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Egypt and Red Sea Cruising Notes

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 02, 2009 03:47 PM

Published: 2009-01-02 15:47:59
Countries: Egypt

Contributed by Amanda & Mark Church – Farrell (NZ)
SY Balvenie

Egypt and Red Sea Cruising Notes
April and June 2008

Following on from Sudan Cruising Notes.

26 April - 15 Jun 2008
Our run of dream weather with favourable winds came to a very abrupt end at midnight on the 26th April as we were crossing Foul Bay (aptly named) from Sudan to Egypt. We were hit with a nasty northerly of over 25 knots and experienced our first taste of the famous short steep chop of the Red Sea, unlike any wave action we have come across previously, basically they just stop the boat.

So, although our target had been Dolphin Reef, we bore away about 20 miles short of it and headed in company with friends on another boat for Ras Banas.

Ras Banas
23 53.62N 35 46.93E - dropped in 8m, settled 14m.
Well hooked to coral but there are sandy patches. No respite from the wind as land low lying, sea choppy but it was 30 knots and comfortable enough. All 14 boats managed to get anchors up ok at the end of the blow.

Ras Banas is a very low lying, windswept, remote spot with a sandy beach and a small army outpost of just 2 personnel. The following 7 days saw more action at Ras Banas than probably has ever been seen. We ended up with a united nations collection of 11 yachts sheltering from the howling winds, 4 of them very skilled wind and kite surfers who were out enjoying every second and entertained us all. We even partook in windswept walks on the beach, choppy snorkelling, very wet dinghy rides and soaked up enforced downtime.

On the 8th day the wind eased just long enough for a mad dash up to Dolphin Reef to join up with another 6 yachts taking refuge in there.

Dolphin Reef 24 10.06N 35 40.77E - 10m sand, excellent visibility.
There are some big bommies but easy to see. Didn't note entry waypoint but came into western anchorage and entered from the west. CMap useless. Excellent shelter from sea, none from wind. Several boats had sat out the 30 knots comfortably here. Swimming with the dolphins here was an absolute highlight and must not be missed!!!

Dolphin Reef is slightly dry at all times so affords good shelter in flat water from the seas but no wind shelter at all, but the winds were easing and we had come to swim with the resident pod of dolphins and were not disappointed. We swam amongst over 100 dolphins of all sizes for over an hour, till our little legs just couldn't keep up with them any more. I can only describe this as a highlight of one of the things we are so lucky to be able to do because we have our own boat and the time and flexibility to wait for nature and the amazing sights she has shown us. Just brilliant.

Moving on the next day in calm waters we just kept on going, motor sailing in light winds inside the reefs for about 64 miles and anchored the night at Samedi Reef.

Samedi Reef
24 58.91N 35 00.13E - 20m coral with sand patches.
None of this reef is above the water line and in flat seas you have no idea where it is (could be nasty). We could not locate the entrance in the Red Sea Pilot and ended up just picking our way in with Mark high up the rig, more nerves of steel required. There did look to be some mooring buoys in the northern part of the reef, but light was so bad we didn't risk motoring up there. Once anchored we noticed a marker and went over in the dinghy. This is the port marker for entering. It is on the western side of the reef. The starboard marker was snapped, we attached a bottle but how long will that last?

24 58.87N 34 59.82E, about 20 metres no obstructions.

More underwater treats awaited us when we decided to snorkel the reef entrance. There were two huge bommies, with a good array of live coral, very clear water to 20 metres and an excellent selection of small to medium sized fish, with over a dozen varieties we hadn't seen before. This would have to go down as one of the best snorkels we have had since Papua New Guineas Louisiade Archipelago, even if somewhat colder water. The snorkelling on both these bommies was great and this was at about 6.30pm with very poor light. Egypt was treating us after such a rough start!!!

We kept heading north while the winds were light and arrived in Port Ghalib to officially check into Egypt on May 06.

Port Ghalib - Marina - Port of Entry
Big yellow entry buoy outside entrance. Quite narrow entrance but very well marked and in lee of any northerly winds. You will be directed to big concrete wall on right as you come in to complete entry procedures, very clear water looks shallow but depths all ok. Check in facilities were reasonably fast and efficient and much cheaper than checking in at Hurghada, the next option.

