Grey Pearl/
Autumn Wind

Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally
"Grey Pearl"
"Autumn Wind" 62-17

It's been nearly two years since the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (link to NAR section) disbanded in Gibraltar. Yet, most of the Nordhavns that participated in the event stuck together to travel throughout Europe. Now two of those boats, Autumn Wind and Grey Pearl, are participating in another rally: the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally (EMYR). Crews from four of the NAR boats have joined together to take part on the six-country tour of the eastern Med and they'll be updating us of their travels along the way.

June 27, 2006

This is my last report on the EMYR from aboard Autumn Wind. Although we officially left the Rally in Ashkelon, Israel I have included information on Cappadocia, Turkey one of the sights we visited on our way back to Marmaris because the place is so special others may wish to hear about it, or possibly visit in the future.[Jenny Stern] Here is how the last week-and-a-half went:

June 18, 2006 - 15:00 Departed Ashkelon, Israel for Mersin Turkey
June 19, 2006 - Underway
June 20, 2006 - 07:00-Arrived in Mersin, Turkey
June 21, 2006 - Mersin Turkey
While we were in Mersin with the EMYR a few weeks ago, we met a charming young man named Timur who works for the Mersin Municipal Government as an English translator. He offered to help us at any time and we called him this morning to assist with customs, immigration, health, etc. This process is difficult in a harbor filled with visiting yachts but it is much more difficult in a commercial harbor such as Mersin where they seldom get pleasure yachts. Tim was an unbelievable help. It took over 5 hours of constant travel from one office to the other to accomplish a clean check-in but it would not have been possible without Timur. Thanks!

On June 22, 2006, we went from Mersin to Cappadocia, Turkey. The drive from Mersin to Goreme (Cappadocia) is only 350 kilometers but we had been warned it would take 4 to 5 hours in our rental car so we got an early start. We stopped for a midmorning coffee at the Tunel Restaurant along the roadside and attempted to order pastry and coffee. No luck, none of the restaurant staff in this very pleasant place speak any English. We realized again that we were out of tourist country. From a table across the restaurant a Turkish gentleman asked if he could help. In very acceptable English we conversed and he ordered our breakfast. He then insisted that we join his family (his daughter and wife were at the table). We learned that he owns a shipping business, lives in Mersin and spends the summer at his summer home in Bodrum, Turkey where he was headed today. Also, we learned that his 14-year-old son left for Houston, Texas this morning where he will spend the summer in school learning English at the University of Houston. He is another Turkish man who loves the USA. He proudly pointed to a new Dodge Ram 4-wheel drive SUV in the parking lot amid the Korean econo-boxes, Peugeots, Citroens and an old Mercedes. He told us it was the first American car of its kind in Mersin. We could only guess how much this vehicle must have cost in Turkey. We exchanged cards and he insisted that we call him on his cell phone if we had any difficulty anywhere in Turkey. When we tried to get our bill for our meal we were told firmly (by way of finger pointing and head shaking) that our bill had been paid for us by our new friend. Turkish hospitality is very special.

We visited the underground city of Derinkuyu before we arrived in Goreme. Derinkuyu at one time housed over 10,000 souls and went 6 stories deep into the earth. It is remarkably well preserved and you are allowed to explore a great extent of the tunnels and rooms that were once occupied. I wonder what it smelled like when it was inhabited. After we checked into the Canyon View Hotel, the owner, Hasan, personally escorted us around the town and the valley showing us sights that very few tourists ever see in Cappadocia. Our rental car was his substitute for a 4-wheel drive vehicle as we explored far and wide. We enjoyed a wonderful (but too large) home made dinner in the Canyon View before turning in early.

The following morning the local Imam’s call to prayer was pushed through a huge amplifier and 8 oversized speakers until it reached the decibel level of jet engines. His amplified inharmonious call shattered our sleep twice during the night and finally again at 04:00 (AM). The quiet peaceful town of Goreme can be louder than a runway at O’Hare Airport when the minarets get cranked up five times per day to call the faithful. No matter, we are up at 04:15, to get dressed and ready for our driver to take us to the hot air balloon launch site just outside town.

When we reached the launch site we were delighted to see 7 balloons in various stages of inflation. The sun was just peaking over the horizon and the flames from the propane burners lit the sky as the colorful canopies were filled. Several of the balloons were larger than the others and carried 20 passengers each. We had elected for the smaller balloon with a smaller number of passengers, and a longer ride time. The fare was higher, but we reasoned the experience would be worth the difference. Bill, Arline, Pat and I shared our balloon basket with four 30-something single women all from the west coast of the USA, a “hitch-hiker” who was the girlfriend of our driver (she spoke only Turkish so we don’t know how this was arranged), and our Australian pilot, Brad Smith. Only Pat and I admitted to having flown in a hot air balloon before.

