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"Confessions of a Long-Distance sailor"
Copyright © 1991 — 2005, P. Lutus

An account of an around-the-world solo sail in a 31-foot boat, 1988-1991

Chapter 7 — Sri Lanka to Tel Aviv

January 16 — Day 8, Sri Lanka to Djibouti

I have read most of five books so far during this passage: "Hotel" by Arthur Hailey, "Wired," about John Belushi, "Ragman's Son," Kirk Douglas' autobiography, a book about Robert De Niro called "The Hero Behind the Masks," and Elia Kazan's autobiography, "A Life." I didn't realize that "Wired" dealt so much with the Hollywood-L.A. scene, and that Elia Kazan was a film director — I thought he was a writer. Consequently I ended up reading four of these books as though they were elements of a set. In "Ragman's Son," Kirk Douglas even mentions two of the other books, and talks about Robert De Niro as well.

There's not much to say about "Hotel" except it's well-written and a good story. I saw a film rendition with Rod Taylor, who was regularly picked for that kind of story in the early '60's. Interestingly, in the movie Karl Malden — you know, "Streets of San Francisco," "American Express — don't leave home without it" Karl Malden — plays a cat burglar. I liked it, so when I saw the book in a hotel bookstore in Sri Lanka I grabbed it.

"Wired" (Bob Woodward) is written in a dry journalistic style, in which the events are expected to produce their own drama, and the author's personal views are kept to a minimum. It's very depressing. John Belushi shows how much trouble a million dollars can buy.

"Ragman's Son" must overcome the burden of its cutesy beginning, in which Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas as a child) talks to his adult counterpart in trendy italicized passages I will bet were added at the insistence of an editor. I think Richard Bach popularized this device, in which you hold an interrupted dialogue with your younger, more callow self. The book gets better after that, although I think Mr. Douglas reveals more about himself than he knows.

"Robert DeNiro — Hero Behind the Masks" (Keith McKay) is just as bad as the title leads you to believe. I would very much like to read a good book about Robert De Niro. But this isn't the book.

I have greater expectations for Elia Kazan's "A Life." I haven't read enough to judge this fourth movie book, but at least the man knows how to write.

I am in the Arabian Sea, between the land masses of India and Africa. After a miserable start, with winds from every direction and velocity, and many freighters, conditions began to live up to the predictions of the guidebooks — steady Northeast winds, kind seas, sunny weather. I will want to remember these conditions when I get to the Red Sea, an area that is reported to be as trying as this is enjoyable.

I have been trying to decide what to do about this boat. Yesterday I tried to pull out a drawer, but the front of the drawer came off in my hand instead. I would like to strangle the master craftsman who built this interior.

Maybe I'll shop for a new boat in the Mediterranean. That might expose me to some boats and prices I might not otherwise see, but the drawbacks are great. I would have to purchase, equip, and shake down a new boat when I could be visiting pretty places instead. On the other hand I hate buying replacement gear for this boat and doing maintenance, because I know I'm not keeping it. My heart just isn't in it.

If I don't buy a new boat in the Med, I will be selling this boat as soon as I am back on the U.S. West Coast. I want a boat that sails faster than five knots without requiring extraordinary efforts, that doesn't leak everywhere, that doesn't destroy electronic gear with water and mildew (I am on my fourth VCR in two years), that doesn't paint brass and wood surfaces green when the sun is hidden from view.

I am not one of those prissy sailors who has to have a bristol (supremely orderly) boat to feel all right about the world. But having one-half a drawer come off in my hand is too much even for me. People whom I would like to impress come on board and say (or silently think) "Did a tree die in here?"

January 22 — Day 14

I have passed one of my landmarks — 58 degrees East longitude, which is exactly halfway around the world from Ashland, Oregon (122 degrees West). I had intended to write in my journal two days ago, when I was at the landmark, but it was blowing 30 knots and everything was wet and uncomfortable.

Now I am between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf of Aden, approaching the Red Sea. I am going to stop in Djibouti for a while and monitor the Red Sea weather reports. I will try to choose a good moment to enter the Red Sea, which the most optimistic guidebook authors describe as very challenging and frustrating. The shopping in Djibouti is supposed to be good also.

I'm going to tell you another boat story. I met the crew of a boat named "Esprit" in Darwin (I've changed all the names in this story). John, the English captain, was looking for people to sail with him and share costs — he wasn't looking for paid crew, he wanted people willing to pay for the experience of sailing.

While in Darwin John met Jennifer, also English, a zoologist who occupied her time stealing eggs from salt water crocodiles.

A digression. Australian salt water crocodiles are huge and have the moral comprehension of reptiles — meaning if they like you, they eat you, and if they don't like you, they tear you to pieces and let the birds eat you. So you survive by not coming to their attention, just like with governments. And nothing annoys them quite so much as taking their eggs.

When I visited Jennifer's house I saw a photograph of her holding aloft two large crocodile eggs, while two assistants stand guard with oars. The idea of the oars is that if you hit a mama croc in the nose, she will be stunned for a bit and you can make good your escape. If this strategy were to fail, Jennifer could draw the .44 magnum revolver conspicuously resting on her hip. It's a dramatic photograph to happen upon, particularly stuck to a refrigerator.

Anyway, John met Jennifer and soon they were thinking of themselves as a couple. It was a foregone conclusion that Jennifer would come sailing on John's boat, as soon as she acquired her Australian residency visa, so in the fullness of time she could come back and steal more crocodile eggs.

John also met two Canadians, Linda and Philip, from the Vancouver area, and they arranged to join him.

Linda is an absurdly good-looking 19 year old. As to describing Linda I can only point and grunt, prosaically speaking. Linda is one of those people that makes me doubt Einstein's homily that "God is subtle but not malicious." She attracts attention wherever she goes — in Australia, where she worked in a bar, she heard comments about her chest often enough that she wanted to throw up. This is not to say that she is merely buxom, but among certain Australians that seems to have been the primary focus of her anatomy.

