Today is arrival day. Our predicted landfall is 1600 and I’m writing this as we motor across flat calm water towards Port Said, so we’ll see if my ETA is correct. Although we can’t see land the depth is only 20 metres, and we’ve passed a couple of oil rigs and been overtaken by a huge cargo ship. With the hazy sun the entire experience reminds me of the east coast of the UK. On a good day. Instead of familiar Turkish banter the VHF is now choca with angry-sounding Arabic fishermen.
When we communicated with Tony on ‘Full Flight’ the other day he described the pilot boats that come out to meet new arrivals as ‘aggressive’. I thought this was a little unfair, until we were met by one ourselves two miles outside the entrance to Suez Canal. Aggressive is an understatement, Tony. The shouting, whistling and engine revving was so over the top I thought they wanted a fight! However they didn’t pull up alongside for a pilot to board and instead sped off towards Port Said, leaving Liz and myself to negotiate the entry channel. Shouldn’t be too difficult. Yeah, right…
As we approached the section where the side channel meets the main channel a huge tanker sped past, leaving behind an enormous wake. As the first wave hit the bow so Esper leaped up, and dropped her nose into the trough that followed, scooping up many tons of water which she proceeded to throw back at us. Water went everywhere! We had hatches open, the spray hood down, companionway uncovered… In short we managed to soak just about everything fore of the cockpit! After 400 miles in some big swells the most wet we get is in a gentle motor down a flat canal on a hot day. Pathetic!
In addition to all this we hadn’t spotted a very slow moving tanker on our starboard side, approaching us so slowly it looked stationary. Now the Red Sea pilot guide specifically says “it is discourteous and poor seamanship to manoeuvre in the canal or approaches when big ships are assembling at slow speed”. I must have read that sentence five times in my preparation for this approach, so what do I go and do? A long toot from the ship’s horn politely reminded me of my idiocy. Do I have any excuses for my poor navigation? None, except I was mentally exhausted from our trip. Still, that’s no excuse. A near miss is a near miss. Of all the times I could have done with a pilot, that was it, so you can imagine my frustration when an aggressive pilot pulls up alongside a mile down the entrance and hops on board for the easy bit!
Our pilot was a nice enough chap, with enough English to explain that many of the older buildings in Port Said, to our right, were colonial. In the hazy afternoon sun the entrance feels extremely industrial, especially Port Fouad on our left. Cranes, chimneys, factories and commercial vessels are everywhere. But in amongst all this chaos were some beautiful old buildings left over from Britain’s time in Egypt, and the old lighthouse looks funny set in amongst the newer, utilitarian and rather ugly constructions. The old port control art deco building, however, wins the prize for the most stunning, especially when lit up at night. I’ll try and get a picture of it for you.
Approximately 40 minutes before my ETA we pull in to Port Fouad Yacht Club, the ‘yacht club’ being the most misleading part of its name. It’s basically a harbour wall set in from the main canal and sits under an old British-built grey brick factory and slummy looking appartments. Don’t think I’m being negative about all this though: our arrival in a new continent, with our lines taken by some familiar faces, gave us a thrill and a buzz. We moored up next to ‘Roam II’, who had arrived two hours before, and was packed full of cheery faces all getting sloshed on cold beer!
I couldn’t wait to hop on board and join the back-slapping and tale swapping, but I still had to drop the hook and reverse into our spot. Aside from lining Esper up properly this was all straightforward except for one thing: our nice pilot had turned into an annoying toad, constantly asking me for a ‘present’ (baksheesh) for his friends. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d waited until the parking was complete but right about the time I should have instructed Liz to drop the anchor I was busy telling my pilot to shut the **** up and wait! He then got a bit arsey and said “right, I’m getting off now” like a spoilt school kid and got ready to hop on to the waiting pilot boat next to us, so I said “if you can wait just two minutes I’ll get you some cigarettes”. He certainly wasn’t expecting just one packet, but that’s all he was going to get from me. One packet of fags for sitting in my cockpit doing nothing for 20 minutes. Fair deal, I thought. Gotta get used to this present asking though, it’s just their way of doing things here in Egypt.
We were greeted by Saed of the Felix agency and I have to say he’s been fantastic. It’s one of the reasons for doing the rally, of course, as all the administration is taken care of, but he’s bent over backwards and so my 12 hour impression of Egypt is positive. Let’s hope it stays that way!