Cappadocia Formations
Cappadocia Formations
Cappadocia Formations from Balloon
Cappadocia Formations from Balloon
Cappadocia Fairy Towers
Cappadocia Fairy Towers

From lift off until the basket and balloon were back on the ground we enjoyed over 90 minutes of effortless flight over some of the most exotic terrain in the world. The fairy chimneys, stone churches and cave homes were surreal. The closest thing we have seen is Bryce Canyon in the USA. If Disney had created this experience it would not be believable. The sunrise over the valley cast long shadows and illuminated the towers and chimneys. Brad was not only a talented pilot (with over 750 hours of commercial flight experience in balloons) but he was humorous and told us just enough about the scenery without interfering with our enjoyment of the sights. This is a must do for anyone visiting Cappadocia.

As Brad initiated our descent and started to locate a landing spot, he radioed the support crew in the Range Rover with a trailer and they were in the valley to meet us. On the way down we were teasing Brad about just putting the basket on the trailer so the crew would not have to lift it on. He offered a bet. . . “What is it worth if I can put it on the trailer?” We wisely did not take him up on his offer. With a little help from the four big Turkish men in the support crew, he brought the balloon down, and then carefully lifted it onto the trailer using the gas burner for lift with all of us still aboard. Of course, he had help jockeying the large basket into place but it was an impressive docking. After the traditional champagne toasts we were whisked back into town by the head pilot, Suat who was the most unlikely Turk we had met. His car had a decal of the US flag (5x7 inches) in the rear window and when he turned on his “too loud” stereo we heard Lee Greenwood singing “I’m Proud to be an American.” Honestly, it almost brought tears to our eyes to hear this song in this setting. Suat has spent time in Texas, loves America and especially beef jerky and root beer. Once again we heard how much the Turkish people love American people, but do not love our government. This is an old story by now. Suat was a great host and we had lots of laughs with him on the way back to our hotel. We took in more sights in the afternoon using our rental car instead of a balloon for transportation.

The Canyon View Hotel is owned and run by Hasan, his wife and his nephew. Hasan is a very energetic and pleasant man who has lived in Cappadocia his whole life AND speaks very good English. He converted the hotel from the ruins of his grandfather’s home which his grandfather had acquired from a church. This was a fascinating and very comfortable place to stay and see Cappadocia. We recommend it highly. Check it out:” In the evening we enjoyed another wonderful meal prepared for us by Hasan’s family.

After a leisurely breakfast, we packed the car and said goodbye to the staff at the Canyon View Hotel. On the drive back to Mersin we again stopped at the Tunel Restaurant for lunch. We were immediately recognized by the all male wait staff who enthusiastically greeted us and escorted us to a table. We “pointed” at the lunch we wanted and Pat practiced her Turkish to order bread, honey and cheese. We received freshly baked bread, honey and butter . . . close enough! The waiters fussed over us and when we were done, they insisted we enjoy fresh watermelon, on the house. It was almost as good as if we had stolen it. We said our goodbyes and left a bigger than normal tip.

We stopped at a small farm village to buy fresh produce but the rest of the trip back to Mersin was uneventful.

In Mersin I visited an air conditioned but smoke-filled internet café and downloaded Turkish marine weather. According to the sometimes unreliable Meteorological office in Turkey, the next two days were going to be favorable between Mersin and Marmaris. Our initial plans to hop along the coast of Turkey, anchoring each night were suddenly abandoned and we all prepared for a straight through 2-day trip to Marmaris. If the weather lived up to the good prediction, we didn’t want to loose this opportunity.

Autumn Wind departed Mersin the next day at 06:45 and we were underway in hazy humid weather. It was already too warm to be comfortable and the visibility was only about 3 miles. However, the seas were running about 1 meter and the wind was slight.

The weather held for the most part and we experienced relatively flat seas with occasional sea swells of about a meter until 17:00 hours tonight. Then, we were in a different world. The wind piped up to sustained 25 knots with gusts to 30 and seas of about 2 meters on the nose and of very short duration. Obviously the swells were from a frontal passage or a gale further to the west of us. It was a bouncy final night aboard Autumn Wind but well within her safety range.

On June 27, 2006 at 08:00 Autumn Wind arrived in Marmaris, Turkey. Upon arrival we participated in the most dreaded part of the journey, unloading our personal gear and all the things we acquired along the way from Autumn Wind and schlepping it to Envoy. This task was accomplished by 13:00 and we are ready to take a nap.

This is the final installment of my reports from Autumn Wind and the 2006 Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally. The old saying, “you had to be there,” applies to all of the experiences we enjoyed over the past 8 weeks. These reports have only touched the surface of what was for me a personal, historical, and unforgettable journey. Thanks to all the volunteer planners of the EMYR, you did a fantastic job.. Thanks to the many participants whom we now call friends; we hope to see you again in the near future. Thanks to Arline, Bill and Maurice for sharing Autumn Wind with us. Thanks to all the people of Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Israel who opened your ports and hearts to all the visitors of the EMYR.

June 25, 2006, Crete
From Tina Jones on board Grey Pearl

Rally Wrap-Up

Jones' on the bridge deck here, reporting an overdue update...

Ended the the Mideast adventure a day ago and departed Port Said (Suez) Egypt bound for Crete. Trip so far - 15 ports, 10 overnight passages and 7 countries in 6 weeks...exhausting, strange, on the edge, mucho history and well worth it.

