Day 21 - Suez Canal
|Monday, October 30, 2023: It was Suez Canal day, and we got up at 4:30 AM so that we could go to the Crow's Nest to get good seats. Unfortunately, even though we arrived at 4:53 AM, all of the chairs up front were already taken. Instead, we took a table two rows from the front.
|It was still pitch black outside, so we used the Marine Traffic app to watch our progress toward the canal's entrance. The captain had explained that the ships in the anchorage are assigned their places in the convoy and that he expected us to be assigned a spot where we would enter the canal at daybreak. We are the dark blue ship in the center of the photo, and the convoy is the green ships forming up at the bottom of the photo.
|Around 5:15 AM, the crew started distributing menus around the Crow's Nest, ...
|... and a little while later they came around with trays of Suez rolls which were yeast rolls with a fruit cream inside. They were a tasty treat.
|We'd also gotten orange juice with the rolls to go with the water and Diet Coke that we'd brought with us. We were expecting to be here for a while, and we'd come prepared.
|At 5:30 AM, the cruise director Ian started his commentary from the front center of the Crow's Nest.
|By this time, the Crow's Nest had lots and lots of people. When the latecomers started begging for chairs and making new rows between the windows and the tables, ...
|... we decided that we didn't need to hear the commentary and headed out to the forward balcony on deck nine. The sun was up, and there were very few people out there.
|We staked out a nice spot right against the rail and ...
|... watched as the pilot boats sped out from the harbor to ships forming up in the convoy.
|Tom hadn't yet put on his contacts and was sporting three sets of glasses. Sunglasses on top of his head, his prescription glasses with bifocals for seeing stuff both near and far, and then his separate reading glasses.
|We weren't heading for the main entrance to the canal, which is over there, but to the bypass entrance just east of Port Said.
|Here's Port Said. The cranes for the container terminal are visible in the center of the photo.
|We entered the Suez Canal just after 6:30 AM. That breakwater with the buoy at the end marks the beginning of the channel.
|There were salt flats just inside the canal entrance.
|Maersk! There were two Maersk container ships tied up alongside the container terminal just east of the bypass entrance.
|This new-looking building was on a very green section of land just inside the entrance. There weren't enough windows for it to be a hotel, so maybe it was a Suez Canal Authority administrative building of some sort. It was very pretty, and the grounds around it were beautifully landscaped.
|By 7:00 AM, we decided that we didn't need to be at the front of the boat any longer and went back to our cabin to watch the transit from there. We dashed up to the Lido Market to get some breakfast and brought it right back down to the table on our balcony so we wouldn't miss anything.
|We saw lots of these pipes along the edge of the canal. Most of them, like these, didn't seem to go anywhere.
|There were signs marking every two-tenths of a kilometer from the northern entrance of the canal.
|In the distance, we could see a line of pelicans on the barren land west of the canal.
|This screenshot from Marine Traffic really illustrates how the convoys work. By around 7:30 AM, the first northbound ships had arrived in the Great Bitter Lake and were staring to anchor there. The southbound ships weren't quite there yet since they start their journey about 30 minutes after the northbound group starts. On this app, green ships are cargo carriers, red are tankers, and blue are passenger ships.
|As we neared the end of the bypass and approached the main channel, we saw this elaborate arch on the west bank. On the wall under the arch is one of many observation towers for the Egyptian military to use to observe traffic along the canal.
|We had a tugboat following along behind us. Every ship that transits the canal has at least one assigned to it.
|Here's the end of the bypass. Ships heading northward that plan to offload at Port Said would take the channel on the left and enter the container terminal there, and ships heading for other destinations would exit the canal using the bypass.
|There were huge container ships following behind us, all evenly spaced with their assigned tugboats. Each of those container ships are just under the maximum allowable size for the Suez Canal, with a length of just under 400 meters and a beam of around 60 meters. That first ship, the Cosco Shipping Solar, can carry 20,000 containers in a single voyage and the two behind it are almost the same size.
