Hot dry heat, jelly fish and flies were the first three things I noticed arriving at the Suez Canal. The anchorages north of Port Suez were just beginning to fill up with ships waiting to enter one of two south bound convoys. The air was no longer reminiscent of milder days spent crossing the mid Atlantic and the ketchup bottle at dinner was now attracting a persistent Egyptian housefly, the likes of which had been absent for the last 18 days.
Jelly fish surrounded the ship numbering in the thousands. A large white or blue bowling ball sized species, they drifted beneath the waves aimlessly pulsating, most likely an invasive jelly living off the saltier and warmer effluent coming out of the canal from the Red Sea which slowly flows into the Mediterranean. They were so thick you couldn't jump in the water without hitting one.
While we waited for the convoy to begin very early the next morning a stores boat pulled along side so we could receive fresh fruit and vegetables which included some of the best strawberries I've ever had. Whether they were from Egypt or Israel or Jordan I couldn't be sure but they were tiny and sweeter than the G.M. one's we get in the states.
The pilots came on one by one throughout the morning and afternoon. The first pilot amazed the bridge team by eating more cookies in one transit than had ever been seen before. One by one the pilot would take a cookie from the coffee station, return to the gyro repeater to enjoy while conning the vessel, and then for another slowly decimating the entire box . The last pilot came aboard in a white linen suit complete with a vintage Suez Canal cover with scrambled eggs and all declaring that it was he whom held the oft contested title of senior pilot.
Before entering the Great Bitter Lake to anchor and await the passage of the single north bound convoy we passed close by the third largest super yacht in the world. As informed by the pilot, the vessel is owned by the Sultan of Oman and was headed back to the Emirate. While the Sultan and his family were not likely to have been aboard the yacht was still impressive measuring in at over 500 feet. We followed her all the way out and into the Gulf of Suez later in the afternoon.
Anchoring for a few hours gave the Captain and Chief Engineer just enough time for a quick nap, both had been up all night and the previous day. To keep the helmsman fresh I put them on a rotating schedule spending only an hour at a time on the wheel. Even though it's a straight shot most of the way one misinterpreted or incorrect rudder movement and the ship could suck herself across the bank blocking a line of ships extending for miles through the desert from their destinations.
While passing through one of the larger towns along the canal we boarded one oncoming crew member, a new third assistant from my Alma Mater who had graduated only four weeks ago and who's luggage hadn't made the connecting flight. I felt sincere pity for him knowing that when you pack for sea for the first time you really do try and fit your life into a bag and showing up to work for the next three months without that duffel is truly a bummer.
Also boarding in the starlit brilliance of the desert night was our contracted security team who will ride the vessel for the duration of our time in the middle east. Due to the extreme piratical activity in the India Ocean the company made a proactive decision to deter hijackings. By making each vessels as hard of targets as possible the pirates would be insane not to choose a softer or more vulnerable target. And while there are a great number of coalition war ships now patrolling the Indian Ocean the hijackings continue with ships being probed, attacked and boarded daily by Somalians. Piracy has always been an inherent risk to marine commerce and unfortunately today it is no different.
We all feel confident that the presence of several very well trained, professional and experienced security personnel on board the ship will deter any attempts at taking the ship for a ransom. While it is not a solution to the piracy issue it does make everyone sleep better at night and from my perspective, not providing ships in this region with properly equipped security teams is a huge threat to the well being of the crew. The ICC's Piracy Report shows that the threat persists and just yesterday a chemical tanker was attacked ten miles north of the Strait of Bab El Mandeb. More on the BAM later.
While encounters with Somali thugs in the Gulf of Aden can be deterred the heat is inescapable on deck. I reminded the crew this afternoon under a paint peeling sun that drinking lots of water, not coffee and soda, but water and taking breaks when needed is imperative. Heat stress becomes life threatening much faster than most tough, macho and hard working sailors think. That last thing I need is to go short a man on an all ready tiny crew.
The third mate looked up the forecast for our next port of call and it didn't even bother stating the temperature centigrade. "Extremely Hot" was all it said. Today is the hottest day of my nearly three months on board and it's only going to get worse. With a sea water temp of 86 degrees not even filling the pool will do any good on a day like this. And while I whine about the sea temp the engineers are really concerned. A hotter ocean means a hotter engine and when the diesel engine gets too hot it's a big problem. Another thing we could do without is going Dead In the Water to replace an exhaust valve while in the Gulf of Aden. Security would definitely have their hands full then.