Friday evening, the confirmation: tomorrow we transit through the Canal! We will get through in one day, so the departure will be very early, wake-up at 4 a.m.!! We are lucky as usual and are drawn as one of the boats with a pilot on board, and will presumably enjoy the relevant baksheesh requests and all that.
Saturday morning, 5:30, all yachts have left the moorings except the three that are waiting for the pilots, because one of them is late: ours!! Finally the guy arrives, jumps onboard and we cast off quickly and get into the canal; we do not even have the time to settle in formation and get the boats’ speeds right when the first big ship arrives and overtakes us! The first times it’s a bit impressive, then we grow accustomed: only problem the ships’ bow-wave, which luckily it’s not too bad because they are only going at 9 knots…
One of the group’s boats manages to complicate its own life by hitting one of the channel markers (but how did they do it?? Stray current, fell asleep???…) and the pilots claimed that they had damaged the marker’s light and demanded payment of the damage. Those on the boat refused, saying they had made no damage whatsoever, but when we reached Ismailia they were literally towed away and brought to an anchorage, where they had to pay a huge fine of 3000 US dollars, otherwise they would have not been allowed to continue!!!
Every few miles, the pilot boat in front of the convoy is replaced by another one, and some of them go along the convoy asking for baksheesh (presents, money, anything goes…); we had been instructed to give nothing, and some of them become insistent, but then all of a sudden the pestering stops: orders from above??
We have been relatively lucky with our pilots: the first was a likable guy, a tug sailor who moonlights as a yacht pilot (the ship pilots, the real ones, are a different bunch). A bit hyper-active, but at least we talk and can establish a reasonable relationship.
The second pilot, a bearded fellow who speaks only arabic, did literally NOTHING through the whole time with us (he even slept a couple of times!), except occasionally SHOUTING in arabic over the radio.
We got rid of the second pilot in Port Said harbour and proceeded in convoy along the very long breakwater: outside, strong north-easterly wind, big waves, and a MESS: ships, ships everywhere, at anchor or moving in all directions amidst poorly-lit buoys. We head north to get away from it all as quickly as possible, then we set sail and head towards Crete at full speed.
The weather forecasts calls for strong head-winds in a couple of days’ time, so we must hurry up and get as close to Crete as possible by when the wind will turn.
We are now 160 miles from Crete, we still hope to get there and be sheltered by the shore before the strong winds hit, tomorrow afternoon.