Into the Mediterranean
Thursday 30 April
Six days after arriving in Ismailia the alarm clock went off at 04:00. Wearily in the dark we got up, put the kettle on and dressed in warm clothing. Before long our pilot showed up. Ahmed proved to be a nice guy who drives a canal tug boat or pilots smaller boats up and down the canal. During our morning together he proved himself a competent crew, coiling ropes and even volunteering to put our soggy mooring lines out on the cabin to dry.
The trip from Ismailia to Port Said was uneventful and almost a straight line course. At the last signal station a boat came to take our pilot off and Temptress carried on the last half a mile or so to the sea proper. We continued to follow the deep ships channel for another three or four miles, wary of the depths outside. Even the fishing boat seemed to be stick to the channels as they trawled. Clear blue skies and a light sea breeze made for pleasant motoring.
Once clear of the shallower waters and close to where the various channels that lead to Port Said converge we turned northwest. A sea breeze filled the sails as we beat, close hauled almost parallel to the coast. Soon we were furling some genoa and by supper time had dropped in the second reef as well as tacking away from the shallow waters a mile or two off the shore. After we had eaten our cauliflower pasta and were preparing for the night, we tacked again back onto a more westerly heading. This would take us clear of Damietta, the distinctive rounded headland just east of the Nile, some thirty nautical miles north west of Port Said.
Yesterday Pied a Mer’s young British crew were able to transfer to the airport and take a flight out of Egypt to Paris. We wish them well, it has been a difficult time for all of us but yachts like the one they were on, with a non-European flag, on reaching the Suez face a very uncertain future with few ports open to them, vessel movement restricted. Unless Schengen or other visas can be granted, these crews may well find themselves facing a long voyage through the Mediterranean and on across the Atlantic with little chance of proper maintenance and preparation. The Australian Government published an advertisement aimed at the yachting community urging them to stay where they are or leave the boat and fly home. Both impractical pieces of advice for the majority of bluewater sailors stranded around the globe at present.
Many are now finding themselves under threat of being moved on by countries like the Maldives and Indonesia, that had provided them with visas and safe anchorages. This despite the winds and seasons not being right for a safe passage. Skippers as a result are having to choose between risking the safety of their family and home or defying the authorities and risking being fined at best, or being shot at by local navy patrol boats at worst. Others find themselves in countries like Egypt where with marinas closed and crew unable to gain entry to the country, hauling your home out onto the hard or leaving it secure in a berth so that they can fly out, if there are flights, is impossible. And yet others are confined to their boats in countries which like Malaysia which has had the foresight and goodwill to automatically extend their visas. However some of these crews find themselves dependent on local good will for food and other supplies. The phrase between the devil and the deep blue sea has never been more apt. In many ways Temptress and Silver Tern are very fortunate in that we are nearing the end of our voyages and the season is right for the sailing that has to be done.
The day concluded with a glorious sunset which striped the clouds horizontally in shades of red and orange also brought an end to the breeze. As Susie went below for the first off watch, motoring to charge the batteries, became motoring to keep Temptress moving. The skipper furled the gennie, put a preventer on the boom and increased the revs to cruising speed. What little breeze there is is off the land to port.
At the ten pm watch change we switched the waypoint to that of Ierapetra, 365 nm miles away bearing 300 degrees. The leftover swell meant the most comfortable course was initially around 285 degrees, roughly parallel with the coast and south of the main shipping routes. There were lots of fishing boats to avoid. The ones ahead seem to be of the Indonesian school, anchored with a huge array of dazzling lights longer than the boat underneath them. Others out to sea have nets or small boats with flashing lights strung out from the bigger boat.
It’s a chilly night, for the first time in years we are wearing warm, cosy fleece lined mid layers, shoes and socks on deck. The off watch has a blanket as well as a sheet to wrap around them. I even slept my off watches in thermal shirt and socks. Having been living in an almost permanent summer for the past ten years, we have to remind ourselves it is still only spring in the northern hemisphere.