On New Year's Eve, in Sri Lanka, Linda engaged me in a serious, person-to-person talk, aided and abetted by alcohol, in which she revealed something I hadn't guessed: she finds sex disgusting. Her constant companion, being male and twenty-six, has tried from time to time to interest her in this activity, but without success. But that evening she was plagued by doubt — she wanted me, an older man, to say whether I though she was "all right."

Sri Lankan fishing boat on the beach
Now consider the situation in which I found myself. It is New Year's Eve on a rather pretty beach in Sri Lanka, and a conversation is taking place between a very pretty young woman and your reporter, who, although predisposed to think, has been known to respond to chemical imperatives from time to time. Possible silly replies are rushing unbidden through my mind — "You've been cheated until now. It will be different with me, sweetheart..." — "I can't offer an opinion from this distance — I need to get closer to you" and so forth.

But none of these replies made its way to the surface of my mind and rode out into the darkness on my tongue, for the simple reason that I wasn't nearly as drunk as those around me. So I told her she would be better off having our conversation with an older woman, but since she asked me, my opinion was that she should pay as little attention as possible to other people's criticisms about her sexuality. If she wasn't interested in sex, that was that, her energies should be directed elsewhere. If, on the other hand, she were to give in to peer pressure, she would win a kind of acceptance, but it wouldn't be her who was being accepted, so what would be the point?

That's what happened — outside. Inside, I was thinking blasphemous things — "God, you slime — how could you create this beauty and leave out such an important element?" I felt a moment of sympathy for Philip, her companion, whom I had found somewhat frustrated and touchy — had I only known. And, on a different plane, I thought this another vote for a morally neutral universe, both with regard to the mischief wrought by a malicious "creator," and how unlikely it will be that Linda will have worthwhile relationships with men (through a fault in men, not Linda). However unimportant that might ultimately be, it seemed important to her — half of all the warm human bodies on the planet, unable for very long to resist a natural force, and thus produce in her a feeling of disgust.

But I digress — I was telling a story about Esprit. Jennifer decided to surrender to the moment and join the cruise, without waiting for her residency visa. The two Canadians had no schedule conflict — they were ready to go. John made a final addition to the crew, an Australian, Kent, someone with actual sailing experience. Also a cat, who, each sunset, would run from one end of the boat to the other with seeming abandon.

You will remember I left Darwin and had to return because of a broken shroud. I was then eager to get underway because the Southern Hemisphere typhoon season was about to begin. So I repaired my boat as fast as I could and cast off my lines. As I left, Esprit was still there, waiting for parts.

The story goes that she waited another week, then cruised at a leisurely pace to Christmas Island, then headed for Sri Lanka. But by then the season of dangerous weather had begun, and, sure enough, in the first week of the season a typhoon blew up and converged on them. The storm arrived with 60 knot winds, then moved off, then recurved and hit them again, over a period of five days.

Eventually Esprit showed up in Sri Lanka, somewhat the worse for wear. John started to plan the next leg of the journey, but there was a certain amount of grumbling among his crew. Apparently John is a perfectionist, or an endless criticizer, or something. You know — a captain story.

During the four week layover in Sri Lanka things went beyond grumbling. First Kent fell ill and flew to England to be operated on, which would seem to have eliminated him from the continuing journey. Then Jennifer decided John didn't have such a white horse after all, and regretted leaving Australia, in particular without having first gotten her residency visa.

Then Jennifer met Roger (say that with a French accent — rrrojhay), a kind and gentle French sailor, and decided to sail with him instead. I must confess to having argued with Jennifer in favor of Roger, after hearing some of her stories about John. But I'm not a journalist — I can meddle. Then Jennifer's decision became pivotal for the Canadians — they weren't going to put up with John all by themselves. They flew off to Thailand.

This leaves the cat. John had planned to leave it in Sri Lanka anyway, never thinking how poignant that would be once everyone else left him. He offered me the cat, but I decided not to take her — I thought she would eventually fall off the boat and I would feel horrible. Then my friends Bob and Ursula agreed to take her on.

Yesterday, during our daily radio chat, Bob told me the cat went over the side. In a moment of boredom and frustration she made a jump for the whisker pole tied onto the rail. I think the whisker pole was more slippery than she expected. Bob and Ursula released the man-overboard package, a pole with a flag and a life ring, then turned the boat around, but couldn't find the cat. It takes a surprising amount of time to turn a sailboat around, and a cat is a small object in the water. Also with rare exception felis domesticus doesn't swim very well.

When I heard about the cat, I remembered a party on Esprit in Darwin. Ursula had arrived before me and announced that I was looking for crew, a wild exaggeration. As a result a young woman who was almost completely free of practical skills was trying to corner me at the party and get me to take her sailing. She tried to impress me with her qualifications — "I don't know much about sailing but I can cook." For myself, I was trying to talk to Jennifer, once I realized she was the woman about whom I had heard, who snatched eggs away from angry salt water crocodiles. Later I met the Canadians, noticed how Linda would draw her hair back with her fingers, as if attention needed to be directed to her face. And John, who, notwithstanding his behavior as a captain, is skilled in the art of conversation.

There they are, the players in my little story, now scattered like leaves before the wind. Kent, now in an English hospital post-op ward. Philip and Linda, likely having an argument somewhere in Thailand. Jennifer, sailing with Roger (remember, say it in French), probably by now realizing that all captains have things in common, and maybe by now Roger's horse isn't so white either. John, who, after his crew had abandoned him, visited Selene and talked in a startlingly humble way, about how supposedly there was something about his personality that drove his crew away. And the cat, the most energetic and certain of any of us, now sleeping in the stomach of a big fish.

