Sophie is currently anchored in Üçaĝiz harbor in the Kekova Roads on Turkey’s southern coast. Our location is 36.11.64n, 029.50.58e. This is our first anchorage since the Maldives, a very distant 12 weeks and 3,100 miles ago. We have made additional stops in Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, and the United States since then.
We have covered a lot of ground. It feels great to be back at anchor, like our life is finally returning back to normal. Sophie School has resumed, the water toys are out, and Jenna and I just completed a paddleboard circuit of the harbor, accompanied by turtles, fishies, and goats. I even got to fix a toilet and a bilge pump since we arrived here the other day.
Back in March we rested in Port Ghalib, Egypt for a couple of days after our long passage across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. There were 5 other boats there that had completed the Red Sea passage around the same time we did. Other than being able to connect with fellow cruisers, there wasn’t much to see. Port Ghalib is a destination resort that is suffering a 90% reduction in tourism due to the terrorist attacks in Egypt. Most of the businesses there had stopped paying rent to the resort’s absentee Kuwaiti landlords.
Our Red Sea guards departed Sophie a couple of hours after we arrived. The German bar that I had been looking forward to was a bit of a disappointment. They didn’t even serve German beer!
The resort maintains a sailboat that had crashed up on the rocks ten years ago as a reminder of how treacherous the local waters can be. They are proud of it, while all of the cruisers view it as a very bad omen.
On the positive side, Port Ghalib offered a very protected harbor, an easy government check-in process, and diesel fuel pumps right on the quay. It was an excellent stop after our long passage. We do not regret having made the long push to get here.
After Port Ghalib, we made an overnight run to Port of Suez at the entrance to the Suez Canal. For the first 6 hours we slowly motored into a steep chop, but the wind soon swung around to a southerly as forecast, and we had an uneventful trip for the rest of the way.
We stayed at the Suez Yacht Club, which 15 years ago had a restaurant, bar, and swimming pool. Fleets of 50 sailboats at a time used to stop there as they cruised up and down the Red Sea. Now the yacht club is reduced to a single plastic floating dock with no facilities other than a security guard. We were just the second sailboat of the year to call on them, after Egoiste, a Jeanneau 56 that left the Maldives three weeks before we did. The yacht club’s facilities have been handed over to Egypt’s military, which now uses it as an Army and Navy Club.
Our dock was just 100 meters to the entrance of the canal, and it was a little weird to see 1,200 foot container ships passing us as they made their way into the desert.
Our agent met us on the dock and took care of our paperwork. He also arranged for us to take a taxi into town and have dinner at a traditional kebab restaurant. It was our first real exposure to local middle eastern food. No one in the restaurant spoke English, and as a result we ordered way too much food, including chicken, lamb, pita, humus, tahini, salads, and sweets. We had some excellent leftovers.
The next day a tour guide took us in a van into Cairo where we toured the Cairo Museum and then visited the pyramids at Giza. It was a stunning experience, made all the better (and sadder) by the complete lack of tourists in the city. There were no lines at the Cairo Museum, and we were able to take photos of the Pyramids with no people in the background. Apparently this is the first time someone had done this since Napoleon visited over 200 years ago.
Some people question whether we are taking big risks visiting places where there have been terrorist attacks within the last year. Our view is that if we don’t visit countries that depend on tourism to support their economy, then the terrorists win. We will never do anything that we consider unsafe for our family, and we did skip visiting some other aras of Egypt this time. Cairo is no different than Paris or Brussels in terms of safety right now. The local people rely on income from tourists to survive, and we believe it is our role as world travelers to help them.
After a couple of days in Suez, we picked up our pilot and transited the first half (40 miles) of the Suez Canal, making an overnight stop at the yacht club in the port of Ismalia. It was surreal taking Sophie through the desert. All we could see were mounds of sand on either side of the canal, with army forts and emergency floating bridges every couple of kilometers. During the ’73 war, the Egyptian Third Army was trapped and surrounded on the wrong side of the Suez, and apparently the country never wants that to happen again.
We even had to stop for 20 minutes during the tail end of a floating bridge staging exercise. Each bridge section had diesel engines attached to it, and the entire bridge swung like a door across the canal. Later on during that day we passed by a couple of tanks that were crossing the canal on motorized rafts. There was a lot of military activity.
The only other thing I remember from that first day of our canal passage was how cold it was, how very very cold it was. Jenna stayed below doing Sophie School with the diesel cabin heaters running at full blast. I was up top with the pilot, and I was wearing a puffy insulated coat over 3 layers of sweatshirts. I even had to loan the pilot my Gill sailing jacket, and he was a little disappointed when I had to inform him at the end of the day that it was not a gift.
We made it to Ismalia by mid-afternoon and docked at the yacht club there. We caught the tail end of lunch at the restaurant, which was mostly serving a business crowd, and then went to bed.
The next morning we met out new pilot and quickly proceeded on our way. Once again it was cold, and once again our pilot assumed my loan of the Gill sailing jacket was a gift. He spoke no English and spent most of his time quietly praying. We offered him tea and kebab for lunch, which he was finally willing to accept once we convinced him that it was halal. At one point he even made pig oinking noises in trying to communicate to us that he couldn’t eat pork. But it all worked out, and he enjoyed his lamb, hummus, and tahini.
During this leg Jenna climbed to the top of the mast and took some pretty awesome photos of Sophie driving through a trench of water in the middle of an Arabian desert. Surreal.
By early afternoon we reached Port Said, and a pilot boat pulled by to disembark our pilot. We suddenly found ourselves motoring into the Mediterranean sea on a cold and sunny afternoon. We were greeted by some of the fattest dolphins we’ve ever seen. It was quite a moment for us.
