MARSAS, KHOR, SHARM...
We are at anchor in a marsa! Or, to be precise, in a khor, which is a marsa at
the estuary of a wadi (complicated people, hereabout!).
We are in Khor Shin'ab, a huge twisting cove extending for a couple of miles
inland, along the northern shores of Sudan. All around the desert and low, rocky
hillocks. In the distance we can see a trail where the occasional military truck
is passing by, and from time to time we spot a lonesome dromedary.
(left) Shaula, taking advantage of its limited
draft, leads the yachts in the treacherous entrance to Khor Shin'ab, where we
will spend 3 days (right)
The place is spectacular, although our motives to stop here were the weather
conditions, which were forecasted to become nasty as they became just after
having anchored (what a timing!!...).
There are 9 yachts anchored here, and 3 more are in another marsa just north of
us, while 4 or 5 are sheltered in Egypt, just north of the border. Typical
Red-Sea situation this time of the year, when the wind blows from the northwest
anywhere between 20 and 50 knots (!!!...) with short periods of 2-3 days when it
slackens and one can take advantage of it for a quick stint north.
So far we had been very lucky to have the wind constantly from the south nearly
up to Egypt, it could not last!!
Yesterday, we reached the marsa pushed by a strong south-easterly, and while we
were settling-in the wind turned to the north; spectacular scenery, but no
shelter: the low hills do nothing to stop the sand-filled wind and when it went
up to 40 knots for about one hour our trusty anchor started to drag!!
Pulling the anchor up, with the engine at full throttle to keep the bow in the
wind and then drop anchor again while avoiding the surrounding reefs has been a
I do not dare thinking of having to repeat something similar in the middle of
the night, with the chartplotter that shows our position as being in the middle
of the desert! Yes, because the last survey in these waters was done back in
1834, since then no government has forked out the money to do a better charting
of the coastline, which is of no interest to ships passing offshore. This is
strictly eyeball-navigation country!
We have sand everywhere, by the time we will leave it will be possible to put a
beach umbrella in the cockpit!!
We have sand everywhere, even the windward side of the rigging is brown, all
ropes are brown, and our T-shirts are streaked in brown, it's a lost battle!!
After 3 days in a marsa with thye wind blowing at nearly 40 knots (the desert is
not the best shelter from the wind!) the forecasts were promising three days of
light winds, so we all upped anchor and motored north in the hope to reach Port
Ghalib, a marina along the Egyptian coast.
Shaula sailing in the Red Sea
After less than two days, the forecasts changed, announcing the impending return
of strong northerlies, so we changed course and came into Port Berenice. There
is no port here, there was one 2300 years ago, and Berenice was the mother of
the then king Tolomeus II, but since then the place lost its relevance and now
there is only sand, plenty of it!!
We are beginning to wonder how come the desert still has some sand in it, by now
it should be empty!!
Outside it's blowing over 25 knots, tomorrow should be the worst day, we spend
the time resting and doing little jobs. Maybe we will be able to leave next
tuesday or wednesday...
Egypt was a great organised state, with an effective state apparatus, already
5000 years ago.
Since then, apparently the system has kept building-up and getting more
complicated, so much so that today's Egyptian bureaucracy is unequalled in its
(left) this sobering view at the entrance of
Port Ghalib reminds us that these are dangerous waters! (right) Baby relaxes a
bit at the visitors' quay
When we arrived last thursday, the port Ghalib Marina office, the only one in
Egypt which is allowed to perform the entry formalities for yachties without
having to pay expensive agents (or face the complexity and baksheesh-seeking of
the system on one's own...), told us that we could not get our cruising permits
before next Sunday, as the relevant office, located in Hurghada, is closed on
Friday and Saturday!...
We are all annoyed, because the favourable weather window is forecasted to
disappear by next monday, and a departure by Sunday may not be possible because
of the weather, but there is nothing we can do and then we set ourselves at
enjoying Port Ghalib which is a very artificial tourist place, but nice and very
welcoming, and graced by several good restaurants, albeit a bit expensive.
Sunday morning comes, and the forecasts show that the bad weather may delay
until monday night, so we all run to the office to get our papers and be gone,
but we are told that the office in Hurghada has no paper for their fax machine
(!!!...), and nobody knows if and when our papers will be available, maybe later
today, maybe tomorrow!!!
After a couple of hours of gentle pressure, we have to give up and accept that
we will quite likely not leave until the next weather window; some crews even
get booked on trips to the interior for the next couple of days.
Then, at 15:00 hours, the surprise: the papers have arrived!! Some have given up
by now, but 5 or 6 boats decide to leave and get the hell out of here while we
can, and if the weather will become too heavy we can always seek refuge in a
Now it's monday morning, we are few hours from arriving in Hurghada Marina, and
we are motoring in flat calm!! After all, it's been better this way, the delay
spared us several hours of windward sailing during yesterday's afternoon!!