The Eastern Med Yacht Rally was well organized and a terrific venue for visiting countries we could have never seen on our own. We traveled with an international cast of characters from 22 countries, very free spirits. Countless tours, visited a dozen Unesco World Heritage Sites. Endless cocktail parties, "anchor-down" happy hours and elaborate dinners. A leaky head, frayed fan belt, a discovered finger zinc in the water maker line, wet-vac gone bad, two and a half cases of TP (there are 4 women on board!), 4/5/6? cases of Efes beer (Turkish tall boy special! - oops! discovered they contain 9% alcohol...purchased in a Muslim country...go figure), 3 cans of Braun's special beer nuts, every possible Mediterranean olive sampled, combined crew bruises - too many to count, one bum toe...from dancing, not tripping around the boat! Yep...long on fun and adventure, short on boat issues...what can I's a Nordhavn :)

Back to Israel for a is complicated and has taken awhile to wrap my head around it. For me, Israel was the "highlight" country of the many we visited. Best to leave your religious, cultural and political baggage at home - any militant preconceptions picked up during a lifetime of media exposure is bound to catch you off balance. Most surprising is the effect this small country leaves you with long after you've left. In fact, I'm not so sure I can put it in words!

Haifa, Israel - Serious Bible territory, Sea of Galilee with its lush scenery, looked surprisingly as I imagined when Jesus was there and, boy oh boy was he there, walking on water, multiplying loaves of bread, turning water into wine and, so on and so on. Right on the same spots we visited. I couldn't resist asking our Israeli tour guide what the Jewish people thought of Jesus...was he thought of as a "prophet", "disciple"? Especially after a full day's tour expounding on Jesus and the many miracles he performed. The response was rather slow in forthcoming...she said they thought "Jesus was a very smart man".

Oh yes, Sea of Galilee is also the main source of Israel's water supply - water is always in short supply in the Mideast, very obvious in Syria, Lebanon, etc. but you would never know it in Israel as you encounter so very many crops and forests. Their irrigation system is remarkably efficient and effective.

Switching gears - went to the Golan Heights, a chain of high peaks that rise to form a tense barrier between the fertile Jordan Valley and more arid plains of Syria, to the east, and occupied by Israel. The military presence was chilling.

Nazareth - The childhood home of Jesus has given way to being more modern than I expected - certainly worth the visit. Seventy percent Muslim population.

Jerusalem - Israel's capital, The Holy City, is bursting with architectural, historical and spiritual wonders drawing pilgrims for centuries. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim this city as one of their most holy. We were dizzy after visiting all the religious sites. Walked the Stations of the Cross to Calvary, saw the slab where He lay and the tomb He arose from. Wow!

Dead Sea - Leaving Jerusalem, 800 meters above sea level and descending to minus 400 meters below sea level, the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea lures with promises of health restoration and a relaxing float in the water, like sitting in a chair - it's pretty cool. Yep, had to buy the "anti-aging, anti-wrinkle lotion from the Dead Sea" just because... it's been working overtime, I might add.

Masada - A desert mesa rising high above the Dead Sea with extraordinary panoramic views from which King Herod the Great built a massive mountaintop fortress and palace...he had great taste! The story of Masada is chilling...extremist Jewish Zealots made a desperate stand against the Romans 72-73 AD that ended in a mass suicide (close to 1,000 people) rather than surrender to the Romans. A short clip of the movie, 'Masada' filmed there some years ago with Peter O'Toole and Peter Strauss was featured before we toured the sight, very impressive.

A couple more notes about Israel - The young state of Israel is thoroughly modern, progressive and so very environmentally conscious. We were amazed at how westernized and first world it is. Same rocks, same desert, same Med. sea as all its neighbors.

Military service is compulsory. Upon completion of high school men (boys) serve three years women (girls) serve close to two years. Over lunch one afternoon in Jerusalem's old quarter, Braun & I spoke with the Israeli tour guide. She remarked that she along with each of her parents and three daughters have served in the military. She served during the Gulf War, and spoke of watching the Patriot missiles intercept the Scud missiles launched in her hometown of Haifa where several of the oil refineries are located...actually meters away from where our boat was tied up! I asked her how her children handled the which she responded the children were frightened and it was troubling as a parent to send them off to school wearing a gas mask. Repeating the words she spoke at the beginning of our tour that day, "Welcome to Israel, the Holy Land, where Jews have longed to come home to their heaven/Eden on earth, however, it can also, be hell".

Note - two out of four neighboring countries do not even recognize will not find Israel on any Syrian or Lebanese map. When we entered other Arab countries after Israel we were cautioned not to mention that we had been to Israel and the savvy Israelis intentionally did not stamp our passports.

