Friday 24 April
We’d set the alarm for 05:00, got up and dressed whilst the kettled boiled. Then as the skipper prepared breakfast, the pilot arrived forty minutes before expected! Somehow we managed to eat, untie lines, introduce ourselves, finish our coffee and get away before 06:00. The big container ships are our companions at present. Temptress is yacht number three with Silver Tern in the lead, Bird of Passage in the middle, us drawing up the rear. Oddity must have left earlier before we were up. We heard port control calling Pied a Mer so they will be safely tucked behind the breakwater by the time the winds get here.
Mohammed, our pilot, speaks very little English so conversation is limited to just instructions, mostly hand signals to adjust course left or right, slow down or speed up. Temptress is motoring at five and a half knots. We clean the sprayhood windows as best we can then fold back the bimini for a clearer view of things ahead. It could be be a long hot day later, for now it is quite chilly with little breeze.
We just have to hope our new friend is healthy, virus free. There is no ability to social distance in the cockpit and he does want to show off photos of his wife and parents. Perhaps we should have ordered masks and gloves with our provisions! Lots of hand washing, no face touching and fingers crossed the canal authorities checked their staff’s temperatures this month morning, though I somehow doubt it. We are seen as the threat not themselves.
The latest forecast predicts 30 knot gusts from the west at Ismailia this afternoon meaning mooring up could be another challenge along this testing adventure. I’m hoping against hope the forecast is wrong! I’m done with all this, give me a quiet armchair in front of the fire or a bracing walk along the footpath towards Orlock Point.
By quarter past eight line of containerships is almost past us, behind are the bulk carriers. Another 30nm to Ismailia.
An hour and a half later we are, thankfully, already halfway to our destination, the canal widening as we reach Great Bitter Lake. A Spanish flagged motor yacht Pi, passes us, their crew waving madly at us. The canal divides, the yachts take the western channel and as the canal-lake turns north-west, the wind begins to increase from the south west. Waves on the lake despite being close to the shore and Temptress motors hard to make progress, considerably heeled over. Silver Tern is struggling with her windage. Behind us Munchauzen appears on the AIS. This land is not letting us go that easily. The air is full of dust, almost a sand storm.
The southbound convoy is now upon us, first up a supersized containership coming towards us at ten knots. Our little convoy moves into the waiting area to the west and plods on through the waves, now mercifully more from behind. We’d be better off sailing in this but the rules say motor so we do at six knots, surfing at seven. Mohammed seems concerned for my welfare but I’m more concerned for his as he took his trainers off when he came on board but left his socks on!
By the end of Bitter Lake we were engulfed in a full on sandstorm, like the yellow stuff that used to come over Bahrain from Saudi. Every breath takes in a lungful of fine dust. My camera thought every photo was of a sunset. Ships came towards us as if appearing in fog. The next canal length was fortunately calmer than the open lake, the wind lessened a little. Kevin took the opportunity to replace the anchor in the bowroller, there had no time to do it in the scramble to depart.
Eventually we turned the corner into the last straight leading into Lake Tismah and the anchorage at Ismailia. Not only is the air still full of dust but as the wind drops it’s become incredibly hot, stifling. Just five miles to go. Almost a knot of current pushing us onward.
With help from other yacht crews we tied to the mooring buoy Med style then backed toward the quay. Lots of hands were there to help, which was good because the wind piped up again. The pilot stepped off as soon as he could reach the quay and disappeared with those from the other boats, no good byes. Forty days after Temptress departed Djibouti we finally stepped on land again. I hope never to be at sea and anchor for so long ever again. Not that we can go far now, we are confined to the yacht club quay.
Moored and secure we ate a late lunch of cheese and crackers then the skipper got a hose to fill the tanks and plugged us in. Afterwards whilst I mopped the floors in the cabins to remove much of today’s sandstorm, he gave the decks a swab down, underneath all that desert they are white! There was mud in the scuppers, we forgot the bimini and solar panels. However everything both above and below decks will need another going over again and we have a week or more ahead to do it in waiting for Silver Terns parts to arrive.
Silver Tern initially anchored then decided to have a go at mooring to the quay on our starboard side. Jules dropped anchor a few boat lengths off (no more buoys at our end) but it was hard going backwards with a lot of cross wind. Eventually they made it sort of. It just needed some fine tuning! Both skippers decided a kedge was in order so Jules launched his rib and with Kevin directing operations, anchors were laid to windward from both boats. Jules because the cat is beam on to the wind and there aren’t that many bollards on the corner of the dock, Kevin because he doesn’t trust the mooring buoy Temptress and our neighbour to port, Munchauzen are on, as at least one has apparently gone walkabouts recently.
It seems each little step gets harder and harder. Sandstorms, strong winds, fuel, provisioning, repairs. We are drained after today’s motoring epic. There are still three and half thousand miles to go and we have never been so badly prepared for a passage. Hopefully our time here will help us regroup and recover. At least we have somewhere to go, Robert on Bare Bones has been here two weeks. It’s the wrong season to sail back to Australia and no where in Europe is likely to have him. He literally doesn’t know what to do.
Life though does have its funny moments. The skipper hopped ashore to turn the tap on to give things another rinse. The pressure was such that despite his yell, I couldn’t help, a wall of water was shooting upwards then cascading into the cockpit from about six feet, even finding its way through the open companionway. stuck my head up from below and promptly got a face full. I know I need a shower and my clothes a wash but not quite that desperately! Once Kevin had grabbed the hose and clamped it on the shore end, I could get out on deck to redirect the hose end so it was under control again.
Toward the end of the day we sat over sundowners on our clean deck chatting with Jules and Lori across on Silver Tern about nothing in particular. It was good to relax finally after so many weeks. Then showers, with plentiful water and electricity we both indulged in lengthy hot showers to wash out the dust, our first such dowsings since departing Cochin. That’s not to say we haven’t showered but with water a precious resource at sea showers have usually been quick rinse downs with a flannel and a bowl, more especially recently since the watermaker gave up. The skipper got supper; poached eggs, green salad and bread. Then it was time for an early night.