Gladlee of Guernsey
May 1995 - June 1995
22nd – 26th May
The port police showed up late in the morning, having assured us we’d be able to get away by 06.30 (wiser skippers had fudged their ETDs and collected their papers the previous afternoon), and by the time we cleared the harbour at 07.30 we seemed to have little chance of reaching Cape Andras (the tip of Cyprus’ north-eastern “spike”) in daylight – this was worrying, since we’d been warned that there was a lot of rubbish afloat in this area. The day was fine, hazy, and very hot; but there was no wind to speak of, so we had no choice but to motor all the way. The only notable incident during the day was being overtaken by Wally on “Maid of Chips” at close quarters in an otherwise deserted stretch of water (we actually had to slow down as he cut in ahead of us, and a protest on VHF got an incoherent reply). We rounded the cape at dusk and finally hit a freshening westerly breeze, too late to be of any use. A cluster of lights in Monastery Bay, three miles down the coast, revealed that 30-odd yachts (and the Coastguard) had elected to break the journey to Famagusta, so we found a vacant space and joined them for the night. We were dimly aware of some noisy activity later (there’d been a party going on as we arrived, and apparently three boats collided in the early hours while getting their anchors up!), but we were finally woken at 05.30 as Geoff and Phoebe on “Bidarka” lobbed a newspaper into the cockpit above our heads! We got a nice northerly breeze out of the bay and eventually hoisted the cruising ‘chute, but three hours later we were down to F2 and had to make up time with the engine. It was baking hot by lunchtime as Famagusta came into distant view – we stopped briefly to cool off with a swim, followed by beers to celebrate 10,000 miles logged since we’d left St. Katherine’s Dock almost three years previously. We set the genoa briefly as the light breeze backed SE on the approach to Famagusta harbour, and by 15.30 we were moored near the end of a long line of Rally yachts on a rather dismal oily quay. Someone presented us with a large bag of oranges, fuel and water tankers turned up as promised, but otherwise Famagusta didn’t exactly seem to be putting out the flags. The prospect of a free evening loomed, but things looked up when Andy of “Wand’rin Star” came along to invite us (and our barbecue) to help cook a 25 lb tuna they’d caught on the way. The “Bidarka”’s and “Nizami”’s were also there for a relaxed evening of good food, drink and chat; exactly what cruising should be all about.
After a pleasant morning’s excursion by taxi to the ruins of Salamis, and a wander through the old city of Famagusta, the day went steadily downhill. Lack of sleep was taking its toll, and the afternoon group leaders’ meeting was frustratingly disorganised (Hasan had elected to go and see how the Lebanon group were faring, Bill Berry had disappeared, and only Roland was left of the organising Committee). Turkish Coastguard advice as to the course to steer out of Famagusta to avoid hassle with the Greek Cypriots was contradicted (unrealistically) by the Rally Commodore from “Mat”. Geoffrey Limbrey’s son Francis turned up to communicate details of the latest plan for Egypt (this involved going half way down the Suez Canal at a cost of several hundred dollars per boat), but no arrangements had been made for Francis to talk to the handful of skippers still interested. Nigel eventually lost patience and left, but we did manage to get Francis to attend our own group meeting later on. Come early evening we waited half an hour on the quay in our party best before buses arrived to take us to a large hotel for a dull meal followed by a routine folk dancing show. Then came the unwelcome announcement that we must clear the harbour by 06.00 to allow a cargo ship to berth – and when we decided to go home early there were no taxis in sight….. Having abandoned Ruth and Jeremy on the quay at 05.45 the following morning we managed only a few hours’ sailing in light wind during the 150-odd mile passage across to Haifa. Overnight it was quite entertaining to tune in to Channel 16, where traffic from all over the Eastern Med punctuated exchanges between the rally fleet and the Israeli Navy. The girls who operate the navy’s radio “switchboard” seemed a bit bewildered at first, as yacht after yacht reported its approach to Israel, but they coped patiently with the long queue of callers, many with quite limited English (not to mention the skipper who didn’t want to identify himself or his boat over the radio at all!). It was a relief for us to raise the Navy from 30-odd miles out, having had problems communicating with some of our group during our previous two six-hourly skeds (an incidental difficulty was that transmitting on VHF automatically switched our newly-installed Autohelm 4000 to 249°, which Nigel forgot every time he had to answer a call!). Approaching Haifa Bay shortly before 10.00 on 26th we picked up a freshening breeze from WSW, and we had an excellent reach into Haifa port, interrupted only by a challenge from a patrol boat on the way in.
