03/25/2015, Gulf of Aqaba
Cyprus is an island that sits midway between Turkey, Greece and Israel. Lying just a short passage from each of those countries, it is a perfect midpoint on any passage to or from Israel. Yet, on our many passages in the Eastern Mediterranean, we have never stopped there.
Perhaps it is because Cyprus is such a popular cruising destination for Israelis. One can untie their dock lines in Haifa at 4 PM and be in Cyprus the next evening. Many races and regattas are organized between the two countries. In the past, sailing friends who had visited the island assured us that there was nothing much to see. And Cyprus sports the bad rep of having no decent anchorages and no room in most of the marinas. Is it any wonder that we had grown accustomed to giving Cyprus a miss?
This year however, when all our sailing plans had gone up in smoke we looked at Cyprus as being an interesting option for a short sailing vacation.
Finding a spot to tie up in Larnaca Marina is a bit of a dance. Arriving in Larnaca Marina on a holiday weekend in August adds a certain twist, where patience and tenacity are your only hope.
We found a space at the gas dock, which is nothing more than a high, long concrete wall with rusty metal U-bolts embedded mid wall. It was a stretch to secure the bowline and even on this 42 foot Moody, we needed the aid of a plastic step to climb ashore, but we were not deterred. Chen set off to do clearance and returned with the news that although we'd cleared in, the Marina office would be closed all weekend due to the holiday, so this will be our berth for a couple of days.
Our first day was spent resting and getting our bearings in town. After a short nap, we walked for miles happy to stretch our legs after days at sea. Lunch was Gyros and a Greek salad. The fresh food tasted great. By 2 PM, we were soaked with sweat and joined the local tradition heading back to Pachuli for a siesta. Manny and I pulled on our swimsuits and dove into the sea. One of the perks of being on the outer wall is that we had the whole bay to swim in.
The rest of the day and Sunday were spent pretty much the same way. We explored Larnaca, checking out supermarkets until the heat forced us back to the boat for a swim. Then for several hours we swam, walked to the showers, drank cold beers and chated with neighbours. Much to our amusement we were surrounded by boats from Lebanon and crews from Syria. Outside of Israel we are all just sailors, although inevitably our neighbours talked about the war. "How do you take it"? they asked. This is a question we were to hear from everybody we met over the next two weeks.
While Sunday would have been a good day for a short sail to Konnos Bay Chen was concerned about not finding a spot on the wall to tie up to on our return. The marina was quickly filling up with more and more Israeli boats. It is possible to anchor in the bay but with the intense heat and extreme humidity we all wanted shore power for fans in our cabins. So the time was used to reserve a rental car and to check out several other services that Chen and Vered wanted to take advantage of while in Cyprus. Later in the evening we walked to town and stumbled on what was to be our best meal in Cyprus at Art Café 1900
Tucked away on a side street just a short walk from the marina, Art Café is a delightful place. There is a pub downstairs and on the second floor a lovely restaurant decorated with the artwork of the owner. Specializing in seasonal local food - no Gyros here - and a warm hospitality, we couldn't recommend the place more. Manny had lamb and spinach in lemon sauce and I ordered stuffed vegetables. We drank the house red and finished the meal off with a slice of chocolate cake and ice cream - all for a very reasonable price.
Monday morning we were up early. Chen headed directly to the marina office to try and wager a berth in the marina. Our plan was to rent a car and drive to the Trodos mountains for a few days of hiking and we weren't very happy about leaving Pachuli on the wall where any wind would bring up a swell. Not to mention the event of the previous night, where unaware to all on board, some passerby had tossed their lit cigarrete butt in through one of our hatches burning a large hole in the apholstery - amazingly not starting a fire -. Clearly we needed a dockside berth.
With Chen at the marina office, we set off to reserve an air conditioned car and do some provisioning at the big Carefour on the outskirts of town. I reveled in all the European products grabbing buiscotti, gingerbeer, cristini, salami, mini gouda cheeses, fresh vegetables and fruit, good bread and other picnic staples for our road trip. We quickly checked out of the supermarket and headed back to the marina arriving just in time to find Chen getting ready to move the boat. Our tenacity had paid off and we'd got our prized space! There was a last minute rush to ready ourselves for an early start the next morning. The weather in Larnaca was continuing to get hotter and more humid and we were desperate to head off to the cool mountains.
One of the incentives for this holiday was the opportunity for Chen and Vered to have an inspection done on their liferaft. All Israeli yachts must show a recent certificate of inspection before clearing out of Israel. Unfortunately the national inspection center had closed business and sailors were being left in the lurch. Pachuli had just a couple of months left on her certificate and here was a grand opportunity to renew it. So first on our list Tuesday morning was driving to Limasol and dropping off their liferaft with Elias Liassis
Bright and early Tuesday morning, we load the life raft into the car along with our bags and we're off. After 2 hours of getting lost, several phone calls and finally finding the place, we pull into Elias's business. In his late 30's, Elias is a quiet and measured man, who likes to show off the exactness of his trade. Over the next couple of hours, he delicately opens the life raft and begins to explain all its workings part by part. Just as we begin to feel that we are in for a long afternoon, he finds a leak in one of the seams and it becomes very aparent why life raft tests are so important. This one is only two years old!
