EMYR-week 4

Dick and Irene Craig
Mon 2 Jun 2008 14:20

We left our mooring at Mercin just before 6pm and we weren’t even out of the harbour when we became aware that we had a plague of flies on board, both inside and outside the boat. Just walking into the heads was like walking through a black cloud. We had seen nothing like it and had no idea from whence they had come.  Even though Lucy is very anti killing anything, there was nothing for it but to attack them with an aerosol spray of fly-killer. It did the job but the floors were littered with the corpses of countless flies.

We heard later, on the VHF, that a couple of other boats, both catamarans, had also suffered with a plague of flies. There had been nothing at the marina to suggest that there was any problem of this kind. However, we 3 effected boats had been moored next to each, and possibly some flies had laid some eggs, which hatched to coincide with the departure of our boats.

There had been a rumour, just before we set off, that strong to storm-force winds could be expected in the area to which we would be passage making. Those boats that had already left the marina, stopped and waited for further information, one or two came back into port. The rally leader checked and double checked the local forecast. Fears allayed, we set forth and managed to sail for almost 12 hours with winds never stronger than 12knots and often far less than that.

We weren’t due into the harbour at Iskenderun until 10am so there was no problem sailing at 4knots. It was much quieter than using the engines which made sleep very difficult, for those crew-members who were not actually on night-watch.

I saw the moon rise but didn’t recognize it as such. It resembled a barrage balloon, in shape and was dirty orange in colour. The height was just about level with the top of the masts of some of the sailing boats 2 or 3 miles ahead. It wasn’t until it had climbed a couple of feet above the mast tops, taking on the shape of a full moon, that I realized what I looking at.

As we approached the breakwater at the port, a lone pelican was floating majestically in the gulf of Iskenderun, quite oblivious of the flotsam and jetsam which abounds.

Into the harbour, we dropped our anchor and made to reverse back to the quayside as indicated by a local “helper”. The rally leader approached us, and directed, from his dinghy, where he wanted us to tie up to the rocks. We didn’t move the anchor from where it had already been dropped, but tied up to the rocks, some 60 metres to starboard, from where we had originally been directed.

At this time, the concrete causeway, which was immediately behind our boat, was flooded, for a distance of about 50 metres, either side. To get ashore and walk in either direction, it was necessary to paddle through the water covering the quayside. Later in the afternoon, this dried out, but for the duration, it was amusing to watch as bicycles, cars, scooters and lorries, made their way through the flooded area, water splashing over their feet and up the wheels of the vehicles.

 I paddled to the dry land and walked to Carrefour, which was located just outside the gates of the marina, to purchase some fresh bread for lunch.

After lunch we had to take our passports and ships papers, en mass, to an official on the quayside. The official was going to take them away and get them stamped, as part of the formality for leaving the country. It wasn’t possible for us to hand in our passports because all 4 passports had to be handed in together, along with the papers for the boat. Dick needed his passport to take to the customs office to reclaim the VAT, which was prepaid when we purchased the passerell.

Twice, Dick had to traipse into town to visit the customs office. The first time, the customs officer did not understand what was required. This was an unique situation for Iskenderun. They had never had to deal with VAT reclaims and now there were three different boats, trying to reclaim VAT. The second time Dick went to the customs office in town, he was accompanied by the Turkish agent, who was dealing with the documents, for checking each rally boat,out of the country. It was a great help having an English speaking Turk to assist.

While Dick was away, trying to reclaim the VAT, on four occasions we were accosted by two separate, local barbers. One of them even asked for some iced water or a beer. I gave him a glass of water with an ice-cube in it. We don’t usually do ice so he was lucky I had some on board.

Eventually, after Dick had spent 3 hours attempting to get a stamp on his claim, he returned to the boat with the customs official who had to check that we had actually got on board, the items on which we were claiming the VAT refund.

The barber returned once again and after some discussion, Dick had his hair cut, sitting on a stool on the quayside. I then had my hair cut. It was supposed to be a trim but there weren’t too many highlights left in my hair after he had cut it. I do believe, it ended up shorter than Dick’s hair. The barber then asked for a cold beer and one for his wife. We gave him a beer but not one for his wife.

That evening, we joined the rest of the rally participants and our Turkish hosts for the rally dinner which was followed by a group of young people, dancing. Again, there were 7 male and 7 female dancers but the dance was different from that which we had seen in Mercin.

