EMYR week 5

Dick and Irene Craig
Sun 8 Jun 2008 16:39

We were not sorry to leave Lattakia, Syria. Although the terrain of the country was quite diversified with regard to mountains, desert and lush fertile plains, it generally gave the impression of being dirty, dusty and resembling a building site. Not all of those things, all of the time.

It was very different from what we had experienced to-date. There were no shops near the marina at all which made it very difficult to obtain bread. On the way back to the boat on our last day in Syria, we stopped at a small town to buy fruit and vegetables and bread. We bought some tiny apples and some bananas. We could have bought normal size apples but would have had to buy a tray of them. This would not have been a major problem except the apples were not all at their best and we either had to take them or leave them. We did the latter. We didn’t buy bread as the only bread available was the local flat bread which Dick would not eat. Fortunately I had frozen a few loaves before we left Turkey and we had to raid the freezer. Ironically, the small apples subsequently turned out to be very sharp and bruised.

Before the rally commenced, we had been advised that once out of Turkey, we would have to pay for all the trips in US dollars. However, following the worldwide financial crisis, the goalposts changed and euros would now be the order of the day. This was mildly inconvenient because we had all bought dollars prior to leaving our country of residence and many people would have to now change the dollars to euros.  We generally insisted on paying in dollars and this currency was accepted although the costs for the trips in Syria were now equivalent to 1 dollar = 1 euro, thus increasing the costs of the trips quite substantially. Another downside was that although the cost of taking the boat into Syria was quoted as 80 US dollars, it was now 70 euros and the visa costs had somehow rocketed from 10 US dollars per person to 55 US dollars per person, for English people. However, US citizens paid only 20 US dollars and other nationalities paid varying amounts.

The crowning glory was the price of fuel. A notice was displayed in the marina that the price of fuel to all EMYR boats was to be a multiple of 3 times the cost of fuel for any other boats. It was still relatively cheap compared with Turkish prices but left a bad taste. Many of the boats had no option but to refuel.

We left Lattakia just before 6pm on Saturday evening and motored out of the harbour. The paddle wasn’t functioning so Dick had to go below, take out an impeller and clean it, before we could log the distance traveled.

We hadn’t gone very far when we received a call on the VHF from our twin catamaran. They had caught something around their port propeller and were having to get in the water to sort the problem. We stood-by in the event that they might require assistance, until they called to let us know that all was well.

I was on the midnight to 3am watch and when I went to the flybridge to take over from Lucy, the milky-way stretched from north to south, or south to north. It was unlike the view that I had marveled at, while we journeyed to Turkey last year. Instead of arching right over the boat, it ran parallel to the course we were taking. It was a raggedy kind of milky-way but at least there were lots of shooting stars.

I must have seen the milky way many times as a child but do not remember it at all. My first recollection was seeing it last year as we crossed from Sicily to the Ionion.

At about 9am, Sunday morning, while we were traveling in Lebanese water, a grey motor boat which belonged to the Lebanese navy, passed our stern and traveled out southwards, before returning once again to our boat. I waved from the cockpit as it passed to the port side. One of the guys aboard waved back. They noted our EMYR number and departed. Shortly after that, Dick discovered than the VHF handset in the salon wouldn’t transmit. Things are getting a bit dodgey, the satellite phone stopped working about a week ago. The loss of the satellite means that our website will no longer be updated automatically with our location, each day at noon. You will therefore not be able to see where we are unless we are able to input the coordinates when we get onto the internet.

We were amazed at how the coastline of Lebanon was so built up. Overwhelmed!  Is the only word to describe our view of Beirut, as we approached the breakwater. Tall, attractive, new buildings with an extremely attractive, architect designed breakwater and sea wall. Was this the war zone we had read about, the place where John McCarthy, Terry Waite and others had been held hostage for so long?

We filled the tanks with fuel on arrival although the rally leader was not amused. A number of boats had already refueled and he wanted the rest to wait until the day of departure. We would have concurred but it was something of an unknown quantity, regarding the number of boats which still needed fuel and could have meant hanging about all day, with an unacceptable departure time. Unacceptable to the rally leader and potentially the Lebanese authorities who insist we leave during daylight hours. As it happened, the wife of the rally leader made the final decision so at least we were pleased.

While we were at the fuel pontoon, an official came along and asked for copies of the boat documentation plus copies of the owner’s passports. This is routine although usually, we have to take the documentation to them.