Once completed staff come around into marina with you (basically they are useless don't give them important job!!) We stayed 2 nights but I don't have note that we paid anything, maybe it was included in our USD150 check in.

The marina currently is a very long concrete wall to tie onto, with some med mooring spots also. We had no power facilities, metered water was available via an extremely long hose which didn't quite reach us as we were at the end, rubbish disposable was charged at USD1 per bag, Wi-Fi was available at USD10 per hour or USD20 per day (not a typo!!!!). Fuel available in jugs or alongside but much cheaper in Hurghada. Very sheltered, but flies and dust, yuk.

Port Ghalib is under construction. They are building an entire new city and have started with the port and waterways area. To date there are a few "American" style restaurants, ATM machines, gift shops and a couple of hotels. but we did get plenty of free layers of dust and sand from the building works, and the most flies we have had anywhere. Ghalib is really in the middle of nowhere but we relaxed for a couple of days then decided to brave it and try another overnighter to Abu Tig Marina at El Guana, about 15 miles north of Hurghada.

Heading North from Port Ghalib
We had a good weather forecast and left with light winds and flat seas, put the throttle down and motor sailed in light winds. In the afternoon a light southerly set in, and although that is the perfect wind when heading north we were cautious from our previous experience across Foul Bay that southerlies are short lived and turn to strong northerlies at a moments notice, generally in the wee small hours. Unfortunately this was to be no exception and by 3am we had 25 – 30 knots from the Northwest with the short choppy seas that make headway difficult.

Fortunately we had made very good time and were almost abeam of the reefs outside Hurghada. Skipper made a good call and as day broke we started heading in through the reefs and ran along the coastline in much calmer water. We passed Hurghada and continued onto Abu Tig for about half an hour, but we got out of the reef shelter again and at 8am on May 09 turned back and went into Hurghada Marina and undertook with much trepidation in 30 knots our first "med mooring" experience!!!!

Hurghada - Marina
Came in through the reefs to Hurghada as day broke, CMap spot on right through. Stopped at Hurghada Marina. The marina area is almost completed and will be smart when it's all finished. Power and water were metered but not expensive, Wi-Fi was free and accessible onboard, berthing charges up to 16m USD20 per day or USD300 per month and it wasn't too dusty and will be better when all works are completed. Our 20 nights cost 1758EGP (could have stayed 1 month same price), including water and power. This is also a port of entry if required, Marina handles all paperwork. Fuel situation changes daily - no fuel dock when we were there- may get in jugs, may not!

Hurghada Marina has a great location less than 5 minutes walk from the main tourist strip and the old town. It's very touristy with mainly Russian tourists but compared to the rest of Egypt it is pretty laid back.

It is a good place to leave the boat while off land travelling as it is close to Luxor and the Nile Valley. We took a day trip up to Abu Tig Marina to check whether it would be a better option. It is in an enclosed "tourist environment", all western restaurants, hotels, very little privacy if stern to, pool club access by membership, Wi-Fi charged and we heard from friends, noisy at night with music into the wee small hours. We decided to remain in Hurghada.

Nile Cruise Excursion from Hurghada
We spent the next few days cleaning up and relaxing while organising our Nile Cruise and minibreak!! We were recommended the "Nile Admiral" ship and Cairo based GAT Tours and booked everything via internet and received excellent and prompt service. We were able to pay the 4 night cruise (USD76pp pn including all meals, tours, admissions, guides) at a local bank in Hurghada in either USD or EGP which suited us well, and they also arranged our transfer to Luxor with the tourist convey to connect with the cruise. This was USD45pp which was much more than we paid for our other transfers we organised independently en-route but worked well for us at the time. More info on our land travel on our blog.

On return from our excellent land travel we sat day after day tucked up at the Marina in Hurghada watching the wind instruments register in the high 20's. By now we had quite a collection of cruisers itching to get the last part of the Red Sea behind them. Finally everyone agreed the 29th of May was looking the best option with a 4 day weather window of lighter winds to get up the Gulf of Suez. Of course on the morning it wasn't looking so good with over 20 knots still blowing from the north, but after a few boats left and reported the sea state as not as bad as expected, we let the lines go and stuck our noses out too. We headed inside the reef and spent a quiet night at South Quesim Island.