Friday May 1
At four in the morning the cold damp air chills to the core. As Kevin heads to his bunk it is already becoming light. The air has the pre-dawn misty feel and smells of smoky land. The half moon set several hours ago. Today is the start of a new month so we wish Happy Birthday to family and friends with Birthdays coming up especially Steven, Matthew, Lorna and Keira. We look forward to seeing you all later in the year.
The wind came back as the sun rose, by 05:20 Temptress was sailing again making four and a half knots on a reach. We altered course to head more west expecting the wind later to come from there meaning we will be able to crack off and have the wind on the beam hopefully for the rest of the passage. Jules called on the sat phone, they are much further inshore, having motored for only a very short period during the night. The last watch of the night has a hot chocolate and a shortbread to warm them up.
By eight we’d shaken the second reef out, had our first cuppa of the day and the bread was rising. With the wind light and from the WSW the seas, now a deep Mediterranean blue, were gentle enabling Temptress to do around four knots. We are keeping to our more westerly course for now and having already covered ninety odd miles are on target for a Sunday or Monday arrival in Ierapetra.
Having put our mid-layers on we are both cosy. They are a bit like wearing a sleeping bag; windproof on the outside, fleece inside. My Gill salopettes are old friends not worn in many years, shaped like a baby gro without sleeves, the shoulders are made of a stretchy thick jersey fabric that enables movement, knees and bum are of some hard wearing fabric. My only grumble has always been the top of the zip which often is higher than t-shirt necks allowing the metal zipper contact with the skin if it’s pulled to the top, oh and there are no pockets! In the night I pulled out of a locker another trusted warm friend, a black and grey pull on fleece lined top, another Gill garment that used to keep me warm offshore racing. In fact with my Gill blue hat last night I was a sailing advert for their clothing range of ten to fifteen years ago!
With the bread in the oven I had a couple of hours catching up on sleep by which time it was lunchtime. Kevin had the fresh bread with cheese while I ate the left over veg and pasta from last night with some mayo stirred through it. Finally the sun was warm, layers were shed.
Ahead and to starboard is a line of cloud, a weather front indicating a probable change in the wind which during the morning has slowly swung from south of west to just north of west. Kevin checked the weather forecast downloaded a couple of days ago. It seems to indicate we should be further west before trying make some northing so we tack back onto starboard where we make about 247 degrees close hauled. With full sail and the light winds Temptress is making under five knots. Slow progress and yet again the destination lies directly upwind. It is most disheartening, we are scratchy with each other. This wasn’t how we hoping for our journey through the Mediterranean.
With countries having banned leisure sailing and most ports closed plus the risk to ourselves of exposure to the virus, its going to be a hard journey back to the UK. Not the casual cruising adventure we’d envisaged back in January when we had planned sailing up through the Dodecanese to the Corinth Canal, through to Messolonghi, leaving the boat for a flight (yesterday) to the UK for a couple weeks before exploring the Ionian islands, Italy and Spain for a couple of months. We both really need somewhere to stop for a few weeks, where we can rest, walk ashore, do normal cruising things like exploring, shopping, fixing the boat and ourselves. The world is no longer ‘normal’, sadly forcing us to keep going even though we are running on empty.
Supper was an inedible failure. Lentils and rice cooked up with a bit of cauliflower and some frozen peas and carrots had added to them an emergency ration pack of chicken rendang. The chicken was dry beyond eating and the sauce oily, spicy hot but with little flavour. We resorted to apples and the last muesli bars. The fruit and veg bought for us in Ismailia is proving very poor, another over ripe tomato has gone over the side, the apples are battered, bruised and going brown.
We tacked twice, once before supper which had us pointing at Rhodes and again afterwards opting for heading south of west towards the Egyptian coast. The latter was preferable to the banging into the waves. Fed up and miserable we just want to give up this endless sailing to windward. But where to go? Hopefully the wind should become a westerly, giving us a more comfortable reach to Crete by the early hours. It’s still 277nm away and this beating is doubling the distance. Jules called via the sat phone briefly. They are around ten miles north of Alexandria, with a northerly wind putting Silver Tern about 55 nm south south west of our current position. He is wondering about heading to Italy. For us that’s a step too far, we will carry on making our way north.