We tied up alongside the very wide pontoon, just opposite the swimming pool. Dick received congratulations, from the rally leader, for the very skilful way he had brought the boat to its mooring so I then told the story of the occasion, while on rally Portugal, when the steering failed and Dick had brought the boat to the mooring, just using the gears.

Within the hour, 2 custom’s officers came aboard and entering the salon, sat on the sofa. I had been nominated captain for this exercise as we anticipated it would be easier for me to deal with them than Dick. The formalities over, I then had to show one of the officers around the boat, opening this bag, that drawer or cupboard. He kept asking me to give him something. I told him I had nothing to give. He asked for money, I said I had none. He asked for whisky, I said I didn’t drink. He took my EMYR 2008 baseball cap and gave it to his companion. (Fortunately, Lucy managed to obtain a replacement for me before we left the country.) I signed the prepared document and they left the boat. Haven’t had that sort of treatment since we were in Tunisia, last year. However, I understand that following complaints to the marina manager, the officer was sent to one of the outposts on the Lebanese border.

 Our joy at being 25 metres from the swimming pool was soon subdued when we heard that we could use the pool for 25 US dollars per person, per day. However, if we did wish to use it, we were not permitted to cross the pontoon and the grass between our boat and the pool, we had to leave the marina and enter the facilities from the main road access.

Beautiful people promenaded up and down the pontoon attired in very European style swim-wear. None of the covering up of the local women as seen on beaches as we traveled along the south coast of Turkey or the burka clad women in Syria. It made a change for us to be looking at the beautiful people from the boat, usually it was the other way around, the boats being the main point of interest from onlookers.

We left the marina after dark and walked to the Hard Rock café, about half a kilometer from the entrance, where we ate our evening meal. I could only eat a little so asked for a doggy bag. The plastic box containing my meal, had been placed inside a brown paper carrier bag, printed with the legend “Hard Rock café”, and underneath in smaller capital letters “BEIRUT”.

Monday morning, Lucy and Caroline took the day trip to Byblos, from whence was developed syllabic writing, around 1000BC, the precursor of our alphabet. They also visited Jeita grotto, a subterranean cavern on 2 levels, with stalactites and stalagmites.

Dick stayed on board trying to fix things and I traipsed from one side of the marina to the other, to find the marina office. We needed to obtain the necessary details to enable us to connect to Wifi and the internet, also to phone home. Finding that this facility was not available, I then trekked around the Beirut port area, to find an internet café.

Tuesday morning, Lucy and Caroline went off on an excursion to Baalbeck which is supposedly the most outstanding example of Roman ruins to be found in the whole region, perhaps more impressive than Athens or Rome. They also visited Anjar. A major tourist and archaeological site as it is the remains of an ancient, exclusively Arab city.

Dick and I walked from the marina about half a mile, downtown. We passed many hotels and buildings which had obviously suffered bomb damage but were now being renovated but very sympathetically such that, if one wasn’t aware of the situation, it would not be possible to see that the reason for renovation was due to war damage. There are still a lot of hotels and buildings which remain in ruins, or partially ruined, due to bomb damage. Every 50 metres and under almost every tree, there seems to be a security guard, a soldier or a policeman, heavily armed. Many streets and areas can only be entered into, or exited from, by passing through a security barrier. Crossing the road is like taking your life in your hands. The driving is fast and aggressive and I am sure that they get extra points for knocking down a pedestrian.

The city appears to be very European. Many of the street names and advertisements are displayed in English. Most people to whom we have spoken speak Lebanese, French and English.

We hailed a taxi, which took us to a huge supermarket on the outskirts of the city and where we spent around 210,000 pounds. Thank goodness these were Lebanese pounds and not British pounds or we would have been in deep trouble, or very hungry. It was great to stock up with provisions, the like of which, we hadn’t seen since we joined the rally.

The owner of the swimming pool has now given permission to participants of the EMYR, that we may enter their club from the pontoons and cross the grass. They have even permitted us to enter the club area at no charge, though it will cost 10 US dollars per person, should we wish to swim. That charge covers access to the pool for an entire day.