We leave the raft with Elias and rush to catch a couple of marine stores where Chen finds a replacement kit for his manual bilge pump. The stores close at 2 PM for siesta and finally we have no more excuses. We are off to the Trodos mountains!
As we climb higher and higher into the central region of Cyprus, the scenery changes from scrub pines and bushes to wooded forest. We turn off at Pano Platras and find the Kalithea Hotel - two separate rooms with balconies overlooking the mountains. Here the daytime temperatures are a good 10 degrees cooler and evenings you will need long sleeves. We all sigh deeply. Nothing could be more perfect.
The next two days are spent exploring the little villages in the region, sampling local food and hiking. We follow a beautiful trail climbing 400 meters in two hours through deep wooded forests, serenaded by rushing streams that converge in a waterfall. The green and vastness of the nature is a real boon after years in the desert regions of the Red Sea.
Evenings we linger on the balcony of the hotel enjoying the mountain vistas. One evening I experience a magical moment as the sound of monks chanting Kiriyas from a nearby monastery drifts out over the landscape.
All too soon we need to head back to Limasol and collect the life raft. The repair is good work and Elias charges less than what would have been paid in Israel. We are really pleased. We make one last stop in a marine store for some last purchases and then off to Carrefour to provision for the sail home. Back at Pachuli we eat a light dinner onboard and I do some laundry. The marina office sells tokens for the machines at 5 Euros each.
Larnaca marina has two small cafes on site. The café next to the marina office offers WIFI free to all customers and at 1.6 euro a beer it's a great place to log on and check out the weather forecast for our passage home. Going online brings us the sad news that the last cease fire has yet again been broken and we will be returning to war again. I could have enjoyed the last few days more without that news.
So, it is with heavy hearts that we untie dock lines and set sail for Israel. I should mention here that while Larnaca marina's fees are the cheapest anywhere in the Med at only 10 Euro a day (electricity by meter), we did get hit with an overtime fee for clearing out on a Saturday. The fee was 50 Euro! Be forewarned.
We motor for a bit with just a light NW breeze until we clear the island and then raise all Pachuli's sails and make 4 knots over calm seas. Vered cooks chicken for dinner and we set into the sea routine. On my night watch the sky is full of falling meteors and I make wishes on every one. The night passes quietly as Pachuli glides over glassy seas.
At first light I hear noise in the cockpit and get up to find Chen reeling in a 4 kilo Tuna. We have lunch. The day passes quietly as the humidity builds. In this heat nobody has much of an appetite but we do manage to eat the delicious tuna steaks that Vered cooks for lunch. During the afternoon the conversation turns to projects on Pachuli. Chen picks Manny's brains about marine AC units and before he knows it, Manny's has got him lined up with a contact in Eilat who wants to sell a used unit. We also brainstorm better shade cover for their cockpit.
By 17:00 the wind has dropped again and we stop to swim. Each of us has a cruiser shower which automatically lifts our spirits. Chen makes omelets for dinner and we set ourselves up for night watches. We are approaching Israeli waters and will need to be on standby for the Israeli Navy.
Around midnight, Rcc Haifa (the Haifa Rescue Control Center) relays a VHF call for us to the Israeli Navy confirming our location and ETA. We hear an Italian sailor yelling furiously at RCC Haifa as he repeats personal data for the third time. "You are not sailors, you are farmers!" he exclaims. "I am repeating this for the last time." We all smile at his frustration.
I turn in and try to sleep. The night passes with light winds, but the sky is alight with rocket fire. At first light we are called by the Israeli Navy and warned of a rocket heading in our direction. From then on we watch as rockets from Gaza arc over Israel and others outwards to sea. As we motor into Ashkelon Marina, we all sigh. After the peace and quiet of Cyprus, this is no homecoming.
01/24/2015, Eilat Marina
I have some favourite blogs that I follow and every now and then they seem to disappear. After months, or even years of regular posts suddenly there will be nothing. It always frustrates me. What happened? Where did they go?
And now, here I am silent for more than half a year. It has been a long time since my promised last post but I'm not going to leave you hanging. What indeed has happened?
Life got in the way.
Suddenly at the end of last summer, Manny's mother's health began to turn. We knew this would happen one day and when our help was needed we put everything else aside. Finding ourselves wrapped up in land based concerns didn't leave me any time to finish our Cyrus story. I hope that I'll be able to continue soon.
Meanwhile, I wanted to leave you a few stunning pictures from a local photographer. Two days ago, we made what we hope is our last long drive (for awhile), back from the north. All though the desert we were serenaded by an amazing sunset. We didn't have our camera, but Erez Herrnstadt, who took these pictures regularly photographs the desert and its people. He leads local eco tours of the Negev desert and you can find him on facebook.
