Saturday, 30 June 2007

Crete to Cyprus

We left the western end of Cyprus on Saturday 23rd and started out towards Crete. For 5 days, contrary to the weather forecasts, we had headwinds in varying degrees of force necessitating a looping southerly course and an extra 75 miles on our track.

We finally anchored in Kores Bay on Gavdos at the western end of Crete and the most southerly point of Europe. The island is pretty isolated and barren with only about 6 families living on it all year around. There’s no shops, no internet and most places have no electricity, only generators. There are some lovely beaches and the water is crystal clear. Unfortunately we were battered by constant high winds – exceptionally dry and very hot, a bit like being assaulted with a giant hairdryer. Everything, including us, was completely desiccated! The anchor, pinned under a rock, worked so hard the shank was bent.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Syrian Saga

For a full account of our outrageous treatment in Syria, please visit:

Our next plans

We have spent the last few days reading and relaxing. When the weather permits we will set off for Crete, a journey of about 400 miles which should take us about 3 days and nights. From there we will sail to Malta, another 550 miles, and then on to Tunisia. Once we have taken delivery of our new Spade anchor we will head to the Balearics, hoping to arrive the beginning of August.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Refuge in Cyprus

We are now in Larnaca, Cyprus after another 24 hour sail into headwinds.

Our series of unfortunate events continued when we were leaving Latakia - we had a problem with the engine idle. A part Nic had welded in Rhodes had cracked again. This delayed us for an hour while the part was taken off and welded.

On route we were sailing at over 7 knots with 4 sails up and a large ship heading our way when we lost the autopilot and steering! Nic had to reattach the hydraulic arm to the steering while I tried to remain calm! Hero that he is, he sorted it out before we got into any danger and Irony brilliantly held her course to wind.

We plan to anchor here for a few days, recover from our ordeal and decide what to do next.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Dishonesty in Syria

It was at least 2 hours before the marina staff arrived at our boat with a group of officials. They informed us that we would have to leave immediately. The officials were reluctant to provide an explanation. After we pressed the most senior man to give a reason he said that we had not radioed the port when we entered Syrian waters. We told him that this was not correct; Nic had contacted the port 5 times on our approach. This was never mentioned again.

We discussed the situation with Maissa from the marina. She assured us that we had done nothing incorrect or illegal. We also tried to explain to the officials that:

  • We had fulfilled their instructions to sail to a Turkish port to obtain the paperwork they wanted.

  • In doing so we had experienced a difficult return passage to Latakia.

  • We had no more than 1 or 2 hours sleep in the last 32 hours.

  • We had not eaten since 21:00 the previous night.

  • Our next planned port of call was Alexandria, Egypt, almost 500 miles away (a minimum of 5 days and 5 nights continuous sailing).

  • We would need to refuel for such a long passage.

  • We had no weather information.

  • We did not have enough food and drinking water on board for a long passage.

  • We had made no passage plan to such a distant port.

  • We had still not had the opportunity to make necessary repairs to the boat that were outstanding when we arrived in Latakia on 7th June.

For all of these reasons to depart immediately would put us and Irony at risk. The officials were utterly unsympathetic and insisted we leave immediately unwilling to consider the dangers in such a situation. Nic told them we would require an extra crew and compensation for their sending us on a three day, 200 mile round trip when we were already exhausted and now wanted to send us out again .They laughed and said that we had entered illegally (blatantly untrue) and therefore had no rights. The discussions continued and a vehicle was brought to the quay and we were advised that if we did not leave the situation would “escalate”. The implication was that we would be arrested.

We continued to ask what we had done wrong. The next reason given was that we had not notified them of our arrival 24 hours in advance. This was also untrue; we emailed the Syrian Yacht Club on Saturday evening and have a reply from Maissa welcoming us again to Syria! Apparently Maissa did not manage to get the required form to the officials until Monday morning, their fax was broken which they did not deny. Clearly this was not our fault.

We also continued to ask why we were instructed to make a 200 mile round trip to Turkey for exit papers if they were still going to refuse us entry. They said it was our choice. This is utterly inaccurate. Maissa confirmed they were lying but nothing was documented. The 10 or so officials present quite clearly told us on Thursday 7th that we should go to Iskenderum in Turkey and return with exit papers. Nic made a point of confirming it several times with several officials because of how ridiculous it seemed. It was not our idea to make a journey of 200 miles to get a rubber stamp. Despite our 3 day trip to comply with their requirement no one ever asked to see the exit paper we obtained in Mersin!

We telephoned the British consul in Damascus who told me they were unable to help as they did not have an office in Latakia. The marina brought their lawyer into the discussions, to no avail.

I asked to speak to the person giving the directive for us to leave, requesting the opportunity to put our case to him face to face or on the telephone as a reasonable man. I was refused, he was too important.

Finally we persuaded them to bring a tanker to refuel. The marina office provided some weather information which showed that the wind was not favourable for us to reach our next port of call. 2 guards were posted by our boat.

Eventually I managed to speak to the Syrian Consul in London, Mr Loutfi, and explain our situation to him. It was only his kind intervention that resulted in some humanity being shown and we were allowed to stay the night and they offered to get us provisions.

We left Latakia on Tuesday morning 12th June,

It is now obvious that we were never going to be allowed entry. It is quite dishonest and disgraceful that we were not advised this on our first arrival. To tell us to make a 200 mile journey under false pretences is dishonourable and dangerous.