First impressions of Haifa were frankly poor: we were packed like sardines into Carmel Yacht Club’s dilapidated moorings below a large power station, the water was a very peculiar colour and smelled awful, and we were apparently a long way from any shops or other amenities. To make matters worse an over-zealous lady immigration officer put an entry stamp in Nigel’s passport (we had been assured this wouldn’t happen, and it effectively ruled out visiting Lebanon on the way back). However our Israeli fellow-ralliers were there to welcome us, the Yacht club was doing its best to make us comfortable, and its members had generously invited everyone to their homes for dinner. We had already been “adopted” by Reuven and Shimon, our friends from “Noa’s Ark”, and Reuven promised to call for us later. Our much-needed siesta was rudely interrupted as Reuven rapped on the coach-roof – we’d slept straight through our alarm and had to scramble hastily into clean clothes. The “Trolls”’s together with Claude and Marika of “Zazie”, were also invited, and Reuven took all to his flat overlooking the city and Haifa Bay for “sundowners”. We moved on to Shimon’s home for a magnificent Shabbat dinner, and by the time we collapsed into our bed again it felt pretty good to be in Israel!
27th – 31st May
Next day was relatively quiet, with no Rally commitments except a group leaders’ meeting. Julie did an oil change, and later we had a long walk through the dreary port area to the edge of Haifa’s old commercial area: being Saturday there was nothing open, but we managed to get some money from a machine before getting a taxi back. In the evening there was a lively barbecue party at the Yacht Club: speeches, a presentation of souvenir plaques to a few yachts leaving the Rally at Haifa, and then a scrum of rather too many people chasing food and drink. We flagged a bit towards the end, but a good night’s sleep set us up well for the next day’s bus tour to Nazareth and the Galilee – a chance to start discovering Israel as well as to see some more of our fellow-ralliers. Considering how resistant most Yachties are to being organised we were a pretty well-disciplined group of tourists, and nobody got lost in Nazareth as we visited the impressive modern Basilica of the Annunciation. On to Tiberias for lunch, the Sea of Galilee slightly underwhelming in hazy conditions, though later we enjoyed the monastery on the supposed site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It was a pity that the tour had to end at a diamond factory, though at least we weren’t the bus-load who were held up while a Russian crew haggled over a purchase of diamonds – nobody else could afford them, it seemed! We stopped at upper Haifa for a supermarket shop on the way back, also taking in the view from where the famous monastery sits above Cape Carmel.
An 11th hour invitation to visit the newly opened marina at Herzlia was very good news, since it spared us another overnight passage to get down to Ashkelon. We extricated ourselves from Carmel YC in good order – everyone was out by 07.00 – though a few stragglers get five blasts from a large ship leaving the commercial port. Once round Cape Carmel the fleet headed south down the coast, most of us giving the military area off Atlit a wide berth as instructed, though a few inevitably had to be warned off by patrol craft. The light NW breeze came and went, but by late morning there was a good few spinnakers and cruising ‘chutes to be seen. Our ‘chute went up at 13.00 and we had a very pleasant run for three hours before getting it down off Herzlia. The unfortunate Swiss crew of “Carus” got their spinnaker in a horrible tangle round the forestay, but for most of us it was a relaxed passage. Geoff on “Gable Moon” kept his motley flock entertained (?) by broadcasting an episode of “Round the Horn”! Herzlia Marina had, literally, a few rough edges (it had only been open a couple of days), but we were grateful for the luxury of individual finger berths, electricity and water, compliments of the management. “Ruyam”, one of the Turkish boats in our group, was moored next to us and invited us to share a late lunch of freshly caught sardines washed down with white wine. Later the marina welcomed us with drinks and snacks, and finally we shared a delicious fish chowder with Andy and sally on “Wand’rin Star”. Meanwhile Len on “Troll” not best pleased a having been in near-collision situations with two boats (one of them, inevitably, “Maid of Chips”).