South Qeisum
27 40.16N 33 44.40E - 6.2m mainly sand.
Flat water but no shelter from wind. Came up through the reef in fairly flat water to here.

All looked promising the next morning for the jump across the Straits of Gubal to the Sinai Peninsular and at 6.30am we weighed anchor in just 10 knots of breeze. Horrible most of day. Went in between Sandy Island and Nth Qeisem, between the 2 small reefs then up Zeit Channel hoping for calmer seas but experienced one of the nastiest seas we had in the Red Sea. We motored up inside the reef slamming into and falling off short steep waves and taking way too much water over the boat. Absolutely no respite from seas, possibly would have been better out in straits from beginning. We persevered and headed out across the Gulf, weaving through the shipping bound for and exiting the Suez Canal. The further we got across the Straits of Gubal the better the seas were, but it wasn't one of our better days.

Once across the shipping lanes the seas finally started to flatten a little and by 4pm we were at anchor in El Tur on the Sinai Peninsular. There were several other yachts there waiting for better conditions to head north. Several of them had left Hurghada over a week before us and had been patiently awaiting better weather.

El Tur
28 14.03N 33 36.72E - 5.5m sand good holding.
There is a reason this is a world renowned windsurfing destination. Do not believe any wind forecasts that say it blows less over this side, we were having 30 knots when it was forecast 5-8 knots.

When we awoke at 6.30am the following day there was only ourselves and one other boat left. We spoke to the others heading up the Gulf, they were having a hard time of it bashing north so we decided to stay the day in El Tur. The following day conditions were no better but the other boat decided to move on, we stayed, the only ones left!!

With conditions no better the following day and the forecasted easing of winds never eventuating we decided if the others could do it and get through, then so could we. Over the next 2 days we had some mean little boat stopper waves, but just kept on ploughing our way through them and when we left our final anchorage 20 miles south of the Suez Canal the calm seas finally arrived and we motored north through the many anchored cargo ships to the Suez Canal.

Sha'b el Hasa/Sheritab Shoals
28 35.50N 33 11.55E - 5m, find a sandy spot.
Much flatter than it looks it will be. Swung to current. BEWARE of some huge mooring buoys north of here around 28 39.65N 33 10.67E, about 5 of them. In choppy seas or early morning light not easy to see.

Ras Sudr
29 34.94N 32 42.16E - 8m, hard to set, possibly hard packed sand base. ALSO BEWARE chopped off oil rig reported at 29 37.75N 32 37.85E.

Port Suez
Finally we had made it to Port Suez and had the Red Sea behind us. We can't begin to explain the feeling of absolute achievement and relief of getting to the bottom of the Canal. Sadly this is short lived when you then have to start the process of getting the boat "measured" so the fees for the Canal transit can be calculated. This is not as simple as the length or weight of the boat, this is after all, Egypt!!!

Suez Yacht Club
29 56.85N 32 34.40E - fore and aft mooring buoys. USD20 per night (rip off but nowhere to anchor and you are SO pleased to be here!).

Port Suez is a good sized town but the harbour area has very little to offer. We went for an evening walk and joined many Egyptians out for an evening stroll along the Corniche, watching the ships motor by. Besides the nearby tourist hotel there were no other restaurants, cafes or any food vendors – everyone must eat at home. Finally we found a small local kebab place and had excellent kofte each, USD1.60 for the two of us, including a bottle of water, finally a bargain in Egypt.

The next morning after considerable negotiations with our agent and the measurer we finally agreed a price for our canal transit, port fees and agents fees of USD350, and without any delays our pilot was aboard and we departed Port Suez for Ismailia, 50miles up the Suez Canal.

Many negative reports are said and written about the Suez pilots for small craft such as ours, unfortunately I cannot add anything positive. Our pilots boat handling skills were poor, manners appalling, he smoked non-stop in our cockpit when we asked him not to, he constantly complained about the speed we were achieving when we had adverse current and headwinds, demanded extra baksheesh over the USD25 offered then had the nerve to want the USD5 bill changed as he had ripped it when opening the envelope! Of the 15 boats we knew that transited the week we did everyone had similar stories to tell - Suez Port Authority it is seriously time you looked at your staff who we understand are paid quite well by Egyptian standards.