The ancient Pharaohs might have been right after all....
The windy but welcoming Hurghada Marina
One cannot come to Egypt and avoid being immersed in this country's ancient
history, the history of a complex and technologically advanced culture that
flourished when Troy was still a florid town on the Bosphorus and Athens and
Sparta were two villages...
You think of the Pyramids, and it's difficult to realise that already during the
"New Kingdom", 3500 years ago, the Pharaoh Thutmosis IV had to launch a program
to unearth the Sphynx that was being buried by the desert's sand, being already
1000 years old...
Walking around Karnak, Luxor and the nearby Valley of the Kings, some names are
recurring more often than others, and they are the names of some of the more
famous Pharaohs: Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh's widow who reigned for some years,
first as a support to the young heir Thutmosis III, and then as a
self-proclaimed Pharaoh, making herself portrayed as a man in the many monuments
she had erected.
(left) the funerary temple of queen Hatshepsut
and (right) the mandatory felucca-trip on the Nile
And Thutmosis III, no little kid himself: he got rid of the stepmother,
destroyed her monuments to little pieces, had the two sacred obelisks that she
built inside the Karnak temple shrouded inside a wall, and then set himself on a
long and successful military campaing that brought Egypt to its maximum
And Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaton and launched what is
purported to be the first monoteist religion ever known, together with his
beautiful wife Nefertiti, whose bust is one of the most famous monuments of all
And then, even if he was in fact a minor Pharaoh, Tuthankhamon, who died (perhaps
murdered) in young age and whose tomb in the Valley of the Kings was found still
intact in 1922, with its extraordinary collection of items that makes to think
at what would have been in other, more important kings' tombs, like the one of
Right, Ramesses II, a megalomaniac who realised a lot of important buildings and
monuments during his extraordinarily long reign, and also usurped many that were
realised by previous kings; despite his self-aggrandising realisations, he also
erected important monuments to his wife Nefertari, an exceptional case.
He was probably the Ramesses of the Bible, the one who ruled at the time of the
Hebrews' hexodus from Egypt.
Luxor temple, a figurehead of Ramses II
The ruins in Karnak and Luxor speak of a rich society, capable of great
realisations, whose decadence began many centuries before the foundation of Rome:
when Julius Ceasar and Marc-Antony came to Egypt and were enchanted by
Cleopatra's beauty (although she was in fact of Greek origin, being the
descendant of one of Alexander-the-Great's generals), the Reign had long lost
most of its territory and its importance.
We were forewarned, the 180 miles from Hurghada to Suez are
the toughest, the Red Sea gets narrow and the wind always blows from the
Northwest, with infrequent pauses of which we will have to take advantage with
When we came back from the Luxor trip, the forecasts were calling for few more
hours of light winds, to be followed by one day of strong wind and then two days
of calms: the options were obvious, either we left immediately without even
undoing our luggage, or we had to wait a couple of days, hoping that the
expected light winds will materialise and risking being late in Suez, where we
should arrive within the 7th to be submitted to the admeasurement process (I
will explai later).
Many boats decided to leave, planning to spend the expected strong-wind day in
an anchorage somewhere, while we were too tired and decided to wait, also
because with 4 stern lines, water and electricity connections, and a bike and a
passerelle to be stowed under everything else in our huge cockpit locker (and to
bury them at the bottom of the locker, we have to TAKE EVERYTHING ELSE OUT!) we
need a good couple of hours of frantic work.
Our decision was comforted by Heidenskip, the Rally flagship with its 20 meters
of length over-all, when they reported by radio to have had to take shelter in a
marsa because the wind and expecially the seas were too big for them and were
getting dangerous (for them?? 20 meters of boat???!!!...).
Luckily, for once the forecasts were right, and on Saturday morning (April 4th,
it's really time to leave!) the wind had abated a little and we could prepare to
leave; leisurely, as the wind was expected to abate a little more in the
By mid-day we cast off and exited the marina just behind Jupiter, and then POOF!
all instruments went dead!!! We are without autopilot but, more serious, without
GPS or depth-sounder at the beginning of a route within the reefs!!!
Luckily, we could just tail Jupiter, so we were able to continue with Baby at
the helm, while I started searching for the source of the problem. Do I need to
say that the distribution box and the pilot's main unit are DEEP INSIDE THE
This time it's been tough, I could not find where the problem was and the boat's
motion did nothing to help while I was crouched like a hampster at the bottom of
the pit; I also dropped the pilot's fuse in the mess at the pit's bottom, and
when I looked up in the f*****g manual I could not find any reference to the
fuse and its rating!! Long after having inserted a fuse of a made-up rating, I
discovered that a spare fuse was inserted inside the autopilot's cover!!
Getting desperate, I tried to take out of the power distribution the main
circuit breaker, that looked suspiciously rusty, and .... look, we have the
instruments working again!! It's certainly unsafe to have no protection on the
power line, but we will have to make do for the time being.
