Port Said, Egypt, Africa – “the cat is happy” by David Gerrard

The Captain’s Log
Stardate 11 June 2011
Port Said, Egypt, Africa

Good morning from Port Said, Gateway to Africa, entrance to the Suez Canal, the first land fall in Egypt, and a city that has featured so prominently in modern history.

We enjoyed our stay in Ashkelon, not really doing very much apart from fixing the boat, talking to friends, and generally lazing around.

We have been on the go now for nearly three months, not stopping anywhere really for more than three or 4 days, we have travelled around 1800 miles and we are feeling a little tired just as the boat is. We have had this niggling problem with our steaming and deck light so I decided to strip it down and get to the bottom of the problem. On a boat there is nothing like a 5 minute job and this one turned out to take a whole morning combined with frequent sojourns up the mast and down again; fixed I thought, tested, yes, ok, then on our passage to Port Said it failed again; so it looks like that’s another long morning taken care of.

Ashkelon is a garden city, as I probably said before, and one of Israel’s newest settlements; home to Jews from many parts of the world. The streets are tree lined, roundabouts sport many modern art features and the whole area has an aura of peace and tranquillity which is amazing as it is only a few miles from the Gaza strip and has been subject over the past years to many rocket attacks. The people here seem to accept it and it doesn’t seem to affect their daily lives. They all have a safe room in their houses and I suppose a mini bomb shelter; our friend Armen took great pride in showing us his latest construction. I admire how these people live with this daily threat and continue their lives in some normality.

The local municipality takes our visit very seriously and provided a magnificent spread and entertainment for our party. The belly dancers were definitely the best I have seen anywhere. Having carried out the presentations, listened and given a short speech, I am afraid that Kath and I sloped off early. This was due to having arrived that morning after a night passage and, having partaken of a little intoxicating beverage, I was denied my afternoon sleep. Israel our friend for many years had invited us out to lunch which I looked forward to as we were a little hungry, but despite my prostrations about ‘I only want something light’ we ended up with the ubiquitous Israeli lunch.

The portions here are large and I mean large; a later visit to a restaurant in the marina saw three people share a Caesar salad. We had a starter then a main and then an exquisite chocolate sweet. I have little strong will when it comes to controlling my food intake and of course I ate what was put in front of me, especially as it was of the highest quality; but of course later I couldn’t eat another thing.

Most of the rally participants took the opportunity to visit Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea. One of the local people asked us why we weren’t going and my reply was that we have been a few times before. He said that’s more times than he had.

We had a very early morning departure from Ashkelon to Port Said, in fact to me it wasn’t morning but the middle of the night, 2am. Coupled with our arrival time outside Port Said in the early hours of the next morning it meant that we would have two nights at sea. For those of you that are not sailors, this is not a good thing. One night is ok and a series of nights is ok because you can establish a pattern of on watch, off watch. Two nights is in between and you don’t really get any proper sleep. We were promised a North Westerly wind but all day until the last thirty miles it was South West and on the nose. This meant we had to motor for a long period.

At around 7pm, as we were getting nearer to the Egyptian coast, I reeled in my fishing line as we were soon to be surrounded, as in the past, by lots of fishing boats. Just as I started, the line went and after a short fight I managed to land a large fat Tuna. Cat was ecstatic, purring, meowing and trying to rub itself against the tail.

To say there was fishing boats would be an understatement, it seemed that the whole of the Egyptian fishing fleet was out to confuse us that night. They have no adherence to the maritime lighting regulations; anything from red, white, flashing orange or just bright neon were the order of the day. To make things worse they seemed to be fishing at a ninety degree angle to our course which meant that we frequently had to take easier action. By this time the promised North Westerly had come in and we were sailing at around 7 knots. Just let’s say we found it interesting and leave it at that.

We made the anchorage just outside the entrance to the canal just around midnight along with another rally boat, Justin and Helene on Bellehelen. It is not easy finding the spot as there are so many lights around Port Said, coupled with lots of big ships exiting and entering the canal, fishing boats darting in between, buoys lit and not lit; it can be quite taxing. I had anchored and was just poring myself a dram of Talsiker when we were approached by one of the Suez pilot boats. They told me it was dangerous place; how could it be dangerous when we had less than three meters of water under the keel? Any big boat would ground to a distinct stop before it got to us.

I spoke briefly with the port control and they agreed to the rally fleet anchoring there, as we have done many times before, with never a whisper of challenge. The pilot then asked for coke cola, cigarettes and a present. He asked the wrong person and the more he revved his engine and covered us in exhaust smoke the more I was determined not to get in. So with a glass in my hand, a packet of cigarettes on the cockpit table, I told him I was a non-smoker, a teetotaller and that the giving of presents was against my religion. With lots of noise and more engines he left me to bother some other poor sole. I gave out a quick call on the VHF that if approached ‘don’t give in.’ Our hero Hasan on Ibis paid him off with a present of Ecran’s , his crews’ cigarettes; so generous.

As soon as dawn came we were ready to enter the canal. The only problem being that Egypt have decided to put their clocks back an hour so we hung around circling until they were ready for us. Then it was down the canal to our home for the next few days in the Arsenal basin right in the middle of the town. Sailing down the canal past the port authority buildings, the colonial edifices and the ferry port it has to be one of anyone’s sailing memories. Forty one boats, all with signal flags flying, all in a line; quite something.

We were soon moored up and formalities completed; two copies of this one copy of that etc. etc.

The main reason for coming here, apart from Port Said, was to visit Cairo and in particular the Pyramids which is where the large majority have gone today. For us we will stay here, wander the streets of the town and go across the canal to the neighbouring Port Fahud. As I said before, with the change in government here in Egypt what changes there have been are very little as we can see. Today we will try and gain a little insight as to how the people feel.

It is quite swelly here as we are on the very edge of the canal and have a good view as yet another containership passes. They look more like blocks of apartments just show you how small a sailboat is compared with them.

Still acceptably cool here but it will warm up later so an early start around town. Last night, as we returned from a restaurant, it was buzzing but no way am I going for the shopping opportunity at 11 at night. Captain’s bed time is 10”clock.

The cat is again reposing in the front cabin, sleeping off the tuna. Kath is reading and I am writing this, hard life isn’t it.

Dave, Kath, Tilly (a well fed cat she is today)

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