Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 7 – Sailing the Nile

Sailing the Nile on a felucca has made me the happiest man alive. This is exactly what I had in mind when I dreamed on lazily gliding down the Nile.

Feluccas are heavy boats, with very broad beams, a massive mast, and a rudder whose post is a good 6 inches in diameter. Yet, with their impossibly tall triangular sails, they move gently through the water as if they were mythical monsters or sail fish.

Now, as all my students know an area of low pressure develops over the very hot land, which constantly draws wind in from the sea. In other words, the wind blows from the north, precisely in the direction in which we wanted to go. So Reis Awat, seasoned sailor that he is, tacked his way from one side of the river to the other, over and over again, so we effectively moved in zig zag fashion downstream. This curious way of advance is somewhat slow, but has the advantage of maximizing sailing time, and of giving the sailor alternate glimpses of both banks and their exotic landscapes. I should add that these are true sailing ships, with no form of mechanized locomotion, so the master has to be particularly vigilant to not lose his wind or get pushed unto a lee shore.

All along our merry crew kept a constant flow of chatter, cups of sweet tea, and a very passable and varied number of meals. Nothing fancy, you understand, but traditional fare that goes remarkably well with the appetite that a fresh breeze seems to make particularly sharp: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and spices, pasta, rice with potatoes, falafel and salad with goat cheese, and abundant amounts of pita bread. Nobody went hungry on board!

My cup of joy overflowed when Reis Awat asked me to take the rudder (I had been hovering over him all morning long), and for a couple of hours I was Reis Horacio el-Misri (Captain Horacio the Egyptian!). I loved having the massive rudder under my control, and checked off one of the big items in my bucket list: Sail the Nile.

Later in the afternoon we had a bit of a change in the wind, when a hot air mass coming from the Sahara blew from the west, which allowed us to sail in a straight line, “running away” from this cross wind until it was time to anchor for the night.

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