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Voyage of Traveler / Blog » 2009 »

Voyage of Traveler / Blog

May 28, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Santorini

Hi, Everyone,
Traveler is on a 12 mile passage now between Santorini and Ios in the Greek Islands.  With me is my son, Scott, and his girlfriend, Natalie, both sophomores at UC Berkeley.  Barbara is off the boat for a couple of weeks touring Prague with Kathy Smith (one of our crew from Transpac), and then Istanbul and other sites in Turkey by herself before rejoining us in Mykonos on June 5.

Our passage from the Suez Canal to Turkey went fine. It was good to be cruising in the Med.  We had two mechanical problems: we were still having trouble starting the engine when it was cooled down (ongoing for the past two months) and our propane solenoid stopped working, plus we were motoring due to light wind and getting low on fuel, so we stopped at Fethiye, Turkey instead of Marmaris.  We really liked Fethiye–a picture perfect harbor with Roman ruins, fish markets, lots of local boats and yachts from all over and nice weather. We also found a Yanmar dealer to fix our engine.  Turns out he properly diagnosed our problem as a small amount of sea water coming up our exhaust then getting into the engine through an open exhaust valve due a combination of factors: (1) our exhaust elbow did not have a high enough lift to it (the old elbow had only a five inch lift and the new custom built elbow has an 18 inch lift), (2) our vented loop was not properly mounted and came loose so it was no longer vertical, and (3) our custom fiberglass water lock developed cracks and was leaking.  After the repairs (three days, $2,300), the compression tested very good, and the engine starts easily and runs well now.

We then motor-sailed through the night, departing at midnight, from Fethiye to Bodrum, another picture perfect Turkish port of call, with an ancient fort guarding the harbor, lots of fun restaurants, and a great marina.  It reminded me a little of a Turkish version of Avalon, with the fort at the harbor entrance instead of the casino. Stayed here just one night, and this is where Barbara began her side trip, so I made the crossing from Bodrum, Turkey to Kos, Greece–just 12 miles–by myself.  It was weird to be on the boat alone–the first time ever.  And it was a little challenging to come into the unfamiliar marina, in 20 knots of wind, and moor Med-style bow in, squeezing between two other boats in a space just wide enough for Traveler to fit snuggly, and handling the dock lines and fenders solo, but I managed.  This is where Scott and Natalie join me.

We very much enjoyed Kos, with another great fort, lots of fun restaurants and tourists from all over, mostly European countries.  The Greeks welcomed us warmly wherever we went, as did the Turks.  We rode bikes around the harbor, sightseeing and spent a couple of hours at a beach in front of a bar having a round of beers.

We left Kos at about 5pm and sailed through the night to Santorini, about 100 miles to the west. The wind was strong (20 knots) and the waves high, making for a bumping passage for Scott and Natalie.  I had a double reefed main and jib, and we were sailing along nicely at 8 knots. Then we got hit by a “meltemi” which is a strong, short blast of wind typical in the Greek islands.  The wind gusted to at least 30, maybe 35, knots and briefly knocked the boat over on its side causing things to go flying below. I quickly eased the main and we came right back up, then I reefed the main and jib some more. We were okay after that.  Nothing broke, but Scott and Natalie were a little shaken on the play–especially when I put on my PFD (inflatable lifejacket) and asked them to do the same.

Only 3 miles to go to Ios, so I gotta go.

Living the Dream, but miss Barbara much,
Michael

May 16, 2009

Traveler Postcard From Cairo and Suez Canal

Link to Traveler’s photos from Egypt

Hi Everyone,
We finally made it up through the Red Sea’s notorious headwinds and steep waves, and then our passage through the Suez Canal. We are now cruising in the Med!  And we’re sailing again, thanks to the wind gods, after motoring most of the way through the Red Sea, due to the strong headwinds.

