Suez Canal and Egypt inland travel

Suez Canal and Egypt inland travel



320 miles, to Port Said, Egypt, with forecast 10kt E to NE winds comfortable reach sailing for our 158 degree course, for the first day, dying out to almost nothing and veering South to West the next day, motoring, and coming up again 15 to 20kts NW, possibly stormy, aft quarter sailing the third day, it should be a walk in the park. We had been watching the weather, waiting for a reasonable sailing opportunity for a couple of weeks and here it was. Somehow I was apprehensive, Sasha could feel it. We were only half full of fuel enough for 200 miles if need be, I wanted to get more but in Kas there had been no fuel on the dock meaning carrying it in jerry cans from the local fuel station about 200m away. I had done something to my shoulder which had been giving painful muscle spasms, relieved by anti inflammatory, so I wasn't up to carrying fuel. No excuse really, could have got a taxi or alift somehow or other! Sasha was quite happy with the situation. So, we were underway from our anchorage at 06:30 on Friday 3 Dec and had beautiful sailing averaging 5kts on calm sea for the first day. At 13:30 on Saturday, with our speed down below 3kts, in a dying breeze, we started the engine, 180 miles from our Port Said destination and speed up to 6kts.


Twenty minutes later Sasha was
reeling in a 5kg Blue fin Tuna, fish frames for dinner.


On a mirror calm, but still lumpy, sea we motored through the night. Mid morning the breeze started to come up, albeit light, from the West, as forecast, off our aft quarter. Unfortunately it was, for most of the day, too light to sail and still make it to Port Said in reasonable light so we continued to motor sail, getting to the fairway buoy, entrance to the main channel into the harbour, just after dark, 6;30pm. There were ships everywhere, assembling for the night South bound canal crossing. As required we contacted the Port Said Port Control centre on VHF, in amongst ships doing the same thing. Eventually we were given the go ahead to proceed towards the "Yacht Club" 5 miles to go. About a mile from the Yacht Club we were met by a pilot boat and a pilot stepped aboard to "guide" us to the Yacht Club. Our pilot book said we could anchor just North of the Yacht Club entry but, despite exhaustive argument, the pilot kept saying it was forbidden so we had to set up to Med moor at the Yacht Club, between two super yachts, an interesting exercise to say the least. Then our first experience with baksheesh, the payment, bribe, tip often demanded by anyone providing any sort of service. The pilot said "you have a present for me?". He had been on board for about half an hour, I gave him US$5. He wanted more, 50.  No way. If he had been reasonable I may have made it 10, so another "discussion" but I stood firm. Eventually he smiled and  accepted. We had been told that reasonable bahshish for the canal crossing pilot, for his day, would be US$20. We met our canal crossing agent's representative, Mazen and filled out the reems of paperwork, he took our ships papers and passports and would arrange for Ednbal to be measured the next day to calculate her Suez Canal Tonnage, based pretty much on her volume. He said the three most important people we would deal with would be the measurer and the two Suez Canal pilots (you go half way one day with one pilot, the other half another day with another pilot) and we should give Baksheesh, around $20. If we did not give to the measurer, our calculation would somehow go to the bottom of the pile and may take days! Back on Ednbal about and hour later, just after we had dinner, a visitor, the guy to measure. We gave him copies of the Beneteau spec and he did several check measurements that took half an hour or so. When time to leave I tried to give him $20. No he explained that as a Muslim he abided by Mohammad’s teaching that if you are employed to do a job you should not
get additional payment. Now we were confused!! 


In the morning we woke to see one of the super yachts gone and, tied up at the dock, a small, about 14 foot surf cat. On top of some pontoons was a tiny one  man tent. It turned out that the occupant of the tent was from the Ukraine registered surf cat. Yes he had sailed from Crimea, Black Sea! He had a problem here in Egypt, he had been confined to the Yacht Club for the last three weeks because the Egyptians would not give him a visa, apparently something to do with his time in Israel. Goes to show there are many ways to see the world.


 



 We had to use an agent, pre arranged, to do our check formalities in Egypt. If you o not then your paperwork somehow ends at the bottom of the pile and the process takes days if not more, very much a "closed shop" arrangement. So we employed ships agents Felix and all formalities were completed by mid morning, after our arrival the night before, we were ready to go down the canal, out of the filthy waters of the yacht club. One small hitch we had not heard about before, if there is any naval vessel transiting the canal then pleasure vessels are cancelled for the day. This was the case for the next two days, a chance to experience the "wonders" of Port Said!


