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2011 Logs

April 2011

April 5, 2011 – Al Tor, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

 We left Hurghada on April fool’s Day expecting a four day window of light or favorable winds to get us through the Red Sea.  Our plan was to spend 1 or 2 nights at Shaker Island and actually try to dive in the sea known for exceptional diving and then head up to the Suez Canal.  The wind was light for only 2 days and then turned strong out of the NW AGAIN.  So we ended up getting “stuck” a little longer at Shaker.  Not a bad “stuck” though as it was a beautiful place and although the water felt Lake Michigan cold we were able to clean Imagine’s bottom and finally have that “skirted death” cocktail or two with La Palapa and Pegasus.

 After a few days, the wind slowed down and we took the opportunity to start moving north.   Although we still had it “on the nose” it was under 20 knots and although not comfortable at all with Imagine’s 100 HP Volvo we were still able to motor 6 knots and we just beat into it.  We were 4 miles outside of the small resort town of Al Tor when we received a text message from Martin on Anima who was there.  The text read, “Diesel 1.10 EP per liter”….that means diesel was $.70USD per gallon!!!!!  Wow!  That, wind on the nose, and the fact that Al Tor is only an hour from THE Mt. Sinai where Moses received the 10 Commandments was all we needed to detour into Al Tor for a little stop over.

Sometimes the unexpected stops are some of the best and that turned out to be the case here.  The first order of business was to find this cheap fuel.  Now this price is the local price and they don’t make it easy for non-Egyptians to buy it at this price especially almost 200 gallons of it.  So Marc borrowed jerry can after jerry can from our friends on other boats, contacted the cab driver, and went to the gas station.  It took a couple of trips and was not easy but with Martin’s help our tanks were full of the cheapest diesel that we have purchased anywhere in the world.  Considering at the marinas in Egypt they were charging foreign yachts $3.80 per gallon, this alone would have been well worth the stop.

The cheap fuel was great, but we also had an incredible opportunity to visit St. Katherine’s Monastery and Mt. Sinai while we were here.  The boats; Kathleen Love, Emmanuel, and Margarita had already planned a tour for the day and we were lucky enough to tag along.  We had a great day.

Egypt/IMG_6886.JPGSt. Katherine’s Monastery, which was built in 330 AD, is today considered one of the oldest continually functioning monastic communities in the world and its chapel is one of Christianity oldest surviving churches.  The monastery compound is home to what is thought to be a ‘descendant’ of the original burning bush where God spoke to MosesEgypt/IMG_6862.JPG (check out the pic of the bush and notice the fire extinguisher beneath it…..just in case God wants to chat again, but if that were the case, would you really want to put out the fire, or maybe hear what he has to say???).  The Monastery’s Museum includes one of Christianity’s oldest and best preserved art collections with paintings of Christ, precious chalices, and gold crosses from the Byzantine period.   All very cool to see.

A short walk up from the cemetery provided a view of the famous peak of Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.  Although we did not have the time to climb to the top on the Mountain, a holy site revered by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  We climbed up the trail which provided a sensational view of the gorgeous landscape and the feeling of walking in the footsteps of Moses was quite incredible.  With mild temperatures and few tourists, we were able to enjoy a quiet and personal experience. 


Our fun little stop in Al Tor was capped by a wonderful night of music on Emmanuel.  Martin provided the fabulous guitar playing and song books and we all sung along to our favorites…..The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel and many, many more.  The weather is good, or at least better, for a departure so it is on to the Suez……..


The Crew Imagine....Ready to leave Egypt

April 14, 2011 – Port Said, Egypt

We’re here!  The Suez Canal, the gateway to the Med, the divider of Africa and Asia and Imagine’s entrée into safer waters and exciting new experiences.  Although, we enjoyed our time in Egypt, we were soooo ready to say goodbye to this country and this part of the world. 