Another highlight while in Israel: Crew from each boat should they choose, were invited to have dinner at a Haifa Yacht Club member's home. We had the wonderful pleasure of being guests at Amis and Esti's home on the upper west side of Mount Carmel in Haifa with remarkable views of the city and the wide open sea below. These people are complex and fascinating. They take every opportunity to thank Americans for their support. Where ever you see an Israeli flag flying, an American one is usually nearby. moving onto Egypt, whoa what a difference!! We cleared out with the Israeli Navy and after a long overnight passage dodging countless poorly lit fishing boats we drew closer to Port Said and met a train of very large ships heading into the Suez Canal. The Rally organizers had for months been making arrangements for our group of pleasure yachts to enter the canal and berth at Port Said a few miles inside. We were on a very strict schedule as big ship traffic was limited to allow our entrance. The plan was that the EMYR boats would rendezvous at the basin just outside the entrance of the Suez at 5:30 am. Our boats had to be dressed with their signal flags (geez), national flag, single file procession, 25 meters between yachts with the larger boats at the end. We were near the last and quite ok with that. All was going on plan until a small sailboat's engine malfunctioned and needed a tow into the canal - the 'Pearl' came to their rescue, threw them a line started to enter but then we realized we were in trouble. Being a tow boat slowed our progress; we slipped way behind schedule - much to the irritation of the Egyptian authorities. However the Suez Pilot boats didn't get the word that we were a problem so they appeared with big banners welcoming us to Egypt, waving, taking photos, gyrating on their decks - party time!! All the while the authorities were blaring on the radio for us to hurry up and get the "H" out of the way that large ship traffic was bearing down on us. We just made it to the basin when a huge Iranian tanker roared by.

We spent several days in Cairo visiting, of course, the Pyramids of Giza, Sphinx and Valley Temple, kinda, sorta enjoyed my first and only ride on a camel, the world famous Egyptian Museum that contains most of King Tut's treasures and then some, the wild Khan Kalili bazaar and a felucca (boat) trip down the Nile. Cairo is a sprawling, congested and chaotic city. Braun really enjoyed Cairo - his favorite of the trip (some tough competition Istanbul, Damascus, Palmyra, Beirut, Jerusalem) For me personally, and as a woman in a clearly male-dominated Muslim very third world-feeling country with way too many of them bearing arms - it just wore me down. So, I would try and find my zen when I returned to our lovely hotel room with a terrific view of the Pyramids, lay down on the bed to chill but HEY what's that arrow on the ceiling for??... Strange place for an exit sign?? No it's actually pointing towards Mecca so I know which way to bow when I pray. Although fascinating, I was ready to leave Egypt and when the Rally group departed for the final stop back to Israel, 'we' elected to make the long passage back to the good ol' European Union - Crete, Greece...and, BOY! Is it good to be back!

The passage was wild and windy (40+ knots on the nose) but the end result was worth it. We're presently in a quaint and charming port in NE Crete, Ayios Nikolaos...yep, in search of quaint and charming and no veils from here on out! Our Grey Pearl female crew left today for Iraklion soon to be in flight for home. Their help and humor were greatly appreciated.

So, now we have time to reflect on our journey and get back to the really important things like work on our tans and next big adventure...Croatia and The Dalmatian Coast.

June 18, 2006- Ashkelon, Israel
From Wanye Davis on board Autumn Wind

We are back aboard Autumn Wind with dusty clothing, aching muscles and heads filled with the sights and stories of Petra, Jordan. This has to be one of the most interesting places to visit in the world. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It will take a while to sort out our hundreds of digital photos of this trip. It's a beautiful day in Israel. Here is an update of our trip to Petra:

We embarked from Ashkelon on Wednesday, June 14. There are buses from Ashkelon to the border but we were advised by the marina staff to take a rental car. We asked the rental agent the best way to get to Eilat (the southern most border town of Israel) and she said, “Take an airplane.” None of this deterred us, we rented a car.

It took 4 ½ hours to drive from Ashkelon to the border crossing at Eilat, Israel, across from Aqaba, Jordan. We were not allowed to drive the car across the border so we parked it in an open lot on the Israeli side. Without too much difficulty, we exited Israel and cleared customs and immigration into Jordan. We had made arrangements with the hotel at Petra for a taxi to pick us up at the border and our driver arrived 20 minutes early. This would have been perfect timing but we had arrived 2 hours early so we “enjoyed” the scenery at the crossing as we awaited his arrival. After a 2-hour taxi ride punctuated with several stops to check the tires and with several interruptions in the air conditioning, we arrived at the Movenpick Hotel directly in front of the entrance to the ancient city of Petra. The hotel was excellent and the location was the best of any hotel in the area.

The narrow gorge that the camel caravans traveled going through
Ancient Petra, it is easy to see why they could not avoid the taxes.

After checking in, we purchased tickets for the evening candle light walk into Petra which was described as a romantic and fascinating way to see part of the ancient city. The pathway was lighted with only luminaries to guide the way. We had a guide named “Dr. Sam” who spoke very little and encouraged us to be silent and enjoy the mood of the place. When we reached the Treasury building (famous for its use in the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) we were treated to local music played on native instruments and a cup of very sweet mint tea at the site of the Treasury.

The next morning, Thursday, June 15, we eagerly descended on the breakfast room at 06:30 in preparation for our first full day at Petra. This allowed an early start on our hike to the Treasury building, some 2 kilometers down into the city. We were rewarded for our early departure with practically no other visitors to spoil the experience or the views. In daylight one can fully appreciate the engineering and artistic talents of the Nabataean people who built this ancient city in the 3rd Century B.C. The city is located in a narrow pass surrounded by steep sandstone walls. This was the only safe passage through the mountain range and the pass was used as part of the trading route between Damascus and Arabia. The Nabataeans taxed the goods that passed through their city and provided safe escort for the camel caravans that traversed the region. This made the city wealthy beyond belief. The Treasury building was constructed to be an impressive reminder of the wealth and power of the city. The canyon was so narrow, no one could escape being taxed.