January 25 — Day 17

My loran receiver has started to work. I didn't realize there was a loran system here until I heard the signals while playing with my short-wave radio. So I turned on my loran unit, and voila! This is a good omen for the Red Sea passage — I can use loran's continuous position data to hug the side of the Red Sea, steering between the freighter traffic and the shoals. Another advantage of loran is it gives true velocity and direction "across the ground." An ordinary knot meter tells you how fast you are going through the water, but can't account for ocean currents, or "leeway," a sailboat's sideways movement through the water.

This morning, as I watched the sea go by, I began to think about my time in elementary school. I remembered one of my teachers, Mr. Meyers, who thought more of me than I thought of myself. I can still see him, surrounded by dust and boys, organizing a baseball team in a field behind the school. Like so many things from that time, I am only now coming to understand what he represented, his field of grass, his baseball game.

I once took it for granted that a group of people picked at random will have many values in common, perhaps a majority. I now think this isn't true, a change of view that took many years. When we (men in particular) talk to each other, mostly using intellectual skills to convey intellectual notions, we produce a sense of unity, of common values. We acquired our intellectual notions in a uniform way, mostly in classrooms. Where we are different is in the realm of emotion. Emotions are not transmitted to children the same way ideas are.

In the lives of children, there is a way in which ideas are the province of the state, and emotions are "the private sector." The state has a vested interest in seeing that certain ideas about governments, about the social contract, are transmitted to children. It is in this area that we think ourselves alike. The process is helped along if a person has an emotional affinity for membership in a group. But this affinity, if it exists, originates outside the school — emotions aren't the business of the classroom.

That is one way in which we differ, in an otherwise homogeneous society. For example, I know about myself that, because of the circumstances of my childhood, I never acquired a feeling for the worth of groups. Therefore, if the value of a group is accepted, I am a lower creature than you.

I didn't arrive at this realization quickly or without pain. But I am sure of it. I am accustomed to having people spell out for me the value of groups as if I were a moron, and, with respect to this particular matter and a handful of others, I really am a moron. I prove this by asking stupid questions about hallowed traditions, for example, marriage. I am a lower creature.

I was a lower creature when I met Mr. Meyers. The other boys had been part of a group since birth, so competing for a place on Mr. Meyers' baseball team was not very difficult — if a particular boy was too small, or there were too many boys for two teams, or there weren't enough baseball mitts to go around, someone would have to sit out the game, "be rejected." It wouldn't kill him, it would be an isolated rejection in a life of acceptance. But it would have killed me. I was a lower creature.

I didn't understand any of this at the time — I only had my feelings and a handful of words. In the time I am remembering, Mr. Meyers was choosing his teams, surrounded by boys calling the name of their favorite position. There was plenty of dust and excitement — after all, this wasn't arithmetic or Palmer Method handwriting, this was baseball — something real.

I stood some distance away, but my toes weren't happy: the impulse to join a group of rowdy boys had become a raw power, a force conveyed by chemicals, that could move the sneakers of a lower creature.

Mr. Meyers liked me, I know that now. He knew I was a misfit, appealing but ill-equipped for life on earth. Now he waved to me, saying "Come on, Paul. Come play! Play second base for me!"

I shook my head, as I always did, but then something strange happened. All at once the playground's sights and smells invaded me and forced my words aside. For a moment of time I saw the world with the eyes of a real person, not a lower creature. Mr. Meyers began running toward the baseball field, beckoning his boys to follow — I saw him moving through a world built of groups, families, baseball teams. His smile, the gestures of his hands were a force of nature like gravity, by which all things were turned. I couldn't struggle against it: I knew I was looking at the clockwork of the earth.

That night I turned and turned. Mr. Meyers' exuberance and generosity might be the behavior of a normal person. His boys might be the earth's rightful inhabitants, all of nature their playing field.

How could I have failed to notice that my friends possessed an emotional resilience that I lacked? Those boys believed they had a right to Mr. Meyers' attention. Mr. Meyers believed it too. He didn't exact a terrible price for his companionship. In the grassy field they ran, they played, and no one was destroyed.

By morning I realized my parents were dead people. They moved about the world, but they were dead. And, by way of consistent and diligent application, they had produced dead children. This idea was painful at first, but its advantages were soon clear. If dead people don't love you, it isn't because you aren't lovable, it's because they're dead. Best not model your behavior on that of dead people, you will be thought dead yourself — find something else.

In the time that followed, I became a kind of amphibian, a being of two worlds and of neither, a lower creature posing as a smartass kid. And as I crawled from the sea onto the dry land, I would sometimes see Mr. Meyers as I did that day, a living, warm, dusty union of man and bouncing sneakers. He would look at me from the world of the living, he would wave to me. Come on, Paul, come play.

February 3 — Djibouti

The people are very good looking here, and interesting. Women wear long dresses of beautiful patterns and colors. Friendly, cosmopolitan people. When they discovered I was American some politely inquired whether the race problems had been solved in my country.

I must admit I was torn between a measure of loyalty to my country and a wish to tell the truth. But I told the truth — I explained that racism still exists and is a fact of life for African-Americans. And the biggest change brought on by the Civil Rights Movement of the '60's was a sense of guilt — it was now possible to shame people into acting fairly by pointing a television camera at them.

As I had these conversations I couldn't help thinking a visit to Djibouti would be a great punishment for an American racist. I personally think the only explanation for continued racist beliefs in this environment would be organic brain damage.

Bob, Ursula and I rented a car and drove through a beautiful desert. In one place a row of camels was being loaded with salt from a saline lake. In another a geothermal vent blew steam over a moonlike landscape of lava.

