Saturday, April 25, 2009

Northern Cyprus

My first sight of Kyrenia included the spectacular castle guarding the old harbour. Unfortunately check-in formalities dictated that I sailed passed the beautiful old harbour and made my way instead into the non-descript commercial harbour. With no other yachts in the basin it wasn't initially clear where the marina was, however soon a couple of boat-yard staff directed me to moor Mediterranean style (stern-to) onto the wharf. The strong westerly breeze added extra challenge to my reversing attempts, and the marine life covering the laid mooring line (and soon my clothes and the deck) indicated that it had spent the winter unused on the bottom. Still with no damage done I was whisked off into the bowels of the passenger terminal to complete my arrival. I'd chosen Northern Cyprus as I planned to catch up with some old friends who had moved here and I hoped I'd find a good selection of reasonably priced flights back to the UK. Once checked-in, I wandered around in a daze mostly feeling exhausted but with a creeping sense of achievement at arriving in the Mediterranean in good time to make it back for my sister's wedding.

Amanda and family promised they'd be with me in 40 minutes and looking round the boat, I released it was in no condition to impress anyone but the roughest old salt. My energy returned as I tried to make Kika respectable and fortunately 40 minutes turned into 90 minutes which even allowed me to make some humous, though apparently I missed the dusting...

One disadvantage of Mediterranean mooring is the precarious route onto and off the boat. I found a gang plank lying around the boat yard, which helped a little, but the route onto the boat was still an awkward balancing act between the wind-steering, wind-generator, outboard and stern rail. The younger members of the Saurin family managed the moving obstacle course without drama but it proved more of a challenge for Amanda and Conne. Once they'd inspected my floating abode we all piled into the family transport to visit their slightly more solid home.

With plenty of time before the wedding I decided I'd take the opportunity to haul Kika out and give her hull a much needed clean as well as another coat of anti-fouling. The next day we headed back to the yard and manoeuvred Kika into the obstacle-lined haul-out dock. Even though the travel-lift was rated at 30 tonnes, it was by far the smallest lift I'd used and looking around the yard I suddenly realised I would be one of the bigger boats they had hauled. Still they weren't taking any chances and sent their best man into the water to check the positioning of the travel-lift slings. He decided to combine the safety checks with an octopus hunt and went into the water armed with a spear-gun, but surfaced without lunch though satisfied the slings were correctly positioned. My feeling about the relative size of Kika and the boat-yard was confirmed when I had to remove the back-stay to allow Kika to be lifted without taking-out the rigging and then once ashore, found they didn't have a cradle large enough for me, but instead improvised by welding two half cradles together around Kika.
Soon the list of jobs multiplied and my anticipated leisurely haul-out turned into the familiar boat-yard scrabble to complete the jobs in time. The deadline this time was the arrival of a friend, Mark, at the start of the second week of May.

In the end I boarded the flight back to the UK looking forward to a holiday from the holiday...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ferocious squalls

After an easy night of alternating calms and light breezes the benign weather abruptly finished at midday, since then I've had one squall after another, each one trying to outdo the previous one in its ferocity. I caught sight of the lights of Cyprus just before dawn and saw land briefly this morning before it rapidly vanished in a cloud of rain. My drunken track from Egypt tells the tale of the variety of wind directions I've had. Hopefully tonight the wind will behave as forecast and will blow me towards Kyrenia without overtaxing my doubly-reefed main and small genoa.A couple of birds hitched a ride today, trying to find shelter from the worst of the weather. By the time I found something I thought might nourish them, they'd either flown off or been washed away - I hope it wasn't the latter.The radar alarm has been warning me of impeding squalls rather than other boats, though after a few hours of the alarm sounding every 10 minutes I silenced it - I didn't need radar to see the rain approaching.

So much for all my cleaning in Ismailia. I don't know if the spray is reaching parts I failed to reach with the hose, or if the northern wind is bringing sand from arid areas of Turkey. Whatever the reason Kika looks like she's spent the winter down-wind from a sand-blaster ... again.

I should reach Kyrenia tomorrow morning and not before time as tonight doesn't look like I'll get much of a rest.

21:45, 14/4/09: N35deg42' E32deg18'

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not setting any records

I'm not setting any records for speed, but so far it's been a great reintroduction to the joys of sailing. The wind veered helpfully during the day allowing me to head further east towards Cyprus. Still plenty of boats around, the radar alarm has been busy alerting me all day. Hope it quietens down a little tonight.

I finished off my Egyptian delicacies in the first day, and they seem to have revived my sweet tooth. Today I converted some oats, butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa and various other minor ingredients into some chocolate oat cookies. Not sure they'll last until Kyrenia though.