The Treasury building made an impressive impact on visitors.

Bill and Arline explored the Treasury, theatre, tombs and other buildings in the canyon. Pat and I continued on past the center of the ancient town and across the canyon to reach the base of the mountain upon which sits the Monastery. We then climbed up the 850 steps to the Monastery. The heat and the condition of the trail made the task challenging. Many of the steps cut in the sandstone were originals that had been worn down from centuries of use. They were slippery and sloped down toward the bottom of the trail. The climb was steep and demanding. It seemed that only a hand-full of the visitors wanted to climb to the Monastery and that most of these accepted the offers of Bedouin men and boys to ride their donkeys up the mountain. We chose to walk and watched several obese tourists clinging to the back end of a laboring donkey as it made its way up the steep steps, slipping and sliding the whole way. If the smell of these beasts was not enough to warn one off, certainly the precarious position of the tourist atop the animal was a caution. Having achieved the summit, we were delighted we had persevered. The Monastery is on a larger scale than the Treasury although of the same style, carved directly into the huge sandstone wall of the mountain. The views of the building and the surrounding scenery were breathtaking.

The Monestary at the top of the summit.

The climb down the mountain and then up from the city to our hotel was hot, difficult and much more tiring than we had anticipated. We stopped and ate lunch at the Crowne Plaza restaurant near the museum in the center of the ancient city. We slowed our pace a bit and rested after achieving our beautiful hotel. During the night we both experienced some difficulty with the lunch we ate in Petra.

We woke up on Friday, June 16, having clearly overdid it yesterday, and although we still pounced on the breakfast room at 06:30, we were not quite as spry as yesterday. However, we had purchased two-day tickets and we had things to see and photograph. So, at a somewhat slower pace we walked back past the Treasury and into the canyon to view the royal tombs in Petra. This was a much more leisurely day of exploring and we were back at the hotel in time for a late lunch. We took naps before enjoying an evening dinner on the patio of the hotel with Bill & Arline.

One of the Royal Tombs called the Urn Tomb

On Saturday, June 17 we left Petra, Jordan. Arline made arrangements for a minibus (cab) to drive us from the hotel to the border crossing. The driver took us for a brief driving tour of Aqaba on the way to the border. Aqaba is world famous for the quality of SCUBA diving in the gulf and the city appeared interesting and under strong development with new hotels everywhere. At the border, we walked across the “no man’s zone” between Jordan and Israel. We requested that our passports not be stamped by Israel and picked up our rental car for the drive back to Autumn Wind. The crossing was uneventful and the people of both Jordan and Israel were very polite and accommodating to us.

On the way back to Ashkelon we stopped at the homestead and tomb of David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel. It is positioned on a cliff overlooking a vast canyon in the desert. He obviously lived simply on a kibbutz and he is remembered by his countrymen and especially by American donors to the site. We were interested to see the plaques commemorating donors who were primarily from the USA.

June 11, 2006-Haifa, Israel
From Tina Jones on board Grey Pearl

GREETINGS ye landlubbers from Israel and the Palestinian Territories...renowned for their mystical past disputed present and uncertain future. We're still reeling from the fact that we're hangin' out on our boat where so much Middle Eastern history has occurred. It's mesmeric and loaded with significance that at times can be overwhelming...

Since our last update here are some recent ports & highlights:

Latakia, Syria: a port town where we left the boat to travel nearly 1,000 miles inland via bus to visit notable locations -Crac des Chevalier - a well preserved Crusaders Castle (reputed to be the best there is) and really the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies. The fortress commands an entire valley, fertile plains and the only pass for hundreds of miles. -Palmyra - Queen Zenobia's magnificent sandstone city - fabulous above ground tombs, gloriously preserved ruins that once were a thriving desert oasis. It took us several hours traveling through the desert to reach this lush green oasis loaded with palm trees...thus, the name "Palm-yra". A lunch stop in a Bedouin tent in the middle of nowhere proved to be, native dancing, camels about and men parading around a cooked entire goat (I think) on a platter. The veggies tasted particularly good that day. Temperatures of late have reached to 36 degrees Celsius or, 98 degrees and...they call this their Spring season! -Damascus - Much to our surprise, Damascus offered no grand display of architecture for being the oldest capital in the world. A bustling city where a quarter of the country's population resides, the buildings are drab and dingey. It was interesting to see so many Christian churches throughout the city.
Notable mention: a quick stop in front of a sign indicating the road to Baghdad, not so far away.