We officially cleared out of Egypt back in Port Suez, so we had no need to stop in Port Said and headed directly for Herzilya, a port in Israel 15 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. It was an easy overnight run, highlighted by my 3:00 AM interview over VHF with Israeli Defense Forces. Even though we had contacted them in advance, they wanted to know the name, birth date, and passport number of every soul on board. The discussion took an hour.
Later that morning when we were 10 miles out of Herzilya, an IDF patrol boat roared out to greet us. They did a big circle around Sophie and then stopped 100 meters off our port side. They didn’t say much on radio, other than requesting that all passengers and crew please come up on deck. In Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, when military patrol boats greeted Sophie, the military on board whipped out their mobile phones and took selfies with Sophie in the background. The Israelis were all business and had a 50 caliber machine gun pointed at us the entire time. We also assume they had an infrared camera on their boat to see if we had any people hiding below. But they were super friendly and after a minute said “We hope you enjoy your stay in Israel” and roared off.
An hour later we docked at the marina in Herzilya. After we stern-tied to the pier, a couple of millennial guys in civilian clothes came up to us, said they were with the border police, and asked if they could search the boat. They were quite polite, and I wasn’t worried at all that they were going to ask us for a bottle of wine like the customs dudes in Tonga had done. When they were finished searching, they asked me to accompany them off of the boat, where we were joined by two young women who asked if I minded if they could ask me some questions. I had been through this drill during my previous visit to Israel, and it was fascinating to go through it again. One woman smiled and asked all of the questions while the other three watched me. Where were we from, what did we do for a living, did we carry any packages for people from the Maldives of Egypt, did we ever leave the key to the boat with anyone, what did I do for a living again? It was all super friendly and super competent, and after 20 minutes they smiled and said “Welcome to Israel. We hope you enjoy your stay!”
Herzilya is a luxury, modern marina, unlike anyplace we had visited since our stop in Singapore a year earlier. The marina complex included a Ritz Carlton hotel, a mall, and 20 outdoor tourist restaurants along a broad waterfront promenade. We stayed there for 10 days, making side trips to Jerusalem, Jordan, and Acre. We also reconnected with the Sagiv family, friends from Seattle whose children had gone to daycare with Leo and Hazel before we left on our adventure and they moved home to Israel.
We loved our stay in Israel, and we hope to return there before we leave the Mediterranean.
After Israel, we made an overnight run to Paphos on the western tip of Cyprus and stayed there for over a week. Paphos is a tourist town built around a small fishing port that doesn’t have a big marina, but we were able to obtain a stern tie berth on the police dock. The location was spectacular, with a small Crusaders castle across a courtyard from Sophie, and a bike trail led to Greek and Byzantine ruins just 500 meters away.
By the time we reached Cyprus, were beginning to master our new Mediterranean cruising lifestyle, and we liked it: stern-tie in an ancient harbor, visit local Egyptian/Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Ottoman ruins, avoid the waterfront tourist restaurants, and wallow in the Mediterranean “mezze” cuisine: eggplant, tomatoes, hummus, cucumbers, mint, yogurt, lamb, fish, olives, sparkling water, and dry red wine. Using Paphos as our base, we toured the entire island and feel like we barely scratched the surface during our ten days there. We plan to return to Cyprus during our cruise.
After Paphos we made yet another (and potentially our last) overnight run for a while and went to Kemer, a harbor with a marina next to the Taurus mountains in Turkey. Jenna and I had decided that after 3 and a half years living on Sophie, it was time to cut the ties and rent out our house back in Seattle. We needed a safe place in Turkey where we could park the boat for a couple of weeks while we flew back to the states to clean out our house and get it ready for tenants. Kemer fit the bill: a big, safe marina just 40 minutes from the airport in Antalya.
So we spent just 2 days in Kemer and then locked up Sophie and headed to the airport. Before we flew to the states, we made a 3 day stop in Istanbul, which is a spectacular city. We visited all of the big mosques and took a cruise on the Bosphorus. Jenna took 10,000 pictures. Our list of cities we plan to re-visit continues to grow.
Then it was off to Seattle for a 2 week visit that combined work and pleasure. We were able to pack up all of our stuff, move it into storage, clean up the house (almost), and get it ready for rental. We were also able to visit with our great friends back home. Leo and Hazel had multiple sleepovers, and one family even loaned us their brand new Beneteau 455 for a weekend rendezvous with our Seattle boating community friends. It is really important for us to maintain our roots back home, especially for Leo and Hazel, and this was a great visit.
After our 2 weeks in Seattle we flew back to Antalya and then cabbed straight back to Sophie. After being on a dock in Port Ghalib, Suez, Ismalia, Herzilya, Paphos, and Kemer, we really wanted to cut the dock lines and get back to anchoring. The Herzilya and Kemer marinas charged us us over 100 Euros per night for moorage, and for us that is not sustainable over the long run. So after one day in Kemer we saw we had a weather window and motored 50 miles around the corner to our current location.
We are now free swinging on anchor in a big protected harbor at Oçagiz. There are 8 other sailboats here. Yesterday, it was dead calm all morning, and then the wind picked up to 25 knots right after lunchtime until evening. This is apparently the weather pattern here. Within 4 kilometers are 2 castles and multiple Byzantine underwater ruins which we plan to explore with with the big dinghy. All of our systems are working, the kids have settled into their school routine, and the local produce is fresh and inexpensive. We are going to try to go three months without docking.
Once again, we are really grateful to be on this trip and feel incredibly lucky to be exploring the world on our boat.