|Ahead of us were two unidentified military ships. We don't know if they were placed at this point in the convoy to escort us, or if it was just coincidence that the were directly in front of the only passenger ship transiting today.
|On the west bank of the canal, there were rail lines and a well paved highway. We could even read the traffic signs over the road.
|Shortly after entering the main channel, we picked up a second tugboat.
|There were irrigation canals on the western bank to provide water to the farmland there. These irrigation canals come all the way from the Nile River more than 60 miles from here.
|We saw lots of these beehive-looking structures. They are dovecotes for raising pigeons which are a staple in the Egyptian diet.
|Here's another watchtower along the banks, and this one has a soldier in it.
|A passenger train raced along the edge of the canal, blowing its horn as it passed by.
|This patrol boat flying the Egyptian flag headed northward back toward Port Said.
|Every now and then, we saw fishing boats pulled up along the banks of the canal or tied up just offshore. Since ships are only allowed to transit the canal during daylight, they must be used to fish the canal at night.
|Debbie set up the table-on-a-table so she could photograph her LEGO daily calendar ...
|... with the Suez Canal in the background. Today's display featured our minifigs sitting comfortably on their balcony as they checked this item off their bucket list.
|The watchtowers have ladders that lead down to the water's edge, not down to the road behind the wall. We wondered if the soldiers were transported to their posts by boat rather than by truck.
|As we passed this school, we heard kids squealing in delight. It is a universal sound that carries a long way.
|At intervals along the canal were these boat stations that featured an electronic display that had the time, temperature, humidity, and other information that probably made sense to the pilots navigating the canal.
|Our ship drew a lot of attention as we passed by. People would whistle or shout to try to get our attention and wave as we sailed by.
|At 8:30 AM, Ian's commentary that had only been broadcast in the Crow's Nest became available on the bow camera channel on the TV in our cabin, in the Lido Market, and on the loudspeakers on deck.
|Maersk! On the highway, we saw this Maersk container heading north, passing in front of a property with four large dovecotes in the back, and a huge globe in the front showing the continents of Africa and Asia.
|This farmer was manually hoeing a ditch across his patch of land, while right next door another farmer was using a small tractor to plow his land.
|This one field contained sheep, goats, and cattle.
|On the eastern bank of the Suez is the continent of Asia. A large wall ran along the edge of the canal on this bank, but mostly the land on this side was undeveloped.
|We were hoping to be able to hear the Islamic call to prayer at some point during the transit, so we were happy to see mosques right along the edge of the canal.
|There were ferry landings dotting the canal, and after a ship passed, the ferry boats would quickly make their way across to the other side before the next ship came.
|This is a floating bridge. At night, after the ship traffic ends for the day, this bridge will be manuevered into position so that cars and trucks cross the canal.
|A memorial on the Sinai side of the canal was dedicated to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when Israel occupied all of the Sinai peninsula. Those are Israeli tanks ...
|... in front of a statue of a soldier holding his rifle and what looks like the rudder of a ship.
|Around 9:30 AM, we arrived at the Suez Canal Bridge, or the Mubarak Peace Bridge, or the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, or the Al Salam Bridge. This is the only permanent bridge that crosses the Suez Canal, linking Africa and Asia by road.
|It stands 70 meters over the canal, ...
|... and is quite beautiful.
|Around 9:45 AM, we reached the start of the only part of the canal that supports two-way traffic. It's a 25 kilometer stretch that is just north of the Great Bitter Lake.
|Since we woke up at 4:30 AM, our meal times were all messed up. We went up to the Lido around 10 AM and made two ham and cheese sandwiches to try to get us back on a regular schedule.
|This is the Suez Canal Authority's station at Ballah.
|We saw lots of soldiers up and down the banks of the canal.
|A fish farm!
|There were breaks in the two-lane area to allow tugboats and smaller vessels to do U-turns.
|When we reached the El Ferdan station, ...