We liked Egypt, but the Egyptians wore us down. Most of them, anyway (with a very nice exception mentioned below, in the last paragraph,) are on the take, either befriending us to get something or straight out hasseling us. Prices for tourists are typically doubled or tripled, and sometimes much more than that. In most markets and shops, hotels and restaurants, none of the items are priced.  You ask the price and get some outlandishly high price, then the bargaining begins.  It can take ten minutes just to buy an apple.  To provision a boat for several days can take a full day of shopping, with most of the time haggling over prices.  To the Egyptians, it is a game, a part of their culture, and they are proud to rip off a tourist.  The police are the worst.  They demand bakeesh (Arabic for “small gift”) for allowing you just to pass (meaning, just to walk by them), especially if you are carrying something to or from your boat.  Sometimes if you have nothing with you at all, they still ask for money or cigarettes.  Taxis are un-metered and the prices vary wildly.  Typically, a local would pay $2 and a tourist would pay $10 for the same ride. But first the taxi driver would ask for $20, and then after haggling for a few minutes the best you can get him down to is $10 and he still makes you feel either (a) like you have insulted him, or (b) like he is doing you a big favor, or both.  Touts (street vendors) walk up to you and try to sell you something.  If you politely say no, it just encourages them.  It really wears on you after a couple of weeks.

We enjoyed a wild and crazy drive into Cairo in a micro bus, 2 hours. After many connections between bus, subway and mini taxi, all smooth connections, we arrived at Giza, home of the Sphinx and Pyramids. Renting horses and riding in the late afternoon, enjoying the sunset,  we rode up the sand dunes and had tea at a bedoin camp overlooking the pyramids. Galloping back down through the dunes, Barbara lost control of her horse and her skirt. (Yes, a skirt. We had not planned this ride when we left the boat.) She had a wrap skirt on and which soon became unwrapped in the winds and wild ride. As she tried to control her skirt, the horse went in to “return to the barn” mode and flew! Our guide had not bothered to give Barbara a saddle with long enough stirrups so she was riding as if she were a jockey with her skirt riding up and flowing behind her and getting longer as it unwrapped! Too funny! Good thing she had bathing suit bottoms on although in this culture, the modesty of a woman is everything where even a bare ankle is considered exposure. She managed to get covered before leaving the dunes and entering the populated area around the pyramids. Upon dismounting, we went straight to a pharmacy for aspirin to sooth the aches and pains.  We ended the night watching the Sound and Light Show, narrated by Omar Sharif. Beautiful, and with modern technology of laser beams, the whole performance was awe inspiring. Now needing a place to stay, we lucked out with the Sphinx Guest House right across the way. From our windows in our room we gazed out upon the pyramids all night and woke to see them again in the early morning light. Camels were on their way to work. Spectacular! And we didn’t have to bargain much to get a good price! Leaving the hotel, we rode a camel around the base of the pyramids and got better with our bargaining skills. Finally, we departed for the Egyptian Museum. Our taxi to the subway broke down on the freeway. We ended up hitchhiking in the emergency lane, getting picked up by a bus. This sounds odd, but hitchhiking on freeways is actually common here, as the people try to flag down a bus going their way. We made it, actually quite easily given the breakdown and all, to the Egyptian Museum. We especially enjoyed the exhibit of King Tutanhkammun. Wow!

Our passage through the Suez Canal was interesting, scenic and memorable for the costly error our pilot made.  Each vessel, even small private yachts, must hire a licensed captain to act as a pilot, even though it is 99% just following the boat in front of you.  At mid-morning on the first day of a two day passage, a very small French navy ship, more like a patrol boat, re-joined the northbound convoy after doing something in one of the wide spots in the canal.  The “warship” basically cut in line about a mile or so ahead of us, with a ship or two between us.  The very strict rule is that all yachts of any size (the rule does not apply to ships, however) must avoid approaching or even appearing to approach (and that includes following a safe distance behind) any warship.  Our pilot should have stopped and pulled over to the side and given the Frenchies at least a couple of miles between us before resuming our northbound passage, following way, way behind him (apparently just a mile was not enough distance.)  Every mile or so along the 100 mile canal are military police observation posts.  The Canal Police pulled us over and lectured our pilot and made him sit in a room for four hours (while we waited onboard Traveler) before releasing him, so he was able to finish that first day with us (but not the second day–we were assigned a different pilot for that.)  When our pilot was allowed back on Traveler he said that he is still in very serious trouble and (although his English is not very good, I got the impression) that he believes he will have to go to jail and probably lose his captain’s license for this offense or pay some serious bakeesh to someone in charge.