February 15 — Day 11, Djibouti to Port Suez

I have anchored at Marsa Fijab, a small bay on the West side of the Red Sea, in the Sudan. My main reason for stopping was to perform a list of repairs, but this environment is so beautiful it sort of takes you over.

Looking West from the boat I see desert and mountains. Some sand dunes have been blown against the base of the mountains. The mountains are entirely dry, no sign of vegetation, and are colored shades of brown — "brown tones" as they say in California. After marveling at the view for a while, it slowly came to me that I was probably seeing more than 100 miles. The air isn't always clear in the Red Sea, but when the wind backs off there is less airborne dust, and there isn't much pollution to limit one's view.

Except for an occasional Sudan Army truck on the coast road, it is completely silent. At the moment there's no wind — it is 11 AM and the nighttime land breeze hasn't yet given way to the afternoon sea breeze. I like the stillness after two weeks of very windy sailing, almost all upwind.

This is a different kind of sailing — more like the Med is supposed to be. I can sail for a couple of days, and, if the wind is too strong or I just want to sleep without interruption, I can landfall on the Western coast for a while.

Many things are being held in abeyance for the Mediterranean. My diesel motor is in very bad shape, in fact I may have to be towed through the Suez Canal. I have gone through all the usual things trying to fix it, but no luck — it just doesn't put out enough power any more.

Sailing upwind has meant heeling over a lot, and this has revealed more bad things about this boat. One water trap in the head isn't located high enough, so when the boat heels over on that side, water passes across the top of the trap, into the toilet, over the top of the toilet, and thence into the various lockers where all the supposedly dry things are stored. Also the sinks on the galley are mounted too low, so water rises out of the drains and over the tops of the sinks with heel angles of 30 degrees or more. It's entirely stupid that someone would design a sailboat that must heel over to move, and not think about the consequences.

I used to try to remind myself which lockers might get wet. Now I have a very short list of places that don't get wet — all the rest get wet in either rough sea conditions or in rain.

I wrote a sailing analysis program that reads the loran positions (a wire connects the loran receiver to the computer) and comes up with some interesting things. For one thing, after about five minutes of data collection it tells me exactly what direction I am heading and at what speed. It also tells me how much of that speed is applied to my destination — a quantity called "velocity made good."

My program reveals a lot. To begin with, if I am well heeled over and going fast, I might be drifting sideways in the water about 1/8 of my forward speed! That's because this boat doesn't have a very deep keel, in order not to hit things in shallow water. Another way to put this is to compare the boat's compass heading and the course revealed by the program — they are sometimes different by 20 degrees.

All this math revolves around a central issue of sailing — you can only get so close to the direction the wind is blowing, and exactly which angle you choose, and how much sail you use to move the boat, is crucial. This program shows me I have been using too much sail, heeling over too far, and drifting sideways in the water too much — something called "leeway."

When you travel North in the Red Sea, the wind blows at you from your destination. So sailing here requires good planning, and some frustrations just can't be avoided. For example, sometimes the wind blows a little off to one side. When this happens you take the opposite tack and you have a higher "velocity made good." But eventually you get to a coast and have to turn around and sail the less favorable tack, at which point you may literally be going away from your destination!

So my new plan for this sail is to anchor whenever the wind blows stronger than about 20 knots — it's just too hard to sail efficiently beyond that. Besides, there are some pretty places here. Because of weather I don't want to get to the Med before April anyway.

February 23 — Day 19

I am about 2/3 up the Red Sea now. This will be the longest sail I have undertaken until now, over the shortest distance. The diesel motor is getting worse, now barely running, and the propeller's drive shaft has fallen off repeatedly after each of my efforts to repair it. So I really have no motor at all. When I anchor I have to approach and leave on wind power.

How I discovered this is a story of its own, and another in my collection of anchor stories. One afternoon I entered Marsa Abu Imama in Sudan to do some repairs and just rest a while. I was able to sail in all right, with the wind on the aft starboard quarter, and then drop sail and anchor at a small reef.

Then I reconnected the propeller drive shaft to the engine and tightened the screws. If only I could have known then how much time would be spent playing with this coupling, and with how little effect. But it seemed secure, and I wanted to test it. So, like a fool I raised the anchor and tried to motor around the marsa. Within 90 seconds the drive shaft completely fell off the coupling. There I was, drifting in a tiny bay in a brisk wind, reefs all around, no motor, no sail.

I realized I was going to have to sail upwind through the bay to the anchorage, so I put out some of the jib and tried to turn the boat into the wind. But the tiller wouldn't budge — the drive shaft and propeller had fallen off and were jamming the rudder! So, thinking fast, I rolled up the jib to reduce my rate of drift and jumped into the cabin.

I removed the engine covers and crawled over the engine to the location of the drive shaft coupling, thinking I would pull the drive shaft off the rudder and hold it with something. But it had fallen too far aft and I couldn't get a grip on it. Now in a panic as the boat drifted closer to the reefs, I jumped into the water and pushed the propeller forward. Then I went into the cabin again, dripping wet, located the vise grips and crawled over the engine, then squeezed the vise grips onto the drive shaft, so it couldn't slip back.

Then I resumed my sail with the jib, tacking on one side until the reefs came too close, then switching sides, slowly making my way up to the anchorage. When I got to the anchorage I took care that I didn't get on top of the reef and hang up — I only needed to get into a depth of twenty feet, strike the jib, run forward and drop the anchor. But in striking the jib I lost too much time, drifted too far, and the anchor never found the bottom. So I had to raise 120 feet of anchor chain and sail upwind again.

This time I was too tired for caution. I let the boat sail until I could see the coral heads clearly, then struck the jib. As the boat turned away from the wind, making its way to the right depth for anchoring, it hung up on a coral head. Let's see, I thought, this is the third time in two years I've smacked coral. I have no motor to remove myself, and for all I know the tide is dropping. I could be quite well stuck. So I used the sail to force the keel off the coral, then ran forward and dropped the anchor.

