June 15, 2013

Saturday Sailing

Sailboats in the marina of Beirut (Zaytouni Bay)

We used to be a sailing nation. If you look at pictures of old Beirut, some 100 years ago, there are sail boats all over the place. And not as a recreational activity; Sailing was a way of life. People used sail boats to catch fish and to transport goods.  That was before the inventions of the engine, I guess. And later on, there were sail boat races at the St. George.  At one point, people here knew how to sail. How to read the wind, make a sail, and take off, just with the power of the wind. It is sad to realize that all this knowledge has just disappeared.

Beirut Port (source)
The knowledge of rigging a boat and navigating the wind, once known to regular Beirutis, is now the domain of a (very) happy few who can afford to buy a boat and - what’s probably more difficult in Beirut these days - have the money to moor it.  It’s a pity, because wind doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t pollute and a sail boat makes less noise than a motor boat.
It took me a long time to find an instructor in Lebanon, (had to go all the way to Batroun
) and that one had learned it abroad.  My current instructor is French.
 These days, it is rare to see a sail boat on the water here. This morning, I went out to sail, and we were the only two sailboats out. We couldn’t get out of the port at first, due to an argument between the Saint George Yacht Club owner and the management of the Beirut Marina. There’s a long standing fight between these two, and who’s right depends on who you’re asking. But eventually they let us pass.
The Beirut Corniche
They’ve gotten a bit more lenient at that port. Last month, if we wanted to leave the port, we’d have to fill in three manifests; one for the port authorities, one for the General Security, and one for customs. It is unimaginable in this part of the world that they would at any time cooperate in order to make the process a bit smoother. General security, because you might, theoretically speaking, leave Lebanese territory.  Customs, because you might smuggle things in and out, and port authorities, because I assume they’ll not come to your rescue in case you are stranded at sea. That is another government branch that does that. Maybe they will alert that branch.

The weird quality of the photo is due to the fact that I used an underwater camera; that one came in quite handy as I am a frequent capsizer.
And we go out on lasers; tiny little boats that cannot go very far, and that fit two people maximum, if uncomfortably so. We complained, because it is not like we can reach Cyprus or so, nor can we smuggle anything as there is no place to stash it. So these days, all we need is permission from the army; they are the ones that write our name in a register, and cross them off once we get back to port. No idea why.
But it is a pity that with a coastline like ours, and wind for free, we’ve lost the know-how to go sailing. Definitely me: so much water, so few boats, yet we did manage to crash into one another and capsize. Go figure.

No comments: