Too Many Drummers.com
Journal 1 - The Land Downunder
Journal 2 - Indonesia
Journal 3 - Singapore & Malaysia
Journal 4 - Thailand 1
Journal 5 - Thailand 2
Journal 6 - Indian Ocean
Journal 7 - Red Sea
Journal 8 - Egypt
Journal 9 - Suez to Israel to Petra
Journal 10 - Turkey
Journal 11 - Greece & Italy
Journal 12 -
Balearics, Gibraltar, Canaries
Journal 13 -
Canaries to Cape Verde to Atlantic
Journal 14 - Barbados to
Journal 15 - Trinidad
Journal 16 - Bahamas DC-3 Plane Wreck
Journal 17 - 34 Things I've Learned in 33,000 Miles
SUEZ - ISRAEL - PETRA
The Suez Canal
From time to time I read stories of bygone eras when men were real
men, boats were real boats, and oceans were an empire to be
conquered. In those days, sailors could tie 427 different types of knots
(using only their teeth) while dangling 100 feet above the icy deck of a
ship buffeted by hurricane force winds. Global circumnavigation meant
dangerous forays into high latitudes where nature was free to flex her
muscles. And the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, was a jewel
in many a sailor’s crown and the final nail in more than one coffin.
Thankfully, in the 1800s someone dug a ditch between the Red Sea and the
Mediterranean Sea. Today we call that ditch the Suez Canal. It saves cargo
ships and (more importantly) cruising yachts a tremendous amount of time and
effort. Now cruisers can choose between sailing south under Africa or
heading north to the Mediterranean.
Originally our plan was to go south but we changed our mind along the way.
In cruising circles the Canal is considered the final leg of the gauntlet up
the Red Sea. Stories of excessive baksheesh (this is still Egypt, after
all) and clashes with canal authorities abound, but after three months of
bashing to windward up the Red Sea, most people are willing to put up with
anything to get to the Med (that’s cool yachtie slang for “Mediterranean
Here’s what you need to know to
transit the Suez Canal:
1. This is one of the highest trafficked waterways in the world. The
government makes a lot of money by charging vessels to go through. There is
a complicated mathematical formula to assess the fee for each vessel that
transits the canal.
Most cruisers have trouble understanding the formula, so I had the fee
adjuster break it down for me….here it is:
(length of boat) x (width of boat) + (number of people) – (number of camels
seen by the canal director while driving to work on Tuesday) x (amount of
calories in slice of Sara Lee cheesecake) + (the square root of 58…it’s the
fee adjuster’s lucky number) x (cubic volume of engine room) = Cost to
2. Every vessel that goes through the canal is assigned a pilot (in
the nautical world, pilots have nothing to do with airplanes…they are people
with local knowledge of a certain harbor who (hopefully) know how to drive
ships…almost every port in the world puts one of their pilots on board
arriving cargo ships to guide them in safely). Cruising yachts get pilots,
too. This is both good and bad. It’s good because the risk of getting run
over by an oil tanker in the middle of the canal is greatly diminished with
a pilot on board. It’s bad because pilots are assigned randomly, so it’s
possible that you might get an unpleasant one.
You will be probably be squeezed for baksheesh by the pilot. We transited
the canal in two day-long legs with a different pilot each day. Both our
pilots were tugboat captains, so they had no problems handling Exit Only.
Our first pilot was a conservative, rather nervous guy named Mahmoud. He
did great and didn’t pressure us at all for extra stuff. He smoked a lot,
but kept it outside. (The traditional form of baksheesh for canal transits
is cigarettes. None of us smoke, but we bought a carton just in case we
needed it to escape unpleasantries.) Our second pilot was Ahmed. He was
very friendly and nice until the end of the trip when we gave him a small
bag containing his “gift”. Ahmed looked in the bag, said it wasn’t enough,
and passive aggressively refused to leave the boat….which wouldn’t have been
that big of deal except that we were bouncing around in the main channel of
Port Said, one of the busiest ports on earth…
…which brings me to the pilot boats (boats used to drop off and pick up the
pilots from ships)…Suez Canal pilot boats have a rather nasty reputation
amongst cruisers for ramming yachts when they pick up pilots, especially
when you don’t give baksheesh to the captain of the pilot boat. (You’re
starting to see how this works, aren’t you?) Our plan was to drop Ahmed off
at the Port Said yacht club instead of allowing one of the mammoth pilot
boats to come alongside us. This was a good idea right up until the time we
saw the disrepair of the yacht club and the relatively small pilot boat that
came out to meet us. We decided to offload Ahmed straight onto the pilot
boat instead of docking at the marina.