Stay tuned for the second half of our Cyprus story with lots of cruising tips because I really do intend to write it.
09/28/2014, Eilat marina
Back in April, our summer plans had been made: a delivery from Eilat to the Med via the Suez Canal and a summer cruising the Aegean.
All through May, Manny and I prepared our neighbour's Gibsea 40.2 for the passages ahead. We cleaned water and fuel tanks, washed lines, overhauled bilge pumps, organized the galley and interior lockers and went over safety gear. Manny repaired the anchor winch and installed a bigger main anchor. He checked the self steering gear and the sails. The engine's filters were changed and hoses were checked.
With all the routine checks done, we began to watch the weather and check for a good window for a trial sail. The plan was to sail south about 40 miles, from Eilat to Dahab, and then turn around and sail back. This would give all of the boats systems enough time to run and for Manny to shake out any bugs. He also wanted to try sailing with some of the owner's friends who were eager to crew.
Everything was going like clockwork until the owner abruptly changed his mind. And just like that our summer plans were gone.
Of course there was always the option of taking Yofy to the Med, but then where would we live in Eilat once our sailing holiday was over? We explored the option of flying to Canada for a good visit, but flight fares were outrageously high. We looked at helping a friend deliver a newly purchased boat from Greece. And then war broke out.
As a child growing up in Canada, the closest thing I had to understanding war was Veteran's Remembrance Day. I used to wonder what it would be like living in a country that was being bombed. I always thought it would be very frightening but what I didn't know was how depressing it is. From the beginning of July and for the next 50 days, Israel and Gaza sat under a cloud of doom and black smoke.
Lucky for us Eilat was too far away from the center of action to be bombed frequently. But we did get hit a few times. Once the sirens went off in the middle of the night and Manny swung out of our Vberth faster than I've ever seen him get up. I was close behind. In seconds we were in the cockpit just in time to see the rocket's arc in the sky overhead. The loud explosion that followed told us that it had landed not far from us. After that we, were always ready wherever we were.
Horrible pictures came out of Gaza.
We called friends who live aboard in Ashkelon Marina, right next to Gaza. They were in the middle of all the action and finding it hard to cope. We asked them if they'd like to take a break and sail to Cyprus. Chen and Vered jumped at the opportunity and we set a date for mid August.
We arrived at Pachuli, Chen and Vered's boat, during the longest ceasefire. While summer winds remained light, the heat and humidity had increased considerably. The next two days were spent provisioning and organizing Pachuli amid news broadcasts and frequent dock-showers. Chen was stuck at his job right up to the last few hours before we left. Never had we seen two sailors more in need of some quiet time at sea.
On Thursday August 14th, late in the afternoon, we cleared out of Israel and finally we were underway. With last minute jitters adding to the tension, it would take several hours before the sea did its magic. Later, I lay down for a short rest before my night watch and found my thoughts racing from the stress of the weeks and days leading up to this vacation. Who would have thought that this was how we'd spend our summer? Nevertheless when I got up for my watch and stepped out into the night air, I felt a different person. Out here nothing mattered except the boat, the course and the wind.
Soon we all fell into the routine of meals, watches and resting. The next day with light winds, we stopped to swim and cool off from the intense heat. Back underway, just as we were discussing dinner plans, our fishing line went off and we reeled in a 3 kilo tuna. That evening, we ate a tasty dinner of fresh tuna steaks and salad. Chen announced that we were half way to Cyprus. We sat back with mugs of tea, and as if to round off a perfect day, dolphins joined us diving and playing in our bow wave.
Pachuli is a Moody 42 with a ketch rig. She's a boat that needs a fair bit of wind to make any headway under sail. While every day the winds would pick up for an hour or two allowing us to sail, this was a passage of light winds and so we motor-sailed most of the way. The course from Ashkelon to Cyprus means taking the swell on the beam, which is an uncomfortable movement for anyone with a tendency for seasickness. For our crew, however, nothing could break the relief of finally being underway.
Our last night at sea, we sighted oil rigs about 40 miles off of the coast of Cyprus. Far from land the sky was filled with thousands of stars and I stood transfixed by the display. Later we sighted some cruise ships. Manny came to change my night watch and I sat a little longer with him, taking one last look at the stars.
The next morning I was up early in anticipation of our arrival in Larnaca, Cyprus. The morning mist burned off as we approach the marina. By 07:30 on August 16th, we were tied up to the gas dock and waiting for clearance.
It had been a rough summer for everybody in Israel and Gaza. For now the ceasefire was holding and for those of us aboard Pachuli, we'd had a good passage to Cyprus. We all made quick calls home to say we had arrived and then turned our cell phones off. For the next week we would leave our troubles behind and enjoy the many surprises that this quiet island offered.
And I'll tell you that story in the next blog.