Friday, April 15, 2011



Photo: a town along the banks of the NIle. Quite typical (from the bus)

We spent from December 21 until March 16 in the new Hurghada Marina in a bustling tourist resort area. White Russian was the main flavour of the town itself with some added beet-red Brits scattered among the native Egyptians. The local fish market was just outside the marina entrance as were the local “workshops” - welding, upholstery, small engine repair, and general hardware shops. Two large modern supermarkets were each a 15 minute walk away but hole-in-the-wall bakeries, fresh vegetable stalls and several butchers with fly covered beef and lamb carcasses hanging in the street were close by. Marina security was excellent, the showers needed a coat of paint but hot water was always there. We went to the fish market often as the prices were excellent for locally-caught fresh fish and shrimp and got to know the local market vendors by name.

In early January Deborah flew to the Turks and Caicos in the Bahamas to join her mother and sister and her sister’s family. As a bonus her son Andy and his girlfriend Kirsten also went. She flew back via Canada, extending her trip and getting a feel for the cold again.

Brian’s younger son, Paul came to Egypt for ten days; Cairo to see the sights with Brian, back to Chinook for a few days and then to Luxor (together). Paul packed quite a bit of sightseeing in during that short time - he may not remember all of it but his chafed bottom will never forget the camel ride at the pyramids. 20 minutes was quite enough.

Our time in Egypt was very memorable because of the “Peaceful Revolution” in January. We were to be “inside spectators” and for a time did not venture outside the marina boundaries which had high security. Most of the protesting and violence was centred in Cairo and Alexandria - Hurghada was relatively quiet. Local people here seemed to favour Mubarak until after his ousting when they said they supported the political changes. This seeming turnabout may simply have been that they did not want the tourist industry here (their livelihood) damaged by the revolution's bad press. And Egypt’s tourist industry suffered badly in the two months after the revolution - Hurghada in particular. Russians were not allowed to book flights here for months after.

In February when things were settling down we set off to see more of Egypt’s historical sites taking buses and trains to Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel. In many places, we were the only tourists at the sites and the only people in the hotels. All tourist sites were open except for museums. Brian had been to Luxor with Paul in early January but wanted to go again and, in a selfish sense, it was very special to see the sites with no crush of tourists.

Ramses 11 Temple Abu Simbel at sunrise
The shaft of sunlight penetrating the inner chamber
 Most spectacular was to be inside the Temple of Ramses 2 in Abu Simbel at sunrise (06:22 ) on February 19 when, for the past 3500 years, the first rays of sun on the days around this date have illuminated three of the four statues in the temple’s inner sanctum. Amon-Ra, Horakhte-Ra and Ramses himself (who thought he should have been a god and planned this as his birthday and coronation celebrations). The fourth god, Ptah was the god of the underworld and kept in perpetual darkness. This phenomena only happens twice a year (November 21 and October 21 - and we were the only witnesses this time. Normally there are hundreds of tourists - probably blocking the rays.

Locals only traveled on the trains and buses - no tourist buses or "convoys" and we were given royal welcomes wherever we were. As we have said previously, Egyptian people and Muslims we have met in the middle eastern countries have always been kind, helpful, friendly and welcoming. We have never felt uncomfortable or threatened at any time.

Boat jobs: few boat jobs needed to be done in Hurghada as we had spent much time (and money) in Turkey refitting Chinook for the longer sailing journeys ahead - knowing the places we intended stopping may not have the resources - and Hurghada was very limited in resources. Although it has several marinas in the area the local chandlers cater to fishing boats, power yachts and local day-trippers - not sailing yachts. The quality of workmanship left much to be desired although we had some small welding jobs done as the prices were right.

Socializing: there were very few yachties living aboard for the winter and for most of the time we were amidst three French boats. Their limited English made for short conversations and although Deborah made friendly overtures using her French, we were excluded from their social clique. A Japanese sailboat, "Fang" was next to us. They have sailed most of the major oceans of the world over the past three years and with captain Takeo and younger crew members Huruna and Deucy planned to freight "Fang" back to Japan rather than venture further south in the Red Sea and through the pirate infested southern Indian Ocean. We met Gil again on Swiss-flagged Jacare) whom we had first met in Port Said and briefly an English and another Swiss yacht. Swede Per and Dutch Elly on Sybaris loved to eat at a particular fish restaurant and we joined them four times!

Sal Hashish Reef south of Hurghada
Late in March we met up again with Aussies Roger and Sasha on Ednbal whom we had met in Ismalia and we sailed together in the area, having sundowners and evening meals together in anchorages.

Sailing in the area: This area of the Red Sea is one of the windiest of the Red Sea. Daily averaging over 20 knots from the north with very few “downticks” makes sailing anywhere but southwards a chore. Every two weeks a light southerly wind occurs, but only for a day or two.

