Red Sea - day 28 Egypt - arrival at Suez Canal Yacht Club

St Barbara's Web Diary
Peter & Sue Goldsmith
Tue 15 Apr 2008 15:59

29:56.86N 32:34.44E

16.00 15th April

The second of two bogeymen was laid to rest today. The first was the pirates
and the Gulf of Aden - no problem.
The second was the howling northerly winds of the Red Sea. What problem? We
were certainly fortunate but we followed the advice given and that was to
take time and wait for the weather windows and we have most definitely been
handed an open window. We have had 3 clear days of southerly or non existent
wind to make our way up the narrow part of the sea that culminates in the
Suez Canal. So here we are on a secure mooring right at the beginning of the
canal surrounded by boats that we have seen at various times all the way
from Thailand and Sri Lanka. An impromptu lunch on board Albert II with
Spanish (Ilusion) and French (Moana) friends just underlines the point, and
all of us with tales to tell of places and events and all of us feeling we
have reached a milestone in our journey.

We have covered 1521 miles from Aden and 5205 miles from Thailand and now we
plan to cover a few miles on land with some sight seeing off St Barbara.
Cairo, Pyramids, Luxor and Aswan here we come.

There was a third bogeyman lurking! 1500 miles of ocean, sweeping ships from
China, the far east, India and the gulf; millions and millions of tons of
goods, oil, LPG on vessels the size of water-front villages, all funnelled
into a gap about 150 metres wide - the Suez Canal.
>From a long way off this looked like it was going to be fun. All through
yesterday we slid gently through very calm seas past towering mountains and
enormous oilfields (one 'field' had over 30 drilling rigs, structures and
well heads within a few square miles. All this scenery was on our starboard
side whilst to port the shipping lane got closer and closer. We had a
pleasant but very short night at anchor before setting off at 0530 on the
final leg. By 0800 we were sailing through anchorages with ships of all
sizes in every direction. By 1000 we were running alongside a by now rather
narrow shipping lane with very wide ships coming from behind to join the
north-bound canal convoy. Needless to say, we were GPS'ing, radaring, and
had look-outs bow, mid-ships and stern as we made the last kilometre.
Perhaps I should explain a little, I was surprised to learn that Suez is one
way. Convoys of ships go in one direction then convoys of ships go in the
other direction. Whilst there is talk of widening it so that it is two way,
this is how it currently works. From something like 0530 in the morning
ships that have been ganging up in the southern anchorages charge forward
(well perhaps they are a little more organised than that) and start the
north-bound passage. Later in the day the direction of travel reverses
Yachts are expected to keep well clear until the convoy has passed. We were
very keen to follow these seemingly simple and perfectly reasonable rules.
As we approached the narrowest part there was a yacht in front of us that
seemed very relaxed about lane discipline and passer-bys, that is until they
engaged in a radio conversation where they were told, very firmly to get out
of the way of the enormous container ship bearing down on their stern. It
seemed this information came as something to a surprise to the captain - a
French sounding woman whose English failed her, couldn't understand the
instructions she was being given - I think they were more in the way of
orders - 'get out of the way' 'do not cross' etc. etc. At this point she
said that this was making her nervous and confused which was responded to by
very long and very loud blasts on the ship's horn! I think it all became
clear after that.
As we followed this ship up our only task was to judge whether there was
adequate room to cross the channel into the mouth of the harbour before the
next ship. 'Go on Pete' I said, 'it will be alright, there's loads of room'.
And of course there was, but it would have been fun to be blasted out of the
way like that.
Safely at our mooring, relaxing and thinking about how we can explore Egypt,
the next chapter begins.