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Middleast Violence

July 18, 2006

Ed. Note – Just a few weeks ago, three sets of Nordhavn owners participated in the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally (EMYR) along with 60 other vessels, visiting seven different countries including Lebanon, Syria and Israel.  Wayne Davis, a Nordhavn 46 owner traveling with Autumn Wind, a Nordhavn 62, kept nordhavn.com visitors up-to-date with his accounts and descriptions of these interesting areas – some of which are now covered with rubble from violence that erupted last week. The political unrest was evident then but none of the cruisers could have fathomed just how close they were to the throes of militant combat. Wayne Davis reflects on how the outbreak has affected the areas he and other Nordhavn owners recently explored.

A few of our friends and family have asked us about the situation in the Middle East and how close we were to some of the current hot spots when we were on the EMYR.  Well, the truth is we were much too close to many of the hot spots.  Below I have briefly documented some of my memories of some of the places we visited that are currently in the news:

Jounieh, Lebanon-  Prior to the rally we had been told that Jounieh would be one of the nicest marinas we would visit and it lived up to the advanced press.  It is a private club owned by the Lebanese Automobile Association and it features a good restaurant and huge swimming pool.  While there, we were visited by Christopher W. Murray, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States in Beirut.  What I did not report in my earlier update was that, in answer to one of my questions; “What should we tell our friends and family about Lebanon?  Should we tell them to visit here?”  Chris stumbled a bit and after a brief hesitation said he would have to go off the record for an answer.  Basically, the US government (even at the time we were there) did not think US citizens should be visiting Lebanon because the situation was not stable.  I wonder if he is still there.

A young man collects money for the Hezbollah on the streets of Beirut.
A young man collects money for the Hezbollah on the streets of Beirut.

Beirut, Lebanon- Once the “Paris of the Middle East”, we saw a city in transition.  Huge hotels and office buildings were under construction in an area of the city that was also filled with ruined hulks of buildings that still showed the evidence of rockets, bullets and mortar shells.  In the very center of Beirut urban renewal was in full swing and there were several square blocks filled with gorgeous new buildings that have maintained the architectural interest and integrity of an earlier Beirut.  Obviously someone is spending a lot of money in Beirut and we heard it was the Saudis.  In this renewed area we enjoyed an excellent lunch and even enjoyed our only Starbucks frappachino on the EMYR.  Only the armed military on every street corner alerted you to the sense of instability.  Of course, Beirut is now under fire and burning again.  While there, we also saw young men with the Hezbollah flag (bright yellow with an image of an AK-47 raised by a strong arm) collecting donations for the Hezbollah.  We were even pursued by street vendors who wanted us to buy Hezbollah tee shirts (all proceeds go the Hezbollah).  We, of course, declined.

Haifa, Israel- Haifa is Israel’s 3rd largest city.  Just today, MSNBC reported that 10 rockets from Lebanon hit Haifa on Sunday.  The city is described as a ghost town because missiles from Lebanon have been reaching and killing people in this city which is located in the northern end of Israel, near the Lebanese border.  I remember that the tour guide we had on our first day in Haifa was armed with a pistol, conspicuously attached to his belt.  When he stood at the front of the bus, his waist was at eye level for the four of us from Autumn Wind (Arline, Bill, Pat and me) because we had selected the front seats of the tour bus for the day.  Bill asked him why he was armed.  He replied abruptly, “I live in a very dangerous place and I need to protect myself.”  It was less than an hour later that we were looking across the barbed wire separating Lebanon from Israel. 

Ashkelon, Israel- The military presence in Israel is ubiquitous, but we never felt ill at ease.  However, one night we were literally shaken in our bed with an impact so forceful and immediate that Pat and I both jumped from our beds and went on deck to see what had hit Autumn Wind.  We learned the next day that 8 civilians had been killed by a land mine on a beach not 20 miles from our location.

And so it goes, places we visited and enjoyed are now locations that thousands of Europeans and Americans are scrambling to evacuate. 

Finally, a minor coincidence; while Autumn Wind was on route from Israel to Turkey, Maurice (crew on Autumn Wind) was fishing as he had frequently done on the trip.  The difference was that on this particular day he caught a nice tuna.  I was at the helm and in the process of avoiding a large cruise ship when I heard, “fish on” and I immediately brought Autumn Wind to a stop so the fish could be boarded.  Now, dead in the water, Autumn Wind was sitting in the immediate path of the cruise ship.  According to the rules of the road we had the right of way but size is a bigger factor in the sea.  We tried to reach the cruise ship on the VHF radio but were not successful.  We reported our position and indicated we were dead in the water, boarding a fish.  No response.  Finally the ship altered course to Starboard to avoid us.  By this time Maurice had boarded the tuna and we could get underway.  We accelerated and reported this fact on the VHF (still no response).  The cruise ship adjusted back to its original course to take our stern.  “Fish on” came the cry from the cockpit.  Once again, we stopped and once again we were in the crosshairs of the cruise ship.  By the time this fish was boarded, I could read the name of the ship: Orient Queen.  I called and raised the bridge of the Orient Queen and apologized for our erratic behavior to which they wished us a good day and good fishing.  Today we learned that the Orient Queen is being used by the USA to evacuate American citizens from Lebanon to Cyprus.

Bottom line:  we are delighted we were able to visit Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel this summer before the current troubles broke out.  We only wish the people in this region could live together in peace.

NOTE: According to the RR1 International Rules of the Road, Part A - General, Autumn Wind did not have the right of way when landing the fish. The rules apply to commercial fishing vessels, and then only under certain conditions. Pleasure power boats are not considered "fishing vessels" under the rules and have no additional right of way under the rules whether they are fishing or not.