On Monday 14th January 2013 I went to the East Med Yacht Rally dinner at the Polish Club in London. With me was Ms Gill Addison who sailed with me on the rally in 2011. Although we’ve subsequently sailed yacht Francesca back to the UK we are planning to go and help Hasan with the rally in 2013, by crewing on his boat.
The dinner is a very enjoyable affair largely populated by those who went on the last rally, a few like ourselves from previous rallies, the organisers, representatives from the various marinas along the route and tourist board people and even diplomats. A few sailing luminaries usually turn up too, such as Rod Heikel of pilot book fame, Jimmy Cornell, founder of noonsite and the ARC rally and Doreen and Archie Annan, authors of the original Black Sea Pilot Book and past EMYR participants.
I can’t stress highly enough what a great event the East Med Yacht Rally is. Traditionally it starts in Istanbul, takes in most of the west coast and south coast of Turkey, The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. In 2011 when Gill and I did the rally on my own boat we had to omit Syria due to the tragic violence which was just starting then and sadly continues to this day. We did visit the other countries mentioned and undertook an additional land visit to Jordan with some of our new friends at the end of the rally.
The rally is great fun, takes in amazing scenery and historical sites and is tremendous value for money, but there’s much more to it than that. I believe the rally is a considerable force for peace. You might say well that’s not working then! It would of course be totally unrealistic to expect a yacht rally to bring about peace in such a divided area. Nonetheless, it’s a contributor on the side of good and we have always to hope for and strive for peace. The EMYR attracts sailors from all over the globe and with eighty plus boats on a normal year there could well be around three hundred people, from Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, The UK, The USA, Switzerland, Turkey of course and many others.
This eclectic group of people are thinkers, travellers and influencers and there’s much to be learned on a visit to the Middle East that you won’t find in the average newspaper or short television news report. Personally I feel I have a much better grasp of Middle East politics, history and indeed tensions than I had before. The EMYR is an opportunity to meet both politicians and ordinary people, since such a large international group gets its share of attention and everyone in the Middle East has a story to tell.
I was most moved by stories I heard from a lady who grew up with almost constant war throughout her childhood in the Lebanon, which in that time was invaded by both Syria and Israel. I learned much about the problems of coalition government in Israel’s Knesset and how small radical parties punch above their weight and hinder the peace process. I was delighted that in Egypt troops held their fire, sadly there were later casualties from the overthrow of Mubarrack in the so called Arab Spring. I was also relieved to learn about the reforming efforts of the Jordanian Royal Family. And I gained new insights regarding the divisions in Cyprus going back before the not so distant war which divided that lovely island.
In a world where so much goes wrong there are still forces for good, even if sometimes it seems like those forces are losing ground. In 2012 the East Med Yacht Rally could not go to Egypt or Lebanon and Syria was off even before the rally started, due to the war President Assad wages on his own people. A move to democracy when he could have done it of his own volition might have seen him become a hero to his people and to the wider world and remain a president, but the temptation and lust for absolute power is an addictive drug. I believe his crimes will come to haunt him.
In 2013 it seems the rally will once again be severely truncated, but it will go on regardless. Intelligent, educated, open minded people must still travel and learn at first hand. It’s especially important to explore cultures which differ from our own, since it’s only by sharing, experiences and views that we can learn to understand one another. I’m sure that the rally will expand once more to cover all of the Middle East as soon as it can be safely arranged and I believe that the common sense of the moral majority is our biggest hope. We must never stop trying to achieve peace.