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Cruising the Egyptian Red Sea Coast & Through The Canal

By doina — last modified May 05, 2005 11:59 AM

Published: 2005-05-05 11:59:22
Countries: Egypt

Below are our comments on cruising the Egyptian Red Sea Coast and some possibilities when exiting North. S/y Zeeling is a 33 foot long keel cutter with skeg rudder of 9 tonnes, with a 27pk Yanmar engine.

Fair winds and hope to meet you all somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Pauline de Bruijn/Chris de Klerk, s/y Zeeling

yachtzeeling@yahoo.com

WEATHER

We spent summer 2004 in the Egyptian Red Sea and had lots of wind with short and steep seas. Most of the time we had NW - NNW winds of 25 - 30plus knots day and night. We often only had a brief respite of wind around sunrise and/or sunset, sometimes winds were even worse around sunset/rise. From local people and other cruisers we understand the weather we experienced to be normal for the summer. Snorkeling was out most of the time, as was cruising. On the bright site, winds never exceeded 40knots in the time we were there. The trip up the Gulf of Suez in September was horrid. It took us nearly a month, with one out of ten days being navigable. We therefore think the summer is only suitable for going down South very quickly, and we have not yet found anyone thinking differently. We understand March and April should be best.

Hassle and Bakshees

Being overlie warned by books and reports on hassle and baksheesh, we were absolutely amazed about the welcome we got. We find the Egyptian people friendly, welcoming and polite AND they have a sense of humour. Furthermore we never felt threatened, and never had the idea we had to guard our possessions. This being said, having travelled in the Middle East for quite some time, we might be a bit immune to the "baksheesh bit". Our advice: If somebody helps you, you can give some money/cigarettes/coca cola etc, (remember a dayrate for a worker in Egypt is around 10 EL=1.5US$). If somebody just wants something without doing anything, you just refuse. You'll be amazed how easy it is once you are used to saying "NO". In both our Canal passages we never gave money to a pilot boat, a pilot station, etc. We only gave some to our own pilot and to the people helping us out in the yacht clubs. Fisherman we often gave small things or water, but most of the time we bartered goods/money for fish. And sometimes we do give some money to real beggars.

Officials, marinas and fees

It took us some time to find out about the official dues: custom fees, marina fees, harbour dues, health and port clearance cost, etc. Everyone told us a different story. In the end we concluded nobody wants to make clear how it works, because that would make it more difficult to overcharge. Generally speaking you pay a lot of money on top of the ordinary marina costs. You pay this every time you go into a marina or a port of entry. Fees of 100US$ to 300US$ are common, even if you stay for a day.

Going South you don't have to visit any marina or port of entry at all. Check out in Suez/Port Said and take a sailing permission/port clearance to Port Sudan. Going North: Having a visa before entering Egypt will make it easier to go ashore in places where you can also get supplies, like Marsa Alam, and El Tor.

Marina/yacht club options

Abutig Marina is the marina of the tourist resort El Gouna (www.elgouna.com), with terrasses, restaurants, fresh produce, alcoholic drinks in shops and restaurants, and "posh" boutiques. Marina personnel are helpful and friendly. If you call them on VHF before arriving they will help you into a berth.If you go there don't miss THE HUT, a nice seafood restaurant right on the beach, at the northsite of the marina; reasonably priced and good quality. Internet is relatively expensive but metered by the second if you take a contract (internet cafe closest to the marina office).

Marina fees are 10$ per day and 150$ per month for all boats up to 16meters, excl. water/electricity which is both metered and reasonably priced. Be aware of the water which is according to the marina NON POTABLE; diesel can be jerryjugged to your boat by marina personnel for a reasonable price.

On top of the marina fees you have to pay 150$ for "official dues", regardless of whether you stay one day or a month. This should include customs fee, free pratique; health and port clearance, and Hurghada port fees. After a month you have to pay again. Initially we were told 250$ for a 4 month period. A friend of us had to pay 150$ monthly. When we saw our weather window disappearing a few days before our month was up we also checked the price for staying. The answer was not clear, "maybe another 100$"? If you want to stay longer, check before hand by email, and make sure it is specified as Marina Fees and Official Fees you pay to/via the agent.

Of course you can try to check in yourself in Hurghada. When we tried this we were send away to another harbour by people who later appeared to be working for Fantasia (the only agent IN Hurghada). Next the guards let us wait for two hours at the gate, telling us in clear English that they were not allowed to let us in by …… Fantasia. After these two hours we were at last allowed onto the harbour premises (our boat was already in Abutig), The customs people, speaking very good English, refused to talk to us. Because we didn't speak arabic they called Fantasia. Fantasia then gave us a long list of things we had to do for customs, like renting a car to bring them to our boat, like claiming his services would be 300$, like asking 50EL when we were only getting a receipt for 17EL etc. etc.. In the end we went back to the marina and paid the 150$ via the "marina arrangement". Don't forget you also have to check out. NB: We are quite sure that Abutig marina has NOTHING to do with this nice "setup" Fantasia seems to have with customs and guards.