After leaving Hurghada Marina we first tied up on a mooring ball on a reef a mile off the town. Diving, snorkelling and fishing is a huge tourist industry and mooring balls are placed to protect the coral for anyone to use. Our first sail of the season was 15 miles south to Sal Hashish, a coral reef five miles offshore. Many of the reefs in this area enclose and protect the anchorage from waves generated by the strong winds. Dive boats and day-trippers with snorkellers stop for an hour or two at these reefs.

From Sal Hashish to barren Giftun Island, where it blew so hard for two days we could not get off the boat. Giftun Island to an anchorage south of Hurghada for several days, then back to the marina to re-provision, wash down and fill with water.

20 n.miles to barren Shaker Island for two nights then 8 n.miles to Endeavour harbour on barren Tawilla Island for four nights and 50 n.miles to barren Tiran Island off the Sinai Peninsula They are ALL barren with sand and perhaps some scraggly saltbush. At Tawilla we were able to walk and see the osprey nests, blown-in plastic bottles and oil “goop” from the nearby offshore oil rigs which coated the windward shoreline.

Then north up the Gulf of Aqaba along the Sinai Peninsula's east coast, stopping at Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba Heights as well as several small anchorages in between. A small fishing boat approached us near Dahab offering us fresh fish for cigarettes and coka-cola. A deal! The fish was delicious on the BBQ that night. The mountains along the coast - particularly the Saudi Arabian shores are spectacular. High, rugged, bare rock and sand. The coast road runs along parts of it and there are many tourist resorts in various stages of construction on the coast.

Police visit via paddleboat, Nuweiba
 When anchored off towns the local police always come to the boat to ask for copies of boat documents, passports and our Egyptian cruising permit - never in a uniform and often with commandeered fishing boats. In Nuweiba it was a very singular event when the constabulary arrived in a bright yellow paddle boat powered, over the 300 metres, by two local lads.

Pre-Pharoh necropoli, Sinai Desert

The White Canyon, Sinai Desert
While in Dahab we took two road trips: the first in a 4X4 through a desolate Sinai mountain region to hike through two "canyons", a stop at an oasis for a Bedouin meal (flat bread baked in front of us with flour the goats had been licking, a vegetable stew and a salad) Returning we stopped at a necropoli site of 20 ancient circular stone tombs that the origin of is long lost to antiquity - probably "pre-pharoh". The second trip was to the base of Mount Sinai where the 7th century Greek-Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine is situated. This monastery was granted "privileges” by a charter of the Prophet Mohamed during the rise of Islam and has been protected and maintained for centuries by the Christian monks in this Muslim country. Deborah climbed Sinai later in the afternoon to watch the sunset at the summit (with other tourists). Wind-chilled, she arrived back at Chinook at 9 p.m., where Brian enjoyed a "quiet, warm time" and saw the same sunset with a chilled gin and tonic.

St. Catherines Monastery Mt. Sinai

We were very disappointed initially to find the Taba Heights Marina to be in the same stage of construction as the 2002 guide book describes. Very small and very expensive for short stays ($10 USD per night but a one-time “admin” fee of $44), no toilets or showers, - however, on the “guest dock”, where we were sandwiched between two ferries, water and electricity was available. We were very lucky to have the Taba Heights public relations officer for hotels and the marina, Katie, an ex-pat. Brit, take us first to the only supermarket in the whole complex area (catering to staff and with very limited supplies) and then to the Intercontinental Hotel where we were able to purchase fresh food (for very reasonable prices) from their “hotel stores” - meaning the food they buy for cooking for their guests. It was super of Katie to do that - over and above the call of. There is no “town” in Taba Heights as tourists come on “all-inclusive” packages, but there is a shopping mall with shuttle buses between hotels. We were also given free passes to use the spa area, including pool, hot tubs and gym of the Intercontinental by a friendly supervisor, Kareem . By the end of our stay we were very happy to have stopped in there.


Our cruising permit expires at the end of the month so we will leave Egyptian waters in the north of the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan. Chinook will be trucked overland through Saudi Arabia to Dubai in the United Arab Emerites. This is to avoid the infamous “Pirate Alley” in the Gulf of Oman and South Indian Ocean. Sailing the west coast of India in the North-East Monsoon in 2012 (January - April will be “pirate-free” . In the meantime, to avoid the extreme summer heat of the UAE we will leave “herself” alone there and fly to Canada to spend a cooler summer. But, more on that in the next blog.

Tea time in the Sinai Desert

At the Karnak Temple, Luxor.
Where are all the tourists? 

Brian and Per safe in the arms
of the Thursday night belly dancer

The bowsprit adorrned
- Hurghada Marina