Freebirdie's Sailin' Blog

22 November 2011 | Seattle
01 August 2011 | Santa Maria di Leuca
03 July 2011 | Greece
15 June 2011 | Gulf of Corinth
05 June 2011 | Athens
28 May 2011 | Poros Greece
25 April 2011 | Symi Island
13 April 2011 | Naxos, Greece
20 February 2011 | Istanbul, Turkey
30 January 2011 | Ephesus
28 January 2011 | Marmaris
16 January 2011 | Selcuk, Turkey
31 December 2010 | Marmaris
24 October 2010 | Cappadocia, Turkey
16 September 2010 | Marmaris Turkey
26 August 2010 | Fethiye, Turkey
19 August 2010 | Marmaris
03 August 2010 | Larnaca Cyprus
01 August 2010 | Mediterranean Sea
30 July 2010 | Ashkelon Marina

Escape from the Dreaded Suez Canal

15 June 2010 | Ismalia to Ashkelon
Dave and Judy

Well we broke out of the Suez Canal. We made it but the day was not without it's trials and tribulations. Our pilot arrived and we cast off our lines. The first thing he demanded was a hat. I yelled back that he should have brought his own. Then tossed him one that we had been saving for this moment. I just wanted to establish a pecking order. Yelling is the normal way people communicate here. He wanted to take the helm even before we cleared the dock. I resisted. We had a fight over how fast to run the engines. He wanted to go faster. We were maxed. The day was hot. The helm seat was square in the sun.... Sure I said... have at it....enjoy yourself. I ducked inside for a cool drink and enjoyed having a driver.

Freebird wasn't her usual perky self. She was going very slow and the motors wouldn't come up to cruising RPM. Something was fouling the propellers. We were only making three and a half knots. I tried to explain that we needed to stop and clear the props. The pilot spoke no English. Finally I showed him my dive mask and some fishing net ..... The light went on! An hour later he screamed at us to anchor "here". We did. I jumped in the water and cleared the fishing net and excess barnacles from the propellers. While in the water the canal "God" or who ever it is came on the radio and reprimanded us for anchoring. There was lots of yelling between the pilot and the "God". I finished my job and we proceeded up the canal at six and a half knots. Everybody's happy right?... Wrong..... The canal "God" want's us to pull into the dock at Port Said and explain why we anchored. We had heard from other cruisers that they try to get you in there so they can extort you for more Bakshesh (bribes) Everyone advised us to stay away from there at all costs. I yelled an emphatic "NO" that we would not be going in there. The normal procedure is for a pilot boat to pick up the pilot from your boat as you leave the canal. We argued for a while... him in Arabic, me in English (mostly). Then the scene went quiet. Now he starts pleading with me. I hold my ground. At this point Judy suggests that we give him at least some of his Bakshesh (tip/bribe) I do so. Suddenly.....Hey guess what? We don't have to stop after all.... It's a miracle! So we are approaching the end of the canal and the city of Port Said. Here comes the pilot boat racing up like they are going to ram us. Intimidation! We hold our coarse and Bruce stands by with fender in hand ready for defensive action. The losers on the pilot boat start demanding cigarettes, hats, etc. They won't pick up the pilot until we cough up something. Judy takes their picture and they go berserk. Finally, I toss them my old ratty hat off my head. They look it over and toss it back...(can't blame them). So Burce flips them his coveted baseball hat. At this point I'm ready to take the pilot all the way to Israel. He starts begging for more money (a bigger pride here) Were done.... Nope, your going to Israel with us. Finally the Pilot boat approaches and he makes the leap and we are Free as a Bird from these extorting idiots. Good bye Egypt.....

A short side note from j ~ . Well, after all the horror stories from the previous canal transistors (the cruisers ahead of us), i was prepared for the worst. I had a roast chicken & rice dinner, lots of cookies, cokes, Tshirts, hats, coffee, & cigarettes. Just get me through this last final hurdle!. It was going pretty smoothly until we anchored. Then all hell broke loose. The guards on the side of the canal were blowing their whistles, yelling & waving their arms while the guy is calmly scraping away. The pilot is on both the radio & his cell phone screaming his guts out.. We get back underway after he takes about 20 calls he tells us we have to stop in Said. HMMMMM, well NO. It goes back and forth. I pack Dave's bookbag with a clean pair of undies, a long sleeve warm shirt, granola bars, cookies, extra cigarettes, soap, toothbrush etc........... YIKES
It's over, but not without a fight!
Brother Bruce wanted to go with us through the canal, to experience "The Big Ditch". Boy, did he ever.

