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Cruising Report: Jordan To Israel, Through Suez Canal

By doina — last modified Feb 28, 2005 01:54 PM

Published: 2005-02-28 13:54:35
Countries: Jordan , Egypt , Israel

On February 7th 2005, Zoa and I departed Jordan on our way to the Suez Canal.

It was a sad parting, as we left behind good friends, but are taking with us wonderful memories of this great country and its people…..we very highly recommend visiting Jordan.

To go from Aqaba to the city of Suez, at the entrance to the canal, we had to sail south and round up the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, before we sail north again to go to Suez. A total of some 300 nautical miles.

At this time in the year, the winds in that part of the world are much more frequently from the south than in the rest of the year, when they are prevalent from the north so, we had to carefully plan the short trip to take maximum advantage of the wind direction.

We left Aqaba at 07:30 UTC (Universal time or GMT) with very light and shifting wind and calm seas. In that part of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to the closeness of the mountains, the wind constantly changes direction, making it hard to keep one sail set for any length of time. By early afternoon on the same day the wind had picked up and was solidly from the North, pushing us at a good pace in the direction we wanted, south.

The wind kept getting stronger and MILOCURA going faster, when she clocked 15 knots we decided it was time to shorten sails, and so we did, once, and again….at about 23:00 hours, very close to the Tiran Strait, at the Southern entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba, we pulled what was left of sails down and MILOCURA was “sailing” on bare poles (no sails, only the mast and rigging) at over 4 knots (nautical miles per hour) !!

The gulf is very shallow in that area and with the strong wind the sea was big and short…we were hit twice by big waves that turned MILOCURA 90 degrees sideways….we were running both engines after we took the sails down so we recovered quickly enough to go through the strait where the seas were calmer.

The lights marking the very narrow strait are hardly visible due to the numbers of other lights from the tourist resorts in the area….this made the second Tiran strait crossing by MILOCURA something that the crew will never forget.

After crossing the Tiran Strait at about 24:00 of February 7, and behind the protection of the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, we sailed South of the city of Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. The seas were calm, the night clear, the wind strong and from a good direction….we had a wonderful late night/early morning sail and in spite of the chilly early morning temperatures (came down to about 9 centigrade) we enjoyed the shore lights of that busy area of Egypt. And then all hell broke loose!! At about 03:00 in the morning of February 8th, we started turning further and further North, entering the Gulf of Suez. While we were happily sailing under the protection of the peninsula, the wind had gotten to 35/40 knots, the seas were erratic as the area is shallow, with only 20 to 60 meters of depth, and we had no choice but to motor up against the wind…..and against seas of 4 to 6 meters that kept washing the decks, with short and steep waves.

We battled the head winds and very rough seas for the whole day, MILOCURA and all of its gear performed brilliantly again, particularly the autopilot, without which it would have been virtually impossible to keep up under such conditions. The crew also survived and at about 17:30 UTC (33 hours after departure from Aqaba, Jordan) we arrived and anchored at El Tur, (28° 13.85' N, 33° 36.84' E) a commercial port on the West coast of the Sinai peninsula, Egypt, and one of several anchorages we had pre selected during the planning of the trip. It was a rough ride that we will never forget.

We rested in El Tur for two nights, checked all gear, eat and drank well and got ready for the next 167 miles left to Suez…we had sailed nearly half the distance to Suez on our first leg…not bad, not bad at all ! The next few days were uneventful, departed El Tur and motored to Ras Budran, then to Ras Sudr and anchored for the night at each one of them places…seas were very calm and the wind from the North did not allow any sailing…we just relaxed and motored up on our way to Suez.

In the morning of February 12th we departed Ras Sudr (29° 34.7' N, 32° 42.0' E) which is only some 25 miles South of Suez, to go to the entrance of the Suez canal and the door to the completion of a major stage in our trip. The Suez Canal entrance is extremely well marked and very busy, not only from the ships that are either getting ready, or have just crossed it. In addition many local fishing boats skirting the “No fishing zones” pulling their nets.

Guided by our electronic charting system, which had proved very accurate in areas where there is lots of traffic, like this one, and the pilot books we brought along, we headed for the SCYC (Suez Canal Yacht Club) where we were being expected by the representative of Felix Maritime Agency, with whom we had been in contact for quite a long time.

At Suez, the agent arranges all of the paperwork as well as inspections required for crossing the canal…..we will not bore you with the details, but it is fair to say that the process is not straightforward nor clear cut….. interpretation of regulations written in the 1800s (when catamarans were not sailing the oceans, at least in this part of the world) are used to put you in a situation of, either paying under the table or paying through your nose, due to a very high rating of your boat…. this experience was probably one of the only negative ones of the whole trip. After a few US$ and promises of “making sure their boss knows”, we departed Suez in the early morning of February 14.

The canal itself is very impressive, as are the various structures along the way. Multiple monuments to past Egyptian-Israeli wars, including old tanks and military paraphernalia, a huge very modern bridge for small traffic crossing from mainland Africa to the Sinai peninsula (must be the only one) a rotating bridge, with one half at either side, and hundreds of floating army bridges, partially assembled along the shores and manned by extensive numbers of army personnel that were ever present along the whole way.

Arrived in Ismailia that afternoon and spent the next three nights in what is a beautiful small city, unspoiled by tourism, slow going and with little traffic. Good shopping in the fish market and supermarkets and lots of fresh fruit…. stocked up for a few weeks we left in the very early morning hours of February 17, for the second leg of the canal and the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean at last!! We had a very pleasant motor-sail to Israel through the night. At about 30 miles off the coast we started completing the very thorough and required security checks by the Israeli Navy and security forces. When we were 15 miles out a navy patrol boat approached us and, by radio, asked some of the same questions that we had already answered three times over…. asked us to wait, and after a few minutes confirmed that we could proceed, wishing us a pleasant stay in Israel….while we waited MILOCURA was aimed at by a pair of 30mm heavy machine guns, mounted on the deck of the patrol boat, but for some reason or other, we felt safe, protected by whatever has protected us so far.

We arrived at the ASHKELON marina in Israel (31°41' N, 34°33.3' E) at 07:30 of February 18, 2005, nearly one year to the day of departure from Australia, on March 9, 2004. We already like it here, we have been extremely well received by people that we had met along the way but also by complete strangers, that come and offer a hand to help us fit in. As usual MILOCURA has attracted the attention of the local people with plenty of admirers gathering to have a look.

Orestes and Zoa of MILOCURA

ASHKELON Marina, Israel, in the Mediterranean Sea

February 18, 2005

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