This was the point
Ahmed refused to get off the boat until he got more loot. The pilot boat
came alongside and started yelling, Ahmed yelled back, dad yelled at Ahmed
to get off the boat, the pilot boat insisted that we go into the yacht club
(I think they hoped to really put on the baksheesh pressure once we tied
into a marina slip), mom yelled no, Ahmed sulked, and I waved the boat hook
around menacingly and thought about conking Ahmed in the head and pushing
his body over the side. Meanwhile, Exit Only drifted closer and closer to
an exposed concrete pier bristling with iron beams…
Ahmed chose this moment to tie his shoes in a manner which can only be
described as “slower than a pre-adolescent sloth”. Now the guys on the
pilot boat yelled that they wanted baksheesh. Dad yelled for Ahmed to get
off the boat. Everybody was getting annoyed, and Exit Only was getting
really close to the Pier of Doom.
Mom gave the pilot boat a candy bar. They insisted on two because there
were two men in the boat. Mom refused. Stalemate again. More yelling.
Exit Only drifted uncomfortably close to the Pier of Imminent Destruction,
which the pilot boat was hoping would pressure us into giving them more
stuff. Ahmed took this opportunity to straighten his socks. No dice. To
quote dad: “We do not respond very well to extortion.” Yelling continued
but no more baksheesh was to be had this day. I began to hope Ahmed brought
his passport with him, because if he didn’t get off Exit Only, he was in for
a trip to Israel.
Ahmed got off the boat. Justice prevailed. What a punk.
The Suez Canal is 190 km long. It takes a couple days to transit. I had
read somewhere that it would be boring, but I heartily disagree. The canal
has a strong military presence along its entire length….lots of guys with
guns. We passed long convoys of container ships and even saw one of the
royal Saudi Arabian pleasure yachts (which more closely resembled an ocean
liner than a yacht).
At the half way point of the canal is a city called Ismailiyah. This town
proved to be one of the highlights of Egypt for me because it doesn’t depend
on the tourist trade. We could walk around freely without getting assaulted
by shop owners selling genuine scale replicas of King Tut’s cat.
All in all, the Suez Canal was relatively painless. As soon as we dropped
Ahmed on the pilot boat, we headed out into the Med to be greeted by a pod
On to Israel………..
I don’t think any of us expected to visit Israel on this voyage, but a last
minute change of plan made it our first stop in the Med.
Israel is a very interesting country. It is completely different than I
expected…walking around Ashkelon (the port we entered) feels like a cross
between America, Australia, and a bit of Europe. One of the things that
surprises me the most is how much I stand out when I speak English. With
everyone dressing in western fashion, I automatically assume they speak my
language too, which, it turns out, they often don’t. Hebrew is the language
of choice here. Almost all signs are in Hebrew, with a few doubling in
Arabic and English. I realize that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it
surprised me. Everything looks western, but it isn’t.
Israel takes their
security VERY seriously. Just entering the country took the better part of
a day. There is a constant stream of patrol aircraft up and down the coast,
and we can hear the occasional thump of distant explosions in the Gaza Strip
(which is just 12 km south of Ashkelon).
There is so much to see
in Israel that we couldn’t hope to cover everything in the short time we are
here. Instead of surrendering to this or any logic, we chose to rent
a car and drive like maniacs to every corner of the country.
First we visited the Old City of Jerusalem with a group of fellow yachties.
We took a taxi so we wouldn’t get lost or have to worry about parking.
Ironically enough, we hired the only taxi driver in the country who had
never been to Jerusalem. He got lost almost immediately upon entering the
Eventually we did make
it to the Old City, at which point we optimistically arranged for the taxi
driver to pick us up in the evening from a different gate than he dropped us
off at…which meant that he was an hour late that evening when he got lost
trying to find the other gate.
I expected the Old City
of Jerusalem to look like the mud cities of the Middle East we have seen
elsewhere. Boy was I wrong. This town has been conquered and rebuilt so
many times in the past two thousand years that it bears little, if any,
resemblance to the metropolis of Jesus’ time. Most of the architecture
seemed to be from the time of the Crusaders.