Position @ 19:00 13/4/2009: N34deg36' E31deg30'

First day in the Med

After the stormy start, fortunately the wind and seas have moderated. I've gone from heavily reefed main and genoa to the treat of full sails. My forecast indicates that the wind should be E/SE so far I've been close-hauled, beating into a NE/N wind, taking me west of my rhumb-line. Still even if the wind doesn't veer to the east, I can always tack and I'm still savouring my almost silent progress across the water after much too much use of the engine in the Red Sea.

Unsurprisingly the shipping was dense around Port Said, giving me a sleepless night. Yesterday the VHF was alive for most of the day, with NATO warships calling vessels (they're carrying out some kind of exercise in the area), the Israeli navy proactively calling any boats remotely approaching their waters and the usual banter between ships at sea. Fortunately the traffic on the VHF disappeared at dusk and I seemed to escape most of the shipping, allowing me to catch-up on some sleep.

As usual I left with the boat overflowing with fresh fruit and veg and it's always a challenge in the first few days to eat my fresh stores before they go off. Yesterday I stuffed myself with the kilo of strawberries I bought from the excellent market in Ismailia...

Position @ 6.30 13/4/2009: N33deg51' E31deg05'

Sunday, April 12, 2009

300 miles to Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Aboda my pilot eventually arrived and after a brief tangle with a mooring buoy and some remedial help from the French fleet we were off on the second leg of the trip up the canal and into the Mediterranean. As we headed north, the weather reminded me of a northern European spring - cold, overcast with occasional rain. Such weather seemed at odds with the desert scenery on either side of the canal, but I guess it was useful acclimatisation for my trip back to the UK.

Aboda tried my tea, then asked for coffee and then politely refused all offers of refreshments. It seems I need to raise my beverage preparation game if I'm to meet with approval from discerning Egyptian pilots. I was worried he was planning to remain unhydrated for the remaining three hours, but eventually he succumbed to another tea. Food was a different matter. I couldn't tempt him with one of my feta cheese and tapenade sandwiches or the various fruit I offered but when I bought out some Egpytian sweet cakes I bought from one of Ismailia's fabulous patisseries, his eyes lit up. Finally I'd cracked his resolve. You may ask, why the obsession with feeding and watering the pilot? Well imagine being branded as the boat where pilots expire, rumours spread quickly and I might struggle to find a pilot in the future, never-mind scaring away my anticipated Mediterranean visitors.

Finally at 5.30 we arrived in Port Said, a pilot boat came alongside and whisked Aboda away and left me once again in charge of Kika. As I headed towards the entrance and my first glimpse of the Mediterranean, it seemed the fishing fleet was heading back in for the night. A couple of fishermen ominously mimed big waves and pointed in the direction I was heading. It was either big waves or large sea-serpents I suppose it could be either as I'm heading for Greek mythology territory. I decided to head out and see how bad the waves or serpents were, thinking I could always return if they proved too nasty. The entrance wasn't great with large breaking seas caused by wind against tide - almost as bad as Ramsgate in a gale. However I pressed on and eventually the water calmed down and left me to worry about the shipping, oil rigs and fishing boats. At 12.30 I escaped the fishing fleet, cleared the shipping lanes and set a course off the west of Cyprus.

Position @ 12.30 12/4/2009: N31deg56' E32deg14'

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ismailia

Ismailia has been a fantastically relaxing stop. The town itself seems a lot more peaceful than Suez and is well stocked with all the essentials - a decent supermarket (though still no bacon), a wonderful fruit/veg/meat market with mounds of strawberries, numerous Internet caf├ęs, good cheap restaurants, stunning patissaries and the invaluable wide range of wedding dress shops. I spent my time repairing and cleaning Kika, including a couple of trips up the mast with the hose to clean off the Red Sea sand and salt. The lines are pliable once again and the boat well-stocked, including my first strawberries since New Zealand. As well as enjoying my time with Lasse, the the marina slowly filled up with other boats I've met up the Red Sea, including Rino, Vagabond Virgin and Kristiane as well as a couple of boats from the French fleet.
I'd planned to visit Cairo and the pyramids and my luck was in as I met a fantastically helpful, friendly taxi driver, Mohamed (0121538185) who took me on a whirlwind day-trip to the pyramids, around Cairo, and the incredible Cairo museum for a very fair price, and only spent 10 minutes trying to convert me to his religion - apparently converting a infidel is better than gaining one thousand red camels - the best camels.This gave me an excuse not to partake in the camel rides around the pyramids - why ride on a camel which isn't red, when you know it's not the best?