Later in Suez, we met another agent: Ibrahim Slama (also mentioned in the Red Sea Pilot). He told us he could be agent for Hurghada/Abutig and for the Canal transit. This might be more economic. Ibrahim Slama: phone: 002-062-3322251 Fax: 002-0623334301/0663333510

For our Canal Transit we used Najib Latif (email: 105380.felix@felix-eg.com) of Felix Agency. We were happy with him and his crew. Upon asking they said they could also do Hurghada/Safaga. We also met several people that had boat parts ordered via Felix; they all seemed happy with the arrangements. It seems to be the only/best way to get something through customs, but it is not cheap. If you have a choice wait until you're in Cyprus or Europe.

Marina Wadi-El-Dome (Bay of Suez)

This is a new small marina. We have not been there, apparently it is well sheltered but with limited facilities (especially shops). Apparently there is a good french fish restaurant: Le Bistro. Coordinates: 29.26.38N/032.29.10E Phone: 062210002 of 062210003. Rates in US$ per m2 (data given by marina) 10-99.99m2: daily: 0,185$/m2. monthly:3.4$/m2 No clearance possibilities, probably meaning that you can stay there for a day or two without having to pay clearance costs (ask the marina).

Suez, Ismailiah and Port Fouad/Said Yacht Clubs

The way we understand it, Suez, Ismailiah, and Port Said is "one customzone" or one "port area". Theoretically you are not in Egypt. This also means your passport gets checked everytime you leave/enter the club. It also means you only pay for the yacht clubs; all other costs are included in the Canal Transit Costs. All three yachtclubs have the same prices. FEES for a 10 -15m boat: 9$ per day; 45$ per week; 180$per month; 540$ per half year. This includes drinking water and electricity (except for Suez, where you are moored out). In all three yacht clubs the showers are "good enough". Shopping is good in all three places, as are restaurants and email café's.

We went to all three of them and Ismailiah is by far our favorite. We left the boat here on our way down and our way up to visit Cairo and Luxor. It is really worth it just to stop for a day or two to get shopping and good diesel. The diesel you have to jerry jug yourself. We took a cab (5EL per trip) to the petrol station and were not bothered by the customs people. We do not know how the shelter is with strong south winds, but it seems the fetch is not large enough to really cause problems. The main disadvantage is fouling. After six weeks we really had to clean our propellor to get going again.

Finding your way in Ismailiah: Get through customs and keep on walking, until you come to the bridge. Cross the bridge and:

  • Turn right once over the bridge and at the first traffic lights left again. This brings you on the road to the big supermarket Metro. For wine, beer and spirits go to Groppi on the left hand side a little before the Metro (cheapest we found in any harbour in Egypt).
  • Turn left once over the bridge and first big street right. This brings you in the road with streetfood and coffeebars. Left from this street again, you find small roads, with the fishmarket (go for the 5-7EL/kg clams, nearly all fish tasts like the mud they come out of).
  • Keep going straight on once over the bridge to come to the telephone office, the train station and a little to the right of the trainstation, the postoffice.
  • In the yachtclub you can have dinner, and drinks (no alcohol served), downtown there are a few restaurants, mainly on the road to Metro (try George's), and streetfood also on the road to the market.

Suez

This is the best place to get good fresh fish; and apparently the only place you can get your gas bottles filled (camping gas also available in Ismailiah); Try the Summerpalace restaurants/club for food (at the other side of the main road). You have to take a dinghy to go ashore.

Port Said

We got stuck in Port Said for two weeks, and the yacht club is even worse than the Red Sea Pilot book says. When we were there, three of our ropes broke, a taxi boat took up our anchor, and our line to the big mooring buoy broke. Three other boats had similar problems and ended up on the pontoons with lots of fibreglass damage. We fitted far enough between the small pontoons to make springs. We therefore luckily had no damage. We also had the perfect neighbour in SUMMERTIME. This 35 meter classical sailing boat took the role of "emergency pontoon" for us and other yachts. When stuck in Port Said, go to the Chinese restaurant Reana on the first floor, above THE bar in town Cecile. It is at the other side (Africa) from the yacht club, one street up from the waterfront. It is THE social gathering place for yachties, sailors, and ex-pats. Don't buy the sole on the market, they are not sole, they are terribly expensive, and they taste of mud mixed with petroleum.