We arrived into Ismailia before dark and were helped into our med mooring spot by all our cruiser friends already there, just how you are supposed to pick up the mooring buoys that don't have any lines attached is a mystery to us all but friends were there with a dinghy to take our lines and made life much easier, thanks.

Ismailia Yacht Club
30 35.10N 32 16.35E
Mooring buoys to attach to, then stern tie to big concrete wall. Pray someone gets in before you to help as no staff. No lines on buoys so rather tricky to pick mooring up without actually climbing off the boat and balancing on it. Good luck!!!! 10 nights was 649EGP including water and power.

We had a few days sitting in Ismailia, stern to at the little marina wall there. Ismailia is a nice place, pretty laid back for Egypt, good places to walk to for dinner, supermarket down the road, very very cheap diesel and petrol. The only downside were the "guards" on the gate who wanted bakseesh for everything, it was almost at the point where they didn't want to let us in or out unless we gave them something, certainly getting the groceries in - bakseesh, taxi to drop us off - baksheesh, and to get diesel, very much baksheesh to bring diesel into the marina, its not like we are doing the marina out of business by not buying it there, because they don't have any, its just the "guards" love the power of being able to refuse us access with anything we bring in, its all about the baksheesh/bribes/favours, whatever you want to call them.

Also every time we left they checked our passports. If we went out 5 times in one day and saw the same person he would still check them, normally they would actually look at the wrong countries stamp, Eritrea seemed the favourite, even if we gave them the passport opened at the correct page, often they would hold them upside down! Sometimes this could take up to 5 minutes, I'm sure baksheesh would have made this quicker but you really have to draw the line!!!

We stocked up bigtime here with diesel, there is none at the "marina"' so you have to jug it in, of course past the guards adds to the expenses but overall we filled all our jugs, bought more empty ones, taxied to the gas station and back and paid baksheesh and it still only worked out to .18c US a litre, really worth the effort.

Ismailia is just a couple of hours by road from Cairo so we had planned to do our Cairo excursion from here, and after a few days cleaning Balvenie inside and out to try and rid ourselves of more layers of red sea dust, dirt and salt we were ready for our Cairo minibreak.

Excursion to Cairo from Ismailia
We used a driver with car recommended by other cruisers instead of the hassle of local buses, we felt Egypt had given us enough challenges, we were over challenges!! Mohammed, our driver, spent the 2 hour journey speaking with Mark about Islam while I sat quietly in the back seat, happily watching Cairo and its outskirts unfold around me. We had a slight hiccup on arrival at our hotel, we had understood our car to be EGP200 for the return trip, guess what – yep, that was only one way! Egypt wins again!!!!

We had chosen a small hotel, tel: 022 7352311 on Zamalek Island, this is the "Embassy" district of Cairo. It's a very leafy lane environment, small cafes, book shops, quiet and felt safe. The island is located in the middle of the Nile, close to the Egyptian Museum and downtown Cairo. The very clean and nicely furnished room with ensuite and aircon was 360EGP (approx USD70), including an excellent breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and several taxes which seemed to be a large part of the bill!!! We settled in then wandered out for a look round, had an excellent lunch in a very local café then started exploring. More info on our Cairo sightseeing on our blog.

Our departure from Ismailia was delayed as a warship was transiting the canal. When/if the pilots do turn up they expect you to be ready to leave immediately and basically just start untying the boat, communications are somewhat lacking. We did not stop in Port Said or Fouad, the pilot boat came alongside and our pilot jumped off, he was much nicer than our first pilot which was a pleasant surprise. We exited just on dusk due to our late departure, considered anchoring the night behind the breakwater but were so pleased to have escaped Egypt we just pointed the bow north and headed for Cyprus, yippee!!!!

Breathe a sigh of relief, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean are done and you can now leave Egypt (well you can stop at Port Fouad or Port Said, but WHY!!!!!!)

Amanda and Mark on Balvenie
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