In Egypt, there are many laws that everyone breaks.  Eventually, the police will stop someone, apparently at random, and point out that they are breaking the law.  It is all just a shake down to get a payoff.  Here’s a case in point.  The dockmaster at the Suez Yacht Club helps yachties get diesel by taking their empty jerry jugs to the gas station and bringing them back full, marking the cost of the fuel up about 10% for the effort, which is well worth the price for the convenience, especially since the fuel here is so inexpensive to begin with.  This has been going on for years, and everyone knows about it.  Well, apparently this is a misdemeanor, for some reason, and the dockmaster was jailed for it just the day before we arrived.  After several hours, he was released on bail pending a hearing.  Now the poor dockmaster is saving up for the bakeesh he will have to pay to the police captain to make the problem go away.  He offered to do our laundry, which he did after he got off work at the yacht club (five loads for $20, with everything ironed. $20 after Barbara bargained him down from $35.)

Some Egyptians that we met and loved were a sweet family in Suez, the Farouk Family, who are devout Catholics.  They were warm and generous and truly welcomed us to their home town.  Barbara met Mr. Farouk by chance at a small cafe at breakfast and within a few minutes he had her in his car helping her get a sim card for the phone, provisions, bread and fresh produce. As long as the money passes from an Egyptian hand, even knowing that it is a tourist buying the goods, we got good Egyptian prices. Amazing difference in prices! (Small bottle of water is 20 cents local price and $4 tourist price.)Upon return from Cairo, we called the Farouks and they picked us up and treated us to an evening at their shop in downtown Suez. We were treated like family with one family friend doing the translating.  While the women were chit-chatting and eating desserts they had just gone to the bakery for, Michael, Mr. Farouk and another male friend of the family were sitting around smoking a sheesha water pipe, with apple flavored tobacco, in true Egyptian style. We took pictures and went and made copies for everyone. One of the sisters of Mr. Farouk gave Barbara her first cross. Another gave her a ring she was wearing on her finger. They would not let us pay for anything no matter how hard we tried. Truly amazing after all our experiences with bargaining and paying bakeesh! This fun evening lasted until midnight, with the streets of Suez still wide open and full of people, music playing, lights flashing. When we finally made it back to the boat, Michael met with the agent and we finalized our transit for the following day. Up at 5 am, and with no naps and then up again at 5 this morning, it has been quite the long couple of days. It is great to be back at sea with a gentle 13-15 knots and flat seas. Time to get some rest!

Next stop, Marmaris, Turkey, in 3 1/2 days.

Livin’ the Dream, in the Med!
Michael and Barbara

May 8, 2009

Traveler Postcard from Gulf of Suez

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Red Sea — mrlawlerjr @ 7:56 am

Hi, Everyone,

It is May 8, and we are on a mooring at Bluff Point (27-40N, 033-48E) about 150 miles south of the Suez Canal.  I really thought we would have been well into the Med by now.  But with several delays due to engine problems, and now with bad weather, we are about a month behind our schedule.  The notorious northerlies of the Red Sea, and especially here in the Gulf of Suez, are kicking our butts.  The wind is 20 to 35 knots–much stronger than forecasted–and on the bow, with steep waves spaced close together.  We just have to wait it out for some relatively calmer winds, like 15 to 18, then we will have to power through it. Right now at 0800 it is blowing 30 knots already.  Looks like a good day for Scrabble.  Barbara is always busy working, nearly nonstop, with a variety of boat projects, sewing, cooking, whipping lines, re-organizing our food stores, and many other things.

