Friday, June 27, 2008

Red Sea Rush Hour

Current Location: Port Suez, Suez Canal, Egypt
Current Position: 29 56.85 N 32 34.37 E
Next Destination: Ismailia then Turkey

There are certain places we arrive at that just feel good, really good. It is as though upon arriving a huge weight is lifted from our shoulders and we both can't contain our smiles of relief and happiness. It has nothing to do with the location, but rather the difficulty of getting there. Some places just feel earned, as though a huge accomplishment has been achieved.

Lots and lots of tacking
Port Suez is one such location, as it marks the end of the Red Sea. There wasn't a moment traveling through the Red Sea that weather was not on our minds. Even in calm weather all we could think was "how long do we have before the wind picks up?" The last leg (from Hurghada to Port Suez) was getting especially bad reviews from the cruisers before us, who reported big seas and winds constantly over 20kts. When one of our friends emailed us and told us to multiply the weather forecast by five for the first part, and by two and add five for the second, we thought they were exaggerating ... only to learn later that even these modifications probably weren't enough! It's easy to understand that we weren't looking forward to this trip, but sometimes you just have to push onward!
It doesn't sound like much, after all it's not even 190 miles - how hard could it be? After our first day out we figured the best example for those back home was rush hour traffic. You know when you are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and you can SEE your exit just two miles ahead but you aren't moving, just sitting there, frustrated and wondering how much longer this will take? Then finally, 30 minutes later, you are at last off the freeway and you still can't believe that it just took you an hour to barely go 20 miles. Well, that's sailing in the Red Sea. Only it's a heck of a lot more uncomfortable sloshing around in big seas with wind and waves in your face. This BLOG is a day-by-day blow to show you what I mean.

First, just let me say that during this entire week the weather forecast was always around 10kts or below ... so it's not as though we didn't wait for a good weather window - this was it, this was as good as it was going to get! Also it should be understood that the winds ALWAYS (this time of year) come from the northern region, and of course, we were trying to go north.

Day 8: Marsa Hammam to Port Suez
Summary: 12 hours, 52.3 miles

We couldn't have asked for a better day. We didn't know if we'd make it all the way to Port Suez, but we departed at 4am thinking that if the weather was calm enough, we just might make it. What we got was unbelievable. Flat, and I mean FLAT, seas and light-light winds. We were happier than pigs in, well you know the saying. At first it was hard to believe or enjoy as I just kept waiting "for the other shoe to drop", but as the day went on and the seas only got calmer and Port Suez got closer I couldn't help but get excited ... we were really go to make it!!! We averaged 4.4 kts and didn't have to tack once (because it was light enough that we could just motor straight there).

We were done. At a little past 3pm we entered the Suez Canal and tied up at the "yacht club". The Red Sea was over. I knew I'd sleep soundly that night; not worrying over what the wind would be doing tomorrow or how much of a beating we'd have to take. Honestly though, Chris and I both agree that we had a good trip. It might've been slow, but it was easily 100 times better than what we'd expected. Most of the hassle was the planning, wondering and guessing. We think it was a combination of luck and patience that made our trip "easy". We were even more appreciative when the boat next to us told us of his hellish 40+kts that he experienced.

Sitting just inside the Suez Canal we can watch the huge tankers and container ships steam past, and it's amazing. These huge monsters slowly motoring by, dwarfing everything around them. What is especially interesting is how they take-on and disperse the canal pilots. Imagine sitting in a small motorboat, about the size of a three-person rowboat. You motor next to a HUGE tanker going about 10kts. Via a crane, a line is lowered down that is attached to your small boat and slowly you are lifted off the water and raised up to the ships deck. When it's time to depart the process is reversed. The large ships never stop, and for good reason, listening on the VHF we heard one tanker tell port control he needed 45 minutes to raise the anchor. If they had to stop and anchor at both ends of the channel they'd probably loose about 4-6 hours. Still it's amazing to watch them raise and lower these little boats with two men sitting there, probably praying that nothing goes wrong.

If all goes smoothly, tomorrow we'll motor through the first half of the canal. At least we don't have to worry about the winds, as the canal is too narrow for any fetch to build up, but as it takes us our ten hours to go forty miles will be thinking of home and just how fast that rush hour traffic moves!!!

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