There were similar conditions for the run down to Ashkelon, with the breeze coming in at F3-4 round about midday. Some boats stayed very close inshore, and just south of Jaffa we could see and hear explosions on the sand dunes behind them. An urgent message came down the line on VHF – we are in a live firing area and should be keeping at least five miles off! Half the yachts in sight turned sharply to starboard, but the other half either hadn’t got their radios on or were motoring and couldn’t hear. An Israeli Navy girl demanded to know why yachts are still in the restricted area, and our Turkish Commodore did his diplomatic best to disclaim any responsibility (“they all have charts” – hmmm……!). The firing continued for a while, but fortunately everyone made it safely to Ashkelon, where a new challenge was waiting in the shape of ……. box moorings! Since the marina was otherwise empty (it wasn’t yet finished) most people squeezed inside the rows of piles to lay alongside, but there were a few scrapes and bumps on the way in as skippers misjudged their distances. Electricity and water hadn’t yet been connected to most areas, but manager Armen leant over backwards to help, and with some collective improvisation we made ourselves comfortable. Most of us, that is, except for Len, the lack of facilities was the final straw and he went rather embarrassingly ape (blaming Nigel, in the process, for giving out misleading information!).
Ashkelon, unlike Haifa, had no yachting fraternity, but local people had again volunteered to look after us. We were lucky enough to be picked up by New Zealand-born Robyn Lazarovitch, who took us and the “Mersey Beat”’s home to a family supper with her economist husband Aviv and their two sons. Next day Ashkelon’s development Corporation laid on a bus tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem – necessarily a bit rushed, but an excellent first look at the heart of the country. We found the Temple Mount area more impressive than the scrum of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (bizarre!), Bethlehem was worth a look, but it was interesting too, to see some of the west Bank and the neat clusters of houses on hilltops marking the new Jewish settlements there. The evening featured an impromptu barbecue party on the quay, thanks to another large catch of tuna on the way down (some people have all the luck!): this time it was a joint effort by the crews of “Shiba”, “Silent Wish”, “Margarita”, “Nizami”, “Bidarka”, “Wand’rin Star” and ourselves (from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, the US and the UK). Others dropped by, inevitably including Hasan, whose nose for a party seldom betrays him!
1st – 8th June
Ashkelon Marina is a sandy building site some distance away from the serious local centre, so we hiked in next morning to find the bus station and the office of David, the travel agent who had organised the previous day’s tour. We found Geoff and Phoebe of “Bidarka” already there, and between us we got David to start the ball rolling to get us all to Petra after the weekend. Although a small group of yachts would continue to Port Said – the idea of going down the canal seemed to have been dropped p the Rally’s big farewell party was to be held at Ashkelon, and the place certainly did us proud. There were no catering facilities on the marina site, but tables and chairs were brought in, an excellent hot buffet was laid on, and a generous bar kept up with the Rally crews’ almost inexhaustible appetite for free drink. The Mayor made a lengthy speech of welcome to loud and grateful applause (and a snort or two of contempt from our new friend Robyn), the Commodore replied, the Committee and group leaders were presented with souvenirs (a handsome key ring in our case), and each boat got its commemorative EMYR ’95 “plaket”. With the formalities over the stage was clear for a scintillating performance by the local schools’ folk-dance ensemble, and then three scantily-clad Brazilian dancers appeared to get everyone on the floor (Nigel reserved his energies for young Miss “Zazie” and “Cotton Eye Joe”!). An excellent party, which went on just long enough. Over the next three days we explored Ashkelon and its surroundings, walking up to the bus station area again, as well as to the leafy suburb of Afridar where Robyn and Aviv live. They continued to look after us, with another dinner invitation and a Sunday excursion to some impressive underground limestone caves, followed by lunch below the monastery of Latrun. We offered a trip out on the boat on the Saturday, enthusiastically accepted by Robyn (Aviv was busy), and she and the boys enjoyed a sail and a swim in spite of the jellyfish! We cooked dinner for Andy and Sally and the “Nizami”’s the same evening.