Next morning, Dick, Lucy and Caroline left the boat shortly before 8am, to take the tour to Antioch, mentioned several times in the New Testament, as the first Christian community was established here by St. Paul. Antioch was initially founded by an officer, under Alexander the Great.

A labyrinth of busy, narrow alleys, shaded by stately Ottoman and Syrian houses, old Antioch, on the eastern bank of the ancient Orontes river, overflows with oriental charm.

While my companions were away, to my delight, a pelican came right up to the boat and stayed in the vicinity for a short time.

I asked the rally leader for directions to the post office (PTT) and as he couldn’t remember, said he would check their local map and get back to me. Half an hour later, the barber who had scalped me yesterday, arrived on his scooter. The rally leader had asked him to call at our boat to collect my letter to be posted. I had visions of him taking the letter and not posting it. After all, who would know? I knew that there was quite a lot of money to be refunded so I lost my nerve and said I would post it later in the day. Dick would not have been amused if the claim had not been posted, particularly after all the efforts he had made to reclaim the VAT.

During the afternoon, a local student guided me to the PTT. He told me that he comes to the port every year to meet the EMYR. He was hoping to go to university, having just taken his exams which were very hard. He wanted to become a teacher like 2 of his 3 elder brothers. He also had 3 older sisters and admitted to being spoilt by them all. After he left me at the PTT, I explored the city on my own.

Being alone on the boat was rather like being some sort of a celebrity, as people continuously called to me, to talk to them. They offered to run errands, show me around, took photographs etc. Perhaps this was because Iskenderun hasn’t yet been discovered by tourists and we still remain a novelty. Certainly, we were a spectacular sight, with about 70 boats, all tied up in the fishing harbour together, dressed over-all.

Amazingly, on Sunday, the only electrical power still available in the town, was that which was provided by personal generators. It seemed that once a year, every year, the power was turned off and outstanding problems were fixed. This meant that there were no Wifi networks available to pick up the internet, causing considerable consternation to participants of the EMYR.

During Sunday afternoon, the fleet started to dissipate, sailing in the direction of Syria. As we made our way out of the marina, the fishing boats, which we had displaced, to make room for the EMYR boats, began to return to their moorings. The pilot boat sounded his fog horn, wishing us all farewell. It was an emotional moment.

Strong winds, on the nose and an uncomfortable journey, had been expected for our passage to Lattakia and three hours out from Iskenderun, there was a general recall of all EMYR boats. The wind was blowing 30knots o n the noseand was forecast to increase. The sea was getting bigger and many boats were progressing at no more than 2 knots with an anticipated passage time of over 40 hours. There was also a restriction by the Syrian navy that we had to arrive in daylight hours, after 7.30am.

All EMYR boats returned to port and tied up again, more or less back at the location from which they had left 4 hours previously. It seems that we were now all “illegal immigrants”, having cleared passport control and had the transit exit log stamped when we departed from Turkey.

 It was getting dark and becoming increasingly difficult to find anything, other than rocks, round which we could take lines ashore. After it had become dark, another catamaran arrived and made for the location from whence it had left earlier, some 10 metres to our starboard hull. They again tied to a mooring buoy, with lines ashore. Dick helped them in while I shone a torch onto another smaller buoy, with trailing lines, to help them avoid the prospect of entangling their propellers.

After watching a film, we retired to bed, only to be woken at 4.15am, by the noise of banging on the hull. I jumped out of bed and ran on deck, to identify what was causing the banging. The guy from the catamaran which had arrived after nightfall, was in the water, in his dinghy. Our boat had dragged its anchor and we were now alongside the rocks instead of stern to the rocks. I raced below and told Dick what had occurred, as I quickly pulled my wet weather clothes over my night-dress. It was already raining when we went on deck but during the process of making the boat safe, the heavens opened and it poured heavily with rain, as an electrical storm raged overhead. Dick accessed another anchor and a 100 metre line. With the help of the guy in the dinghy, the boat was pulled round, away from the rocks, so that it was stern to the rocks, once again. The second anchor was set. A few moments after getting the second anchor and the long line out of store, Caroline appeared. Her experience was invaluable and made the presence of myself and Lucy, who arrived later, quite redundant.

Panic over, Lucy went to bed, while the three of us drank some tea. The drama, from start to finish had taken just 1 hour.

