10 Ways to Float Your Boat in Israel

Sure, Israel has a long coastline, yet where oh where can you go to sea?

Moshe Gilad

There was a moment, when the boat “Kef” left behind the breakwater at the Jaffa Port and continued westward, when I thought that maybe it wasn’t a totally idiotic idea to go sailing. At that moment Jaffa looked like a small Italian port near Capri, with a pointed church tower, yellowish houses on a hill, a little greenery and a pretty coastline. It disappeared from view quite quickly, remaining in the east while we sailed out into the open sea.

The church tower turned into a small needle, and it was no longer possible to distinguish between the various structures at the port. It’s important to remember not to look to the right, in the direction of the towers of Tel Aviv, because that is liable to spoil the lyrical mood entirely. The sight of Jaffa as a pleasant Mediterranean city is not at all a bad deal. It’s true that it was preceded by much less successful moments, and more about them later, but for the sake of this moment - it may have been worthwhile despite the disappointments.

The question is, where can one sail in Israel? Where can you board a boat, feel the pleasant motion of the water beneath your feet? Where can you set sail? Ostensibly a small problem in a country that lies along the Mediterranean coast, touches on the coastline of the Red Sea, has several large rivers, a spacious lake in the Galilee and the Dead Sea, which somewhat surprisingly turns out to offer a sailing experience. And despite everything said here - it’s not easy to find 10 boats on which you can set sail, with a cry of “ahoy!” It’s particularly difficult if you’re not part of an organized group.

1. Fun in Jaffa

We were about 20 sailors aboard the “Kef,” speakers of Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and French, with a clear majority of women. A disc by pop singer Eyal Golan was playing in the background, about the rain that would wash away the tears. The “Kef” looks like a big, creaky truck. Although I had hoped we would sail along the Tel Aviv coast and see a different point of view of the city, the captain had other ideas and sailed westward in a straight line. So we sailed for about 15 minutes towards Cyprus, and then we made a sharp U-turn and without a word we returned the same way as we had come, to the breakwater of the Jaffa Port.

Several of the passengers were tourists from abroad, others were locals thirsting for knowledge, and still none of the stern-looking crew members explained a thing to us, they didn’t tell a legend about Andromeda’s Rock, which we passed within touching distance, or explain anything about the somewhat surprising route. They didn’t even suggest that we buy a cup of soda or a flute of Champagne. And still, there was that moment when I saw Jaffa disappearing as we sailed away, and as if by magic turning into a sweet Italian town.

Price: 25 shekels (about $7) for half an hour. There is no need to book in advance and there are no precise times. Home port - the fishing anchorage at Jaffa Port.

2. Expensive on the Yarkon

the Yarkon River. Photo by Moshe Gilad

A vague childhood memory led me to look for boats at the end of Ussishkin Street next to the Pe’er Cinema, on the banks of the Yarkon River. It turns out that they no longer rent out boats there, but slightly to the east, along Bnei Dan Street, there is still a marina with boats for rent. The late singer Arik Einstein used to sing the words by poet Tirza Atar: “You can go to the Yarkon, and sail there on a boat.” It’s not certain that that’s still true. In other words it’s possible, but it’s terribly expensive. Why should it cost 98 shekels to rent a battered yellow fiberglass boat, which for some reason is shaped like a car and which you pedal like a bicycle?

In the entire marina there were only two wooden boats with oars, like the ones I remembered from long ago, and they looked quite bad. I lost my enthusiasm and instead of sailing I walked onto the metal bridge (west of the Bar Yehuda Bridge) and from there I watched the boats coming and going on the river. The park is beautiful and at first glance the river even looks quite clean, though it’s not exactly the Thames.

Price: 98 shekels. Home port: Along Bnei Dan Street, west of the Bar Yehuda Bridge.

3. Susita at Lake Kinneret

Susita at Lake Kinneret. Photo by Moshe Gilad

A year ago President Shimon Peres dedicated the new “Susita,” the boat that bears the name of the legendary “Susita” - the first launched by Kibbutz Ein Gev on Lake Kinneret in 1952. True to his tendency to be low key, Peres said at that event that “the landscapes of the Kinneret are the most beautiful in the world,” and that he felt that he had returned to the days of his youth. Ein Gev operates several sailboats, and recently Tourism Minister Uzi Landau dedicated the new marina on the kibbutz. Despite that, the sailing trips are designed mainly for organized groups. Individual visitors can sail on Passover and on weekends in trip open to the general public, although at the offices of the sailing company they had difficulty committing to precise dates. If you can choose: Sailing on the northern route, along the Capernaum coast, is particularly beautiful, because it passes by the churches with the pink domes.