We got a lift up to the bus station on Monday morning with friends Geoff and Phoebe’s, caught a local bus out to the main road at Kastina and waited half an hour for the bus to Eilat. This was full of young soldiers of both sexes going back to their units after the weekend, and it was our first real exposure to the matter-of-fact way in which Israelis live with automatic rifles. It was interesting to see how bits of the Negev are being irrigated and covered with greenhouses – a reminder of what a desert of a place most of Israel was before the modern Israelis set about making it habitable. We eventually pulled into Eilat, ferociously hot, and got a local bus along the shore to the Aqua Sport diving centre. After checking in to a basic room on the beach we found we need a refresher dive before going on a trip next day, so before he had time to think Nigel was wading into the sea trying to remember what he’d learned during his basic course in Gibraltar. Fortunately he managed the party tricks well enough, and we had a pleasant shallow dive which took in a colony of “garden eels”. We booked in for a couple of dives next day and warmed up on the beach in the evening sunshine, sinking a couple of cold beers and enjoying the very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Next day’s first dive, on the “Japanese Gardens”, would have been too deep for comfort for Nigel in any case, but he found he couldn’t clear his ears below 10 meters and had to abort. Julie saw lots of colourful fish, not to mention the “Yellow Submarine” full of tourists! The second dive over “Moses Rock” was at a more comfortable depth, but this time Nigel was plagued by a leaking mask – still, there was plenty to see even if N. didn’t have much chance to practise his technique. In the late afternoon we got a bus into town and wandered round the marina area and shops, fetching up in the backpackers’ area at a bar (“Country Road”) run by a friendly Nigerian – cheap beers and excellent fish and chips.
We were picked up just after 07.00 next morning, the bus meandered round the hotel district to collect the rest of our tour group (including Geoff and Phoebe), and we pitched up at the Israeli/Jordan border a couple of hours later. It took a while before formalities were completed, and we were not best pleased to discover that we could have got visas as individuals instead of signing up with the group (duff advice from David in Ashkelon). We were in Aqaba just before lunchtime, where the second unwelcome surprise was that we were to stay overnight there rather than Petra. G and P indignant (having double checked this point with David), but there wasn’t anything we could do about it, and at least the Aqaba hotel was friendly and comfortable. Downtown again for a good lunch at “Ali Baba”, then off north to the spectacular scenery of Wadi Rum, where we boarded clapped-out Land Rovers with Bedouin drivers for the drive up the valley – mysterious graffiti inside a massive cleft in one of the cliffs, and superb colours in the late afternoon light (Nigel again managed to avoid riding a camel!). To get to Petra in reasonable time we had an early (05.30) start in the morning, but the bus was 20 minutes late leaving, thanks to some dispute over coat hangers allegedly nicked from the hotel by some Israeli member of the party. We eventually got to Petra at 09.15 and decided to make the best of our time by deserting the ineffectual Jordanian guide and pushing on ahead by ourselves. The walk through the “siq” and the first view of the famous treasury were unforgettable, and we managed to cover a fair bit of the rest of the site over the next 2½ hours (and to take a glass of tea with the custodian of the little museum!). We had to be back at the bus by 13.00, and amazingly nobody had got lost, so we set off in search of lunch – eventually pulling up at a restaurant outside the town where a set lunch was going to cost about £7 a head. Nigel led a revolt by a sizeable minority, and the mutineers were driven back into Wadi Musa – where the equivalent of 80p bought a good falafel and a drink! Back at Aqaba we had a relatively painless crossing back into Israel, though in spite of a specific request Nigel’s passport was stamped again by Israeli immigration……. We got back to Eilat in the late afternoon and checked into a relatively upmarket hostel after stopping for beers at “Country Road” – later we were joined there for super by Geoff and Phoebe and had a pleasant chat with our Nigerian host and an English “traveller”.
