Around The World Voyage : Commentary : Leg 2
1600 hrs Local time
Position: 31.15’ N – 032.18’ E
Tied stern to the Sea wall with anchor set off of bow – Port Said Yacht Club
We’re only a couple of miles from the Mediterranean and will depart Port Said tomorrow morning for our final leg to Greece (about 575 miles – less than four days).
We arrived in Suez on Monday, March 18th at about 1800, just before dark. The strong north wind that plagued us for the past three days finally let up and most of Monday was calm which gave us time to clean the boat. We contacted our prearranged agent, Felix Maritime, and were greeted in front of the Suez Yacht Club by Ahmed M.A. Ghany. From the yacht club tender he assisted us in taking the fore and aft mooring buoys and secure the boat. Having cleared into Oman and Djibouti by myself – hiring an agency do the footwork is well worth the minimal cost. Ahmed came aboard, collected our ship's document, passports and advised us that a surveyor from the canal authority would measure the tonnage of the vessel and that we could fuel and pass through the canal the following morning. With a vessel capable of 8 knots, it’s possible to navigate the entire 118 mile canal in one day.
At 0700 Tuesday morning Ahmed was back aboard with the surveyor and within a half an hour the boat was measured and we cast off the moorings to fuel. Suez is the first fuel dock we’ve seen since Thailand. We’ve always taken fuel from trucks on the quay. At about 0900 we picked up our pilot and were on our way through the amazing Suez Canal – built over 150 years ago with French engineering and Egyptian labor. I’ve passed through the Panama canal several times but this is my first Suez transit and I found the Suez just as fascinating as the Panama – particularly in that it was built originally almost all by hand and completed in 1845.
Our first pilot, Mohamed, immediately took the helm and would not relinquish it through out his leg which was about 2/3 of the way up the canal to Ismailia. We’d been studying the Indian Ocean cruising guide and there is a photo of a pilot steering the authors sailboat and the quotation reads: “For the most part the pilots of the Suez Canal are courteous and diligent although they will always nag you to “go faster, go faster” and will always be offended at the meager baksheesh you offer”. Sure enough, we got the same guy and I showed him his photo in the book. He laughed and nodded. First thing he says is “OK Captain. Full speed please, full speed” and the second thing he says, “Captain, some cigarettes please”. He would have nothing to do with the autopilot and insisted on hand steering for eight hours while smoking a whole package of cigarettes. Trying to get these guys not to smoke in the wheelhouse would probably be impossible and the concept of formula hull speed and wasted power is incomprehensible to them. Rather than go 8 knots at a reasonable 1900 rpm, our guy insists on full throttle increasing our fuel consumption by 50% and adding 4/10th of a knot. Upon arrival in Ismailia, the baksheesh thing starts. I planned – at the agent's advice - to give our man $25.00 and a couple of shirts. Sure enough, he’s appalled. We finally agree on $35.00 and four shirts and I thought we were done. “Captain, more cigarettes. Five packs please,” he says prior to leaving. I give him one and don’t feel too good about the process. We later found out that Mohamed is well paid (as are all pilots) and that he has four wives.
As soon as Mohamed leaves our new pilot boards us. His name, too, is Mohamed and the process begins again. New Mohamed will take us the balance of the way to Port Said and we understand that we’ll run until 2200 or 2300 to finish. At about 1700 our pilot is told we must stop short of Port Said and wait until morning to complete the transit. It’s all a bit confusing but we do stop and tie up at a Canal Authority dock behind a huge tug boat. Our agent Ahmed and Mohamed will stay aboard with us until dawn and we begin again arriving here in Port Said about 1000 this morning. In all it was a neat trip. It just baffles me to think of this huge canal having been engineered and dug so long ago. Along the shoreline we noticed evidence of the two recent wars with Israel – 1968 and 1973. The banks are littered with torn and twisted parts of personal carriers, landing craft and other unrecognizable machines. A very interesting point is the preparation along the whole length of the canal for quick set up of strategic floating bridges in the event of a military action.
Egypt seems like a thriving country with new construction everywhere we look. The town of Ismailia looked particularly nice with numerous resort hotels and palm lined banks, flowers and manicured gardens everywhere. I hope to return to Egypt some day – particularly to see the Nile River and the pyramids. But on this trip we are out of time. Hopefully we’ll have decent weather and will arrive in Athens next Sunday.
Peter Swanson of Passagemaker left us today after three weeks aboard. We all enjoyed his company and appreciate Passagemaker's participation in our advernture. Peter was a great guy to have aboard through the Middle East leg. He's been to Egypt before and had an upbeat and refreshing attitude about everything we encountered and was an excellent person to have aboard a boat at sea.
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