Clearing the last channel buoy we set sail for Israel. The sun is setting and we are ready for a little celebration. Just then the autopilot decides to take a break. Then after a while "OTTO" decides to cooperate. Off we go into our first night on the Mediterranean Sea. We sailed and motored through the night and by morning we were being contacted by the Israeli Navy. Still 50 miles off the coast, they have been tracking us on radar and want to know who we are and what we're up to. They courteously asks their list of questions and we responded likewise. Later in the day we were buzzed by a patrol boat and asked the same questions again. Finally we arrived at Ashkelon Marina customs dock. We entered the country officially and were greeted by friends from other boats that had arrived ahead of us....

Recommended Reading: Red Sea Run by Captain Fatty Goodlander


11 June 2010 | Alexandria, Egypt
Dave and Judy

Brother Bruce is still hanging with us and with our bags tied on the roof of Mohamed's taxi we head off for Alexandria. The hotels are all booked but Mohamed has found us a "flat". Three hours later we arrive. The "flat" isn't really what we had in mind. So we head for the Metropole Hotel to get rid of some money. This beautiful old hotel is in the center of town on the Corniche overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We have that much desired sea view from our balcony to watch the goings on 3 stories below. Wow! Hot water and a bath tub too! We're in heaven.

It's very hard, almost impossible, to find a restaurant that serves beer in Egypt. Therefore, we opted for the Chinese place on the roof of the other grand old hotel in town.
The evening was perfect. A light breeze coming off the Med. The sun setting ... you get the idea. The food wasn't too bad either. We roamed the streets that evening stopping for a cappuccino in a famous old coffee house. The streets were alive. Things start to happen about nine PM in Egypt. We enjoyed watching the people of this old city do their thing.

We awoke refreshed after a night between clean sheets and a comfortable bed. Trusty Mohamed arrived on time for breakfast with us and off we went to Fort Qaitbey. Built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbey it sits on the remains of the legendary Pharaohs Lighthouse which had been in service for 17 centuries before it was destroyed by an earthquake. Imagine a light house in service for 1700 years......mind boggling.

CLICK here

After a couple of hours of playing hide and seek we moved on to the Alexandra Museum which is Housed in a beautifully restored Italian Villa. This is one of the best collections of Egyptian antiquities we have seen.

After a few hours we'd worked up an appetite. We finished the day with a seafood lunch overlooking the Med. Yum! The evening was spent again, wandering the old streets watching people and drinking coffee.

Big Pointy Things

10 June 2010 | Giza, Egypt
Dave and Judy

The Pyramids of Giza...We've all seen pictures. Well.... we touched them! Mohamed picked the three of us up for a guided tour of the wonders of this Egypt. The day was scorching hot. The sky was hazy with dust blowing in from the desert. As we arrived we noticed the parking lot was full of tour buses. Those big pointy things loomed over it all. We walked around them, climbing them, touching them, picture all the other tourists... spellbound. Then Mohamed took us to his camel friends. We mounted our trusty steads and flew into the desert where we joined up with a band of mercenary fighters. Judy led the charge against the bad guys with her sword high in the air, she screamed the primeval war cry and the enemy retreated into the dusty haze. (red head)

Oops! Sometimes I get a little carried away... Still, it was an exciting day. We entered the burial chambers crawling on our hands and knees. Deep inside you could feel the weight of the giant monolith. Even though most of the antiquities have been removed to the museum in Cairo or taken by grave robbers you could still feel the magnitude of the place.....Aw inspiring.