At the time all I could think about was saving my boat, but later I realized I was in a country in the midst of a civil war, and those soldiers watching me from the coast road might have had more than an academic interest in me and my boat. They had no way to get to me on the water, but if I had gone aground they wouldn't have to.

Aren't my anchor stories becoming more baroque as time goes by?

There's more risk in this sail than I am used to — if the wind dies, as it sometimes does, I have no way to get out of the way of the many freighters in these waters. And the Gulf of Suez is smaller and more crowded than the Red Sea. The nearest place for repairs is Tel Aviv, so I may have to be towed through the Suez Canal and then sail the rest of the way, all without motor power.

February 27 — Day 23

There isn't enough wind to enter the Gulf of Suez, so I have sailed into a place on the coast of Egypt called Hurgada. I was hoping to reconnect the drive shaft to the engine, to be able to motor when the wind isn't blowing, but the drive shaft and the coupler are just too worn — they won't stay connected more than a few minutes.

But I'm glad I stopped here — there is something about this place. First, the approach to the town is a series of shallow bays, sheltered from the Red Sea but sharing tidal flows with it, meaning they are rich in marine life and clear as well. The coral is beautiful, and there are fish everywhere. I saw the anchor hit bottom in 30 feet of water.

The town of Hurgada looks somewhat fairy tale right now, a row of lights beneath a clear evening sky and thin crescent moon. I would have liked to visit the town but the risk of approaching it without motor power is too great — at any time the wind could drop away and leave me at the mercy of the tidal currents.

March 1 — Day 25

Yesterday, my diesel engine stopped running completely — the fuel injection pump has failed. I haven't found a simple remedy to bring it back to life. A diesel's injection pump is the single most complex thing on the engine, and so far I haven't even figured out how to take it off the engine.

To put it mildly, this is a new situation. When the wind stops blowing, I stop moving. Also, the windmill and solar panels are now the only sources of electricity, since I can't use the engine to charge the batteries. So I have to be careful how I use power. If the wind isn't blowing more than 18 knots at night (something not usually wished for), I can't use the radar. So I have to sleep in the cockpit and wake myself at intervals to watch for boats and things. I can't nurse the boat into an anchorage using the motor.

I am in the Gulf of Suez now — the Red Sea part of this sail is finally over. But the gulf is narrow, and full of freighters and oil derricks, so I have to be especially watchful.

Yesterday I decided to anchor and sleep, instead of trying another night of sailing, watching and sleeping, none of those purposes being well served. So I started toward the Egyptian town of Tor, where I heard there was a nice harbor. But just before sunset the wind died, and I was dead in the water.

I rolled up my sails and sat down. To the West the sun was setting behind a row of oil derricks and refineries out on the water, each of which was lit by many lights, and each burning off natural gas in a spectacular display. All this was under a crescent moon that seemed to have been cut from ice by a sculptor. To the East was the town of Tor, at the edge of a desert that slopes gently upward to Mt. Sinai, very red in the sunset. Mt. Sinai, however you may picture it, is very rugged and dry.

And I thought: This must be the antipode of my travels — the true opposite of my normal environment. What could be more distant from Oregon than being adrift between a biblical landscape and a group of alien mechanical beings, who seem to be wading through the Gulf of Suez, lighting their way with smoky torches?

I get a peculiar sensation watching a big factory at night — as if I am fated to be only a visitor, meant to gaze in windows but never go inside. This time I certainly didn't want to get any closer while drifting on the tide — one of the risks I faced was hitting a gas pipeline, breaking it with my boat and blowing up.

But I thought about the floating factories. I thought: Do you guys really want to collect all that oil, in this relentless way, burning up all but your favorite parts? What will your grandchildren use to light their lamps?

Later a small wind started up and, it being too dark to approach shore and anchor, I set sail and moved slowly past these behemoths. It was as if they were trying to tell me something, standing fat and brightly lit on their spindly water legs, the roar of their torches carrying across the water. There was a sense of power and absolute certainty about them — as if their effect on the world would stand the most critical muster. They seemed to me, sailing past in my tiny boat, to be castles of the time of oil, creating a sense of reassurance by their very size, a reassurance, just as in medieval times, mostly of illusion.

March 12 — Port Suez

City skyline, Cairo, Egypt
I have been busy since arriving. First I discovered I wouldn't be towed along the canal, at least not very soon or at any reasonable cost. Then I saw I would have to fix the injection pump myself, there being no local mechanics skilled enough for this task. The manual for my engine bluntly instructed me not to try to take it apart, but I had no choice.

What was fixing the pump like? Try to imagine working on an old-style Swiss mechanical watch that's been filled with dirty black oil. When I got done the entire boat was covered with crankcase oil, including me. But I did fix the pump — some dirt had jammed one of the pump pistons in its cylinder. I wanted to remove the dirt without taking away any metal, so I used a toothbrush and toothpaste. This stunt worked.

Now the engine was running again, but without much power. I continued to ask to be towed along the Canal, but with no measurable effect (you can't simply transit the Canal under sail power). So I reattached the propeller drive shaft, tightened things as much as possible, genuflected, and announced that I was ready to go. The act of a desperate man.

The next morning, what may be the sorriest boat on record tried to make its way up the Suez Canal against a 20 knot wind. I was making about 1 1/2 knots, the engine was overheating, and I was very cold. After only seven kilometers, the drive shaft fell off again, and I was towed — back to Port Suez.

That was four days ago. Since then I have been trying to figure out why the engine has no power. The "best local mechanic" made an appearance, but after two hours of effort couldn't suggest anything except that the engine needed to be overhauled.