The price of the trip is 35 shekels. Home port: Ein Gev marina. www. eingevsailing.com.

4. Cool enjoyment on the Jordan

Rafting at the Jordan River. Photo by Moshe Gilad

The rubber boats that sail down the Banias and Jordan rivers don’t exactly have a deck and the trip isn’t exactly sailing, but on hot days it’s the greatest pleasure in the Middle East, and just like Peres, I never exaggerate. You can choose between rafting in inflatable rubber boats and kayaks for two. The deal includes transportation from the end point to the port of origin.

Among the outstanding companies are Jordan River Rafting (www.rafting.co.il), Kfar Blum Kayaks (www.kayaks.co.il) and Abu Kayak (www.abukayak.co.il). Price: 70-90 shekels.

5. The “Carmelit” sails in Haifa

The fishing marina on the Kishon River doesn’t sound very promising, but from there you set sail on a trip that look pleasant and interesting. The “Carmelit” is a large two-story boat that sails along the Haifa coast. I sailed several times in the past from Haifa, and the sight of the Carmel Mountains with the gold dome of the Bahai Temple disappearing from sight is a wonderful memory that I would be happy to experience again in the future.

The hours of activity are not regular and should be checked in advance. The price is reasonable: 30 shekels per adult for a 50-minute sail. The home port: the Shavit fishing marina in the Haifa Bay, near the Air Force Technical College. Phone: 04-8418765

6. “Odelia” in Haifa

You can rent a yacht at any one of the marinas that has opened recently: At Aya Yam in Haifa they are offering a deal that is aware of the customers’ needs. They have an offer to sail on the yacht “Odelia” that includes a “romantic package,” a “birthday package” or a “Balkan package,” which sounds particularly inviting because it includes beer, burekas, salty cheese and olives. The part where they promise that we’ll pass by the Rambam Medical Center is a little less enticing.

In midweek it costs 340 shekels an hour (for the entire boat), but the trip lasts for two hours. On the weekend the price goes up to 410 shekels per hour, and is also two hours. The home port: the Shavit marina. www.aya-yam.co.il

7. The “Queen of Acre”

The “Queen of Acre” is a large boat that holds 200 passengers. It enables us to look at the walls that confronted Napoleon’s army from the correct side, in other words from the sea. The tour includes refreshments and historical and geographical explanations, and even allows you to glance from a distance at the Haifa Bay from the south and Rosh Hanikra from the north. You don’t need more than that.

The price is 25 shekels for a 35-minute trip. Home port: Leopold II Street, Acre marina. www. malkatakko.co.il

8. A kayak to the grottos

At Rosh Hanikra there is one of the most beautiful encounters between sea and dry land. Now, it turns out, you can also see this encounter from the sea, and I assume that the sight (I haven’t tried it yet, but I intend to correct that soon) is marvelous. This is an opportunity to enter the grottos among the rocks, traveling by narrow kayaks that are easy to maneuver and provide a good observation point for experiencing the white walls and blue water up close.

The sailing center in Rosh Hanikra offers an activity that lasts for about two hours, during which you first learn to row a kayak and afterwards sail to the grottos. The rowing begins and ends at the Betzet Beach, accompanied by a guide. Make arrangements in advance, between April and November. The price for three participants is 290 shekels. Every additional participant in the group pays 85 shekels. Book by phone: 052-3798610 www.kayaksailinginisrael.com

9. In Eilat through glass

Glass-bottomed boats were once the greatest attraction in Eilat. Since the establishment of the underwater museum they are not as popular, but it’s still an excellent opportunity for entertainment in a city whose beach should usually be escaped as soon as possible. The glass bottom enables the passengers to put their heads into the water, and that can be wonderful. Oren of Atlantis, which operates such sailing trips, explained to me that on a good day you can see dolphins above and below the water.

Price: 70 shekels per person. Home port: the marina in Eilat. www.eilatisrael.co.il

10. To the life of the Dead Sea

Jacky Ben Zaken of Kibbutz Mitzpeh Shalem recently started to a sailing trip in the Dead Sea, in a boat for 10 people. He says that the route is along the coast and there is only one purpose - to show the passengers the beauty of the Dead Sea. “The sea is gradually disappearing,” explains Ben Zaken. “During the trip you can understand the terrible condition of the Dead Sea. Every week we see the difference.” He has some reservations because, as he says, “We want to show the coast, but we’re afraid that the visitors will dirty and damage it.”

Boat trips must be booked in advance. Price: 250 shekels (per boat). Home port: Mineral Beach. Book by phone: 052-4398931

Moshe Gilad