Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Not our finest hours

May 27, 2008
Mediterranean Sea
It isn’t often that you will hear me complain because it is extremely rare that I cannot find the silver lining to any situation. This was as close as it gets out of the nearly 3 years out thus far.
We were exhausted after all our travels through Egypt after not taking much time to rest. We thought the next 3 day passage to Karpathos, Greece would be the time to catch our breath. Not so. As we exited the Suez Canal, I Lisa, began to feel achy which I though was simply due to the late night, 3 crew soccer game that had ensued until the late hours the previous evening. But by the end of my first night watch I hurt from my eyelashes to my bone marrow. By the next morning I couldn’t get two feet from the bathroom. Conveniently for me, there is one always two feet away on a boat. By that next afternoon poor Bruce had joined me in my misery with the extra component of nausea. Egypt’s parting gift to us was some terribly nasty intestinal thing which we will just call evil.
That following evening we were hit by 25-35 knots of wind that we were try desperately hard to sail nearly directly into. Close hauled and trying to put a second reef in and pull in some head sail between our night shifts at 1am, we came to find that the bashing had loosened the cover for our storm sail and sent it long lost over board, the sail itself was now dragging half in the water and one sheet to the head sail was wrapped around the surf boards and out of it’s blocks, and the dinghy was coming loose. It was about this time that Bruce began vomiting. We got things in order and got him to bed, when we took a large wave over the bow, which found its way again under the dinghy and through the two hatches that were not shut tightly enough. We took in enough water to soak the bed, all of Bruce’s clothes and leave another ½ inch floating around our feet. Under any other circumstances this night would have been uncomfortable and certainly inconvenient but tolerable. This night it was all we could do to remain conscious. If we had the strength at this point we would have taken all the sails down and just floated for a while but we couldn’t move anymore. We lay there taking turns blinking at the radar and faithfully, God blessed us with not one single piece of shipping traffic to deal with for the next 24 hours. For awhile, I tried to keep us close hauled but the wind would shift, we would round up, loose steering and tack on our own. Finally I set our course off far enough that I didn’t care if we ended up in Cyprus or Turkey. With the morning came the sun, calm seas and little wind so we were able to motor directly at our destination and sleep the day away. The boys thankfully never contracted this evil bug and took to foraging for nuts and fruits on their own. Matthew even rallied to cook spaghetti for them with little direction. He did voice his concern when he realized just how serious things can be when both mom and dad are out of commission. It is easy to say that was our worst night ever but thankfully, silver lining here, it was only 36 hours, we are both back on track now and we have great faith in our crew.

The Suez Canal

May 24, 2008
It is rather fun to run with the big boys here. You are surrounded by the largest container ships you can find of every possible shape and size. They say that two times a year someone runs aground there and we had the fortune of front row seats for one of them. The first cruise ship to be exiting the canal at the south basin suddenly called something out over its speakers, dropped anchor in a last effort to save itself and ground to a halt. We watched as the other ships began to stack up behind it trying to slow their progress toward it. In about an hour, a tug managed to pull it off and the flow was going again, but impressive none the less. These big boys can’t really stop on a dime.

First we anchored in the South Basin and our blessings continued. We managed to arrive on a Sunday at 1pm and were out the next morning at 10am with our fuel having been delivered at 11:30 pm under the cover of darkness for just the right price. In the morning, we were boarded by out pilot to help us navigate. It is really just a technicality since it is a very deep and wide straight shot to motor through. We heard stories of it taking people 10 days before they were allowed to transit. Apparently the canal closes frequently due to “our” military ships going through it. In short, it looks a lot like any other canal you have ever seen, irrigation or otherwise, flowing water with a sandy bank on each side. It does flow north though which surprised us. Only this one is 50 to 90 feet deep, wide enough for a container ship and a sail boat to pass each other, 121 miles long and, dotted with young, bored, military men every half mile. Good thing they gave them binoculars for something to do and us to wave at as we go by. There are the occasional tent towns and tanks as well and a tunnel somewhere that goes under it. Surprisingly there is a lovely suspension bridge that goes over it, and a second one that can twist to connect the two sides of Cairo to the Sinai Peninsula each day. At the north end, the Port of Said is just like any other hustling busy shipping port complete with cranes, cruise ships and ferries.

