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Around the World with Captain Mercer: From Egypt to Greece

Captain Jonathan Mercer

4th April:
An arrival at Safaga, 12 hours ahead of schedule, having made a fast passage from Mumbai, India. This to cross the challenging Somali pirate area which includes the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and parts of the Red Sea. We had a calm crossing, hardly a wave to be seen and made good speed. We used the ITTC, (Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor) for the Gulf of Aden stretch, this is patrolled by multi-national warships and has a convoy system for the slower vessels.

Because we arrived earlier than originally scheduled, there was no berth immediately available for us in Safaga, so we anchored for the afternoon and evening. Many guests had taken advantage of the early arrival and booked an ‘overnight’ stay in Luxor, fabled home of the valley of the Kings and so we tendered them ashore and then waited for a berth to become vacant. This occurred about 7 p.m. when a bulk-carrier, which had been discharging wheat, completed the cargo work and left the space available for us; berthed by 8 p.m. we were ready for an early start the next morning, hundreds of our guests taking the Valley of the Kings excursion.

5th/6th April:
We were scheduled to sail at midnight, however did not do so until 1 a.m., the returning tours were delayed and we had some tired but happy guests eventually make it back. Departing late resulted in a dash across the Red Sea to Sharm-El-Sheik, a resort town on the tip of the Sinai Peninsular. Here we were thwarted yet again, another cruise ship had changed her schedule, arriving a day earlier and as a consequence we did not have a berth, (again). The weather was perfect and so we spent our call ‘hovering’ on joystick right in the harbour, not far from the ship that had taken our berth. This way, I could shorten the tender-ride for our guests and disembark more, quickly. All went well and the time passed quickly, we had a 1 p.m. departure, (a short stay) and then it was off towards the Suez canal.

The normal procedure for a canal transit is that a vessel has to ‘register’ with the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) when passing a certain point, in this case, a latitude. Once one has done so, one is given permission to proceed to a designated anchorage, where one will be boarded by Immigration officials, Agents and all types of superfluous people. The mooring gangs, (in case one needs them), arrive by boat and these are hauled up alongside, using cranes. Garbage boats and numerous others surround the Amsterdam, desperate for business and politeness doesn’t work with these guys, one has to be quite ‘forthright’ in one’s grammar…

7th April:
We are told that we are going in as #1 on the north-bound convoy and to be ready, with our anchor ‘heaved short’ at 4:15 a.m. We did so, however this is Egypt of course and no pilot appeared until 5 a.m. We then headed in through the buoyed channel towards the entrance to the canal proper, at Suez.

Here the pilots changed, the 1st one having done absolutely nothing, but expecting a ‘souvenir’ before he left. This was common throughout, no matter whose service was supplied (and paid for), all wanted ‘souvenirs’ and it became extremely annoying, by the end of the day I became very short with anyone who dared to ask. (Our guest experience in Egypt was much the same, taxi drivers, port security guards, you name it, they all tried the ‘shakedown’, it became thoroughly obnoxious and we were all pleased to see the last of Egypt astern of us).

Having passed Suez at 6 a.m. we weaved our way through the Canal, followed by approximately 20 ships of different shapes and sizes.

The Egyptian side was irrigated, populated and verdant. No further than 200 metres, the Sinai side was deserted, nothing but sand for miles, still littered with wreckage from the Yom Kippur war.

Army ouposts were on both sides, every 1/2 mile or so. We passed the Egyptian memorial for the fallen in their wars, a strange design, it represented the barrel of a gun, sticking out of the ground, with a bayonet fixed on it.

Eventually, at last, by 4 p.m. we were off Port Said, and we could disembark all our officials and set speed and courses for Piraeus, Greece, which is from where I write. Piraeus and her hinterland have a great deal to offer by way of tours, not only in the city itself, but to places such as ancient Corinth and Mycenae, historical places.

5 Comments
  • Betty Stevens

    So happy to hear you made it through the Canal. It sounds really difficult to navigate and deal with all the officials. And looks like you out-ran the tsunami in Indonesia! Good job!

  • Tom & Carol

    It would be interesting to hear the approximate costs for canal passage. You post fascinating sea accounts. The photos are great, too. Suspect you are ready for some trip conclusion time off. Are your future sailings scheduled months ahead? Last night, we watched an hour TV program on PBS, titled “Titanic”. It was very well acted, a docu-drama with factural narrative. Behind the scenes shipboard engineering activities that I suspect you would find interesting. I never knew that the old shipboard coal hoppers could develop smoldering fires? Check it out if interested.

  • Peter Ward

    Thanks again for another great blog posting. Glad you made it safely to the Med. Hope you find Greece enjoyable. Cheers!

  • Tom & Carol

    Hi, Capt…..
    Some weeks ago in one of your blogs you talked about Ball’s Pyramid. In the current 4-13-12 “The Week” magazine there is an interesting article about the Lazarus bug, thought to be extinct nearly 100 years ago on nearby Lord Howe Island, but was recently discovered on Ball’s Pyramid, halfway up the volcano at 225 feet on a spindly little bush. The noctural stick insect, the size of a man’s hand, is sometimes referred as the “tree lobster”. I would like to mail you this article, as it is not available on line without a magazine subscription. Maybe HAL has a staff mail address that I can use for mailing. This is a fascinating story, and would make for great cocktail conversation. I have included our email address (not published with this reply). If interested, send a corporate address. Thanks. Your blogs are great!

  • charlotte squarcy

    what a lot of hassle in Egypt….I’m sure the Pyramids are worth a look, but it is so easy to get your view of things and perhaps plan a visit to somewhere where the countrymen are more welcoming–Looks like the world cruise to japan has possibilities..all best

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