Bedouins traveling in the desert
Then, after a suggestion from one of the boats now in Tel Aviv, I realized I hadn't inspected the pipes that lead the exhaust gas out of the boat, admittedly a long shot, and difficult to get at. I removed an elbow of pipe that had been in place since the boat was built, and examined it. Both openings looked normal — a thin black coating of carbon. But I was running out of ideas to fix my engine, so in desperation I tried to run water through the pipe. It was completely blocked!

After struggling the pipe elbow open, I used a hammer and screwdriver to remove a huge obstructing mass having the color and density of brick. I then reassembled the engine and started it. The engine ran perfectly — in fact, it appears this blockage has been building since before I bought the boat in 1987, and my complaints about the engine, the propeller, how the boat is too heavy for any engine, etc. were brought on by this undiscovered fault.

The moral to this tale? You must do it yourself. No one, no matter how well paid or expert, will uncover any but the most trivial faults, and the expensive solutions will be applied first. I have been consulting mechanics virtually since the day I bought this boat, and have bought a lot of expensive, unnecessary parts, because this — this mechanical equivalent of constipation — went undiscovered.

I started out as a sailor not caring much about diesel motors — after all, this is a sailboat. But now I've sailed the Red Sea without motor power, a 27-day undertaking, and am stopped dead at the mouth of the Suez Canal. As a result I am halfway to being a decent diesel mechanic, out of dire necessity: I had to fix my engine or apply for Egyptian citizenship.

So now I am waiting for a new drive shaft coupler to be built locally, after which I can try the Canal again, with an engine that runs normally, and maybe a propeller that won't fall off.

The Giza Plateau near Cairo
Meanwhile, I took a day to visit the pyramids. The largest of the pyramids at Giza, as impressive as it looks now, was once covered with finishing stone, so that it had a smooth and symmetrical appearance. Since then most of the finishing stone has fallen off or been removed for use elsewhere. It requires some effort to imagine how it looked when just completed, huge, shiny and symmetrical, but I can see how it might have produced instant belief in a Sun God.

When I visited I quickly shook off the guides who wanted to tell me all about the pyramids, and walked on my own around each of them. Some of the finishing stone lay in piles at the base of the largest, and I confess if I had found a piece small enough, I would have grabbed it. I am becoming a shameless tourist.

I realized the Great Pyramid could be restored for the cost of a single Stealth bomber. This is a complex subject — some might argue that the pyramid is a historical artifact and should be left as it is, others would rather have the bomber. Weathering and the decay from pollution is much more severe on the exposed structural stones than they would be on finishing stones. But fixing up the pyramids is not the most serious problem Egypt faces.

One evening I visited the town of Port Suez with my agent's son (in Egypt each sailboat has an agent that represents it with the authorities). We went to a social club, drank Egyptian tea, and played dominoes. As we played, he told me something I hadn't realized — many Egyptians regard Anwar Sadat as one of the greatest Egyptian leaders of all time. I had gotten the idea Sadat wasn't very popular, partly because a dissident group in the Egyptian army assassinated him. But that would be like believing John Kennedy wasn't very popular because Oswald, a former U. S. Marine, shot him (if we accept the persistent rumor that Oswald acted alone).

I then visited Cairo and saw the Sadat Memorial, a beautiful and architecturally impressive structure, with guards in perfect uniforms, and an eternal flame burning at the tomb. In case I might have missed it, my driver stopped the car and pointed it out, making me understand with gestures and a few words of English that a great man was buried there.

Next Day —

Egypt has been a trying experience — I would have been out of here 12 days ago, towed behind another yacht, except the Egyptians long ago figured out such towing would reduce the profit made by tugboats, so they made a rule that one boat can't tow another, unless their hulls are of different materials. Then, to close another loophole, a tugboat towing a disabled boat always takes it back to its point of origin, no matter how close it has gotten to the other end of the canal. And finally, it is nearly impossible to arrange to simply be towed from one end of the canal to the other. And should it be made possible, it costs about US$4,000.

Parts are impossible to order and nearly impossible to have built here. After two bad starts I now have a reasonably decent drive shaft coupling. For this one I made detailed drawings and stood over the lathe while the part was made (and the machinist I found was first-rate).

In exchange for this unplanned 15-day stopover, when not struggling with my boat I met some interesting people. I never saw a nicer group of people so totally at the mercy of a corrupt and ineffective government. My agent says the authorities take possession of a yacht from time to time, and if they could they would sell the sailors as well as the boat.

If I had known the policies of the Canal authorities, I would have made absolutely sure my engine and drive train were in perfect condition. In my own defense I will say that my motor was okay in Djibouti, the last major stop, and any major repairs would have had to be accomplished in Darwin.

Take Two and the other European boats I have been traveling with are in Tel Aviv now — I talk to them on the radio. I think I will haul this boat out of the water in Tel Aviv and paint it again. I have a list of repairs I can make there also.

Israel & Egypt Notes —

Israel and Egypt are both Middle Eastern countries with similar climates, located close to one another. There the comparison ends, for Israel lives in the 20th century. Before you decide this view arises from my Western origins, I must tell you the Egyptians themselves made this comparison for me. In a single breath one young Egyptian told me how much he hated the Israelis, and how it was impossible not to respect their accomplishments.

With one exception, every person having an official position in Egypt asked to be bribed, for which the term is "Baksheesh." No one knows the price of anything until they have been paid off, then the price is higher. If you refuse to pay, things disappear from your boat.

The first of the two pilots I was required to have on my boat to transit the canal spent his time yelling at me in Arabic and demanding more money. The second, who I call the "gentleman thief," spent most of his time asking for more money, or videotapes, or alcohol, or sex magazines. If you are a single hander it is more difficult, because then you must steer the boat while the pilot plunders it.

