Feluccas are small sailing boats, typically crewed by 2 or 3 men, which have been used by fishermen on the Nile for thousands of years. With a broad beam, shallow draught, and a distinctive lateen sail, they are ideally designed for navigating the shallow Nile waters and for making the most of the river’s habitually gentle crosswinds.
Today, travelling by felucca downstream from Aswan for a few days popular trip with tourists. Conditions are simple on board, with passengers usually sleeping on deck, but if you don’t insist on luxury – a felucca trip is a great way to slow down, relax and experience the best that Egypt has to offer in traditional style.
Don’t expect speedy sailing – essentially a felucca drifts peacefullly downstream at a gentle pace with the Nile’s gentle current; tacking back and forth across the river against the prevailing wind. Feluccas rarely sail in the opposite direction, south towards Aswan, even though this is the direction of the prevailing wind, since the cliffs along the river can often block the wind; with the Nile’s current flowing northwards, forward progress couldn’t be guaranteed.
There are hundreds of feluccas available in Aswan for tourists to choose from. Hotels can be good sources for recommending feluccas to sail on, but be aware that hotels will almost certainly be on a commission for their recommendations, so advice is very unlikely to be impartial. Some guidebooks also provide recommendations. The most important thing when choosing a boat is to trust, and like, the captain, with whom you will be spending a lot of time, and on whom you will be very dependent.
While making the film, we travelled with felucca captain Bassam, a charming, reliable and honest man, who sets a fair price and is an excellent sailor. Bassam lives in the Nubian village on the west bank opposite Aswan, below the Tombs of the Nobles, and can be reached via mobile on +20 (0)12 2720 3716.
main image: Feluccas on the Nile by Beniamino Facchinelli, circa 1880s