Main comments on pilotage in the Red Sea Pilot

The waypoints given, we found very accurate. We went against 30 knots of wind, high/steep seas, in the pitch dark, into the south entrance of Safaga, only on waypoints. This was not by choice, and luckily some of the lights were working to give us a "safe" feeling; but the waypoints were good.

In a lot of bays you'll find hotels/resorts. We found most of them willing to have us as guests, for dinner, drinks, internet, they even offered laundry services and showers. We never tried, but you can probably get diesel and drinking water as well. This all against a fee of course which differs per hotel. So better ask before.

Sharm Luli

It is an all weather anchorage. But there is nothing there, no divers, no provisions, no supplies. Wadi Gimal is in normal weather a lot more interesting and preferable, with nice diving/snorkeling on the reef.

Marsa Alam

Marsa Alam is filling up with tripper boats. It is a very large, and all weather anchorage and there is still a lot of room. We had no problems going on land, even though our visa had expired. The officials wanted to keep our passport, but no money was asked for. They even came to bring our passports back to the boat.

When we were there, the entrance was marked with buoys. First buoys were black on port and red on starboard. The 2nd and 3rd black byoys were starboard. The next day the starbord red buoy at the entrance had been blown away, suggesting the straight line of black buoys were marking one side of the entrance which they were not. So beware.

North of the little pier it is easy to go on land. No corals there, only sand. The tripperboats marked several spots with car tires. Marsa Alam was the only place south off Hurghada, where we could easily buy fresh produce, and other supplies, and drink a coca cola on a terras.

We exchanged cash dollars against a "not too bad" exchange rate with Salem. He speaks English and has a small grocery shop next to the terras opposite the road at the anchorage.

Quseir

The tripperboats apparently moved to Marsa Alam. The loading gantry is "above water" so there is hardly any shelter. Even at a depth of 2 meters, there is very limited place to anchor, and the holding is doubtful. We were not allowed to go on land, even though we had valid visas, and could only listen to the people having fun on the numerous terrasses lining the waterfront.

El Tor

El Tor is a very nice town. But if you go ashore where the pilot tells you, you land in the middle of the military post. If you have visas, just take your dinghy to the beach in front of the Mosque; or go to the hotel at the west side of the harbour and you'll be ok. At the hotel you can do your laundry, take showers, email, have a meal, drink a glass of wine/beer on the beach, etc. All facilities in town.

Up the Gulf of Suez we have seen most of the anchorages:

  • Marsa Zeitya (6Bft NNW); more wind outside; little swell, industry on shore
  • Sheikh Riah: good
  • El Tor: good (6-8Bft W - NW); more wind outside; no swell
  • Sheratib: we wanted to go there, it looks good, the waves seem to be filtered by the shallow waters on Belayim, before they get to the reefs. The weather was quiet so we had to keep moving.
  • Marsa Zenima (2Bft NW); the building mentioned is a big black smoke gusting factory; we started turning around the anchor, and the shore came a bit to close to our liking.
  • Marsa Malab (6-8Bft WNW-NNW); more wind outside; little swell. Very good and safe anchorage; we stayed here more than a week, going out regularly to be washed back by winds and seas. We anchored at 20.12.3N/032.55.93E in 5 meters of water.
  • Ras Gharib (we have not been there but it is according to everyone a lousy anchorage even when there is no wind); The same goes for False Gharib which is claimed to be even worse. On the other hand Ras Gharib is the only place you can reach when it is blowing from the north and you set out from El Tor or even Zenima.
  • Marsa Thelemet, a beautiful place, and wonderfully sheltered anchorage; the white buoy is missing; the northern pier is marked by a small channel with two white and two red buoys (unlit).
  • Meish; we heard is a good anchorage, as is Sudr (some swell), and even the anchorage at Qad Tawila mentioned on page 236 is according to local cruisers good.
  • Suez: We anchored outside of port Ibrahim, just in front of the big ships (around 29.56N/032.32E).

Communications and Money

Things change quickly in Egypt, and you can now easily find internet cafe's north of Safaga. Prices should be around 2EL per hour, getting up to 10EL in hotels. Also most banks have ATM/cashmachines now. The only place we had a problem getting money was Marsa Alam (no banks). Here we changed cash dollars.

Telephone in Egypt: We got a local prepaid card system called MobiNil ALO for 70EL. For this we got a SIM card and were able to receive calls for a month. (You have to pay another 50EL after a month). For calling you have to buy Scratch Cards. Calls cost 1.5EL per minute. There is also the MobiNil Tourist Line. Unless you want to call yourself a lot it is much more expensive. First you have to pay 120EL for the SIM card. This is valid up to 2months. To be able to call or receive calls you have to buy scratch cards (minimum costs 200EL for a month). Calls cost 0.75EL per minute.

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