As we had become accustom to in Egypt, the Suez Canal experience was full of hustle, hassle, and corruption.  Compared with the professionalism of the Panama Canal, it felt like we were on another planet.  Literally, they make the measurement process so complex that no one really knows what they are suppose to pay but that doesn’t really matter because when you get your “quote” for a fee you can actually argue and have it reduced.  Seriously.

The Suez Canal Transit Fee is: $8.00USD per Ton – pretty straight forward until you learn how they ‘calculate’ Tonnage.  It’s a bit of a mystery that uses the formulas below, where you first calculate the Girth to include in the complex formula that calculates tonnage. 

D = Draft              F= Freeboard     G= Girth               B=Beam

After a series of bogus measurements by the canal measurer – including the volume of the engine room, height of the cabin above the deck, size of the dodger, in inches or centimeters – didn’t really matter apparently….a day later, our agent gave us a verbal quote for our Tonnage and canal transit fee.  In our case…..$229USD – collected in cash of course. 

We felt that our initial price was appropriate and competitive with other boats of our size, and after a month in Egypt, Marc was just too worn down to negotiate and ready to go, but when friends complained about their fees, the negotiations began and in just about every case, their fees were reduced.   Typical Egypt!  Amazing that transit fees are negotiable – and it seemed to be expected. 

Now of course no one got any sort of official receipt from the canal authorities – when I asked our agent (we used Captain Hibi of Prince of the Red Sea - who did seem as honest as possible in this country) he promptly asked me for pen and paper, and wrote out our ‘transit receipt’.  Guess I shouldn’t have expected much more…

All of the yachts that we went through the canal with are a bit curious as to what the actual fee collected by the canal was versus what went into the pockets of the ‘agent’ for a 2 day transit which has no locks or navigation hazards, but requires a pilot for the entire length.  All this drama was not unexpected, but we are through and done with Egypt, had a great experience and even with all the baksheesh, negotiations, & hustle, Egypt was an amazing place.



Egyptian Army - guarding the canal


April 25 - Ashkelon, Israel

Originally we had not planned to visit Israel as it is really not known as a “cruising” destination.  But while we were enduring the struggles of the Indian Ocean and GOA, we decided that there couldn’t be a better place to end our time in the Middle East.  Although, Marc and I never really voiced it, after all of the prayers that we had said over the last two months, we both thought that it was time to say thanks.  The twelve days that we spent here were quite spectacular and we are so thankful that we decided to spend Holy Week in one of the holiest places on Earth.  What an amazing learning experience for the children.  As we toured the area with our Children’s Bible, they were able to see first-hand the religious sites, ancient cities, and wall that separates the Palestinians and the Jews, I can only hope that they will remember this better than any history or religious education class.

As I am sure that you can all imagine, the security upon entrance into Israel is unparallel to any other county that we have been in the world.  Prior to arriving in Israel you are required to complete an entry form with all of the pertinent information about the yacht and crew, to notify the Navy of your arrival.  Although we completed the form a week before our arrival and sent them a reminder 24 hours in advance, we were still called on the VHF about 50 miles outside of Israel and asked the exact same questions….not once, not twice but several times.  Since you must sail past the Gaza Strip to go to Ashkelon from Egypt, the Navy and marina provide a route and coordinates that you must follow.  Although we followed the course exactly, the Navy still wanted us to alter course to give a wider berth.  Although annoying, they were non- threatening and sounded like “kids” on the radio just trying to do their job.  As soon as, we entered Israeli waters we were greeted by an Israeli Navy boat with big “manned” guns who asked us the exact same questions that we had provided on the form and that we had been answering via VHF for several hours but they were very polite and welcoming and the boys were highly impressed by the weapons. 

We arrived to Ashkelon Marina with one final security check as we were welcomed to the dock by about ten men; including the local police, Israeli Special Security Force (similar to TSA) , and the Passport Police (I think).   At this stage, I couldn’t keep them all straight.   They were very serious but most were friendly and polite.  The passport police had many questions for us; such as, why we had visited so many Muslim countries, naming them off one by one; had anyone given us any packages for Israel; do we have any weapons on board; etc. etc.  I guess we didn’t look very threatening because despite stamps in the passport from Malaysia, Indonesia, Oman, Yemen, and Egypt they let us in.  That’s when you are very happy to have the kids on board. 

