Suez Canal 2022
We spent the day of October 28 transiting the Suez Canal. We did this once before during the World Cruise in 2016, but that time we went from south to north.
This time, of course, we sailed through it north to south, beginning in the Mediterranean at Port Said and exiting into the Red Sea at Suez. Either way it’s a lot of sand! There is a lot of information about the canal in the previous post linked above and I will try not to repeat much of it here. Ships sail through the canal in convoys, two heading south and one north each day. It seemed like we were the lead ship in our convoy.
It takes all day (about 11 to 16 hours) to sail through the canal, partly because the speed limit is only about 8 knots. The slower speed helps reduce the water turbulence that encourages sand to slide back into the canal. As it is dredging of the canal seems to be pretty constant. We have pictures of what we think are dredging operations, but they could be something else (for example, traffic tunnels are being constructed under the canal). Whether digging or dredging, the removed sand is being blown out on top of the existing dunes.
The canal divides Africa from Asia & the main part of Egypt from the Sinai peninsula. It was built by the French under Ferdinand de Lesseps in the mid 19th century. Because the sea level varies by only 3 or 4 feet between the Mediterranean and the Red seas there was no need for locks here. It was mostly a matter of digging up sand and moving it aside, accomplished in large part by hand, as we understand it. De Lesseps tried to do the same thing (canal without locks) a few years later in Panama but failed spectacularly because of the mountainous terrain, with the loss of many thousands of lives.
The peninsula is sparsely populated and you will see in many of the pictures the contrast between the Africa side, which is well built up much of the way, and the Sinai side, which is mostly sand. As we sailed through the canal the forward deck was opened for passengers (it is usually closed) and coffee and “Suez Rolls” were distributed on all the outside decks during the early morning.
The first landmark we came to after entering the canal was the Japan Egypt Friendship Bridge. This bridge, built with Japanese assistance, crosses the canal at a height that permits large ships to sail under it, but it rarely has any traffic.
In addition to this big bridge the locals cross the canal through tunnels (most still works in progress), ferries and swinging pontoon bridges. There was a swiveling bridge across the canal that could be swung away to align with the canal’s edges when ships approached, but it no longer operates because the widening of the canal in 2015 made the bridge too short to reach across. We have read that it is being lengthened to permit crossing again.
During the long, sunny & hot passage through the canal we saw many small fishing boats in the water along with some small sail boats and two guys who appeared to be walking the length of the canal.
During most of its existence the Canal has been a single trench through the sand. This meant that ship convoys in one direction had to pull off into one of the lakes along its path to allow convoys headed the opposite way to pass, much like a railway bypass. Just before our first transit in early 2016, however, the first length of a second channel was opened, allowing ship convoys to pass each other with neither having to pull aside. This undoubtedly reduced transit time noticeably and it appears that the double channel has been lengthened now. Between the channels is a huge sand pile, of course, which often makes it difficult to see the opposite shore at all. Sometimes we could still see the tops of large cargo ships passing through the other channel. Periodically we also passed cut throughs allowing for passage between the channels when needed.
The folks on board seemed to be enjoying the transit. A lot were out on deck watching the scenery, some with other occupations such as one fellow sharing his cello practice with the rest of us. The worst part (assuming you did not forget sunblock) was a plague of flies that followed us through the canal constantly flying in our faces and landing on our skin. I had the brilliant idea of applying mosquito repellant, hoping it would work on flies too, but they actually seemed to like the deet and were in no way deterred.
The city of Ismailia is located near the shores of Lake Timsah, one of the larger cities on the canal. Near it is a tall monument erected in 1930 to commemorate the defense of the canal from the Turks by Egyptian and Allied forces in 1915. On a sandbank near the city were several large memorial plaques set into a sand bank near the city, but they were in Arabic so we have no idea what they said.
Not far from Ismailia we passed a sandbank that was lined with large paintings. These seemed to be important people but we don’t know who.
A variety of buildings appeared along the sides of the canal, from long blocks of apparently new apartments to military installations with watchtowers to single houses to mosques, along with some mystery structures. We also passed a date orchard. Last time we were here, in 2016, several of the military posts had nice welcoming signs etched into the sand banks, but we didn’t see any of that on this visit.
At the southern end of the Little Bitter Lake we passed the dock for the town of Gineifa and then reached the outskirts of Suez, the southern gate to the canal.
There was a particularly attractive mosque on the waterfront as we sailed through Suez, leading our convoy, and passed out into the Red Sea.
That evening there was a really nice Red Sea sunset capping a long but enjoyable day.