Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A New Sea

It was already noon as we sat in our sunny cockpit tied up to the Ismalia Yacht Club in Egypt. Three other pilots had already come to take the other cruising boats up part 2 of the Suez Canal, but no one had come for us. The yacht club manager was not on our side. He said we were supposed to check in with him the night before if we wanted to leave. Of course, we were never told this, but this being Egypt and all, we figured it was just another ploy for him to make another days profit from us sitting and waiting at his dock. Whatever...after waiting patiently all morning we were fine sitting another day. We were tired and it was nice to have an excuse to rest.

We started putting the boat back to bed and geared up for a walk around town, when, behold, a pilot shows up on the dock with our agency. He looked to be kind and happy and was definitely ready to go. Isn't it too late, we asked? Won't we be in Port Said after dark?? No no no, they all said, you will be fine. Nic and I did a quick check-in and decided we should just go for it because who knows if anyone will even show up tomorrow. So in a matter of minutes our new pilot jumped in DK, we cast off the med mooring lines, revved up DreamKeeper's engine and we were off.

Once again we had scored. Our pilot was truly a warm and friendly pious Egyptian man, competent and easy to be around. He took the helm and hand-steered up and out of Ismalia bound for the Mediterranean. I wish I could say it was an uneventful trip, but knowing us lately, it just wouldn't be so.

Within an hour while checking the engine, I noticed our charging regulator was off, meaning no battery charging. I checked the wires. All ok. So I figured we have a new regulator problem, one of many we have had recently, so I decided to switch it out underway. Out comes my electrical tool box and all my tools. With the Yanmar cranking and intensely hot already, I started taking it apart and reinstalling a new one, one I was hoping actually worked. After a while it was ready. I tested it. Nothing. Then I started testing wires all the way from the batteries to the cockpit engine key. I tested circuits, looked for loose wires, and poked and prodded everywhere I could. Meanwhile, our pilot hand-steered and Nic tried to give me positive encouragement the best that she could.

For at least 3 hours I tried to fix the problem. I was totally stressed out, tired, soaked in sweat and also worried that we might have a big problem and need to stay in Port Said to sort it all out. Not what we wanted at all considering the baksheesh we would have to pay and the hassle of dealing with another pilot when we wanted to leave again.

I finally took a break and sat in our cockpit next to the pilot, both of us shaking our heads. Then, I glanced over to the instrument panel and noticed the key. It was turned to the "off" position and not the "on" position like it should be. No f-ing way, I thought. I flicked the key over, opened the engine compartment and glanced at the charging regulator. It was on. Classic. I couldn't believe it. Nothing was broken, it was just a stupid mistake on my part to not think through the problem well enough. In my defense it's so easy to forget on a marine diesel engine that the key doesn't turn the engine off but will turn the electricity off to the regulator if not in the correct position. It had only been bumped. Unbelievable. I think this little episode pretty much summed up where I was at in dealing with all DreamKeeper's problems and mentally just being exhausted with all of it. Thankfully this one had a happy ending and we were still 'good to go' to head out into the Med.

After another long day through the man-made canal at sunset we had made it to Port Said, our last Egyptian port. After giving our pilot the mandatory baksheesh and some extra cigarettes to his greedy little pilot boat friends, we waved farewell and took over DK's helm as we motored out through the city and into our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea at dusk. We raised the mainsail, unfurled the jib, and fell off on a starboard close reach towards Israel zigging and zagging through the fishing buoys and busy shipping lanes.

Even though we were really tired, we were also so so relieved to put closure on the Red Sea, Egypt, and the Suez Canal. It was pretty surreal. One of those times when you can't actually believe where you really are.

Nic and I settled into our night watch routine as we plodded along through confused seas and light winds navigating through the oil platforms and fishing boats. We managed to rig the Monitor windvane to actually auto-steer for us most of the night, even though we had only a little wind and had the motor on. Relieved to not be glued to the helm for hours at a time, we could actually lay back and relax a bit and take a leak when we needed to.

At dawn the Israeli Navy was already calling us on the VHF. Over and over we repeated answers to their many questions. We knew security there would be tight and we expected a thorough questioning, but it seemed to never end.

We were told to stay 20 miles from land and 5 miles from the gas platform offshore so we changed our course and plowed into the swell and wind to make amends. By mid-afternoon we were finally ready to turn towards shore right when the wind piped up in the high twenties and the seas increased. Good timing. If it would have happened earlier we would have been spending another tiring night out hove-to, awaiting a morning arrival. But the Mediterranean sea gods were on our side and we fell off onto a broad reach flying along at 7-8 knots towards the port of Ashkelon.

A little while later we were met by the Israeli Navy in a gun boat performing tight circles around DK while hailing us on the VHF. I answered all the same questions once again while Nic hand-steered down the seas and the Navy fixed it's massive guns on us at close range. After 20 minutes or so, we were cleared in and they motored away. Little did we know at the time but the first "Aid Flotilla" from Turkey was almost to Israel, the one with the violent ending that most of you probably read about in the news. Security in Israel is always tight, but even more so when there is the possibility of conflict. Thankfully, we managed to slip right into the harbor before all the news happened, tied up to the customs dock, dealt with more security officials and then melted into our beds in a new land, in a new sea.

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