The Pharaoh entombed here had 5 ships (Solar Barque) built and buried in a special chamber. This would help him get to the afterlife. Well, he must still be in this life. His ship is still here. And what a ship it is. It's huge! 43 meters (140 feet) long! This monster was buried in a chamber next to the pyramid and covered with 41 giant rectangular 18 ton stone blocks. This all took place 4500 years ago. Now the ship has been removed from the pit and is in a special enviromently controled building. We donned our special foot covers and entered the home of this wonderment. This was really the highlight of the day for us. The 2nd of the 5 is just now being uncovered adjoining this site, i't a SAILBOAT! Oh Boy

We hung out with the Sphinx for a while then went to......Pizza Hut! Yes. that's what I said.....Pizza Hut. From the second story you can dine on pepperoni pizza while viewing the Sphinx with the pyramids in the distance. What a unique dining experience! Not for everyone. (Mohamed & judy had chicken...:>}})

Around Cairo

08 June 2010 | Cairo, Egypt
Dave and Judy

We hired a driver and car for the day. Our first stop was a famous old restored mansion that has been turned into an art museum. The stately old home was on the Nile river and at one time was the home of Anwar Sadat. The art collection featured many famous renaissance artists. A list of who's who: Renoir, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Rodin, Degas, to name a few. After a few hours we headed to the Abou El Cid restaurant for lunch. This Omar Sharif hideout was like a Turkish den, pillows and sheesha pipes around low tables. Eyes peering out of dark corners. Scented smoke filled the air. Murmuring conversations muffled by the heavy Persian carpets and wall tapestries. The staff was somewhat snooty but the food was great and the beer was cold.

Judy had a list of special shops to visit so off we go. The driver was totally out of his element. He expected to be taking us to "normal" tourist sites. So with map in hand I directed him to each place. Oh oh, the map and all the street signs were in Arabic.... not Dave's best language. We managed to find most of the places so Judy could graze to her hearts content. I even succumbed to buying a new linen coat and pants. Oh No, Dave ~ 2, judy ~ 0. At sunset we found a bar on the Nile and enjoyed sundowners while the faluka's sailed by.

A short walk took us back to our hotel where we waited for the Brother Bruce to check in. He just flew in from Seattle and joined our adventures for the next three weeks. We headed back out on the street looking for something to eat. Soon we were "found" by Gabriel, a friendly local (Coptic Christian). He took us under his wing and off we went up dark allies into the maze that is Cairo. We found ourselves dining upstairs in a noisy but tasty local eatery. Gabriel spoke perfect English and works as an engineer by day & volunteers at night for an orphanage. He was eager to share his knowledge about the old city and we had some good conversation. He took us to a pharmacy & even gave us some wrinkle removal herbs! Finally after wandering the streets until one AM we hit the hay...

Awakened by the sound of Cairo, we stumble out of our room to meet the day ahead. Cairo is a noisy place. A very noisy place. Like so many cities we have been in the world, the horn is the most important adjunct for vehicle navigation. A vehicle without a horn would be severely handicapped and possibly annihilated. At times it is impossible to carry on a conversation near the city streets. Arriving at the fabulous Cairo Egyptian Museum with our ears ringing we are met by Hanna. She is a very knowledgeable guide and an absolute must. To comprehend this place would take many times longer than our allotted one day but we'll do our best. Here is where most of the important antiquities have been moved. The most tantalizing being the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Really, words can't describe this storehouse of treasure. After three hours our brains were fried and our feet hurt.
After lunch and a short nap back at the hotel we hit the streets again to explore more of the bedlam of Cairo.

Egypt Cup

07 June 2010 | Cairo, Egypt
Dave and Judy

Our trusty taxi guy (Mohamad) is taking us to the big city of Cairo. He picked up tickets for the "Egypt Cup" and we will be among the hundred thousand or so fans in the stadium watching the game. After a stop at the mall for some long over due shopping (they have StarBucks!) we check into our hostel. We're located smack in the middle of old Cairo. The Nile river, Egyptian museum, and many other "attractions" are near by. The view out our window is of the back of the giant billboards facing the street four stories below. Mohamed comes by and escorts us to the bus and we cram aboard with hoards of other excited fans. We seem to be the attraction on the bus. Young people strike up conversations with us eager to practice their English. After a few more stops people are on the top of the bus and hanging on the outside. It's wild. Fun!
As we arrive at the venue we notice a large police presence. They're everywhere in white uniforms and heavily armed. We go through 4 check points & are searched as we enter the stadium. Finally, we find a seat and settle in for a great night of people watching. The fans are like on steroids at a NFL Superbowl game. After a long period of no score our team finally gets a goal. Things go wild. The guy in front of me jumps to his feet turns around and throws his arms around me. I'm released after a big bear hug and kiss and we all cheer. The game ends with a shoot out and we loose by one point. The entire stadium is on it's feet cheering and clapping anyway. We scurry back and leap on the bus. We were so fortunate to have Mohamad with us.

