Port Tewfik, Suez to Ismailia
Frantic hammering on the hull of the boat woke us in the dark on Thursday, 4th June – we had been told our Pilot for the first half of the Suez Canal would arrive at 5.00am, but it was still dark – he had come an hour early – totally acceptable by Egyptian time! We frantically pulled on clothes and staggered up to be greeted by Mustapha our Pilot. Syd just managed to start the engine as our mooring lines were slipped off and we headed out into the Canal. All this before a cup of coffee definitely not a good start. Speed is crucial along the Suez Canal and for small boats there is a minimum speed of 5 knots.
The Suez Canal officially opened in 1869 and took 10 years to construct, it is an artificial sea level waterway linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and is 120.11 miles or 193.30 kms long. The French constructed the Canal and established the Universal Company of the Maritime Canal of Suez and operated it firstly with Egypt then Egypt sold its shares to Great Britain. It was nationalized in 1956 which led to the Suez Crisis. Egypt made its final payments to Great Britain and took full control in 1962 and today the canal is owned and operated by the Suez Canal Authority.
The first section of the Canal is narrow and the sides are desert, sand dunes covered in military camps and lookout towers, it felt a bit like being on the set of a WW2 movie, soldiers with rifles perched on the top of sand dunes, floating bridges in pieces waiting to be assembled to get tanks and soldiers across to the other side in the event of war. An interesting landscape to wake up to. The canal then opens out into the first of the Bitter Lakes, these were originally giant salt flats that rarely flooded, now they support a group of fishermen who have small wooden fishing boats, they row against the currents with huge oars then hoist a makeshift sail to use the wind. It looked enormously hard work and watching them hauling on the oars as they crossed in front of the enormous container ships was pretty scary to see. Its a way of life to them and the only way they get food but they all looked happy and even tried to wave while they were rowing.
Once through the Lakes the Canal narrows again then divides into Northbound and Southbound Channels. Our Pilot told us to carry straight on and keep to the edge of the Southbound Channel and as we went past the first lookout tower there was a lot of shouting and waving of arms at us, our Pilot ignored it and went downstairs for a sleep! We carried on keeping as close to the Channel markers as possible as massive ship after ship came towards us and passed. As we got to the turning into Ismailia a large ship came towards us honking its fog horns over and over, once again our Pilot shrugged and we turned into the Channel up to Ismallia. We reckoned the traffic separation was a relatively recent addition and going into the Northbound Channel would mean extra distance and would miss the turning into Ismailia so the small vessels decide to ignore it! Goes along with the Egyptian driving where they don’t seem to know which side of the road to use so weave from side to side.
So we arrived in one piece at Ismailia Yacht Club (sounds very grand but is in fact a ‘was’ - a beautiful Art Deco building which used to house a sailing and rowing club, but now is a run down grand design!
We had been told by our Agent that we were expected at Ismailia and a Mr Yasser would be there to take lines ashore – should know not to believe what we have been told by now!!!! Of course we arrived and not a sign of anyone plus it was Med mooring on a mooring ball meaning you slip a rope through a tiny loop on the mooring ball which is about 6 foot below you at the bow of the boat then feed rope out as you elegantly back onto the quay to tie up lines to shore at the back. As the mooring balls were quite a long way off the quay it would require a rope of at least 100 foot. Had we known this we would have been prepared with the 100 foot rope that was tucked away in the locker but as we didn’t and quite obviously were to be left to our own devices it was a quick improvisation job tying 3 ropes together. Our Pilot was agitated as all he wanted to do was get off the boat and had no idea of how tricky this manoeuvre actually is and rather than just sit there and wait he was trying to leave as I tried desperately tried to hook the mooring ball with the boat hook and Syd controlled the boat to stop it hitting the mooring ball and getting all these ropes wrapped around the propeller. Eventually we were attached and Syd backed in as the Pilot tried to leap ashore causing a lot of swearing from the Captain! A couple off another boat came and took lines and we were attached. The Pilot was off the boat like a rat up a drainpipe and vanished. About an hour later Mr. Yasser sauntered over and asked if everything was okay, uhmmmm!
We have been here now 4 days and it is a very protected and quiet place to be, we can only get off the boat and remain in the Yacht Club compound which is gated. At last we have cleaned a lot of the sand off the boat as there is free water so the boat is beginning to look the right colour again and all the ropes have been soaked as they were so stiff with a combination of sand and salt it was impossible to bend them. The storm jib has been washed and put away.
There was a bit of a panic yesterday as Syd tried turning the steering wheel and it didn’tmove, first thought was fishing net or line wrapped around the propeller so he had to put on wetsuit, mask and fins and jump into water which is sludge green with no visibility and full of rubbish and sewage – I declined the chance of helping and assisted from the edge! The good news was the rudder was not turning because it was on the muddy bottom, the bad news is this could have caused damage to the rudder. Fingers crossed that is not the case. We moved the boat forward and now have to climb across the dinghy to get ashore.
Weather is saying Tuesday could be a good day to leave though we have no confirmation from Cyprus that we will be accepted, but we are going to chance it and if necessary be prepared to have to do another 14 days Quarantine on the boat. So unless there is a significant change in the forecast, Pilot number 2 will be arriving at 5.00 am or was it 4.00 am on Tuesday and once we drop him onto a tug near Port Said we will be back into the Mediterranean Sea 10 years after we left on this voyage.