Sunday, December 26, 2010

Turkey, Cyprus, Syria to Lebanon (October 2010)

This blog describes six weeks of our sailing adventure from leaving Turkey to Cyprus, then to Syria and on to Lebanon. 

At the Crac des Cheveliers, Hama, Syria

We left the fishing harbour of Aydincik on the south coast of Turkey at 6:00 a.m. on the 10th October for the 50 n.mile sail across to Girne (Kyrenia) on the northern coast of Cyprus - the Turkish half of the island; in Turkish “ Kuzey Kibris.

Photo: the old harbour at Girne, Northern (Turkish) Cyprus

Arriving late afternoon and tying up at the Delta Yacht Club in the commercial harbour was not without drama: the pontoons were protruding out at a level lower than the tarmac and with sun in our eyes and the strong following wind we managed to plough into them - no damage done, luckily. The new harbour/marina is scheduled to open late in 2011 and is some 2 miles east of the town. Delta is subject to ferry traffic and a few large Turkish freighters but there was little roughing up from this traffic.

The town was a 35 minute walk away until we discovered the "shortcut" which did cut 15 minutes off it (joggable in ten, Brian boasts). Getting orientated, finding internet access, local markets and supermarkets, cultural events and visiting the old port with its Lemesos medieval castle were our immediate priorities. Although late in the season, it was still very, very warm, and on this island, very dusty, so wearing shorts and t-shirts was still the order.

The most recent “troubles” in Cyprus were in the 1970's but in 2008 the UN buffer zone was dismantled so the border between the "Republic" - Greek side of the island is now very relaxed and many people cross freely, daily. No visa or stamp is required on entering the Republic, but an entry and exit stamp for Turkish Cyprus is.

Fortunate to find a jazz recital by a quintet at the 12 th century Bellapais Abbey in the nearby mountain village of the same name, we took a taxi (no buses) and enjoyed after a delicious fish dinner in the 'Tree of Idleness” restaurant after exploring the village and abbey. We sat under the 200 year-old tree and watched gawking tourists rather than the 1950's village life described in Durrell's book "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus".

Coming across a tandem-paragliding outfit, “Highline”, Kiwi-run - Oscar (a Cypriot with NZ-wife Angela) and Dean (a Kiwi) were the pilots we decided to do a flight as the location was excellent. Debby did very well after she finally opened her eyes and Brian went back for a second flight a week later. We ran off the edge of the 1500 metre high mountain range and "flew" for 20 minutes, touching down gently in a field below.

We finally found a clinic to get inoculations for typhoid in the Greek Cypriot side of the city of Nicosia at the old (a.k.a. decrepid/dirty) hospital. A total of 45 euros each for the doctor (who had to issue a prescription), the pharmacy (buying the serum) and inoculation itself. It was well worth it given the places we intended going to - and we simply could not get that immunization in Turkey.

Wanting to see more of the island we found that several day-trips by bus were the best way for us - very cheap transportation. Then a three-day trip to several cities in the republic. From Farmogusta in the east to Pafos at the western end, Lemasos in the south and other villages in-between we stayed at small hotels "with character", ate a local restaurants and traipsed around hot, dusty towns with ruins. Memorable were the citadel at Famagusta, Roman ruins at Pafos and nearby Hellenistic-era rock-cut tombs for the rich (and dead).

Two weeks was not really enough, but it was time to move on as the season was too. Diesel fuel was obtained at the marina and jerry-jugged back to Chinook, an oil and filter change completed, our marina fees paid, checking out procedures completed and the next morning we set sail for Lattakia in Syria.

The passage to Syria was our first "overnighter" for more than two years - total of 30 hours over a distance of 125 n.miles. With some light winds to fill our new gennaker (performing marvellously) after leaving Girne, we made four knots for eight hours until the wind died completely forcing us to motor the rest of the journey. The shipping traffic was light and with our new AIS VHF ("smart radio" - Automatic Identification System) identification of ships' position, distance from us, direction, speed and closest closing distance made a much more relaxing night passage for us. Better than radar!

Contacting "Lattakia Radio" at Sierra Charlie - the 12-mile reporting point for ships inbound to Syria - we received our instructions and clearance and proceeded to the harbour/marina. Weaving between fishing boats in a very shallow, goopey-muddy bottom (as we found out when leaving) we tied up along-side with the assistance of the marina manager, Ammar, extremely helpful and courteous.

The next day we rowed a stern anchor out and positioned Chinook bows-to with springs and double lines for the forecast high winds (which did arrive). A yacht we had just met in Cyprus had been struck by lightning here a week earlier and fried all their electronic equipment. Of course that made us a little apprehensive of late summer storms. Packing our oven with as much electronic equipment as it would hold, was another precaution we took as ovens can act as a “Faraday Box“ excluding “jumps“ in static electricity.