Not a lot to see and it is dirtier even than Colon, the entry port for the Panama Canal, largely because there is no rain to wash the rubbish away.


On the plus side we made a visit to Felix head office and spent some time with the boss, chairman, Naguib Latif, as it later turned out, a very worthwhile connection. He spoke perfect English and had a soft spot for Aussies. He arranged for one of his people to pick us up from the Yacht Club and take us to the new immigration building a few miles away to extend our visas to become 6 month, multi entry. When we returned he explained that the signature across our passport visa stamps was that of a lady who had been one of his lovers!
Finally, late morning on the third day our canal pilot, Mosa (Moses in English) boarded and we headed down the canal for the Port of Suez, 80nm, the trip broken by an overnight stop on a lake at Ismailia, about half way. 



 



The trip was relatively uneventful as we passed ships of the North bound convoy going the other way.

 


Arrival in Ismailia was at night and we had to drop the Mosa off at the dock. Baksheesh again, another argument, Mosa wanting more then threats from the guy on the dock to pick up Mosa that we couldn't anchor, must stay at the Yacht Club and without more money we would not have a pilot the next day. For another $10 all would be OK, the next pilot would be ready at 08:00. We anchored and had a stiff drink! Next morning I was at the dock at 8, no pilot, another guy told me maybe 9 or 10. I chatted to Canadians Brian and Deb on Chinook, the only yacht at the marina, with whom we had been communicating by email about Egypt and Red Sea as they were ahead of us. Back on Ednbal I rang Naguib, naval vessels transiting both North and South today, no movement of us. I had been completely sucked in, again, last night. Someone at Felix would call to let us know about movement for the next day, Friday. No call. At about 6AM banging on the side of the boat, pilot ready to go. We had been checking weather, a Southerly storm, strong winds, was coming, if we went now we would likely get stuck in Port Suez. I took the pilot back to shore in our dingy much to his displeasure even though I tried to explain that our agent had not advised us and bad weather was coming. Later we went ashore for a walk to the open air local market. Now that was an experience. 

First you have get past the rubbish, it is strewn all over the place, piled up here and there. We saw one rubbish collector, a guy driving a very old tractor with a 4 wheel trailer piled high. Completely inadequate for the situation but as they say, that’s Egypt. In the street after street of markets there were hundreds of vendors selling everything eatable and a lot we thought were not. Chickens from just a week or so old, ducks, pigeons, all live but killed and dressed while you wait, beef and lamb hung out in the open, all the in season fruit and vegetables and some that were not. We bought our weeks supply of fruit and veg for the grand sum of 8.5 Egyptian Pounds, about $1.70! That night Brian and Deb joined us for baked Tuna dinner and later it started to blow from South West. By morning there was brown dust all over Ednbal. I washed the cockpit but within a few hours it was just as bad. We kept everything closed and stayed inside for the next three days while it raged outside, wind to 40kts, visibility down to 100m, sun hidden so much that it was always like evening. Dust everywhere.



We heard from Naguib that it was so bad that Port Said, the canal and Suez port were all closed! Last time the canal was closed was over 20 years ago. After 3 days a major clean up exercise. Using bucket water from the almost fresh water lake we spent two in a chilly morning wind sloshing water with soft brushed. Thankfully it was easy o clean off, more the problem getting it out of places is wasn't supposed to get into! Later in the morning, Monday, we were told the wind and chop on Bitter Lake, further down the canal was still too bad for pleasure vessels, another day’s wait. Quite nice really, as we had a lovely dinner with Brian and Deb on Chinook. Finally on Tuesday morning I picked up our new pilot Aymon in the dingy and we set off for Suez. This time we set the rules from the beginning, the pilot advises, Sasha or I skipper the boat as the pilot takes absolutely no responsibility. Aymon was no trouble at all and we arrived in Suez anchorage well before dark. I rang our agent, Felix, to make arrangements for our customs clearance and cruising permit, to sail Egyptian waters, for up to 5 months, our maximum planned stay in the Red Sea. In other counties, where we have been forced to use an agent, all formality have been completed in a matter of hours. Not so Felix Agency in Suez. Not only was not all done in Port Said but it took another two very, very, frustrating days to finally get our cruising permit. Total time spent transiting the Suez Canal from Port Said to leaving Suez, 11 days, admittedly 3 days were due to bad weather.


