Carelbi in Egypt, March 2009

Fri 19 Jun 2009 22:25


                                                        CARELBI IN EGYPT

                                                  March 2009 









The morning after I arrived we went over to the main town, which has been built with tourists in mind and was really beautiful. The Egyptians have married modern techniques with Arab design to create lovely buildings and small streets in these new towns on the Red Sea. The striking thing about these places was that there was no one around, the tourists are just absent. On the right Chris, Anders and Barry have just finished presenting boat papers to the Port Authorities, who had a spacious office in this large building with its elegant courtyard....









 The winds in the Red Sea can be expected to blow a 25-35 knots on the nose most of the time. When they drop to 15-20 knots, it is wise to head for your next destination as fast as you can under motor, unless you want to tack all day long and make maybe 20 miles to windward. We left Port Ghalib almost immediately after my arrival, as there was a "weather window" and made a dash for Hurgada, our next port of call. It was a good modern marina, with lots of nice cafes and restaurants around the quays and pontoons, but as soon as you stepped outside you fell straight into the dirty,  teeming streets of normal Egyptian cities.  We are having an ice-cream break here with our friends from Kiribati, Italians running an Irish pub near Milan, so successfully that they work for 6 months of the year during the tourist season, and go sailing for the rest of the year, which is how they have completed their circumnavigation.












Hung Tatt had a wicked sense of humour and this is how I found a watermelon which I had bought in one of the nearby market stalls, obviously enjoying his holiday!













It was an attractive marina, with good restaurants and, most importantly, good wifi in the cafes.







Richard of Lady in White rashly agreed to organise a Blue Water Rally "Go-Kart" racing morning. The track was just down the road from El Gouna and we strolled down to meet the bus of hopeful Grand Prix contestants who came up from Hurgada. Here are Chris, Hung Tatt and Fiona preparing to do their best to win...













Another little weather window came up and we took off again, but after  a day's sailing we dived for cover behind a sand spit at Marsa Thelemet where we waited out the 30 knot winds for three days. It was a pretty desolate place, as you can see from the photo of the anchorage opposite. The waves were so disturbed that even the thought of  hopping into the dinghy to go visiting was not a pleasant prospect.






We finally arrived in Port Tewfik, which is where yachts wait to be measured for the trip up the Suez Canal, and re-provision. We found a little street market about a five minute taxi drive away. We could have walked, but it was very hot and taxis were cheap. The fruit and vegetables were beautiful, good quality and most of the vendors cheerful and honest.





I felt that I wanted to match her generosity, so when I returned to Carelbi I printed out a page with the photo which I had taken of her, along with smaller photos of Chris and myself, and one of Carelbi, wrapped it in a plastic folder, and took it back to her a couple of days later. Here she is with her son, really delighted with her present. The market went mad...





When we arrived at Port Tewfik I had the job of  managing a line from our stern to a buoy as Carelbi nosed up to a very floppy plastic pontoon. Chris started yelling at me to hold the line as Carelbi was not slowing down at all, I yelled back that I was doing that, and we suddenly realised that the buoy was not doing its job, in fact it was trotting after me like a little puppy on a lead. Several days later a crane arrived just behind us to remove the buoy and the  lump of concrete to which it should have been attached ... as you can see from the photo, there was nothing on the end of its chain at all!








and we think the one on the right has "stealth cladding", which enable them to look like fishing boats when showing up on radar screens. But we wait for those of you who do know what is what to let us know!


We thought that they might be going down to reinforce the NATO anti-pirate effort, but they were apparently on their way to relieve other ships finishing their tour of duty in the Persian Gulf.






Captain Heebie from the "Prince of the Red Sea" company, who was our agent in Suez, was a delightful man, and did his best to make our stay enjoyable and hassle-free. Although, with the system of "baksheesh" embedded in the Egyptian way of life, his was not an easy task. He is in the middle of the photo with our friends from Lady in White and ourselves.





Finally, on the 9th April 2009, we started our  passage up the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, where we would complete our circumnavigation. We were up at 4 am, with a start in convoy at 5 am sharp. We all had to get in to order before proceeding, when the authorities were ready, into the Canal itself. We were full of excitement and anticipation, this would be the last major leg of our journey around the world, and we had no idea what it would be like to travel up a thin slice of water through the desert with huge container ships and petrol tankers passing us every ten minutes or so.





It is hard to believe, because everyone thinks of Egypt as this place with lots of lovely sun and sand, which is true, but it is also a cold place. In the winter and early spring a cold wind is sucked down from the north, and here is Chris, most unusually in wet weather gear, sweaters, scarf, hat and big thick woolly gloves, with a typical container ship about to chug past us.

























Finally, on the Suez Canal, an unexpected and  timeless image of Egypt, man and his fishing boat.







