Haifa, Israel

Tuesday 15th June 2010

 

Oh what a night of fun and games.  We sailed towards Cyprus and remembered to tell the Lebanese Navy the right (or rather the wrong!) destination, then at the designated waypoint we hung a left and headed towards the ‘gateway’.  We heard the Rally leaders, who had left some time before us in order to arrive first, being questioned by the Israeli Navy and later by a United Nations warship, but all was quiet with us until the morning when we began to approach the ‘gateway’.  We were radioed by the Israeli Navy who asked all the expected questions, and presumably our answers matched their information as they allowed us to continue.  They remained just a voice on the radio until we had passed through the ‘gateway’, when we saw a large RIB with guns patrolling the waters ahead.  They kept their distance though, and we had no direct contact with them as they kept watch over the progress of the Rally boats towards their shores.

 

A couple of miles out we were approached by a Police launch with half a dozen armed Policemen on board.  When I say armed, I am not referring to pistols from their holsters as one might expect from Policemen, but blooming great machine guns.  They brought the bows of the RIB alongside, and while several machine guns were aimed directly at us, one of them held out a large fishing net and told us to put our passports in it.  It was a race to see who could comply with this order the fastest – no way did any of us want to be seen as uncooperative – and the passports, those oh, so valuable documents that you must guard with your life, were lobbed over the side into a fishing net.  The guns remained trained on us as we waited for them to check our ID’s and satisfy themselves that we were bona fide members of the Rally.  We expected to be boarded at any moment so they could make sure there were only four of us on board, but no, they passed the passports back again via the net, and apparently satisfied that we posed no threat to national security, off they went.  Welcome to Israel!

 

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Approaching Haifa, our first stop on the Israeli coast.

 

Once tied alongside in the yacht club, we had to stay on board until Security had visited the boat and given it the all clear.  They arrived in their big black boots and did not take them off.  As they left, they informed us that they had a sniffer dog in training and they may return later with it to give it some practice. Both Steve and the official were a little surprised when I informed them that we prefer not to have dogs on board and as they had lots of boats to choose from today, perhaps they could choose one that didn’t mind!  After a little throat-clearing, the official said that he would be back later, and once he had gone I was given a lecture on why you don’t tell officials you don’t want their sniffer dogs on board!  We had visions of poor old Scott-Free being torn apart in their search for the hidden contraband I didn’t want the dog to find, but in the end the nice chap seemed instead to have understood that it was simply my dislike of dogs on board rather than anything sinister that led to my comment and he did not return.  I did not escape scot-free, though, as I was the subject of some hilarity later at the Rally dinner.

 

Once ashore, checking-in formalities had to be completed, making sure that our passports were not stamped with entry visas.  Many countries, our next stop Egypt included, will not allow you in if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, as one of the boats in our group found out the hard way when we entered Syria.  We made for the showers, stopping on the way to sign up for excursions and to collect some freebie t-shirts and hats saying ‘Welcome to Israel’.  We’ll need to be careful where we wear those...

 

Cleaned up, we made our way to the Rally dinner.  First up, we had to listen to speeches, and were wondering what all the video cameras were about.  Turns out the speaker is an Israeli Government minister using the Rally as a propaganda exercise on national TV.  Israeli’s can’t be so bad if 60 yachts from many different countries want to visit.  In fact, several boats had left the Rally when we left Lebanon, refusing to go to Israel.  Anyway, this rather high-level interest in the Rally also added to the budget for our arrival dinner, and once the speeches were finished, a good night was had by all.