Jounieh, Lebanon: We arrived on a hot and hazy morning to the port of Jounieh, barely making out the Beirut skyline just 20 kilometers south. The> marina facility is a private club and judging by the luxury cars and skimpy outfits poolside (yes! A pool!), a very exclusive one. Jounieh is largely Christian...these are my people! :)

Beirut: Prior to the outbreak of civil war in the early 70s, Beirut was touted as the "Paris of the Middle East". Signs of war torn Beirut are just around most corners... buildings riddled with bullet holes, abandoned houses, etc. Nonetheless, the wealth and redevelopment efforts are quite apparent. In dramatic contrast to nearby Damascus, Syria Beirut is very contemporary and westernized. I felt at ease and at home there - really. The National Museum of Beirut was a terrific museum with an amazing collection of antiquities from pre-history Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC) and continues through to the Arab conquest and the Ottoman Period (635 - 1516 AD). Particularly, moving was a short film clip depicting the significant damage the museum sustained during the Lebanese war (1975-91) and the clever efforts to safeguard the priceless antiquities during that horrible time.

Other highlights include:
-Bekaa Valley - Another extraordinary Roman Temple and town site at Baalbeck.
-Byblos - Biblical Phoenician city and Crusader castle, a picturesque port and enticing souks - Byblos has it all. -Meeting the American Deputy Chief Mission, Christopher Murray stationed at the American Embassy in Beirut. -French infused cuisine. -Super cheap fuel - approx.$2.59/gallon versus $6.00 + at European fuel docks. Even cheaper liquor prices...and, a welcomed American tradition - Dunkin' Donuts (can you believe it?) Human interest note - Often, giddy school children would stop us to practice their English, ask us for our name, how old we know, the basics of English language. One little boy welcomed me to Lebanon, told me he "loved George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice"...sorta took me by where am I?? And, oh yeah, he was wearing a t-shirt that said "I luv Las Vegas"...surreal.

Lastly...wrapping up in Haifa, Israel: Once again, an overnight passage, this time to Israel's third largest city, Haifa. Seventy four boats most of which are rafted up to the two biggest boats in the fleet, yep, that would be 'Grey Pearl' and our sister ship, 'Autumn Wind', fill this small harbor. As Braun detailed in his recent email, we were greeted about 6 miles offshore from Haifa by at least a dozen or so Israeli patrol, Navy and Police boats and one submarine. No doubt, security is very important here...rather a way of life. We hadn't even secured the dock lines plus, helped other rally boats raft up to us before a group of Israeli security were drilling us with a barrage of questions.

We just arrived in Israel a couple days, there will be more to follow - soon.

June 10, 2006 - off the Israeli coast
From Braun Jones on board Grey Pearl

It is 0615 hrs, the sun has just come up and we are completing an overnight passage along the coast of Israel. We have traveled mostly at night during the past 5 weeks so we have more daytime in port for land exploration. A lot of people in these parts travel only at night for more nefarious reasons. The military activity along the coasts definitely increases after dark. We can't see much of what is going on - even our radar doesn't pick it all up but we hear stuff - gunboats, surveillance vessels, smuggling ops., low flying aircraft, etc. Simon and Garfunkel were in this part of the world when they did their 'troubled waters' gig.

We are now in Israeli waters and feel a little better having spent the previous weeks in Syria and Lebanon both of which were tense but fascinating. We visited multiple ports and traveled thousands of kilometers deep inside each country - a lot of camels and desert but also saw the big cities Damascus, Beirut, etc. All was interesting and historic but with an uneasy military/authoritarian presence. More to follow.

Last evening we were in Jounieh, Lebanon, and the Assistant Chief of Mission from the American Embassy (#2 to the Ambassador) came to our dock. He had a report there were a couple of Americans on boats in country. He had trouble locating us because most of the boats we are traveling with are from Western Europe, us few from the USA hide in this crowd. We talked with the Chief about where we had been and he reminded us about the State Dept. travel advisories, particularly for Syria. It was good we met him on the last night in Lebanon.

When moving to Israel we were told by the Israeli navy to sail THEIR given course, NOT to stray, and to NOT enter Israeli waters until after dawn. At dawn we were greeted by several fast gunboats, PT 109 types but with a lot more guns all manned and pointed at GP. They made multiple approaches and frequent radio checks. These guys are serious. They approach head on at a high rate of speed, pick the passing side and roar by with guns trained broadside on the target - us. Or, they sneak up from behind and scare the beejesus out of you with the overtake at 75 yards passing GP's beam.

We are told Israel is easier on the entry formalities than Turkey, Syria or Lebanon.
In Turkey they made you wait and wanted money. In Syria they really made you wait, no money but kept the passports. In Lebanon long wait, some money, lots of paper work and kept the passports. You only get the passports returned when you are leaving the dock... an official (lots of uniforms here) hands them to you from the pier as you are underway and LEAVING their country! - an unfounded phobia about people wanting to extend their stay???
Go figure!

Oops, now approaching Haifa harbor and here come the PT boats welcoming party. Better go and make sure they know I am a 'friendly'.

You cant' make this stuff up.

June 8, 2006- Acco, Israel
From Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind

Our final day in Haifa was spent on a tour that took us to the northern militarized border between Israel and Lebanon. Our tour guide today was more politically minded than prior guides and we heard the Israeli perspective on the wars and conflicts leading up to the current state of affairs. The scenery from the border was primarily of the Mediterranean surf pounding a beautiful beach. The scene was much more peaceful than the political situation.