The one exception I mentioned was a uniformed officer responsible for seeing me out of the Port Said entrance and into the Mediterranean. The second of the two regular canal pilots had just debarked with his bag of booty, mostly groceries he felt justified in taking. Then the official came on board, informed me that bribery was a criminal offense, and asked me whether anyone had asked me for anything during my stay in Egypt. I would have laughed at him, but this might have greatly complicated my departure. I could have told him of every demand for payment, but this would surely have taken a huge amount of time, since I had been in Egypt 18 days and had been approached at least once a day by someone with his hand out. Besides, I had paid nearly every official who demanded payment, just to protect my boat and hasten my departure, so didn't that make me a criminal also?

Then the official departed and I was free to sail out of Port Said. About five minutes later a steel boat came alongside and a very raggedy crew tried to make me believe they had some further official duties to perform. I told them to stand off, since by this time I was offshore and the water was too rough for close maneuvers. So they asked a bunch of questions, all of which had been asked by a dozen other people, then the most motley of them held out his hand and said "Do you have a gift for me?"

Those who travel to Egypt as normal tourists, arriving and departing by air, may think this picture exaggerated. But I realize now that if I hadn't sat down and fixed my diesel engine, my boat would eventually have been confiscated by the Egyptian authorities and I (with some luck) would have been deported.

When I think about these thieves in positions of authority, my heart goes out to the powerless Egyptian citizens, in particular the women, who, in silence and fertility, are the greatest victims. I think in particular of a group of schoolgirls I met in the marketplace, arms laden with books, eyes dark with wonder. Before they were shooed away they asked some questions, which showed they were braver than I was — I suspect if I had dared to say what I wanted to, I would have been put up against a wall and shot. Instead I just answered their questions. Yes, I owned a house and a car. No, most people in America don't live like the people on "Dallas," an American television program popular among Egyptians. Yes, many women have their own jobs, sometimes their own houses.

Western Wall, old Jerusalem
An Israeli recently told me the Arab birthrate is five times that for Jews in Israel, and that eventually Arabs will be in the majority within Israel. This is one of my clues that the situation in Israel is not only more complicated than I imagined, it's more complicated that I could have imagined.

Israel is the most militaristic country I have visited. In old Jerusalem, I saw some West Bank settlers strolling near the Wailing Wall, looking very much like American hippies — beards, backpacks, casual dress. Except that they carried Uzi submachine guns.

Visiting old Jerusalem has had a profound effect on me. The old walled city of Jerusalem sits largely unaffected by its modern surroundings, so I found I could move from a twentieth-century avenue through a large gate, and suddenly be walking a narrow cobblestone path in a marketplace not much changed since biblical times. In the early morning hours, bags of spice are unrolled for display, their scents filling the air beneath the arched stone ceilings.

Jerusalem was probably the first, or one of the first, truly cosmopolitan cities. A city of our time is cosmopolitan because ideas travel through the air at the speed of light. Jerusalem was cosmopolitan because nearly everyone had a reason to go there, and then to maintain their right of access. For Jews, Jerusalem was the site of their early temples, artifacts of which remain. For Moslems, the rock from which Mohammed is said to have risen to heaven is now enclosed in a shrine. Christians, who have a comparatively recent stake in this ancient city, can use parts of the Bible as a tour guide to Jerusalem.

Spice shop, old Jerusalem
I would like to see a comparison of all the administrators of Jerusalem, a need the existing museums only partly meet. Maybe there should be scores for each regime, depending on how dreadful they were. Around 1000 C.E. (that means Christian Era, the Jewish term for A.D., about which term Jews aren't so crazy), some crusaders rode down from Europe and stormed the city by the North wall. They cut up everybody on whom they could lay hands — Jews, Moslems, and others. But the idealism of their quest, and the ferocity with which they laid waste to everything in their path, was so completely at odds with the forces that sustain a city that they were obliged to abandon it, after a mere 200 years. They get a zero, only because my rating system doesn't have negative numbers.

Around 1500 C.E. Suleiman the Magnificent, who evidently wrote his own curriculum vitae, completed the wall begun by others that now surrounds old Jerusalem. Then he magnanimously allowed all interested parties access to the city. I give him an eight.

This account is hardly encyclopedic, since there were so many occupiers about which I don't know enough — Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Seljuks, Mamluks, Ottomans. Even Britain, from 1917 to 1948.

The Israelis, who captured Jerusalem in 1967, allow Moslems, Christians and others access to the city and its shrines, so they may get a high rating, but their record is still being written. I will let history decide.

Masada, Israel
There is something about the history of this area that isn't well understood among lay Christians, something diplomatically hinted at repeatedly in the museums of Israel. At the time of Christ the Romans were making things very difficult for the Jews, and this naturally increased their anxiety about the coming of a messiah, a prospect that is embedded in Jewish beliefs. When Christ made his appearance, he didn't simply claim to be the son of God, he presented himself as the messiah for which the Jews had been waiting. Only much later was Christianity perceived as separate from Judaism, and an enmity between Jews and Christians begun.

I have never been able to get very excited about conventional religions. I have come to the view that the most profound religious and spiritual experiences are individual ones, without guides or interpreters. This makes me a poor candidate for an army of wall-stormers and infidel-hackers. It also makes me stand in awe of the history of Christianity (just as an example), in which a simple dispute about whether Christ was or was not the Jewish messiah devolved into a blood feud lasting, so far, 2000 years.

But in my naïveté I think the close association of Christ and the Jewish society of which he was a part should reduce the animosity to manageable proportions, when in fact there is ample evidence to the contrary — I'll call it the principle of trivial difference: the closer the beliefs of two groups, the greater the animosity between them.