Half way up is the town of Ismailia, a small harbor where we med moored for a few days before finishing our transit of the canal. It must be the first upper middle class town we have seen in about a year. From here we again with our pals on Luna, we made a quick one day trip inland to Cairo to wrap up our Egyptian experience, complete with camel rides right up to the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Very fun and very worth it but Bruce says it is his last camel ride. It is inspiring to view these monumental hand built creations 3 to 5,000 years old still standing. Just as in the temples of Karnack and Kings it looks as though Disney has opened a new wing in their world to explore, just standing there for you to touch, original rocks, colors and paintings. The Sphinx was a bit smaller than we expected and the sprawling metropolis of Cairo literally across the street is a bit odd but the splendor of the pyramids standing amongst the camels can hardly be dampened.

Most distressing though is to see the state of every other building standing. They are either left half way completed or half way broken down to complete disrepair. There is no effort or engineering going into the housing by the looks of it and we know they have the knowledge. We’ve seen the pyramids that are still standing and the shining examples of gorgeous minaret’s all around. The capabilities are there, why not follow through?

We are so glad we had a chance to experience Egypt and we are glad it’s done. The omnipresent and omni-greedy military gets to be a bit too much. In their shining white uniforms and black beanies demanding their baksheesh, they has become as much of an icon as the rest of the historical landmarks. Baksheesh may be like a tip to them but a bribe to us. A demanding one at that and everyone wants and will have no problem telling you if it is not enough. If they ask for a shirt or shoes, and you offer them one, they will undoubtedly ask if have anything newer. They’ll ask for cigarettes and turn their nose up if it’s not Marlboro’s. The scrutinizing of passports, the waving of hands is exhausting. Though we had no troubles with them, smile and pay accordingly, things go smoothly, reap what you sow and all, we know some who did have troubles. Simply, don’t make noise or draw any attention. The citizens we met, by contrast, were beyond kind beyond reason and somehow, as always, they love America and those that reside in it!

Experiencing Egypt

May 20, 2008

We have been busily taking in the sights and sounds of Egypt and as we finished our transit through the Suez Canal we were hoping to catch our breath during a few overnights to Karpathos, Greece. It did not quite work out that way, but that story will come later. I will give you an idea of what we’ve done hope to fill in the finer details someday soon on the web page.

After the dolphins we made a stop in a lovely marina in Hurghada, as our port of entry. They have a tower to rival any airport so they know your coming. A beautiful hotel/resort resides with showers, restaurants and a pool there as well and though the right hand and the left hand aren’t quite working together yet, we have no doubt that someday it will be a very convenient and lovely place to stop. From there we took an inland trip to Luxor and viewed the Temple of Karnac and the Valley of the Kings. This requires an early morning militarized motor convoy escort with nearly 100 other tour busses, cars and trucks. You pay a little money, you wave your passports around, you’re on your way. We are still not sure what we needed protecting from but after hours and hours of driving, crazy driving, with a few rest stops in between, our destination was worth the wait.

Valley of the Kings was spectacular and I will sum it up with King Tut’s mummy is actually sitting there in his tomb!!! We were flabbergasted. We did have to pay a little extra to see him, though we didn’t even realize he was down there. We saw Hatshepsut’s temple, Karnac temples complete with hieroglyphics, that the boys are sure they can translate now, how alabaster creations and papyrus are made. Spent a lovely night in a hotel and did the tackiest tourist thing we knew how to do. Eat at McDonalds over looking the Luxor temples itself. You should try a McArabian some day, they are very tasty. The Nile River was interesting. Honestly, it could have been the Mississippi or any other river for all we knew. I don’t know what we were expecting. It certainly does provide some luscious fertile lands for growing all that Egyptian cotton, food for the herds and a major source of tourist income as it is filled to the brim with mini cruise ships that look mildly like giant paddle boats and traditional felucca sailing vessels. In between everything else is hot, dry and sandy. The occasional Bedouin and camel can be seen wandering but fairly empty out there sans military posts.

Next was the dash up the Gulf of Suez before reaching the canal. We were able to motor sail against the winds and made fairly good time without much discomfort. We hid out in Mersa Thelemet for a night until the military there caught on to us and asked us to leave at sunset, as the winds picked up to 25 knots. They stated, “You don’t want to take your babies out into that weather, it can be dangerous, but… you can stay here tonight for $100”. We took our chances and left, finding a perfectly comfortable anchorage just around the corner on the other side of their sand bar. A couple more nights navigating through dozens and dozens of oil tankers and more impressive oil derricks, flaming away and lighting the night sky. At times though, the smell and the flies are nearly unbearable. Next the Suez Canal.