Monday morning, I was up before 8am ready for the VHF radio net, which is supposed to take place at 8am, each day that we are in port, but never seems to commence before 8.30. Today it was delayed further as no-one in the fleet, including the coastguard, who had escorted us along the coast of Turkey, was able to obtain a weather forecast to cover the passage we hoped to make, to Syria, later in the day.

While we waited to find out whether we would be leaving Monday afternoon, we dried out our clothes and the cockpit cushions, which had been soaked during the deluge, while we were making the boat safe, after the anchor had dragged.

The pelican made a stately visit to check out the boats and we rushed to find a camera to photograph him, as he floated gracefully around the fleet.

About 6pm, we untied the lines from the shore and lifted both anchors. Again, help was provided by the guy who had helped us, when the anchor had dragged earlier. Had he not arrived in his dinghy, we would have had to use our own rib, in order to manhandle the second anchor on board.

We anchored in the bay to make our departure easier, should the decision be made to make passage to Lattakia that night. It would have been difficult freeing lines from the rocks, during darkness. Not to mention sorting out the second anchor.

As we were at anchor and didn’t expect to leave until midnight, Caroline and Lucy went off to bed to get some rest before they were due to start their watch. Tonight, as we were leaving late, the watch period was reduced to 2 hours per person, rather than the usual 3 hour watch.

Dick and I lifted the anchor and left the marina, just before 11pm, staying on watch until Lucy took over at midnight. The weather and sea were kind and we slowly made progress along the Turkish coast, passing a fish farm and individually marked fishing pots.

My watch was immediately after Lucy’s watch so I was the lucky person to be on duty at 10.08am, when we entered Syrian territorial water, and had to call the Syrian navy on the VHF, to let them know that we had done so.

It was very exciting. Even though the Syrian navy didn’t respond to our call, they did welcome the fleet to Syria, as did Lattakia radio, on several occasions as we made our way to the marina.

The Turkish coastguard said goodbye to the fleet, once we reached the Syrian border. They had accompanied the fleet all the way along the Turkish coast, including the crossings between the island of Cyprus and the mainland of Turkey.

Once into the marina and rafted up against our twin Lagoon 440, Lucy went ashore to obtain information regarding the excursions available during our stay in Syria, also the plans for rally dinners and cocktail parties. She had been nominated social secretary to Tucanon, for the duration of the rally. The original plans for our visit to Syria had been changed, due to our late arrival, which was over 24 hours later than scheduled.

The rally dinner took place that evening at 8pm but most of the rally participants were quite exhausted and left early, before the obligatory flag ceremony took place. Next morning, we had to leave the boat by 6.45am to get to the coaches, which were to be pretty much “home” for the next 3 and a half days, all of which were very full, with each  excursion, except on the last day, being at least 12 hours long. However, we did see a great deal of Syria.

We drove through desert, mountains and fertile plains, passing the Turkish border by a mere few hundred metres and the Lebanon border by no more than 2 miles. We admired the mountains on the Lebanon side of the border, which are snow capped throughout the year. We drove to within 172 kilometres of Iraq, visited Palmya, an oasis in the middle of the desert, where caravans stopped, on the silk route. We went to Damascus where we spent the night in a splendid 5 star hotel.

We ate lunch in a tent, in the desert, on the first day of the tours and that evening, Dick and I had a meal at the hotel while the majority of the participants went out to a typical Syrian restaurant. We were pleased to have the opportunity to chill out and get to bed before it was time to get up again. Next morning we went to a mosque where, despite their attire, all the women had to wear garments which resembled hooded, ankle length raincoats. Any of the men who were not wearing long trousers had to wear ankle length skirts, made of the same slate grey cotton, as the cloaks, worn by the women.

We visited castles built by the crusaders, the Romans, Byzantines and the arab-islamics as well as many ancient sites, of which there are at least 3000 in northern Syria. We even went to Ugarit, where the very first alphabet was discovered. We photographed ancient, giant water-wheels which scooped water from the river in "boxes", depositing the contents into an aquaduct for irrigation purposes.

Back on the boat Saturday afternoon, we had lunch, caught up with the washing, filled with water and took on some more fuel. Tonight we are off to Beiruit, Lebanon. A night sail it may be but we will be pleased to leave Syria, if only for a rest.





Demon Barber                                                                                                            Dick and Caroline ready to enter mosque