Worlds oldest Christian Monastery

02 June 2010 | Monastery of St Anthony

Here we sit waiting, to hear if we get to transit the canal today or not.... NOT.....tomorrow. We phone our agent and ask if he can arrange a taxi to take us on a two and a half hour drive south to visit the Christian Coptic Monastery of St Anthony. We collect our friend Lenus, from the yacht Silver Fern from New Zealand. Since it's the sabbath here (Friday) we have to wait until after prayers. We think it will be 1:30 and it turns out to be almost 2:30. The monastery closes at 5. They tell us an it"s an hour an half drive which of course turns into 2 hrs and we roar up to the gates after 4. As it turns out, it's our lucky day! Dave struck up a conversation with one of the monks, Fr. Ruwais Antony. He turns out to be one of the top guns in the place. Guess what???? He has lived in Seattle. We had old home week for a few minutes before he takes us under his wing. He took us on a very special tour. We got in every nook and cranny. Amazing. He even let us walk on top of the wall and enter the first church, (400 AD) where we saw beautiful fresco paintings on the walls. We went into the dining hall that was used 1500 years ago. We walked with the ghosts of the first Christians. It was goosebumpy.

lsmailia, Suez Canal, Cairo

30 May 2010 | lsmailia

It's official! Bruce, Dave's brother is coming for 3 wks to go with us through the rest of the way of the Suez Canal. We meet him in Cairo next week the 8th to celebrate Dave's BDay. OH BOY!!!! Bruce has organized our hotel & we get to go together to see those "pointy things". We're hoping to get over to Alexandria also & get a bit of Alexander the Great's culture too. We'll be totally Egyptian by then!


27 May 2010 | Suez
Dave and Judy

The Red Sea is behind us. She didn't go down with out a fight. Our predicted winds were generally double. After a 22 hour engagement to windward we entered the canal at daybreak. The air was so filled with dust that we thought it was dense fog. Super tankers and mega container ships would emerge out of the "brown out". One behemoth executed a UTURN ~ in front of us. We heard on the radio that they had jumped the queue and was instructed to go back into line by the port controller. You should have seen the wake and mud that it churned up right next to us. Frightening!

When we reached the entrance buoy we called for permission to enter. The port captain SCREAMED at us to STAY OUT OF THE CHANNEL. We were??? We were never in the shipping lanes. So, we hovered around the bouy for about 1/2 hr waiting for permission to enter. We radioed twice & finally announced that we were going to the marina outside of the lanes ~ and left.
When we were near the opening to the marina we phoned our agent and he arranged for Saed, the local yachtie helper to meet us there. His guidance was really appreciated as we tied fore and aft to mooring balls between 2 other boats. He rowed out to take our lines. The winds were not strong there in the anchorage so that was a pleasant relief.

Although we had been up all night we met with the agent and arranged for our transit paper work to begin the process. We laid down to take a short nap, the chipper Saed was back with some fresh bread, fruit and veggies. So instead we regrouped. We hoped to transit the next day.
It wasn't too be. A huge ship had gone aground with the full moon low tide and the canal was closed until they could get it off.
One more day....... maybe......

Last Leg

26 May 2010 | In Route to Suez Canal

After 4 days and nights at anchor in El Tur , Sinai, the wind finally has abated. There is a forecast weather window for the next 18 hours and we are jumping on it.. We're headed out on the last stretch of our Red Sea voyage. We haven't been off the boat since we left Hurghada last week Friday... Earlier today we were motoring into steep bouncy seas. About 14:00, things calmed down. Now we are motoring into the leftover slop from weeks of 30 knot winds. There are ships to port and oil wells to starboard. The sun is dropping into the haze and soon it will be dark. We have the promise of an almost full moon so that should help us get through the night. Judy is on her 50th game of solitaire on the computer. I just had a nap........

Sand Drifts.....

22 May 2010 | El Tur, Sinai, Egypt

Sand Drifts????? What????? Inside of the boat???? Inside of Freebird????

We've been shooting for the Hurghada Marina since leaving India, maybe even Thailand, way last year. It's been our destination. Once we're there, we are home free, up the Red Sea. Then, it's just a hop up to Suez.