Once we leave Bluff Point heading north there are only two anchorages, at 50 and 100 miles up the coast from here, and they are marginal as far as shelter.

These are our toughest conditions so far.

Three days ago on May 5, just 17 miles south of here (that’s how slow our progress has been), we took on hundreds of gallons of water from waves crashing over our bow in 35 knots of headwinds.  First sea water flooded the anchor locker due to a $2 garden-type work glove that clogged the drain, and then the water poured from there over into the forward deck locker, which also flooded, and from there it poured over into our forward cabin. It all happened very quickly.  Our bow was very low in the water, making it even easier for more water to keep coming in, and the floor boards in the V-berth were floating. Had we not caught it in time, we might have sank.  We turned the boat around and headed downwind, which made a huge difference, and ducked in the lee of a reef called Shab el-Erg, which we renamed Cinco de Mayo Reef.  We spent two full days drying things out.  It was tiring work.  Surprisingly, the damage was minimal.  The Waterford crystal and china survived without a chip.  The biggest loss was the propane solenoid in the forward locker got soaked and stopped working, so we can not use the galley stove until we find a place to replace it, probably in Turkey.

The reef here at Bluff Point is shallow, about three feet deep when we arrived, with a wall that drops off on a 45 degree angle to deeper water, and the prevailing northerlies keep our boat blown back off the reef.  The fixed mooring line is about 15 feet long with a spliced eye to slip our long dock lines (using two so our mooring lines are doubled up) through the eye and back to our bow cleats.

Last night at around midnight, we bumped the reef! A combination of things happened. It is nearly a full moon, so the tides are extreme, and the tide was much lower at midnight than when we arrived mid-afternoon (when we had about five feet of water under our keel). Next the wind backed around a little, from 315 to 295, so the wind–which blew 20 to 25 knots through the night–was no longer blowing us perpendicular off the reef but on an angle to it so our starboard side was a little closer to the reef.  Thirdly, a passing ship sent a two foot high wake of three waves that hit us from behind pushing us forward, into the wind, and we surfed these three waves onto the reef. CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!  Even though it was midnight, Barbara and I were both awake at the time and sitting in the cockpit, because just before this happened the keel gently brushed a coral head and we were about to lengthen our mooring lines.  So we actually saw the ship’s wake in the moonlight coming at us, with about 10 seconds before it hit us, but there was nothing we could do that quickly.  After we bumped the reef, we doubled the length of our mooring lines, made sure the chafe guards were well in place, stood a watch for awhile to make sure all was well, and then went back to sleep.  About three hours later, Barbara was having a terrible nightmare that we were sinking. In her dream, she was in the cockpit and I was trapped below, and she yelled out my name in her sleep.  Come morning, she had no memory of that nightmare until I asked her about it. It was a tough night.

We’re very much looking forward to getting through the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and into the Med.

Livin’ the Dream?
Michael and Barbara

May 6, 2009

Remember to unplug . . .lessons learned from Traveler

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Red Sea — mrlawlerjr @ 6:14 am

Hi All, bb here, taking a break after 1 1/2 days of non-stop work–drying out the boat. We were headed to Port Suez and as the winds built to 35 kts, we chose a place we could get to to spend the night and let the winds subside. We beat into the steep, close seas and were ready for the 12 hour beating we were going to take. We didn’t make it as we were shipping in water that didn’t drain. Water over the floor boards and the wallowing . . . we turned and headed back to a reef that we had seen dive boats in the lee of. We pulled up a floating rope (no buoys here) after putting our nose almost on to the reef to grab it. It’s just how it is done here . . .they put into the reef a SS eye, and float a short rope off of it. We bailed, bailed and finally got things under control. It was a work glove that had fallen into the chain locker and plugged the drain on one side and gunk got into the other. It all backed up from there. Even with a warning from a boat father north than us that had the same thing happen to them, we thought our drains were clear, having checked them a few months ago. . .
Check your drains periodically, but especially before going to weather  . .
Hugs, and time to get back to drying things out.
bb

