Marsa Thelemet to Port Suez
Our last day in the anchorage at Marsa Thelemet and the wind dropped, the sea was calm and the sun shone. Lovely but first thought was ‘Oh shit we should have left last night, is this the weather window for light winds and have we missed it?’ Another check on the forecast and it looked like we would be okay for leaving in the evening and overnighting it to arrive at Port Suez early morning.
Syd’s first job of the day was to go to the top of the mast, so my first job was to winch him up there. This is a job which has been put off again and again as we have had so few days of light wind to make it possible.
First task once he was safely at the top was to check out the Hawk wind indicator that had been destroyed by an overweight bird that had decided to sit on it, it had managed to break every reference indicator as it had obviously clung on when the vein arm broke! Not the first time this has happened but this time it is a write off so yet another thing added to the lengthening ‘boat shopping list’!
I lowered Syd slowly down the mast while he cleaned the mast track which is full of desert sand – the whole boat is coated in it and ropes are so thick and heavy with sand and salt that they are impossible to bend now – this is one of the many downsides of a Red Sea trip as it rarely, if ever, rains properly and though we have a working water maker it is non operational due to the Generator being out of action so the only water we have been able to use was from Port Ghalib. We have eked the water out by having a very brief shower after swimming once a day and washing up in sea water but there is definitely no spare to wash the boat! Drinking water is in large 19 Litre Bottles which we had delivered in Port Ghalib.
After this task was completed I did my daily swim to shore 1 kilometre there and back then 4 kilometre run to the end of the sand spit and back. First day I wasn’t running back into 25 knots of wind!
We left at 7.30pm Monday, 1st June and followed our route in to get round the many sandbanks and reefs that had protected us during our stay. Sea was glassy smooth and we even had a three quarter moon to light the way. We motored on through the night crossing over the main Shipping Lanes once again. This is a very narrow stretch of the Gulf of Suez and it is always busy so keeping watch was critical. It is not just the huge tankers and container ships, there are drilling platforms, tugs and workboats on the move 24 hours.
The sky started lightening about 4.00am and the wind picked up as we entered a wider stretch of the Gulf, the sea became choppy with short steep waves and we were very glad we had waited to make the journey and that the weather forecast had been right. We arrived about 7.00 am at the ‘parking lots’ – these are holding bays where the container ships and tankers wait until their time slot for the Canal Transit and radioed Suez Port Control as we weaved our way up through the huge ships some stationery and some on the move which was a bit scary. The Northbound Canal Transit starts at first light and goes on until about 9.30 am, then it is the turn of the ships coming South. It was fascinating listening to Port control juggling all these massive ships into neat queues to obediently follow each other into the Canal. Even more fascinating was the fact that as English is the maritime language you had Boat Captains (who mainly sounded Indian???) trying to communicate in English with Egyptians at Port Control. We coudn’t understand either of them but somehow things happened and it all looked like a well choreographed dance!
In the meantime our Agent Prince of the Red Sea contacted us and told us we would have to wait until the morning convoy had finished as the route into the Marina of Port Tewfik is a turning off a very narrow part of the Canal. We hung around and eventually Port Control gave us permission, Syd upped the revs and we sped into the first part of the Suez Canal and branched off into Port Tewfik where we were met by Captain Heebi Prince of the Red Sea (a bit of a celebrity around here) and Karkr from the Marina. They efficiently tied us bow and stern to 2 moorings and then the paperwork commenced. Tuesday having had no sleep Monday night was spent filling in forms and seeing officials. Captain Heebi was very well organized and itemized all the charges (not a cheap do!), the boat had to be measured to ascertain the price for the Canal Dues. This is not done by tonnage as would have been expected but is done by a formula worked on a basis ‘if they like you it will be less!’. Luckily Syd had a rather nice polo shirt that he had never worn – that sealed the deal and our charge was set at $280, phew could have been a lot worse!
Customs and Police visited next, we donned our masks and gloves and they checked we were who we said. Next was Quarantine, temperatures taken for the 4th time during our trip and all okay. This went on during the day along with visits from Karkr who organized 120 litres of fuel for us and a little man who turned up wanting to do shopping for us, he was a bit persistent and kept trying to climb on the boat – I managed to find him a T-shirt and he left happily having got me some bananas (a rare treat).
The Marina is literally on the side of the Canal and it has been fascinating watching all the huge ships as they glide silently up and down one of the most famous waterways in the world. This afternoon’s excitement was the Police boat with about 10 officials on board got grounded on the sandbank next to us! They are still patiently sitting there waiting for the tide to come in again and for them to hopefully float off – seemed slightly strange that no-one seems to have come to help them. They probably don’t want to alert attention to their predicament as it may be instant dismissal but you would assume that as they operate out of here they would know where the sandbanks are!
Our Pilot arrives at 5.00 am tomorrow to assist us during the first half of the Canal, we overnight at Ismallia where we will probably spend an extra night. Should be interesting as there have been many mixed reports about the Pilots and most of them say do not let them anywhere near the wheel of the boat and don’t listen to them as they know nothing about sailboats!