Wish I had known that then.

We left Port Ghalib in the smallest of weather windows ~ overnight ~ taking a chance to beat the wind. Normally, sail boats likes wind, but the Red Sea only has wind directly on the nose. We get maybe one of the worst poundings we've had, naturally, in the middle of the night. Green water over the top. But, we survive. No harm no foul. We arrive the next afternoon in Hurghada to some real help from the marina to dock. TWO, yes, 2 men in a small boat to help us Med moor. They knew their stuff and could actually handle their boat and our lines. One jumped on board to help with the bow lines and me the stern and the one in the boat tied the bow lines to the mooring buoy while Dave backed in. There was only 1 moment of tension when the starboard bow line was tossed, dropped and sunk ~ gone ~ (not me thankfully!) But, the port side was already on and holding :>}}}
The next order of business was to be able to get off of the boat. She was backed into a very high cement dock. Dave had to go to the Port Captain/check-in in their "tinny" (Australian word for aluminum "dinghy") as he wasn't able to get to the dock. We do not have a "passerola" or gang plank.
In fact, nothing even remotely close. With the tide going so low it looked more like we needed a crane or basket instead. I voted for the helicopter but that really wasn't happening, for sure.
So, after talking to the marina fellows, they came back a couple of hours later with a large wooded gang-plank with rungs even. It was great. Nice and wide and long enough too. $10 a day.... guess who went nuts? He was outraged. Our dock fee's were $30 a day. Well, we'll worry about that later...
So, it's cleaning time for us even though we'd been up all night. We can't wait to give the ole girl her well deserved bath and get off some of that Cochin dirt that is still stuck to the awnings along with the rest of the salt and grime from the last couple of months.
I was busy washing everything in sight. Clean slipcovers on the settee, change the bed, scrub the fans with a toothbrush, polish all the hatches, shine the hardwood on the hands and knees,clean the windows. We were outside washing till 6, so tired we couldn't move. We both voted to just get into bed but decided it was a bit early ~ it was still light out.... so, we took a walk around the marina. After we got back we took showers, went to bed and passed out.


Of course not, it's call to prayer time, many calls to prayer, all with loud speakers. INCREDIBLE! UNBELIEVABLE! AWFUL!
Now that it's 10PM the "music" starts up. I guess you can call it that.
The wind kicks in. We really did just beat the wind. The mosquitoes arrive in time for dinner. All of the derelict boats around us commence to banging, clanging and jumping around in their slips. Dave convinces me not to close the boat up and put the air conditioning on. It's too hot to close the boat up he says, even though it would be quieter with less mosquitos. I acquiesce and put the ear plugs in and my head under the sheets to hide from the mossies.(Australian word for mosquitoes)
The next morning, we wake up to PILES, DRIFTS, MOUNDS of sand ~ everywhere! Every surface of our boat inside and out is covered with sand, dust and dirt. It continued for 3 days. No kidding. The sky was gray. It pelted us in 30-40 knots. After 2 days, the guy relented and put up the air conditioner. I cleaned again ~ so/so this time, my heart wasn't in it because it's not over yet.
So, for the next few days we provisioned, Dave built our own "passerola", got replacement parts for the broken nets (trampoline) and repaied that, lugged jerry cans of diesel, reloaded the computer that crashed and the best yet, found some tasty food.
Anyway, yesterday morning, we took a chance and with the next tinniest of weather window struck out for the next anchorage north. The winds were kind and the sea's minimal ~ surprise ~ so we just kept going till 5pm. We were able to get across the gulf to the Eastern side just off the Sinai Peninsula dodging oil derricks all the way.

Along the way we provided yet another "Freebird Ride" to a little freeloader.

We are in a small bay called El Tur (Al Tor), Sinai, Egypt. We aren't allowed to go ashore and couldn't launch the dinghy anyway as it's blowing 30+ right now. Looks like we will be here 3 days before we can head out again.

Vessel Name: Freebird
Vessel Make/Model: Grainger MC420 Catamaran
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Dave and Judy Howell
Dave started building Freebird in 1995 in a plastic shed on Camano Island, NW USA and launched her in April of 2001. He retired from the Fire Department in 1999 after 28 years of service. Judy Retired from dentistry in 1995 after 27 years. [...]
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