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This page very briefly describes the Levant, including Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Risks created by the "Arab Spring" should be checked with UK Foreign Office Travel Advice for each country before visiting for up to date information. Territorial waters (<12nm) along this whole coastline may only be navigated with permission. As a generality, you will usually be required to navigate to a point 12nm off your destination, at right angles to the coast, and contact the authorities by VHF (often OC, Oscar Charlie, or Operational Command). The Levant countries are worth visiting for their rich antiquities, only lightly visited by tourists, and they are very different from other Mediterranean cruising areas. The harbours are useful stops en route to and from the Suez canal.
Apart from two overnight sea passages to get there and away, Syria is a sightseeing experience, not a cruising one. The Syrian authorities impose restrictions on visiting boats to make one landfall only, in the port of Lattakia. There are rules and procedures to be followed to enter. UK visitors by private boat do not need visas for Syria before entering (other Nationals should make their own enquiries). However, you should contact Lattakia at [email protected] well beforehand (weeks) and send (by e-mail and scanned documents) crew passports and boat registration papers. Make contact again before setting sail, with date and approximate time of arrival.
The Entry Trip. Don't try to enter from Israel - you'll be turned away. Also, aim to arrive within 24 hours of leaving your previous port (removes the possiblity of staging through Israel). An overnight passage in necessary to arrive at Lattakia in daylight. Convenient exit points to cruise to Syria include Mersin in SE Turkey (approximately 90 miles), Girne (previously Kyrenia) in Northern Cyprus (approximately 130 miles) and Lebanon to the south.
Arriving and Leaving. Arrive at a point right angles to the shore line 12 miles offshore from Lattakia in daylight hours. Call on VHF, and subsequently every 3 miles. If you do this, the authorities will board your boat on arrival and complete paperwork, take your money and issue visas. If you don't, you will be turned away to start over. The officials are helpful, and the process does not take long. Cold soft drinks smooth the process. Visas are valid for 14 days, easily extended. Leaving Syria is much the same but in reverse – advise which day you will depart and the authorities will arrive, board the boat and sign you out, at which point you must leave.
Mooring. Once within Lattakia’s commercial port, private boats go to the Syrian Yacht Club. The 2009 contact was Ammar, English speaking and helpful. The Yacht Club has a large concrete jetty where boats must moor stern or bows to, using their own anchors. It is good holding. Other boats are largely Syrian owned motor yachts. There is good security, and the friendly boat owners and their “minders” will keep a watch over things for you. There are showers, toilets and laundry. The port sea water is filthy, with a lot of marine growth in a short period. Suggest removing logs and checking filters before leaving. Water is not drinkable. Fuel by jerry can.
Sightseeing is memorable. Damascus, Aleppo, the castles of Krac des Chevaliers and Saladin, the Roman ruins at Palmyra (150 miles into the desert) and the greatest concentration of Byzantine architecture found anywhere in the ancient world at the “Cities of the Dead”, are a small selection of the sites to be seen. There are few other tourists.
Travel. Arrange a taxi with your own driver through the Yacht Club. Trains and buses are cheap and efficient. Self drive is fairly hair raising (think Greece or Turkey) with good roads and cheap petrol.
Towns. Lattakia is fairly westernised. American Street (!) has hamburger houses, Italian restaurants and western dressed locals. Elsewhere is more traditional, and the burqa is much in evidence. Respectful dress is sensible.
Introduction. This is a multi-faith country, in which English and French are quite widely spoken as well as native Arabic. The coastline has few anchorages, but anchoring was anyway not permitted in 2010. There are many small artificial harbours within 20nm of Beirut and Tripoli, and substantial marinas near Beirut and Tripoli. Tripoli is predominantly muslim, where discreet dress is necessary. Beirut is more relaxed, with a distinctively international culture. Freedom to navigate within territorial waters depends on terrorist threat levels, and in 2010 was subject to permission.
Entry Port and Requirements. An easy point of entry for a leisure vessel is Jounieh, about 10 miles north of Beirut centre. Other ports of entry, used by commercal vessels, are less suited to leisure visitors. Visas can be issued on arrival to EU passport holders; other nationalities should enquire at their embassies. A crew list wil be required. If the owner is not aboard, a letter of authority is required for the skipper. Crew with Israeli stamps in their passports will be refused entry. The date and time of clearing from a previous port should match the likely journey time, and vessels departing from Israel will be refused.
Israel is a “destination” rather than a cruising area, with a N - S coast. Its marinas make a useful stop to and from the Suez Canal. Most sailing is “day sailing”. Anchoring off beaches or night sailing is not recommended. The country filled with history, and tourism is a major part of the economy. There are many travel guides available and if planning to stay, spend some time researching places to visit. Allow plenty of time to to enjoy your sightseeing.
Arrival. The usual approach to Israel is from Larnaca, Cyprus, a distance of approximately 200nm. Plan your passage to travel through Israeli waters by day. Entry procedure is straightforward, but tedious, involving many security questions. Israel Country data page.
Haifa, the northernmost marina, is well inside the commercial harbour, often quite full. Fuel is reported as not available there.
Herzliya Marina. Herzliya has the largest marina. It does not accept reservations more than one month in advance, but the staff try to accommodate visiting yachts. Fuel is available from self service pumps (credit card operation) and there is a black waste pump-out facility. There are full services - lift-out, engineering, chandler, sail-maker.
Herzlia Town, and Communications. The marina forms part of a restaurant and shopping complex, with a supermarket in the mall. Bottle Gaz is available in town by the Bus Station (closed Friday pm, all day Saturday.and Monday pm). Buses and taxis are available at the marina entrance and it is easy to reach all destinations. Herzliya railway station is a short bus ride from the marina. All the well known car hire companies have offices in town.
Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv marina is a short distance south of Herzliya, but is often full. Fuel is available.
Jaffa. South of Tel Aviv, Jaffa has a “harbour”. Seen from the shore it is surrounded by many rocks and not recommended
Ashdod. Ashdod is an important port. 2nm south, in the beach area, is Blue Marina, with 550 berths.
Ashkelon. Ashkelon has the southernmost marina. Plenty of berths were available in 2009, but facilities were lacking; a couple of restaurants, no shops, limited boatyard services. If unable to find a longer term berth in Herzliya, and you plan to leave your boat for a while, this practical alternative is about two hours drive from Tel Aviv.
Other Ports. Addional commercial ports along the coast are security aware, and entry should not be attempted unless you have arranged clearance. There is a marina in the South of Israel at Eilat, outside the Mediterrenean!