Tuesday evening, we boarded the coaches, to take us across Beirut, to the rally dinner where we ate a sumptuous, western style dinner and were entertained by a Lebanese


When we had entered Lebanese water, we were 6 miles off-shore as requested. However, when we left the country, at 18.45, the Lebanese navy insisted that we followed a course of 270 degrees until we were 12 miles offshore. We were instructed that the last rally boat reaching the co-ordinates, given to us by the navy, was to call Lebanese naval control and inform them that we were now all 12 miles out. The wind was light and we motored through the night. Between 3.30am and 5am, we lost contact with the satellite from which the GPS obtains our position. Many of the other boats in the rally were beginning to panic as they didn’t have a clue where they were without the GPS.

At 6.15, we entered Israeli territorial water and called the Israeli navy to advise that we had now entered their territorial water. This was done at 5 mile intervals, until they responded. Three times they called us on the VHF, not quite understanding that Richard Craig was also known as Dick.

As the sea was flat, I took advantage of the situation and managed to wash and dry a load of washing en-route. We hadn’t been permitted to hang out laundry while in the marina at Beirut. I also managed to mop the filthy decks which, being covered in a heavy dew, helped the operation. Ideally, we really needed to attack the decks with a power washer but this was going to have to wait until we reached Ashkelon. Our social calendar just wouldn’t permit us the time before then.

We reached Haifa and Lucy raised the signal flags and dressed the boat all-over, while we waited outside the breakwater, until it was time for us to enter.

We passed the entrance through the breakwater and made our way down the river, where we rafted up to the starboard side of an old steel, sailing vessel, tied up alongside the quay. Our twin catamaran rafted up next to us, on our starboard side.

During the afternoon, after checking in the passports, booking the excursions and collecting the passports, which had deliberately not been stamped, for our own convenience, we joined an afternoon excursion around Haifa, arriving back with just enough time to prepare to go to the barbecue, which the local port had provided, in our honour.  

Next morning at 8am we climbed aboard the coaches, 3 large for English speakers, 1 mini coach for German speakers and 1 mini coach for French speakers. We were now in the Holy land and spent a long day visiting many tourist attractions, of particular interest to Christians, in and around Nazareth, the sea of Galilea and the Golan Heights. We had lunch in a kibutz which was also a great experience.

Returning back to the marina, the mountain road was very steep and winding and the coach, despite being driven very slowly, scraped its underside on the road, on two occasions, as the driver navigated the bends.

Saturday morning, off we went to Acco where we were pleasantly surprised by an incredible reception arranged by the senior advisor to the mayor, in the garden of the ancient Acre. Entertainment was provided by a Jewish singer and two Moslem musicians, the best of both cultures. Gifts were proffered and one of our group received special gifts to be taken back to the marina for specific rally participants. The entire spectacle was televised.

The site was magnificent and in amazing condition, with tunnels which ran 700 metres to the sea. Unfortunately, the visit to Acre was cut short as meetings were planned to take place at 14.30, back at the marina. These meetings are always held before we leave each port, to ensure that all participants are aware of what to expect and how to react to situations which might occur. The state of the weather and the sea is also an important factor to be considered, before the fleet sets off. Boats like our catamaran can cope with bigger seas and stronger winds, than some of the smaller mono-hulls taking part. Sometimes, the latest weather information is checked from 3 or 4 reliable sources before a decision is made to leave port. Despite caution, sometimes the wrong decision is taken and we all have to return to the last port, as in the case of Iskenderum, when the weather, and or sea, proves to be worse than anticipated.

We left Haifa, shortly before 18.30 Saturday evening, to be met with big, uncomfortable seas. Many of the boats delayed their departure until 5am Sunday morning as the sea was too big for their boats to handle. They would have to stopover en-route to Haifa. It is an important factor here, to leave and arrive in daylight. Some of the boats participating in the EMYR, are not able to travel at a speed whereby they would  be able to make the entire trip in daylight.

We have at least 2 boats in the rally, which have a dog on board. One of these dogs tends to go on all of the excursions with its owners. The other dog was left on board while its owners took part in the overnight trip to Damascus. However, rather than leave the dog alone overnight, while the rest of us relaxed in the hotel in Damascus, they took a taxi from the hotel to the marina, returning again to join the excursion the following morning. The journey would have taken a minimum of a four hours each way. Dick uses examples like this to discourage me from thinking that I might like to keep a dog.



Above:- Irene, Sea of Galilea, EMYR dog on Golan Heights, Lucy and Caroline leaving Kibutz