Monday, June 18, 2012

Suez Canal

After a night of steaming up the Red Sea we arrived at Suez at 5am (apparently ) :-).

At that point we boarded the pilot and formed up with the Northbound convoy (as lead ship) for the passage through the canal.

I woke up at 6am and at that point we were already on our way and had left Suez behind us. Sat on the balcony all day watching, taking photos, reading and messing with the project.

The passage through the Suez Canal was far less dramatic (and perhaps impressive) than that through the Panama Canal. The Suez Canal was carved out of the sand of the Sinai Desert and links the Red Sea at Suez with the Mediterranean Sea at Port Said. Because these two ocean bodies are at the same level there was no need for locks so the engineering feats we experienced in Panama were not required here

Also, because of the geography the canal could be cut in a straightish line and, given that it is in the desert, could be widened and deepened as required so that today it can take any of the megaships with tons of room to spare on either side.

When the water flowed for the first time through the canal two lakes – the little and great Bitter Lakes were formed from depressions in the land. It was in the Great Bitter Lake that 14 (or so) ships were trapped from 1967 to 1975 when Israel and Egypt face each other across the canal after the 6 Day War.

As we traversed the canal northward so traffic was proceeding south – we could see them as we followed divided areas that allow for this parallel passage.

All the way along Egyptians in small boats were fishing with fine nets. They were very social and waved at us shouting “welcome to Egypt!” it was quite fun really

The banks of the river were distinctly different – the Starboard side was very sandy desert; the Port side (where our cabin is located) is irrigated by channel from the Nile and is green and has areas of lush vegetation.

I was also amazed by some of the homes on the bank – huge places with beautiful gardens – and this lovely hotel or recreational area at Ismailia.

There were military outposts with manned lookouts all the way along the canal – probably for marine security given that Egypt occupies both sides now. Also they would not want any civil or terrorist issues here – the canal is Egypt’s largest source of income.

While the British controlled the canal (until 1956 when Nasser nationalized it) it provided security for their maritime enterprises and control over passage (which proved crucial in both World Wars). There were a number of memorials along the way. This one commemorates the First WW.

Others memorialize Egyptian dead in their various campaigns here. I was reminded that in 1973, when Sharon’s armored columns crossed the canal to destroy SAM sites and surround the Egyptian Army leading to their surrender, many of the lead tanks and armor were fully exposed and so many Israelis were killed. I am pretty sure they have no memorials here!

That remarkable strategy however led ultimately to the peace between Egypt and Israel and to my being able to freely use my passport despite all my Israeli entry stamps!

Finally, the Port Said bypass to avoid traffic into the city - then the mediterranean

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