|... we saw a man in the water working on a dock under construction while another man brought planks of wood out to him.
|This is the El Ferdan Railway Bridge, the largest swing bridge in the world. The two sections of the bridge pivot at their centers to span the canal.
|Somewhere around this point in the canal, biting flies discovered our ship. They were everywhere. We decided that it was a good time to spray some more clothing with permethrin, and if the flies landed on it while it was drying, oh well. In the meantime, Tom went hunting with the flyswatter that we had brought with us. It didn't do anything to deter other flies, but it was oh so satisfying to see the carcasses piling up on deck.
|Just after 11:00 AM, the crew started serving chilled fruit soup shots on the open decks. We headed up to the Sea View Pool to get some. Cheers!
|While we were out of our cabin, we headed to the Neptune Lounge to pick up our passports. Egyptian officials had come aboard during the transit to stamp them. Casper was there to remind us that tomorrow was Halloween.
|This was the first time we'd been here when there was no food out. Not that we needed more food today. It was just surprising to see this station and the counter behind without anything on it.
|We took a moment to check out their display of tea bags for future reference.
|What's this?!? A can of caffeine free Diet Coke? We didn't know that was available on the ship. We traded surprised looks with each other, but were too stunned to ask the concierge about it. We picked up our passports and headed back to the cabin to watch more of the transit.
|As we neared Ismailia, we saw what looked like billboards mounted on the banks of the canal.
|This series represented famous Egyptians. This is Ahmed Zewail, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1999, ...
|... and Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, ...
|... and then this woman who apparently did something with the pyramids, ...
|... and this man, who we also couldn't identify.
|This church along the canal had an interesting statue on its roof. It apparently depicts a woman holding baby Jesus up to see if he has the Force and can fly, or maybe she is throwing the baby in the canal to teach it to swim.
|Here's a good view of the bank looking northward. You can see the group of three billboard things along the bank.
|We passed a monument on the eastern bank dedicated to the workers who built the canal.
|This magnificient house was right at the edge of the canal. How fun would it be to sit on the patio and watch all of the world's shipping pass by?
|There was a ferry loading cars, and just south of that was a larger pilot boat house. We were nearing Lake Timsah, which is about the halfway point in the transit. As we came near, a boat pulled alongside to swap pilots for the southern part of the trip.
|Welcome to Egypt!
|As we reached Lake Tismah, there was a beautiful park right on the point, with beach resorts stretching away on the northern bank.
|There were boaters out on the lake, ...
|... although we couldn't tell if they were working or if they were out for fun.
|There was even one out in the canal itself, on the eastern side of the sandbar that divides the canal from the lake.
|An egret fished in the waters along the bank.
|At 11:35 AM, we braved the flies to go out on the balcony to listen for the dhuhr (mid-day) call to prayer. Right on time, we heard it coming from mosques all around the city.
|Two feluccas sailed south along the lake. Everyone aboard them was watching our ship go by.
|This monument just south of Lake Timsah was dedicated to the soldiers who defended the Suez Canal from the invading Ottoman Army during World War I.
|Around 12:30 PM, Tom headed back to the Neptune Lounge. They once again had food out, with fruit and little pastries on one side, ...
|... and sandwiches ...
|... and other savory items on the circular stand. That wasn't why he was here though. We'd been stewing over the fact that we had seen a can of caffeine free Diet Coke earlier in the day, and Tom went back to see if there was more to be had. It turned out ...
|... that there were exactly three cans available. The concierge on duty said that he didn't know where they came from, but it wasn't something that they usually carried. Tom brought all three cans triumphantly back to the cabin.
|Around 12:30 PM, we started to see the first ships of the northbound convoy on the other side of the two-way section. They were timed so that the lead northbound ship would reach the northern end of the two-way zone just as the last southbound ship entered it.
|Every day in the Lido Market they have some speciality food in this section. Today, it was Cake Bliss, with spiderweb covering the sign since it was near Halloween.
|Look at all of the cakes.
