Monday, April 06, 2009

Suez Canal part 1: Suez - Ismailia

Yesterday turned out to be a real treat. Though the day began at 5am with little expectation other than a eventful-free transit. The night before I was entertaining Paddy and Carolyn from Kristane. At 10pm while the wine was still flowing there was a knock on the hull from the marina staff asking for payment - apparently my transit would be at 5am, not 10am as previously indicated. Still no reason to bring a good party to a premature end, but it did mean I was operating on automatic when my cheerful pilot Ashraf arrived in the pre-dawn hours of the morning.

There's some rule about yachts not being allowed in the canal at the same time as military convoys. We'd watched seemingly half the UK navy steaming south the day before and on my transit day it was the turn of the Italian navy. From what I understood the early start was so we could make it through before the warships, but talking to others it seems that last minute changes and unexpected early starts are the rule not the exception.
Once Ashraf was aboard it was quick, quick, engine on, lines untied and we were off. He seemed a little upset that I insisted on no more than 2000rpm giving us just over 5 knots and repeatedly returned to the subject as the other boats in the convoy overtook us. Communication was tricky, his English almost as limited as my Arabic, but I think he finally understood when I mimed no faster than 2200rpm otherwise BANG. Later when the wind shifted to the west I indicated that perhaps we could sail. He followed my lead and mimed that if he let me sail his throat would be cut.

I remember my Panamanian pilot being justifiably proud of his canal and dismissive of the Suez canal as a "mere ditch". It's true there isn't the excitement of the huge locks of Panama or the jungle scenery complete with howler monkeys, but the "ditch" is still an impressive undertaking and being passed by laded container ships in a narrow channel surrounded by desert sand has its own unique excitement.
We left with a favourable 10-15 knots from the south, but true to Red Sea form, with little warning the wind suddenly shifted to the north and increased to 20-25 knots which with the 2 knot favourable current brought nasty wind against tide short seas, slowing us and reignited Ashraf's desire to increase the revs - I stoically resisted.

After nine hours Ismailia, my half way stop, loomed into view. As we approached the marina I could make out two people jumping up and down and waving maniacally from the quay. Who could they be? I racked my brain for anyone who would be so excited to see me - surely they must have mistaken Kika for another boat, but no, as I approach I realised it was Ben and Corola and their two children Neils and Lisa from Lasse. What an unexpected treat we'd last seen each other in Thailand and hoped we'd be able to sail together in the Red Sea. The most unanticipated and best welcome I've had anywhere.

The remainder of the day was spent trying to piece Lasse's adventures since Thailand from the excited snippets I gathered from the children. Looks like I'll be staying here a few days, to catch-up with Lasse, clean Kika and see a little of inland Egypt before heading off to Cyprus.

6/4/09: Ismailia yacht club: N30deg35.1' E32deg16.4'

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