9th – 16th June
We caught the 10.00 hrs bus to Jerusalem next day. The pit stop on the way was on the Dead Sea, where we paid absurd prices for baguettes and a drink while we watched the locals floating and covering themselves with healthy mud. A detour off the road gave us a passing glimpse of Masada as well. In Jerusalem we were picked up at the bus station by Armon Erez, who’d invited us to look him up when we’d met him in Larnaca crewing for Gadi Katz on “Oystercatcher”. Arnon drove us out to his attractive house (conservatory in the living room) to meet his wife Myra, a tourist guide with excellent English, and their sons Allon and Barak. We had a relaxed afternoon and a nice dinner, also watching an England vs Sweden football “friendly” on TV. In the morning Arnon dropped us off at the Dung Gate, and we retraced our steps of the previous week, past the crowded Wailing Wall and up to temple Mount: this time we visited the mosques and museum before wandering across the Old City (quiet on the Sabbath) to David’s Tower and the Jerusalem Museum. We had to rush this a bit in order to meet Arnon again outside the Jaffa Gate and be taken on to lunch at a moshav. This had been prepared by the students on an international irrigation course, and they had invited their Israeli hosts to share it (Arnon is President of a local Rotary chapter and had organised visits for the students to Israeli homes). They seemed a lively lot, from a variety of countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam, India, China and assorted South Americans, and they certainly produced an excellent “pot luck” buffet. It was a relaxed and informal occasion of the kind Israelis seem particularly good at, and after lunch and a speech or two we spilled out onto the lawn, where a Joan Baez clone of a local folk singer soon gave way to some improvised entertainment by the Africans and South Americans.
Nigel got up early on the Sunday to watch Rugby World Cup highlights on TV, then we left Arnon at 07.00 and said our goodbyes at the bus station. We got a bus out to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum, but we were too early and strolled up a road opposite to find a bank. There are many religious research and study institutes in the area, and dark suits, beards and homburg hats were much in evidence. Queuing at the bank Nigel got into brief conversation with a Jew who’d emigrated from England in the 1950s and had only recently decided to become Orthodox: it sounded as though the decision had fulfilled him in much the same way as converting to Islam had Dennis Hunter in Monastir. Down to Vad Yashem, and a fascinating and moving three hour tour of this extraordinary museum-cum-shrine before we headed back for a falafel lunch and the bus to Ashkelon. Great news on the evening BBC “Sports Round-up” of England’s defeat of Australia in the World Cup quarter-final (Robyn had thoughtfully taped both the day’s games, and we spent the following afternoon watching them at the Lazaroviches after a morning’s maintenance on the boat). On Tuesday we moved the boat in order to hook up to Roland’s electricity cable (whereupon the power was cut!), then walked along the beach to Ashkelon Park. Apart from some modest excavations going on above the beach the park had little to offer besides deafening noise from loudspeakers at a children’s competition, so we didn’t linger. Geoff and Phoebe left for Jaffa in the course of the afternoon, and in the early evening Robyn and the boys picked us up and took us to Migdal (the pre-1948 Arab village round which modern Ashkelon was developed). Aviv had wanted to take us to the Romanian restaurant here – his family came from Romania – but he was tied up in a chess tournament so we treated our other hosts instead. On the way back through Afridar Centre we stopped off for frozen yoghurts and found Aviv emerging from his chess: we said our farewells at home before Aviv ran us back down to the Marina.
We spent our final day in Ashkelon shopping in Migdal, food at the market and plastic beach chairs which were exactly what we’d wanted for the cockpit. Back to the marina by early afternoon we moved to the fuel berth, but then had to wait two hours for Armen to show up to take our mooring fees, dispense fuel and give us back our spare set of keys. We eventually got off at 18.00, motoring into a light NW breeze which died overnight – no chance whatever of sailing. Early in the morning, approaching Cape Carmel, we were startled when Reuven called us up on the VHF (we’d phoned him before leaving Ashkelon) and gave us directions for berthing at Carmel YC. We were there by 09.00, Reuven turned up soon afterwards for coffee and then took us off to downtown Haifa to see his office and the local shops. We brunched off excellent falafel, after which Reuven took us round the bay to Acre to visit the ancient walled city – the Crusader citadel and the old harbour/marina contrasting with the rather run-down Arab quarters. We had a drink on a terrace overlooking the bay, with “Silent Wish” visible at anchor (they’d left Ashkelon a couple of hours after we had). Next morning Reuven came out early to do an oil change on “Noa’s Ark”, then took us into town again, found us a place to buy the ideal awning material we’d previously seen on Israeli boats, then dropped us off to do some food shopping c/o a grocer friend of his (excellent house wine!). Back at his office we had a useful browse through the Admiralty Cruising Routes pilot before going out to buy falafel and shwarma for ourselves, Reuven and his crew, and heading back to the Yacht Club. Reuven took “Noa’s Ark” out for a couple of hours while we got “Gladlee” ready for departure the next day, then joined us for a farewell beer.