The highlight of the day was our visit to the ancient city of Acco for lunch and a tour of the Crusader’s Castle. It had been buried in tons of sea sand and rubble until recently excavated. Therefore, although we saw only a small percentage of the ancient city, it was very well preserved. We enjoyed a falafel for lunch and a walk around the small fishing harbor before returning to our boats.

Following the tour, we assembled at 3:45 PM for skippers meetings to get the details of the overnight passage to our next port in Israel, Ashdod. As I am preparing this email, the 14 boats that are blocking our exit from the cramped harbor are making preparations for departure.

June 6-7, 2006- Haifa, Israel
From Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind

The passage went according to plan, and as usual, we overtook the sailing yachts as the night passed. At approximately 05:45 two fast Israeli gun ships began intercepting Rally yachts at close range and, after hailing each boat on the VHF radio, they politely interrogated each skipper asking a series of questions we had been prepared to answer: “What is the name of your ship (spelled phonetically)?” “Who is the owner?” “Where are you coming from?” After answering their questions, each yacht was welcomed to Israel and wished a pleasant continuation of the journey. The naval presence around Haifa was very high including an old diesel electric submarine that steamed out of the harbor immediately in front of Autumn Wind and several fast missile frigates.

Mooring in the small yacht harbor at the end of the large commercial harbor was an exercise in close quarters maneuvering. Grey Pearl was first in place along side a concrete wall at the end of a fairway. The clearances on her bow and stern were less than four feet and Braun and crew did a masterful job fitting her along the wall. Bill maneuvered Autumn Wind carefully along side and rafted off the port side of GP. Then, a procession of 14 sailboats proceeded to raft up against each other on the port side of Autumn Wind. At times the whole process resembled rush hour in Cairo but in the end everyone was secured and, while not exactly happy with their mooring, at least secure for the night.

The first tour left before many of the boats had completed the lengthy immigration process. Having arrived early, we took the tour and saw the sights of Haifa. The most spectacular was the Baha’i Gardens on the face of Mt. Carmel. Our Jewish guide gave an informed presentation on the Baha’i faith and we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful gardens and the walk half way down the hill (750 steps).

We enjoyed a full day tour of Biblical sites that approximated a walk through the New Testament. A brief list of sites included: 1) Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount commemorated by a beautiful 8-sided church and a hospice. 2) Church of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. 3) Church in Canaan where Jesus performed the first miracle by turning water into wine. This church contained second and third century mosaics on the floor that were very unique. 4) Site on the Jordan River where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus. 5) A drive around the Sea of Galilee (located 200 meters below sea level in a beautiful fertile valley). 6) Golan Heights (site of much local conflict) that are strategically located above the Jordan valley. 7) Lunch in a kibbutz (with all the charm of a high school cafeteria). 8) City of Nazareth (now a bustling, modern city), and 9) Church of the Annunciation commemorating when Mary was told by an angel she would conceive Jesus.

While this list seems impressive, some of the stops seemed more like tourist traps than actual historical monuments. In particular, on the banks of the Jordan River they had constructed a launch pad for mass baptisms and built a kiosk that sold authentic holy water from the Jordan for 6 Euros a liter. One could even buy DVDs showing hundreds of people being baptized in a recent celebration. On the other hand, the Church of the Annunciation, while quite new, contained beautiful mosaics that made it a worthy stop on the tour.

At the end of this tour it was easy to believe that Israel has little to show of historical significance except churches built over locations believed to be settings of Biblical stories. Some opined that it was a disappointment and looked forward to more castles and fortified cities to explore while others found inspiration in the religious monuments and churches.

June 5, 2006- Jounieh, Lebanon
from Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind

After collecting our passports in exchange for the shore passes we had been issued, the crews of Autumn Wind and Grey Pearl departed Jounieh, Lebanon at 19:00 hours for the overnight passage to Israel. We were instructed not to leave after dark and were given arrival times in Israel that dictated a slow cruising speed for the night passage. We were also given the latitude and longitude for four imaginary points that defined a 3-mile-wide corridor within which we were to remain as we approached the border into Israeli waters. Finally, we were specifically instructed not to cross the Israeli border until 05:00 June 6th (Tuesday). The briefing for the skippers was a bit confusing with last minute instructions coming from the Israeli Navy. Everyone wanted to be as cooperative as possible and we were all aware that the Israeli Navy is very security minded.

Wayne Davis
Aboard Autumn Wind

Road to Bagdad taken on our way to Damascus, Syria.
Bill Smith, owner of Autumn Wind, and Braun Jones, owner of Grey Pearl, pose with Chris Murray, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

June 5, 2006 Jounieh, Lebanon 
From Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind 

This afternoon, Christopher W. Murray, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States in Awkar, Beirut Lebanon stopped by to visit with the crew of several US flagged yachts in the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally.  The crew of Autumn Wind was fortunate to participate in the discussion. Chris (who is the number two person in our Lebanese embassy) was charming and we had a fascinating and enlightening conversation with him about what he is trying to accomplish in Lebanon.  He has been here for three years and is focused on working with the government and people to advance their legal, political and social systems.  Among his prior assignments was a stint in Syria so he is familiar with this entire region of the world.  It was clear to all of us that Chris is exactly the kind of dedicated career diplomat the US needs in a difficult assignment like his in the Middle East.   