One of the oddities of Ismailia is the need to show your passport with Egyptian visa to the guards on the gate every time you venture into town. The guards also act to stop subsidised Egyptian filling-station diesel being brought back into the marina. However with no diesel available within the compound, I'm not sure if there is a legal way of obtaining fuel. One boat managed to bribe the guards and use a taxi to bring diesel from the filling station. However the guards caught another boat sneaking diesel in through the gate resulting in a substantial fine. We by-passed security and took a couple of dinghies across the bay, under a bridge and tied up by some party boats. The party boat hosts organised a tuk-tuk and we loaded our 18 diesel cans into the trailer and set off for the filling-station. The plan worked and undercover of dark we smuggled the diesel back onboard. Now if only we'd filmed our illicit trip, the resulting movie of our subdiffuse might have challenged "The Great Escape" for the slot of Christmas afternoon escape film.I'm writing this waiting for my pilot to arrive for the second half of the trip through the Suez Canal. Once I'm through I'm setting sail directly for Kyrenia - Northern Cyprus. The wind looks favourable so I'm keen to head-off ... where is a pilot when you need one ... ?

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'

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Into Suez

I've made it to Suez, arriving yesterday evening just before sunset. After the challenging weather so far, yesterday's trip was almost disappointingly easy. Enough wind for the wind-steering to work, but not too much to build up a nasty sea.
Good job I made it in when I did as I finished my last onions and potatoes while waiting for the weather to clear. Fortunately just as I was leaving the anchorage a fishing boat approached, promising to save me from my anticipated canned diet. I gave them some overly-sweet crackers, some baby milk powder that I'd bought by mistake and an old frying pan. In exchange I gained a dozen prawns. Spaghetti with prawns, garlic and (canned) tomatoes, kept the scurvy at bay for another day.

I'm currently stuck onboard watching the laden ships head north up the canal while I wait for a measurer, arriving anytime between 9am and 2pm - such precise timing! Once I'm measured the result will be fed into an opaque formula, which I believe includes random numbers and an assessment of my net worth to determine how much I owe in canal dues. So yet another chance to spend quality time with the engine preparing for the rigors of the motor through the canal and into the Med.

I'm planning to spend a few days in Ismalia, half-way through the canal. Apparently it's a good place to leave the boat while exploring inland. Almost as exciting is the news that mooring fees include water so I'll finally be able to properly clean off the Red Sea grime and allow my lines to soak so hopefully I'll have ropes that flex again, rather than the weather-worn pieces of leather they currently resemble.

Suez Yacht Club: N29deg56.9' E32deg34.4'

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Suez slog

So much for the benign weather. The Red Sea hasn't finished with us yet and seems intent on throwing its worst at me in a desperate attempt to stop us reaching the canal. I'm declaring round one a draw - I've put into an anchorage 60 miles from Suez, and I'll bide my time in here until I catch the weather napping then make another dash for Suez. So near and yet so far ...

I arrived in convoy with Kristiane we both wanted a break from the 25-30 knot head wind (forecast 5-10), but as progress against the wind and sea was so slow it looked like we wouldn't make it to the anchorage before dark. Fortunately there were boats ahead already snugly anchored and they gave us some way-points to follow and assured us it was an easy entrance. In the event the anchorage had a well-lit entry though once in we had no choice but to blindly follow the way-points, aware of the unseen reef either side - not ideal, but great to have a break from the incessant spray. At least Kika has had thorough wash!

The Gulf of Suez is much busier than I expected, especially at night. In addition to the ships in the traffic lanes, last night I had to contend with fishing boats randomly manoeuvring, shipping entering and leaving the lanes, pilot boats, brightly lit rigs with hypnotic bright flares, most but not all charted, as well as a confusing assortment of buoyage often differing from the chart.

Looking forward to a well-earned celebration in Suez - probably in a couple of days time as once the wind's whipped itself up into a fury - it takes a while to calm down.


Position @ 20:00 2nd April (Marsa Thelemet): N29deg 03.3' E32deg 38.1'

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Into the Gulf of Suez

I'm on the final leg of the trip to Suez - I've entered the Gulf of Suez.
It's a narrow channel (12 miles across in places) with shipping lanes in the centre and oil platforms dotted around the channel. There's definitely a petrochemical smell in the air that for a change isn't wholly coming from Kika's engine box.
Slightly concerningly the pilot guide advises giving the oil platforms a wide berth as some disused installations have hazardous pipes cut off just below the surface, making them impossible to see, deadly if you collide with them. Looks like a busy night ensuring I avoid mooring and navigational buoys, oil platforms, cut-off pipes and don't stray into the shipping lanes.

So far the weather has been more or less as predicted - perhaps a little windier, which has worked in my favour; my repairs to the electronic pilot haven't worked, but with a decent wind I've been able to use the wind-steering.

Distance to Suez: 135 miles
Position @ 21:15 01/04 N27deg 54.9' E33deg 35.4'