 

As soon as we had our permit we set sail south, into the Gulf of Suez, early afternoon, for Wadi Dome Marina, 30nm away. According to all the climate information the prevailing wind in the Red Sea, especially the Northern part, is a Northerly, about the only thing that changes is its strength. For the last week and again today it’s been from the South so off we went tacking, dodging ships and huge buoys, into the wind. After a few hours it died out to only a couple of knots so we ended up motoring most of the way, arriving well after dark. Two young Egyptians met us in a Zodiac and, in perfect English, welcomed us to the Marina. Turned out those words were well practised, most of the rest of our communication was by sign language! We were initially put in a corner between two larger power boats, tied up to what looked like a fairly dodgy floating dock. This was supposed to be a fairly new marina, less than 10 years old, we would worry about it in the morning.

 

Things didn't look too much better in the day. The floating dock ran parallel to the concrete shore. Boats were Med moored with stern lines across the dock to the shore meaning you had to step over ropes to walk along the dock to get to shore. Power outlets were on the shore so 220 volt extension leads from the boats were just run over the dock, through the water, to shore. After an audience with non English speaking but helpful marina Harbour Master Captain Tawfeek we relocated to another, marginally better pontoon. There were no other foreign vessels and of the 50 or so boats only 6 were yachts. Having trouble making ourselves understood we were soon introduced to a resident American Egyptian, David, who had just opened a sailing school, the first in Egypt, right next door. He and his wife also had an 8m yacht on the same pontoon as us. David was most welcoming and immediately organised the filling of our gas bottle using fittings and adapters I had in stock.

 

Wadi Dome is located in Ain Sukhna which is not a town but an enormous complex of thousands of holiday apartments some in one 30 plus story high undulating structure that can be seen from the other side of the gulf and looks a little like a sitting, two humped, camel! A well stocked supermarket and numerous restaurants cater for apartment owners, mostly the well to do from Cairo 120km away. The 2 hump camel is only a 10% part of one of the developments, the rest yet to be built.

 

Two days later we "off on tour" to check out a few temples a few millenniums old and, of all things, go for a sail, in a traditional Egyptian, Nubian vessel called a Feluka. As in any new country we visit a lot of time is spent, by Sasha, researching transportation, accommodation and the sights to be seen. We planned two basic areas, the upper Nile region, Aswan, Kom-Ombu and Luxor to be followed later by the Nile delta, Lower Nile, around Cairo.

Bus to Aswan, about 800km, with a change about mid way at Hurghada, started at 5am, we arrived in Aswan at 9pm, tired but in the budget priced, thankfully very clean Kaylani Hotel. The people were also friendly and helpful, a welcome change for our Egyptian experience to date.

A good nights sleep, a lovely fruit, juice, coffee, pancakes, fresh bread rolls cheese and jams breakfast included in the rate of $30 for the double room before off to first stop, the unfinished obelisk. As with many things, not quite to sure what to expect. Turned out to be the granite stone quarry used a few thousand years ago with an almost completed obelisk, unfinished because the turned out to be a crack in the stone. Had it been finished it would have weighed over 1,100 tons which begs the question, how the hell would they have moved it? To see how the stone masons of the day had chiselled out the channels all the way around the huge stone certainly made the visit worthwhile.

Next off to Aswan high dam. Certainly big with some impressive stats for hydro generation, a little ho hum. Last for the day the island temple of Philae. Part of what makes this temple special was its rescue from the flood of the Aswan dam. It had been almost submerged, on an adjacent island. A breakwater, for want of a better term, was built around the island and de watered so that the temple could be relocated, stone by stone to another island that in turn had been resized to emulated the original Philae Island. The whole undertaking took over 10 years. Now this visit would be interesting, a ferry required to get to the island, no regular organised ferry service but 10 or 20 "ferries" all crowded around the end of the jetty with varying capacities from about 15 to big, 100 plus boats. All open save for an awning overhead, and an outboard motor, most very well used to say the least! There were no other tourists about so ferry captains tried to charge us 70EP (Egyptian Pounds, about $14). Our guide book suggested to wait for other people and hire a ferry collectively to pay about 5EP. Sasha did a great job of collecting passengers, we ended up paying 10EP return!