May 4, 2009

Traveler Postcard from Luxor

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Red Sea — mrlawlerjr @ 10:55 am

Hi, Everyone,

We are at sea again, for two nights, having departed from Port Ghalib late this morning, May 4, motoring in rare, light, tail winds (usually strong head winds here), so that’s a good thing.  We are heading north up Egypt’s Red Sea coast toward Port Suez, where we plan on touring inland to Cairo to see the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum.  Then it is up through the Suez Canal and into the Med!

You may want to check out the website for Ghalib at www.portghalibmarina.com for some photos.  It is a world-class, new marina and surrounding city, now five years into a fifteen year build out and owned by a sheik from Kuwait. It’s one of the nicest marinas we have seen, and quite the contrast from our last port at Suakin, Sudan–complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

While in Ghalib, we hired a driver to take us to Luxor to see the famous temples and tombs.  The sights we saw include the awesome columns of the Temple of Karnak, Luxor Temple, and pharaoh’s tombs in the Valley of Kings.  Next to King Tutankhamun’s Tomb I briefly joined in on an archeological dig to try to find the tomb of Ramses VIII (really just a photo op.)

It was really hot in Luxor. 104 in the shade. But not much of it.

One highlight was sailing on the Nile in an old, traditional wooden felucca for a sunset picnic dinner.  It was much cooler being down on water, especially with the nice breeze.  Another highlight was seeing the Winter Palace Hotel, the former palace of King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, and enjoying a cold beer pool side.

In addition to our driver, we also hired Aladdin, a tour guide (only $60 full-time for the two days we were there), once we got to Luxor.  “Al” earned his masters in archaeology at the University of Alexandria.  His grandfather found one of the pharaoh’s tombs, and his family has lived in the same place on the West Bank of the Nile for centuries.

At our hotel, for a late night dinner I wore my traditional Arabic outfit, complete with ceremonial dagger tucked into my belt, and got lots of curious looks from the other hotel guests and smiles from the staff.

The drive to Luxor and back to Ghalib–five hours each way–was memorable, fortunately, for the wide open desert scenery and, unfortunately, because of our crazy driver.  He was young, liked to speed, liked to smoke (a national custom) and liked to listen to the most annoying Arabic music the whole way.  On the way back, after it got dark, we found out he also liked driving with his headlights off, passing other cars and tour buses, doing 135 kpm!  Scared the daylights out of us.  Also, an annoying alarm beeped continuously anytime the speed got over 100 kph, which was pretty much the entire way from Safaga back to Ghalib, the last two hours.  We had to change cars in Safaga, where the “limo” (it was just a regular Mitsubishi sedan) company is based, because the air conditioning broke while we were in Luxor.  So, for four hours or so, we miserably sat in our car seats, drenched in our sweat-soaked clothes, trying our best to avoid heat stroke, while driving the return leg from Luxor to Safaga. Putting the windows down didn’t help that much. It just made it like a blast furnace.

On our cruise up the Red Sea from Sudan, about midway between Suakin and Ghalib, we stopped at an uninhabited island, Geziret Zabargad (Arabic for Sea Mist Island), to go for a tank dive on the outside wall of a barrier reef in clear, warm water.  We saw lots of fish and gorgeous coral, but were blown away by the monster moray eel we saw. His head had to be 12 inches wide!  There was a cleaner fish swimming in and around his mouth, which was constantly opening and closing–that’s how eels breath, it just appears to be threatening. We only saw his head and neck, from a very close three feet away, but we are guessing he had to be at least 10 feet long, given the size of his enormous head.  Amazing!

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

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