(April 16)

This week I went on my third trip to Jerusalem. I visited a museum where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display. These scrolls were hidden in a cave in some big earthen jugs, about 130 C.E. There was a rebellion going on about that time, between the Jews and the Romans. The Jews were being led by a guy named Bar Kochba. Some of his followers said he was the messiah (although he did not) and would free the Jews from domination by the Romans. He didn't succeed, and the Jews were (yes, again) scattered all over the place by the angry Romans. But the scrolls remained hidden until 1947, leaving a legacy of great detail about the rebellion as well as the daily life of that time.

Wow, I thought. This guy Bar Kochba and Jesus Christ have more than a little in common. The more I studied the events, the more I realized it was quite by chance that Bar Kochba didn't have his own messianic cult later on, or attract the attention now focused on someone else.

I sat around in the museum looking at the scrolls, thinking what history would have been like if Bar Kochba's life had precipitated the division that Christ's life did. Maybe "Christian" history would have been more warlike, if that can even be imagined. But at a more practical level, if I hit my thumb with a hammer, I think "Bar Kochba!" sounds better than "Jesus Christ!" We've been cheated by history out of a great easy-to-say oath, a matter of great interest to sailors.

Now that I have explored old Jerusalem and heard its history, and in particular after walking the wall that separates the old city from the new, I think no one can visit this city and come away unchanged. Only through a great effort of will can one walk its narrow passages, hear the voices of spice traders, old people, children echoing between the ancient stones, and believe himself separate from all who have walked here before.

I expected to have my boat hauled out for painting and repairs right away, but two weeks went by for various reasons. Then the boat crane's cable parted and dropped a boat, which reduced my enthusiasm for this boatyard. By the way, when the cable parted the boat dropped into the water and the keel struck the bottom. The owner decided not to haul the boat back out again, instead sailing to Cyprus. Yesterday the boat, with many people on board, sank, fortunately with no loss of life. Naturally rumors are flying that the boat was damaged when it was dropped and this caused it to sink, but the owner won't be able to collect insurance because the boat wasn't hauled out again for inspection.

But I digress. When I was finally hauled out, using a different crane, I saw a huge scar on one side, below the waterline. I remember smacking something very hard one night in the Indian Ocean, probably a waterlogged freight container, but I inspected the boat inside for leaks and damage and found nothing. Later I dove on the boat and saw a cracked area, which made me even more eager to haul out.

Now with the boat out of the water I could see three large cracks radiating from the impact point to a distance of about eight inches. And a pattern of oval concentric cracks in the paint showed that the entire hull had flexed at the impact, remarkable because the hull is greater than an inch thick at that point. I think the only reason the hull wasn't punctured was that the container hit the boat near the beam, just a "grazing blow."

So now I am back to being glad I have a heavy, poky boat, in spite of the things that annoy me about it.

Telling jokes in Israel was a surprise. I tell jokes everywhere I go — I always have at least one joke for a given situation. For example if I meet a couple who are both computer scientists (this actually happened recently), I tell my computer-scientist-couple joke (they get into bed and the woman says "So are we on line tonight or what?").

At first I found the Israelis to be a tough audience. I was prepared for some differences — only the truly brain-dead think Jewish humor is the same as any other kind. But over time I adjusted — I began to tell fewer straightforward jokes, those that depend only on surprise or a play on words, and instead told a handful that I personally like but don't get to tell very often.

I also found that, unless I invented a joke on the spot, they had heard it. I also noticed they preferred jokes that (1) spoke to the human condition or (2) required some depth of thought. Here are some jokes I told, and heard, in a group of Israeli boat-owners one afternoon in Tel Aviv. I started with an ordinary one, that relies on the element of surprise (it's my own):

A. Professor Gedachtnis, when did you first realize you had total recall?

B. It was ... It was ... Er ... Umm .. wait ...

They laughed, mostly because they hadn't heard it. Then I tried this one, from a Woody Allen movie:

A. But sex without love is an empty experience!

B. Yes, but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best.

This also relies on the element of surprise, but is very good. Most had heard it, but they laughed anyway.

A laugh-meter would be wasted in Israel, because some of the best jokes, those requiring some thought, receive a grunt or a nod as high praise. Now my friends told this one:

Two men are at dinner. The waiter brings two plates, one generous, one skimpy.

A. You choose.

B. No, you choose.

A. Okay. (takes the big one.)

B. How uncivilized! If I had chosen, I would have taken the small one!

A. So? I chose, and you got the small one. Why complain?

Definitely category (2). This next joke appears in another Woody Allen movie, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" that I saw in Tel Aviv (my apologies for not recalling the exact words):

A. I hate to tell you this, but [the subject for your interview] has killed himself!

B. I'm shocked! Where I grew up people never killed themselves — they were too unhappy.

This line got a small laugh from the theater audience, but after a moment, a round of applause. It definitely falls in category (1). This next one belongs in both category (1) and (2). It is a little complicated and I rarely tell it anymore, because I usually end up having to explain it:

Two businessmen are sitting in a train station between Minsk and Pinsk.

A. "Where are you going?"

B. "To Pinsk."

A. (thinks for a minute) ... "You're lying! You are going to Pinsk!"

Not for the faint-hearted, but most of the Israelis got it right away. One had heard a different version, which he proceeded to tell.

Then I told this one, and perhaps I shouldn't have bothered, since people had already heard it, or if they didn't they guessed the punch line themselves. One person described it as "very Jewish."

For his birthday, a mother gives her son two ties. The next time he visits, he's wearing one of the ties. She says "You didn't like the other one?"

I almost never heard the kinds of jokes popular in the U.S., those that make their point in five words, or that have no point, or that disparage a nationality or ethnic group, or that require an elephant, a light bulb, or someone Polish. I wanted to sip my wine and watch the sun go down as the conversation rolled on, but I hadn't heard most of the jokes, many were worth remembering, and the Israelis had heard them all before. So I took notes.

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