The Orton's on the Nile - 2005

A lesson in Tacking.

A lesson in Tacking

Adam had left his inflatable Orca out in the direct sunlight at the poolside to dry off and when he picked it up to take back down to the cabin it had developed a hunchback bulge where the plastic had melted. Oh, if only we had an egg left!!! He was not amused, but it did make the beast even harder to sit on. The reason I mention this is that he decided to hide it in the shower to scare the waiters - he ledged it just behind the door so it would fall on them when they went in to change to towels. They in return tucked it up in his bed when he went back down.

Still lingering in the lower Aswan region of the Nile we were passing (rather disappointingly) the ruins of the city of Sunt on Elephantine Island, time was against us visiting this, although I think it would have made a better visit than Kitchener Island. The island gets its name from some large granite boulders at the southern end that are supposed to look like a heard of bathing elephants - looked like wet rocks to me.

Anyway, probably to get us back in the mood for more temples we had the trip to Kitchener's Island and his gardens to look forward to. I have already mentioned (I think) that it is best described as Walsall arboretum on a desert island. Now the old colonial powers have gone there are signs of the sand taking over once again and most of the trees and plants look a trifle thirsty despite a gaggle of gardeners hosing them down. By the time we got to the island most of us were hot and thirsty and not really interested in anything other than keeping to the shade, but we did get to see our first lizards of the trip.

By far more interesting was our journey over to the island. It was strangely enough another hot sultry day and the plan was to hire a felucca and sail over to the gardens. Trouble was there was no breeze - we were becalmed! Ahmed (guide) found another of the spluttery engined river taxis to tow us across and a line was duly fixed. With the traditional billowing smokescreen of grey diesel fumes we were pulled from the quay side moving slowly towards the Island. So far so good. I have to say the Nile is pretty damn wide at this point, probably helped by the rather splendid built British Low damn so we were in for some journey, but then it is quite relaxing and peaceful and not to mention slightly cooler on the river.

I would think we had gone about 100 yards, not even a third of the way there and the taxi boatmen started shouting and gesticulating wildly to the felucca crew who responded in a similar fashion. Ahmed looked a little cross and joined in with the crew yelling at the two guys with the outboard motor - too late they cast us adrift! You did not have to be a genius to work out that they had decided that they extra billow of now almost black smoke indicated the engine was overloaded and the trip was not worth the money and indeed the black smoke subsided down to a more pleasant grey as they chugged back to the East bank.

Initial inertia kept us moving towards the island, but it was clear we were not going to get there without a little fuss. Undaunted the crew hoisted up a sail that was a cross between a string vest and a patchwork quilt and set about getting us moving again. It was at first pleasantly silent and I could see why Andrew is so keen on sailing, there was no immediate rush, I still had a cool bag full of water and everyone else was tooled up with smaller bottles so it was just a pleasant bit of sailing. With expert skills that must have come from years on the river the crew managed to get us moving obliquely to our destination.

There was a strange sound coming faintly from the edge of the river and something very low in the water was coming towards us, looked like a cross between a torpedo and a log at first glance. It was certainly travelling faster than us. As it got closer you could make out a small boy paddling like mad lying in what looked like (for those of us old enough to remember green grocers) an old orange box that had been given a pointed end. Mohamed was grinning at us and he said ; I forgot to mention you sometimes get boys come out to the boats to sing to you for some small change.

Sure enough we could by now make out the dulcet tones of a strange self taught melody of British songs; Row, row, row a goat medley, medley, medley, down the stream...... She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes, singing hi there hippy, hi there hippy...... An old mans a dust pan, he wears a dustpan hat, he wears koreplyme howsers.....

All this whilst paddling like mad across a wide stretch of moving water in little more than a wooden box, just big enough to fit into and with nothing more than a bit of wood the size of a table tennis bat or even just cupped hands. It was all highly amusing how the songs had been corrupted, but you had to admire their paddling skills and presumably they had built their own crafts - how many of us would risk going onto the local canal in a home made box-boat let alone a full grown river? Where these village children even heard half these songs is quite baffling, I could have understood it more if they had been corruptions of modern pop songs, but I guess they had no radios and they were songs passed down from the days of the Empire, transforming over the years into these parodies.

One last thing about the Island; got to admire the guts of a bloke who says; This is a nice Island I think I'll have it and live here, in a foreign country. What would the locals think - Yeah you and who's army....oh yeah well move in anytime you like gov.....

The return journey was just what the doctor ordered - a lesson in tacking. Those of you who are aware I engage in the occasional bout of wargaming should be aware that my skills with sailing ships leaves something to be desired. I just cannot get the hang of not sailing straight into the wind and ripping the masts off. The idea is that you should steer a zig zag pattern through the water and thus avoid demasting the ship and that is exactly what these guys were doing in quite a masterful way considering the wind had just reached a pitch that would hardly cause a flutter of a pair of paper knickers on a washing line.

More boys paddled out to sing us their siren songs of old and I truly regret having left the video camera behind because they truly had to be seen and heard to get the full effect. Any description pales to the reality of the event. Meanwhile as we turned in our first Zag I could here Adam saying; There going back, there's not enough wind to get us back, we'll be stuck here all night. He was not alone in this opinion and I think this was a bit of a wind up for Luke who looked horrified and the thought of missing a meal. However, the crew knew there job and we were slowly but, surely returning towards our nice clean air conditioned cruise boat and more food.

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Copyright 2005 D.J.Orton and A.G.Morris