheated again. All the pilot could say was he hoped that my argument with the agent would not effect our "present" for him when we got to his drop off point, Ismailia, where we would stop for the night mid way to Port Said.

 

The trip was uneventful and other than being smothered in cigarette smoke the whole way the pilot was quite nice, speaking reasonable English (the international marine language) even gracious in accepting his present that Sasha had wrapped. The only notable event was he asking me, very quietly " as a friend I want to ask you do have some small tablets, Viagra"? Maybe I looked like I needed them!! Next morning at 6 we took our next pilot on board, an over weight, smoking older guy who wanted to take the wheel from Sasha. Had to put him straight, forcefully, DO NOT TOUCH THE WHEEL. OK to tell where to go, either Sasha or I will steer! He eventually got the message. Sasha offered tea or coffee, no he wanted a coke. Sasha served breakfast, he took tea, 3 sugars, with that. Not even an hour down the track he started asking for money and cigarettes, in very limited English, Euros, dollars or even Egyptian. We had heard of pilots like this, I just said "not talking about money". This occurred several times on the trip which thankfully went pretty quick as we had over a knot of current with us all the way. He was offered and accepted biscuits with more sweet tea. At one stage our pilot, Captain Mohamed, lay down and went to sleep, as far as I was concerned about the best thing a Suez Canal pilot could do. Later, again after asking for money he complained of headache and pointed to his arm as though giving an injection. Sasha offered aspirin, he accepted. A short time later he passed out, we were genuinely concerned for his health and tried to call another vessel but he came round after less than a minute and asked for water which he splashed on his face. Sasha twigged to diabetes and with very limited English communication confirmed. We got him to phone ahead to Port Said Yacht Club, his drop off point and our final military inspection point, to organise medication. We could not fathom why he would have so much sweet stuff if he had diabetes. Sasha felt bad about offering stuff but she was not to know. We tied up at Port Said Yacht Club, just as dirty as ever, and Sasha gave Captain Mohamed his wrapped present as a pilot boat came to pick him up.

He ripped open the paper pulled out the little Koala, pack of American cigarettes and E£65 she had put in the Koala's paws. He looked at me and started to ask for more money, I ordered him off the boat, I think he thought better of it and stepped over the the waiting pilot boat. Half an hour later the military came, two naval guys, both in proper uniform (first time we had seen) one with all sorts of flash stuff on his jacket. My initial thought was, here we go again. Couldn't have been more wrong. Both were professional officers, one a commander, as he said, just came along for fun. We found a couple more home truths. Port Suez is not a clearance port, officially our last port of call was Hurghada Suez Canal Pilots are not real pilots, they are just small vessel captains who can work inland waters only. The commander had a very low opinion of them, wonder why! Our inspection complete politely and efficiently, we were free to go.

 

So impressions of Egypt. People on the Red Sea, some of the best you could wish to meet, as were educated Egyptians. Those on the land, some of the worst bringing home one of the first things we were told, partly in jest. Q: when to know an Egyptian is lying, A: when he opens his mouth. As for Nadia's view, monkeys, we dealt with our share. Things to do and see, the Red Sea coral and fish just incredible, the historical sites, are to believe.