While walking around the marina, I had a very interesting conversation with one of the friendly TSA type agents who seemed very interested in our family.  We spoke for quite some time on the security situation in Israel and he was very proud to tell me that the anti missile system, which shoots down missiles launched from the Gaza strip before they hit the land that was recently implemented, is 100% effective.   I was impressed and somewhat relieved and asked how many they had shot down.  He proudly informed me that they were 8 for 8!  I’m not sure if it made more nervous to think that they had recently had that many missiles shot into the air or that they had only had 8 successes. But in the same breath he gave me a big smile and assured me that Israel was a very safe place to vacation especially with the ceasefire now for the holidays….glad we weren’t here the week before.     

Now that we have officially arrived, it was time to start exploring this phenomenal place.  We decided that the best and least expensive way to see this very small country was to rent a car, do day trips, and come back to Imagine each night to our own bed.  We received a good deal through the marina and were able to rent a car for 35 US dollars per day and we were off.  Arguably, the holiest place on Earth for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as, historically significant for the Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader period, there was absolutely no way we were going to see it all. Since we will be going to Rome, Greece, and Turkeys we decided to focus our attention in Israel on the Christian Holy sites especially those from the New Testament.   

In our short time in Israel, we saw so many sights that I won’t overwhelm you by listing them all.  I’ll try to focus on some of the highlights and some of our favorites.  One point to make is that almost every Christian Holy site in Israel has a church built over it and many of the churches originally dated back to the Byzantine period circa 400 AD.  Sadly, most of the churches were all or partially destroyed in the 600 and 700’s when the country was first taken over by the Muslims, but fortunately many of them were rebuilt by the crusaders and others over the last 1500 years. 

Timing was absolutely perfect and our first day of sightseeing took us to Mt. Olives and the Palm Sunday processionalIsrael/IMG_7088.JPG from Bethpage to Jerusalem.  We marched and waved palm branches with thousands of others from around the world as we walked in Jesus’ path. There was music from all over the world being sung and played on instruments as we walked and enjoyed ourselves.  Mt. Olives was just an incredible place and as we stood outside of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested, we all, including the kids, could instantly feel how special it is. 

We also had a very interesting experience “getting lost” trying to leave Jerusalem on this day.  Due to the processional the main road around the walled city was closed.  We thought, “No biggy, we’ll just go around.”  What we didn’t quite comprehend at the time is that the ancient walled city of Jerusalem has very few roads that surround it and the modern city of Jerusalem is partially in Palestinian areas which is separated by a modern, huge wall and guarded by very intimidating armed guards.  We know this first-hand because we were driving along this massive structure as we were trying to find our way out of the city.  Yikes!

The next day of sightseeing took us to the Mt. Zion, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea.  The highlight at Mt. Zion was Hall of the Last Supper, literally, where they believe the Last Supper was held and the Crypt of the Dormition where Mary is believed to have fallen into eternal sleep.  How special as a mother, to pray beside my daughter at this holy site.    
Although not a holy sight, the Dead Sea was fabulous and is highlighted from the kids’ point of views in Noah and Caroline’s blogs. 

Bethlehem was an absolutely incredible experience for so many reasons.  First of all, is the obvious – the birthplace of Christ which is located in the Grotto (caves) beneath the Basilica of the Nativity, an ancient church built in its honor.  Although it was amazing to be in this holiest of holy spots, it was a little sad to be hurried through by a monk yelling, “Come on, hurry up, we haven’t got all day”.  For a moment, I felt more like I was in line for a CUBS game than the birthplace of Jesus.  Bethlehem was also interesting because the city, itself, is in a fully Palestinian occupied area.  Jews from Israel are not allowed to enter through the security checkpoints outside the city but tourists can.  When I first heard this, I was a little (OK, a lot) freaked out, but I have to say my fears were absolutely unwarranted.  The city of Bethlehem was a beautiful, well kept ancient city and the people were incredibly friendly and helpful.  Although predominantly Muslim, many of the locals that we met were Christian Palestinians and they welcomed us with open arms. 

On another historical filled day we visited the ancient city of Caesarea from the Herodian Period, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee.  Although not a holy sight, the city of Caesarea, with its ancient amphitheater and hippodrome and modern educational facilities, was a joy.  Since it was one of Grant’s favorite spots, check out his blog for more info.  The Sea of Galilee, which is really Lake Kinnert, was just a beautiful place especially standing at the top of Mt. Beatitudes and by edge of the Sea where they believe St. Peter lived. 

We had already seen so much but we still hadn’t been inside the walled city of Jerusalem.  Finally, we spent a day doing the Stations of the Cross and experiencing Old Jerusalem.  I’m not sure what we were expecting but it wasn’t the many, many souqs (markets) that line the ancient streets.  Everywhere you go in the Arab and Christian quarters are lined with shop after shop of people selling T-Shirts, hookas, nativity scenes, etc. etc.  To us, it took a little away from following Jesus’ footsteps when some of the plaques for the stations were right beside a man selling key chains.  Oh well, it’s all part of the experience.  

Israel/IMG_7296.JPGThere were also downsides of being in Jerusalem during Holy Week, especially this year when Passover, Eastern Orthodox Easter, and Our Easter all fell on the same week and that was the crowds.  Our only disappointment during our travels in Israel is that we never completed the Stations of the Cross or went in the Holy Sepulcher which is the site where Jesus was crucified and buried.  We attempted to go on Holy Thursday with hundreds of our closest friends.  We had been told that at exactly 3:00 pm they would open the doors to the church and allow people in for five minutes.  Then they would close the doors and those inside would be locked in and required to stay for three hours.  Although a little long in a church for our crew, we decided that it would definitely be worth it so we were up close in line and were excited.  But 3:00 came and in came the processional with a big key and everyone CROWDED (scary, actually) toward the door, Marc and another big man blocked people out so that the kids wouldn’t be crushed and I just kept thinking that this is not very Christian-like.  Then the craziest part of it was that after standing in line and almost being crushed, the priest that opened the door didn’t let anyone in, only a small group of priests.  What a bummer!  After almost getting crushed, the kids (and parents) had no desire to go back into the crowds during Holy Weekend.  Oh well, next trip.

The Easter Bunny found us again on Imagine with a big egg hunt and lots and lots of candy.  We were able to find a big Easter ham (not an easy task in Israel) and we had a feast with our friend Clint Bush from the boat Emmanuel.  Although not venturing back to Jerusalem, we went to a very interesting Easter mass in Tel Aviv where the congregation was primarily Philippine and Indian immigrant workers and the readings took a new meaning as we had just visited most of the holy places. 

One of my goals of visiting Israel was to gain a better understanding and develop a stronger opinion on the Palestinian/Israeli situation that plagues the Middle East.  Unfortunately, I can officially say that after many hours of reading about the thousands of years of history, visiting the sites, and speaking to the people I am more knowledgeable but also more confused than ever.  Seeing Israeli soldiers who look like young kids walking the streets of Jerusalem and guarding religious sites; speaking with a Palestinian Christian, the caretaker at the Catholic Church in Bethlehem, who can’t visit the Jerusalem over Easter; reading of two Jewish men killed by Palestinian police visiting their holy sites in the West Bank all lead to my confusion and sadness.  It is so hard to comprehend how places that are so beautiful, serene, and emotionally moving could be filled with such destruction and war over thousands of years.  And although at times I wanted to ignore this sad part of country and bask of the joy of walking in Jesus’ footsteps, I couldn’t because it is all part of touring this amazing, sacred, and troubled part of the world.