This was our first Egyptian temple (place where god(s) live) visit. What struck me most was the sheer size of the thing. Photographs, even with Sasha standing to try and gauge the size, do not do it justice.

Back in Aswan we organised our overnight Faluka sail, next day and set off to visit the Nubia museum and dinner. We had planned to catch a taxi, 10EP ($2) to the museum and walk back. Instead we ran into a horse and carriage drive who we had chatted with the previous evening. Mohamed, the driver and Rambo, the horse gave us a very entertaining ride to the museum for twice the price.

Another museum, very well organised with most exhibits reasonably described. From the museum we walked further on to a restaurant recommended as authentic in the guide, the Nubian House restaurant. Authentic, I guess so, with dirt sand floor and guys puffing away on Sheeshas, the big tobacco burners where you draw the smoke in through a water bowl. I vow to try one before we leave Egypt! The simple meal was very tasty, Sasha had oven fish for main, I had oven chicken. With hibiscus fruit juices (in common with most restaurants no alcohol served) and a salad the cost for us both was 68EP. I included some of the costs to illustrate the things are pretty cheap in dirty Egypt.

On a lovely evening we walked through the rubbish back to our hotel, picking up beers and other just in case supplies for our next Faluka trip that was supposed to include lunch, dinner and breakfast but no drinks, not even water. At 11:30am we were picked from the hotel and taken to our waiting Faluka. One of the reasons for the boat trip was to meet others; we were told that each vessel normally sails with 6, maybe 8 passengers. We were first on board, joined in half an hour by a Belgian, Bernard. The Faluka captain was Ziggy with crew Said, brother and Joseph all young, Said a teenager, the others in their 20s.

It soon became apparent that it wasn't going to work out. Ziggy was arrogant, he had two run ins with Nile police and got most agitated when we wanted to get going and know what was to happen. By evening, with last passenger, Bobby on board things had not improved. Dinner of rice and potato pieces in sauce with flat bread was made. We were the only ones prepared so we shared our beverages, nuts, crackers and cheese before taking the risk of eating the meal prepared in what only be described as absent of any hygiene. Plates and cooking utensils had been rinsed over the side in the filthy Nile, no detergent was used, no hands washed, very suss.

Said served dinner while the other two were off on ganja. Tea was made from water taken straight out of the Nile. During the night Ziggy and crew, after an hour or two on the Ganja, disappeared, returning about midnight and noisily cooked up scrambled eggs for themselves. In the morning there were no eggs for our breakfast so pieces of flat bread were fried in old fatty oil, no breakfast for us, thank you!

On top of it all Ziggy demanded baksheesh, you gotta be kidding, we got off to catch the mini bus to Kom Ombo. Later we discovered that others also had problems with Captain Zippy. It turned out to be the worst excursion we had in our 4 years of cruising travel.

The minibus was full, Sasha and I had the two temporary fold down seats, extremely uncomfortable especially since we would be in it with the same group of people to Edfu and Luxor, some 200km. With our backpack slung up on the roof rack with the rest we set off, trying not to watch the road up front so as not to die of fright. Overtaking is done at any time. It seems that once you set out to pass another vehicle you stand on the horn to make the other vehicle pull over as you squeeze past with traffic coming in the other direction.

 

While on the subject of Egyptian driving habits, they do not drive with lights on at night, only flick them on momentarily if they see something on the road ahead, which includes vehicles coming the other way! We made it to Kom Ombo to visit the Temple of Sobek & Hareoris, something to do with crocodile and falcon gods. Again amazed at the grand scale of things and how well the carved figures that adorn almost all vertical surfaces have survived the millenniums.

On to Edfu and what is, by far, the best preserved temple in Egypt. It had, for centuries, been buried in the desert dust and sand until in 1860 a French archaeologist started uncovering. The job took 50 years. It is almost complete, roofs and a lot of colouring still in place. Temples were the homes of god(s), in this case the falcon god Horus. A golden statue of Horus was kept deep inside the temple to be visited only by head priest(s), to feed him, and the Pharo. The temple was looked after and administered by a host of priests. The most important statues, including the original Horus are now in other museum, many outside of Egypt. It was certainly a highlight.