|Look at them!
|At 12:45 PM, we entered the Great Bitter Lake, ...
|... and saw some of the first ships of today's southbound convoy anchored in the lake. Until the two-way area opened in 2015, this was the only place where the two convoys could pass each other.
|Maersk! Actually, this is the Maersk Salalah, named for the port of Salalah, Oman, where we would be next week. What a coincidence!
|When we saw all of the ships anchored here, we thought of the scenes in action films where, when the heroes are just about to be defeated, that the entire fleet shows up just in time to save them!
|Maersk again! The Maersk Jabal was still anchored, waiting for her turn to head north.
|At the southern end of the lake was another SCA station at Al Kibrit.
|Somehow, even though we were in the middle of the southbound convoy, we didn't have to anchor in the lake. Now, we were the lead ship in the southbound convoy. Lucky us!
|Two Egyptian F-16s flew low over the canal and then streaked off across the Sinai Peninsula. They were spread pretty far apart, so we could only get a photo of one at a time.
|Hey! Those pipes are doing something. There was a large pond on the Asian side of the canal, and these pipes appeared to be draining the water from it into the canal.
|During the entire transit, we'd seen these military ribbon bridge sections pulled up on the western bank of the canal. These were just south of the SCA station at Gineifa. While trying to figure out why they were here, Tom found an article showing the Egyptian Army positioning them across the canal and running tanks and trucks across them. Wow.
|This is a suction dredger. Huh huh. Suction.
|At 2:45 PM, we went back out onto the balcony to see if we could here the afternoon call to prayer. Less than a minute later, we heard it.
|These soldiers waved enthusiastically at our ship as we went by. It is a little disconcerting to see so many men carrying AK-47s so casually.
|Underneath the canal, between our ship and the Cosco Solar behind us, lies the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, a mile-long tunnel that connects the Sinai Peninsula with the African mainland.
|The green fields of the western bank are such a sharp contrast ...
|... to the barren desert on the eastern side. There was another "Welcome to Egypt" sign that looked to be made with cloth.
|There was quite the compound at the Shallufa SCA station.
|This is the western terminus of the Martyr Ahmed El-Mansy Floating Bridge. This pontoon bridge swings into place after the last of the ship traffic passes and remains in place overnight. There were already dozens of large semi-trucks and fuel carriers lined up on the eastern side waiting for the bridge to be put in position so they could cross.
|That's a picture of Colonel Mansi on another of those billboard-like signs near the bridge.
|A flight of large, dark geese flew overhead.
|The mile-posts marking the whole kilometers on the western side had gotten fancy, ...
|... while the signs marking the tenths still were the simple flat metal that we'd seen since the beginning. We were nearing the kilometer 151, ...
|... which is where the Ever Given ran aground in 2021, blocking the canal for six days. There is a sign commemorating the event, ...
|... and a giant anchor statue to mark where it was stuck.
|It's a beautiful sculpture.
|A few minutes later, we passed under power lines that are strung across the canal to provide electricity to developments on the eastern bank.
|Can you see that bend in the canal ahead? That marks the last stretch before we get to the port of Suez at the southern end of the canal.
|As we drew near, we could see buildings with names like the Red Sea Hotel, ...
|... and beyond those lay a huge harbor and shipyard.
|This building right along the waterfront is the Port Tewfik Club, ...
|... and the Port Tewfik pilot boat station.
|A man and his canal.
|After 11 hours of transit, we discharged our pilot, ...
|... and picked up speed as we left the Suez Canal behind, ...
|... and watched the sun set from the waters of the Red Sea.
|We went to the main dining room for dinner, which was decked out in Halloween decorations.
|We both had the coconut crusted meatballs as an appetizer, ...
|... followed by beef Wellington with mashed potatoes, carrots, and peas. It had been a long but extremely satisfying day. After dinner, we went back to our cabin and packed our backpacks for tomorrow's shore excursion, which promised to be an even longer day than today.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy