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Although Israel and Egypt have had a peace agreement for many years, this has been less effective on the ground than on paper and our neighbours, both to the north and south, have been simply out of bounds. But sailing and sailors have different agendas to those of politicians. The MedRedRally was to take us from Tel Aviv into Egypt, down through the Suez Canal and then back up to Eilat in Israel.

Cruising World MagazineCharts were ordered, Pilot book purchased, GPS programmed and there in front of us were 600 miles of excitement, challenge, new- and old-worlds. The mayor of Tel Aviv set off the cannons, and we headed off for Port Said, the entry point to the Suez Canal. The seas were rough but the sailing was good until later in the day when we eventually found ourselves forced to motor.

Cruising World MagazineWe berthed at Port Said, all 50 yachts together, on anchor and tied stern-to, and found a wonderful reception committee. The authorities couldn’t have been more helpful, the paperwork was completed in record time and before we could say “Salam”, we were in the city, wandering through the market place. This was a real surprise for all of us. The people could not have been friendlier and were amazed to hear that we’d come in from Israel, by yacht. We bought falafel, hand-made in a huge vat of boiling oil, served in freshly baked pita bread, baked on the premises, and all for next to nothing.

Cruising World MagazineA problem with the paperwork meant that we couldn’t leave the next day as planned, but we got a slot for sailing at 07.00 the following day. The canal doesn’t allow sailing at night and yachts have to stop at Ismailia for the night, but the authorities realized that we’d lost a day, so they closed the canal to other traffic and allowed us to continue straight to Suez where we arrived around midnight. We must have been the largest number of yachts to pass through the canal at one time.

Cruising World MagazineAfter a fascinating visit to Cairo and the Pyramids, we returned to tackle the Gulf of Suez. Although there are defined sailing lanes for up and down passages, there is so much activity in this narrow gulf that a careful lookout is needed. There are oil rigs, shore lights, huge tankers and container vessels, as well as tugs and oil service vehicles, not to mention the multiple coral reefs on both sides of this gulf. If all this were not enough we had the storm of the year. Winds were gusting up to 50 knots, with four to five meter waves, sometimes as short as two boat lengths. Unfortunately at this point I made a novice’s error by not reefing in time, and found myself struggling with the roller jib in total darkness. The reefing line had somehow become jammed, and suddenly one of the stays of the main mast vibrated itself loose and began to swing violently in the wind. Knowing that I was about to lose the mast, I secured all the free halyards to support it, but it was here that the confidence of being in a rally kicked in. I knew there were boats close to us who could help if necessary. At Sharm el Sheikh we cut the away sail, and were able to spend the next day snorkelling at Sharks Bay where the abundance of fish and the beauty of the coral are simply fantastic.

Cruising World MagazineWe now faced the 100 mile trip through the narrow straits of Tiran and up the Gulf of Akaba to Eilat, where we were met with huge waves and 40 knots of wind on the nose. Suddenly we saw a red distress flare about 300 meters to our right. Almost simultaneously we heard the mayday distress call, and saw a further flare burning on the stern of the boat in trouble. Linda our lead boat, a 52ft steel-hulled vessel, went in to rescue the crew, who had already evacuated to the life raft. The whole operation was over in 20 minutes. Dragon Lance, their 45ft home-built wooden boat couldn’t take the pounding of these seas, and had split apart in one of the violent down thrusts.

Cruising World Magazine

A second boat Smadar reported water entering where the bow thruster had dislodged in the heavy seas and punched a three-inch hole in the hull. Immediate assistance was offered, and a heavy duty bilge pump kept her afloat until they were able to staunch the water flow. The seas continued to pound us, so 25 yachts decided to seek refuge at Dahab for the night, where we anchored safely. The next morning, with the seas much calmer, we finally made our way to Eilat where our reception was outstanding. In a flash the whole sailing saga was forgotten, and the tale of the sail began.