Before he departed in his armored Chevy Suburban, he posed for the attached picture with Bill Smith and Braun Jones, captains of the two Nordhavn 62s in the EMYR.  

June 2-4, 2006 - Lebanon
From Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind

Touring Lebanon
Lebanon has only recently emerged from a nasty civil war followed by a long occupation by Syrian forces. Beirut, at one time one of the most beautiful cities in the world, had been reduced to rubble by the 1990s. But now, she is on the mend and our tour guides wanted us to understand some of the political and religious “realities” of the country and were eager to show us the many antiquities Lebanon had to offer. Of the destinations we visited in our 4-day stay, the ones that made the strongest impressions were: Byblos, Baalbek, Beirut and the Jeita Grotto.

Byblos- This ancient city contains foundation remains of one-room huts that date back to 5000 BC and later Egyptian temples (circa 4000 BC) and Bronze Age city walls (about 2800 BC). There is also a well preserved Crusader castle (12 century) that is worth the visit. Byblos is linked to early literacy (once again, claims were made to the origin of our alphabet) and the city name is the source of the Greek word for book and our word for the Bible.

Baalbek (translates as “home town of the sun god Baal”)- The temple dedicated to the pagan god Baal was on a scale that is not easily described.

The columns that supported the front of the temple were over 8 feet in diameter and were composed of three sections, each approximately 24 feet in height. Six of these columns were still standing despite earthquakes and other disasters. The building of Baalbek took over 10 generations and it has been estimated that over 100,000 slaves lost their lives in the effort.

The altars used for animal sacrifices were equipped with drains for blood that were approximately one meter deep and one meter wide attesting to the magnitude of the slaughters that must have taken place in the temple. The areas set aside for important donors to the temple were terraced so that the dignitaries could get a good look at the sacrifices. Of course, the Romans later rebuilt parts of the area for temples to their god Jupiter using stones from the earlier temples.

Jeita Grotto- The one truly unique site we visited in Lebanon was a total surprise. The tour itinerary mentioned visiting an underground cavern and frankly, no one was very enthused about the visit. Jeita Grotto turned out to be breath taking; probably the best caverns we have ever seen. There are two levels available for visit. The upper level is reached by a cable car that takes visitors up the side of the mountain to the entrance. From the entrance visitors can see approximately ½ mile into the cavern that is festooned with thousands of stalagmites and stalactites of all sizes and descriptions. With great care (and considerable difficulty) an elevated, paved path had been made through the huge cavern. It was as if we were walking though the center of a vast geode. Looking down 270 meters to the cave floor and looking up the same distance to the cathedral-like ceiling decorated with stalactites, the walkway allowed us easy access to the recesses of this well-lighted and well-maintained treasure. Each turn in the path opened up new and better views than the previous. Some formations looked like brain coral, some like frozen flowing rivers. One section looked like the pools of Pamukkale, Turkey. No cameras were allowed inside the cavern which, while understandable, was very disappointing. The postal cards they sold did not represent the beauty we had all seen. But, our visit was not over. We loaded into a “Disney-like” train made of a tractor and small cars to go down the mountain to the lower terrace of the caverns. Here we entered into a large void in the rock that resembled the interior of a huge indoor football stadium. There were six flat bottomed boats with electric trolling motors for propulsion and a “captain” for each little boat. The boats were floating on a rushing, crystal-clear underground river with a white sand bottom. In the boats we experienced approximately ¾ mile of this level of the caves. We were told that the river allows navigation for approximately 6 km. in a smaller boat (kayak). A kayak trip into the cavern would be a trip of a lifetime. This cavern is something I would go back to Lebanon just to visit again.

Beirut-We had been disappointed with the urban sprawl we had witnessed in Jounieh and were anxious to see what downtown Beirut was like. We were not disappointed. Millions have been spent to remove the rubble and restore this city. Photos we saw in the National Museum gave us some idea of how bad things had been during the war but the construction cranes were everywhere and buildings already completed were exquisite. Every effort had been made to keep the original façade of historic buildings with new and modern interiors behind the historic facades.

June 1, 2006- Jounieh, Lebanon Arrival
From Wayne Davis on board Autumn Wind

Starting at about 02:00 hours the EMYR fleet started to cross into the territorial waters of Lebanon without incident and maintained the requireddistance of 6+ miles off the shoreline. In Syria, Lebanon and Israel it is required that yachts travel parallel to the shoreline, 6 or more miles offshore, and then proceed to the designated port on a course of exactly 90 degrees True. We had been warned not to cut any corners on our waypoints.

Last week, when we arrived in Syrian waters we were required to report into the Syrian Navy providing information about the ship and its location. There was no such requirement when we entered Lebanon.

The marina at Jounieh (a suburb of Beirut) is reputed to be one of the nicest marinas in the Eastern Med. It is a private club, owned by the Lebanese Automobile Club. The nicest feature is a beautiful Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with crystal clear seawater. Even the swimming beaches on this coastline are pristine which is quite a pleasant change from the heavily polluted waters of eastern Turkey (near Iskenderun) that are filled with all sorts of floating plastic debris.

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