Perilous taxis in and around the city were cheap ($1) and the Syrian people were very, very friendly. "You are welcome here" was said dozens of times a day along with "Can I help you". We never felt threatened in any way whatsoever. English was not uncommonly spoken in the city.
Photos: the ruins of Palmyra (sorry Deb)

 It is not permitted to cruise the Syrian coast, so leaving Chinook in the marina under the care of the day staff and the night-watchman we first took the train to Aleppo, where the attractions were the souqs, the citadel and the old Christian quarter. Great lamb dinners at the "ShishKabab" restaurant around the corner from the small hotel. Aleppo’s cuisine is unique within Syria.

A bus trip to the city of Hama to visit the amazing Crac (castle) des Chevaliers (the last bastion of the Crusaders) and the nearby St. George Monastery (hung with many dragon slaying relics). Then another two-hour bus trip to the desert town of Palmyra where extensive and well preserved 1st century Roman ruins are protected as a World Heritage Site. A concert of traditional music and dance was performed by a visiting group from Qatar on our second night in the reconstructed theatre. The Qatar Prince himself attended with us also.

As luck would have it, the finals of the Syrian Camel Races were to be held the last day we were in Palmyra; after a short taxi ride we were among the few spectators at this amazing event cheering on Clydes and Bonnies. Each racing camel had a radio-controlled jockey strapped on its hump - the owners whipping their flagging steeds faster with a push of the button from their cars following in an outer track. Betting was not visible but we are certain it went on privately.

Then to Damascus (again by bus) for 2 nights and three days of exploring the fascinating old section of the city; its souqs, the Umayad Mosque (one of the holiest places in the world for Muslims, the Christian Quarter, old Damascus houses, eating local food as well as buying fruit at markets and dodging the crazy traffic.

During the usual Syrian breakfast of tea, rolls, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and olives we met some young Kiwis. One of them, Sina from Whangarei had cruised around the world on her parents’ yacht with them for 10 years. She and her mother rescued her father when he went overboard in rough weather.

Photo: Belly dancers fashion

We flew Syrian Air back to Lattakia (one hour flight /$25 USD) and prepared Chinook to leave for Lebanon two days later.

Initially we had decided not to visit Syria. However we are very glad we had our minds changed by other cruisers we met, as the amazing history, culture and art, together with the kindness of the people make it a “not-to-be-missed” country.


Photo: The marina at Jounieh from the cable car height (1500m)

The 100 n.mile overnight passage to Lebanon, (again with little time actually under sail) was peaceful with little shipping. On leaving Syria we were instructed to sail 12 miles directly off shore before turning south. At about 6:00 a.m. we had to contact the Lebanese navy 12 miles from the port of Jounieh, to which we were headed - again for permission to enter Lebanese waters. At eight in the morning a Lebanese Navy Patrol boat approached us at high speed, we were questioned at length (this after having given all our information previously at the 12-mile checkpoint, Oscar-Charlie. At this point we had wind and were sailing well but were asked to "stop" while the patrol boat took photos and questioned us. We are still unsure whether they knew that “stopping” a sailing boat involves time: heading into wind, dropping all the sails and turning on the engine to keep into wind, especially in a lumpy sea. Young men in power boats…

Tying up in the marina at 1400, checking in with customs, port authorities and marina staff took another hour, leading us to an early night (as we do after tiring overnight sails). The marina was also part of the Lebanese Auto Touring Club with swimming pools, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a nice jogging area and we were able to take advantage of some of those facilities.

Photo:  The monument to the Lebonese Struggle
There is a real presence of the army in the town - a large base next to the marina, a tank with armed guards outside the marina, soldiers everywhere in the town. The assassination in 2006 of the prime minister (Hariri) - just recently attributed to the Hesbollah movement - keeps Lebanon on its toes. Although Muslim but with a larger percentage of Christians, there is a seemingly much more open and relaxed atmosphere toward dress and alcohol. English is quite commonly spoken.

Although the Lebanese coast can be cruised to a limited degree (but with many hoops to jump through) it is such a small country that we took day bus trips to Tripoli, the capital city Beirut and the ancient Phoenician town of Byblos, a world heritage site - the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world (7000 years) - also attributed as the place where the modern alphabet was "invented". Visiting the Beirut city centre we saw the amazing reconstruction after the Israeli bombing in1982; traffic is excluded from this military-guarded area and part of the colonial French legacy are the many cafes and patisseries - yum!

Chinook's brightwork (woodwork for ye landlubbers) was in need of touching up after a hot sunny summer so Deborah got out the varnish and brushes. Brian purchased reasonably-priced prescription glasses in the town to view her work.

After two weeks in Lebanon it was time to make the trip to Egypt where we will spend the winter (Hughada in the Red Sea). Good winds arrived after waiting several more days and after topping up with cheap diesel fuel (80 cents/litre), butane cooking gas and water we left Jounieh at 0900 on November 27 bound for Port Said, 250 n.miles due south. Egypt, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea will be the subject of the next blog.

Brian and Deborah

Photos below: Waiting for buses, the mosque in Damascus, fast food for Deborah, head-scarf fashion, camels a-racing!