To really get a feel for all the things we saw in Jerusalem, check out
Another highlight of
our trip was swimming in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is an inland lake fed
by the Jordan River. It has the highest salt content of any body of water
on earth, which means that swimmers float with unusual buoyancy. What you
don’t read in the brochure is that the water has a truly nasty flavor and
will sting your eyes like there is no tomorrow…which wouldn’t matter except
for one important fact: I love splashing.
It took about thirty
seconds of swimming for me to successfully ingest a mouthful of insidious
water. It tastes like sulpheric acid (don’t ask me how I know this…it’s a
long story involving an unfortunate chemistry class, a rather poorly timed
nap, and a dream about instant pudding, but I digress…). While frantically
spitting the foulness out, I accidentally splashed a plume of acid…I mean,
water, directly into my right eye. Ow. OwOwOwOw.
In a flurry of motion I spun around to get into shallower water,
inadvertently splashing Sarah in the face. Uh-oh. Big mistake.
And that, my friends, is why they call it the Dead Sea.
Some other great
Visited a hilltop fortress called "Nimrod's Fortress". It is one
of those forts that was conquered by three or four armies because of
its prime strategic location. (I always thought "Nimrod" was a rather
dated, mildly insulting term from the 1920s or something, but it turns out
that he was actually a king in the Bible. Go figure. I can be
such a nimrod sometimes...)
While driving north to the Sea of Galilee, we saw a group of
white-robed people getting baptized at one of the official baptism sites on
the Jordan River. We went in to watch the proceedings and learned they were
a church group from Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, CA. Very nice
As the line got
shorter, Sarah and I thought it was a great opportunity to get baptized
together, so we asked the pastors if it would be ok, and they generously
agreed. If either of you are reading this, thanks again! A special thanks
to the man who loaned me his extra white robe, too (sorry that I didn’t get
your name)! Sarah and I are going to visit your church sometime.
The Sea of Galilee is the backdrop for many stories about Jesus and his
ministry. This is where the disciples hung out and fished, where Jesus
walked on the water, and where he gave the Sermon on the Mount. The first
thing that struck me when I saw the Sea was that whoever named it had vastly
different standards than mine about what constitutes a large body of
water….to me, it seems more of a large lake than a sea.
Seeing the biblical sites first hand filled in so many blanks in
my mind. Now when I read the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand or
casting out a demon into a herd of pigs, the images are richer.
The Last Crusade
Israel is right next to Jordan, so we couldn’t pass up the chance to see
Petra. For those of you who don’t know, Petra is an ancient Nabatean city
carved in the sandstone walls of a Jordanian canyon. You probably saw one
of its most famous tombs at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,
when Indy, his dad, Marcus, and Saleh ride horses away from the temple of
the Holy Grail. That “temple” is actually a tomb called the “Treasury”
which sits at the dramatic entrance to Petra. I’ve always been an Indy fan,
so the Treasury alone was worth the price of admission.
Petra was built by the Nabateans over
two thousands years ago. Over time it faded into obscurity to become a
legend. Bedouins moved in, and the remnants of the once powerful kingdom
became homes for nomadic tribesmen and their goats. The natural features of
Petra’s canyons made it easy for the Bedouin to keep its location secret
until 1812, when a German explorer posing as a Bedouin convinced a guide to
take him to the lost city.
Voila! The word was
out and it was only a matter of time before Harrison Ford and Sean Connery
would ride down the canyon on their noble steeds.
In high season there are 2000-3000 visitors a day to Petra. On the day we
visited, there were less than 200. This is one of the advantages of visiting
desert tourist sites in the summer. The obvious disadvantage is that it is
hot. Fortunately, there are plenty of Jordanians willing to sell you
donkey, horse cart, or camel rides through the tombs.
Mom took a memorable donkey ride up the +900 steps to magnificent tomb
called the “Monastery”. I gained a new respect for the athletic prowess of
donkeys as I sprinted past it again and again to film its relentless drive
up the mountain. I don’t think it even broke a sweat.
Visiting Petra has been one of my life goals for ages, so it was great to
check it off the list. It’s one of those places I would go back to in an
instant. Truly magical. I hope the video footage turns out well.
OK, that should cover it for now. Next up, Cyprus….