Chris and Anders, our Danish "sailing son", checked into Egypt at Port Ghalib, a brand new marina, plonked down in the sand, near the border with Sudan, so new that the yachts from the Blue Water Rally were the first to use the facilities. I flew in from my family visits in South Africa to rejoin Carelbi for the rest of her trip up the Red Sea and on to the Mediterranean. Prew of Holland, Lady in White, Carelbi, a boat called Kiribati owned by two Italian brothers, and Heidenskip are tied up stern to the quay in the photo on the left.






I really liked the mix of wooden balconies with clean straight lines against the deep blue skies,  the use of arches and porticos, and space to allow cooling winds to blow through the buildings...





Behind the quay where we were moored was the brand new Abu Soma Dive Hotel where we had supper a couple of times. This is their chief chef, Mohammed, who generously gave me his recipe for stuffed aubergines, which were totally delicious. Anders left us in Port Ghalib for a few days diving, and then returned to Denmark to start his medical career, with about 24 hours between arriving and presenting himself at his new hospital.













The yankee had become quite badly damaged along its UV protection band. Hung Tatt, our Chinese friend from Singapore, joined us halfway between Port Ghalib and Hurgada. He sailed with us up the Malaysian coast and would have done the pirate run with Carelbi, but had been prevented by an acute appendicitis. He and I spent a broiling couple of hours in the sun patching and sewing the tears, hoping that they would last until we could put Carelbi away for the winter and leave her sails to be repaired by a proper sailmaker.





 We did not spend that long at Hurgada as another wind opportunity came along allowing us to nip up the coast to marina called El Gouna some 20 miles closer to Suez. This was the bus for us tourists to take if we didn't feel like walking our obligatory 10,000 steps for good health every day! The nearest town was just the right distance away for us to get in our daily exercise while doing our  food shopping.








Chris and Hung Tatt are working hard here, Chris on keeping abreast of politics and economics and Hung Tatt on keeping his architectural skills sharp.











Chris and Hung Tatt were in the first heat, Chris leading the line-up as it took off from the starting point. Unfortunately, they were in a group of the rally's most competitive top racers and only Chris made the cut to the finals. I was in the second heat and made the cut, but came in second or third to last. However, there was a Ladies race, and I managed to win that one, much to my astonishment, as I am normally quite a cautious driver. I found odd reserves of competitiveness and recklessness in me that I had not realised existed!









Hung Tatt whiled away some of the time playing plaintive tunes on his mouth organ, and  we read books, listened to music and argued about how why the world was in such a mess and how it should be set to rights...







Next to the stall where I was choosing my vegetables sat Roda Kaalel Salah, with a large, deep basin of a feta type cheeses in their liquid in front of her. In one of those inexplicable moments in life, she and I took an instant liking to each other. She offered me some cheese to taste, and when I said I would buy one, she refused to let me pay. We could not get her to change her mind, she spoke no English, I speak no Arabic, but we laughed and gestured and I thanked her as best I could.





she embraced me, I hugged her, we both cried, old ladies in black hijabs and long black robes hugged me, called upon Allah, touched their hearts and gestured to heaven. Everybody laughed and shouted; we all had a lovely time celebrating her photo.







During our time at Port Tewfik we heard that the British Navy were coming through one afternoon. It was an impressive sight. We watched about six or seven of Her Majesty's frigates, small aircraft carriers and supporting ships as they appeared from behind the sand spit at the exit of the Canal. We are not sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to tell you what these ships are, but we believe the one on the left is a frigate...











Here you can see the Port Tewfik marina where the 30 Blue Water Rally yachts who were about to transit the Suez Canal waited for their appointed day.











The Blue Water Rally always lays on a party at each of its major gathering points, and the Prince of the Red Sea company, represented by Captain Heebie's father, who had worked as agent for the British Navy for many decades, presented us all with a delightful present of an Egyptian bag with a painting on real papyrus inside. Chris had wandered off at that moment, so the "Admiral" accepted the gift on behalf of the "Captain".  










Captain Heebie comes to say goodbye to us as we start throwing off our ropes and leaving the pontoon. He also had all our passports and papers that had been signed by the authorities... we were now checked out of Egypt and had to keep on going until we reached Crete.













We were number three in our Suez convoy, and you can see five yachts stretching out behind, each of us keeping our equal distances, as best we could, from each other. A pilot boat accompanied us, and three of the yachts had to have a pilot on board. This was one of the most stressful parts of our respective navigations. The pilots "said" that they had not been given the "baksheesh" that we had all paid in US dollars before starting, so the pilot boat kept coming alongside shouting at us to give them something. We had to rush below and find T-shirts, cigarettes and anything else we could find, booze was not acceptable. This was put into a plastic bag, hung off the end of a boat hook and held out, precariously, for them to take off. It was all quite dangerous, as the wakes of the large ships, combined with our own and that of the pilot boat manoeuvring to take our offerings made it difficult to hold a steady course. Those yachts with pilots on board were constantly hassled by their pilots, who insisted on taking the helm, pushing the yacht to go faster, which meant they started encroaching, and, in some cases almost passing, the yacht in front. A VHF radio was broken by one of them and quite a lot of extra "baksheesh" extracted. We left Egypt cross and with a nasty taste in our minds.