Next, Luxor and our hotel on the quieter West bank of the Nile. Finally, out if the minibus after 100 bum numbing kms from Edfu, we found Ali Baba bar in Luxor serving cold beer in frosted glasses, 500ml for 8EP, I could spend some time here! After "watering", off to the ferry, dodging a myriad of touters trying to coax us into expensive taxis, horse and carriage rides, small outboard motor ferries or falukas to catch the ferry across the Nile to the West bank (1EP each) and a service taxi (more of a minibus on a specific route, 1EP each) to our "rustic" out the back 16 room hotel Nour El-Balad. It turned out to be simple, clean, very nice, with a big warm open fire in the front court yard on a cool evening. More like a large bed and breakfast, very family atmosphere, communal dining, set menu meals all of the best quality we had experienced so far in Egypt. I thought the rustic bit went a bit too far with the bed, I'm sure it had just a bottom sheet over a rock base!

In Luxor we visited the mummification museum, went horse riding through streets, fields and desert before another Temple, that also being the burial site of Ramses the third. All interesting and, with the horse riding, good fun.

Two days later we were on the bus back to Ednbal after a little bus issue. Our bus broke down in the early hours of Christmas day. We waited at very dirty roadside bus station where buses regularly stop for a passenger break for 3 hours until another bus on our route came by.

It was severely dilapidated, parts of seats missing, much of the padding completely gone just broken pieces of metal exposed. Windows were not sealing allowing the cold night desert air to draught around us. Still we made, home just on daylight 15 hours after leaving Luxor.

 

At the marina we met another some other ex pats at a Christmas night bbq.

One couple, Neville and Wafa Clayson, had an interest in the sailing school and Neville was a Project Manager at the new Cairo airport terminal 3. Neville offered to take us to Cairo the next day and provide his car, with his driver, to show us the sights, especially the pyramids at Giza. At the airport Neville had trouble finding another driver as his driver was still at Wadi Dome to drive his wife and children back to Cairo in their second car. He offered to put us up for the night at his house, we could take a bus into town to look around, of particular interest the Cairo museum.

The museum houses an enormous amount of items from temples and burial sites recovered by archaeologists over the last couple of hundred years. Our guide stated "if you to spend one minute at each exhibit it would take 3 months to see it all" we decided to take 2 or 3 hours to see the highlights. Most memorable was the section dedicated to Tutankhamun from whose tomb over 50,000 item were recovered. His gold face mask seemed to attract the most interest from 100's of people moving through. The museum soon makes one realise why so man archaeologists have spent their life times working in Egypt.

 

We had arranged to meet Neville at the airport about 5:30 to accompany him to his house for dinner and "sleep over". At 4 we caught the bus thinking that as it took us a half hour or so to get in then even with some traffic 1 1/2 hours to get back would be plenty of time. Wrong, Cairo traffic has to be seen to be believed. No such thing as traffic lanes, cars and trucks squash in as close as the drivers dare.. It took 20 minutes to go 3 blocks. By the time we met Neville it was 6:30. We drove to Neville's house, in a secluded all inclusive compound of 200 homes, own shop, gym, pools (numerous), gardeners, tennis, soccer, security police, you name it! His house, a humble 3 storey, finished extensively in marble was set amongst trees in such a way that you could barely see other houses, all part of the design of the entire complex. The lovely, tiny, Bangladeshi maid served a lovely chicken curry that we sat down with children, Mark and Anna, wife Wafa and Neville to enjoy.

 

Next day Neville's driver chauffeured us to the sites, pyramids of Giza and the older pyramids of Sakkara. There is no question, you are hit with the enormity of the Giza site and the pyramids themselves. Once you get over the harassment off hawkers trying to coerce you into camel and horse rides or trying to sell trinkets and clothing of all sorts you can start to take it all in.

Of particular interest to us was the oldest boat in the world, recovered from one of the funerary sites. As with most items buried with Pharaohs it was disassembled when found. Seems the Pharaohs little helpers were meant to assemble it for journey to the afterlife. In fact Egyptian craftsmen reassembled the vessel and put it on display not far from where it was excavated. Quite amazing to say the least!