We stopped at an anchorage to relax a bit before leaving the protection of the
reef, but then we had to carry on, with the confidence of knowing from the boats
ahead that conditions were windy but not the seas were manageable.
We found exactly what described, and in fact during the night the wind went up
to over 25 knots, exactly on the nose and therefore forcing us to motor in the
narrow gap between the shore and the border of the shipping lane; when the
current does not help we do only 3 knots, but we progress!
We continue like that the whole day, zigzagging around the many oil rigs, and we
hear over the radio that "Cayuco" has engine problems, apparently air is getting
into the fuel line (and if Tony, the official Rally diesel engineer, cannot find
it, then it must be tough!!).
On the second night, the wind reversed from the south blowing at over 20 knots:
we were too fast and risked arriving around Suez in the dark, so it was not a
great problem to turn back for a few miles to get near Cayuco, whose engine has
now stopped for good.
We reach Cayuco at dawn, just when Tony has found the problem: a new fuel filter
which is letting air in. So we can resume our course towards Suez, enshrouded in
a thick fog which does not allow us to see the many ships at anchor.
After a short stay at anchor near the canal entrance (and luckily it was brief,
as it was VERY rolly!!) we receive permission to proceed to the Yacht Club (which
is inside the Canal) and we charge in, together with the other Rally yachts,
before a ship that we see in the distance gets in the entrance as well. All ok
for us, but "Stargazer" has an engine problem at the worst moment and the Pilot
boat that immediately came to the rescue rammed into them causing quite some
damage: they reached the Yacht Club in a very sad mood.
IT'S DONE, we are in SUEZ!!
No no nononononoooo, we cannot say it's done until:
a) we will have done the 80 miles of the Suez canal, to be done al full speed in
order to do the crossing in one day, and
b) we will reach Crete, after a likely 500 miles beating into the wind that in
this season is often strong from the Northwest.
P.S. The admeasurement process: it's supposed to be used to determine the
Canal-fee, but it turned out to be a joke, they did not even
have a tape-measure, so they just made up a few figures and were gone in 5 minutes!
(left) from Suez, visiting the Pyramids of Giza
is a short trip. (right) the "sun-ship" recently discovered interred beside the
QANAT AS SUWEISS (SUEZ CANAL)
Friday evening, the confirmation: tomorrow we transit through the Canal! We will
get through in one day, so the departure will be very early, wake-up at 4 a.m.!!
We are lucky as usual and are drawn as one of the boats with a pilot on board,
and will presumably enjoy the relevant baksheesh requests and all that.
Saturday morning, 5:30, all yachts have left the moorings except the three that
are waiting for the pilots, because one of them is late: ours!! Finally the guy
arrives, jumps onboard and we cast off quickly and get into the canal; we do not
even have the time to settle in formation and get the boats' speeds right when
the first big ship arrives and overtakes us! The first times it's a bit
impressive, then we grow accustomed: only problem the ships' bow-wave, which
luckily is not too bad because they are only going at 9 knots...
(left) "Neva" and "Marianne" leave port while a
huge freighter is approaching, but after a short while we get accustomed
(right): there's plenty of room!
One of the group's boats manages to complicate its own life by hitting one of
the channel markers (but how did they do it?? Stray current, fell asleep???...)
and the pilots claimed that they had damaged the marker's light and demanded
payment of the damage. Those on the boat refused, saying they had made no damage
whatsoever, but when we reached Ismailia they were literally towed away and
brought to an anchorage, where they had to pay a huge fine of 3000 US dollars,
otherwise they would have not been allowed to continue!!!
Every few miles, the pilot boat in front of the convoy is replaced by another
one, and some of them go along the convoy asking for baksheesh (presents, money,
anything goes...); we had been instructed to give nothing, and some of them
become insistent, but then all of a sudden the pestering stops: orders from
We have been relatively lucky with our pilots: the first was a likable guy, a
tug sailor who moonlights as a yacht pilot (the ship pilots, the real ones, are
a different bunch). A bit hyper-active, but at least we talk and can establish a
The second pilot, a bearded fellow who speaks only arabic, did literally NOTHING
through the whole time with us (he even slept a couple of times!), except
occasionally SHOUTING in arabic over the radio.
Dark was falling when we got rid of the pilot in Port Said harbour and proceeded
in convoy along the very long breakwater: outside, strong north-easterly wind,
big waves, and a MESS: ships, ships everywhere, at anchor or moving in all
directions amidst poorly-lit buoys. We head north to get away from it all as
quickly as possible, then we set sail and head towards Crete at full speed.
The weather forecasts calls for strong head-winds in a couple of days' time, so
we must hurry up and get as close to Crete as possible by when the wind will
We are now 160 miles from Crete, we still hope to get there and be sheltered by
the shore before the strong winds hit, tomorrow afternoon.