We cannot find words to express our outrage at this experience. We have been planning our visit to Syria for some time and had obtained our visas at the Syrian Embassy in London in February this year. We have long been looking forward to exploring the country. We certainly did not expect to be treated like criminals and liars especially after having made such an enormous effort. We are very sad to be left with the impression that the Syrian people are not honourable and do not keep their word but worst of all they have no regard for the safety of a ship and her crew, contrary to all international norms.

We have been treated as if we are a commercial ship not a pleasure craft, our crime was anchoring and not obtaining receipts! It would appear that the underlying problem, despite our written assurances to the contrary, was that we might have taken our boat to Israel after leaving Rhodes. This is utterly ridiculous and paranoid as it is almost a 600 mile direct passage and inconceivable for us to undertake with Michele's injury.

The irony of the situation is that we could take our boat to Israel where we can travel overland to Jordan and can enter Syria from there.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Back to Syria!

We left Mersin on Sunday morning and sailed about 32 miles to Cape Karatas. It's a protected area - just miles of sand dunes and turquoise water with depths of 5-10 m several miles out. We dropped anchor for a rest and some dinner. At around 9pm we set off on the final leg back to Latakia.

Unfortunately we soon encountered high waves again and 30 knot headwinds. We tacked our way across and arrived into the marina, completely exhausted from lack of sleep at about midday.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Back to Turkey!

We had a fantastic sail 95miles across to Mersin (we decided this was a preferable destination to Iskenderum and only a further 10 miles distance). There were 2 to 4m waves but we had enough wind to make it a comfortable point of sail. We are anchored in a huge commercial port and it took several hours to get the paperwork we need. Not a single one of the officials we saw had ever seen a Turkish cruising log before! We will return to Latakia tomorrow. We are still incredulous of the whole situation.

It goes without saying that we are going to contact everyone we can think of to complain about this debacle. They are completely mad to send us off on a 200 mile round trip for a rubber stamp. There is absolutely no problem with issuing our visas and allowing us to travel in the country, the only problem was with Irony sitting on the concrete pier for around 7 days! So much for encouraging tourism in Syria!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Paperwork nightmare!

Once moored we started the check-in process and that’s where the problems began…

Our last port of call was Rhodes harbour and, as we were an EEC boat in EEC waters, we had not formally checked out. This was unacceptable to the officials – they had to have some sort of stamp. It would appear the concern is whether the boat might have been in Israel.

The negotiations went on all day long and by the afternoon we had a posse of around 10 people next to our boat. The problem was not with us, they were happy to issue our visas and let us enter the country, the problem was with Irony! The marina staff, immigration & customs officials etc were all touchingly helpful and friendly. They did everything in their power to sort things out. Unfortunately they could not persuade the higher power (we believe it was the harbourmaster) to concede. We presented receipts from Mandraki marina, showed our track on the laptop of our passage, etc etc. All to no avail.

We were told at around 15:30 that we would have to leave by 18:00, sail to Iskenderum in Turkey, check in and check out, and then return. This would be a 170 mile return journey (around 18 hours of sailing each way). Needless to say we were not happy about being forced out at night on limited sleep after just having completed a 3 night passage to get there. Additionally we would be leaving with no weather information.

We refused to leave without fuelling, as we did not have sufficient fuel for the journey, to be told it was too late in the day. This resulted in further hours of negotiations. An engineer came on board to check on the fuel in our tank and to calculate our fuel consumption (basically calling us liars). Finally they brought a tanker in and we got 200 litres (approx $0.175/litre!!!). By this time it was around 22:00 and they still were insisting we leave. In exhaustion and stress I broke into tears as we were about to start the engine and depart! Nic said all the men on shore were devastated and this prompted the next attempts to resolve the situation. They got Nic to radio Latakia port control to request remaining until daylight. By this time the uncompromising official must have gone home because they allowed us to spend the night.

The next morning we threw our lines just before 09:00, feeling somewhat better for some sleep and some food.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Dolphin with strange parasitic fish attached.

Our crossing to Syria

We made reasonable time on the first half of our passage to Latakia, the main port of Syria, but were then totally becalmed off the northern coast of Cyprus. The timing meant that we were not going to be able to arrive off the Syrian coast before dark (as required) on Wednesday night. We therefore spent the day becalmed, drifting along, swimming and relaxing.
We saw lots of dolphin along the way – in groups of 10-15. The last pod that came to play seemed to have some sort of strange parasitic fish attached to them up to 2 feet long (see photo). They were a different species, much smaller than the usual bottle-nosed variety we normally see. Any marine biologists among you may be able to tell us more about this.
Wednesday evening the wind picked up and continued on the final leg. It was a rough passage the last 70 miles across from the tip of Cyprus. As we approached Latakia at about 08:30 the winds were 20/25 knots making our final mooring in the “Syrian Yacht Club” (basically a concrete quay in a tiny fishing harbour) an interesting arrival.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Nic swimming on our passage to Latakia

Monday, 4 June 2007

Leavıng for Syria

This morning we visited a fabulous cave in Gokkaya Limani with the dinghy. We then made our way around to Finike. On the way we passed an enormous turtle (his shell was at least a meter long) swimming on the surface. We set off for Latakkia, Syria just after 6pm. We have around 275 miles to cover and hope to arrive on Thursday.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Anchored in Gokkaya Limani

After a Sunday lunch at a restaurant we frequented when we were here last year, we motored around to Gokkaya Limani. It’s a stunning anchorage. “Stumpy” the finger is healing well now but it’s still too soon to be immersed in water so my swimming is with a lifering!