We entered the Suez Canal at first light, and with camera in hand I started photographing our transit.
The canal had been built by Ferdinand de Lesseps between 1859 and 1869, and was opened in 1869.
The Egyptian / French plan for the opening was to allow the Imperial Yacht L’Aigle, with the French Empress, Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III,
as guest of honour on board, to be the first vessel to transit the canal.
Imperial Yacht L’Aigle
The second vessel was to be the P & O liner Delta, which was full of society people and passengers from Great Britain.
Unfortunately for the French & the Egyptians a British Royal Navy vessel HMS Newport,
The picture shows her later in her life.
captained by George Nares, was the first vessel to transit the canal. Captain Nares on the night before the canal was to open, navigated his ship in the dark, and without lights, through the various anchored vessels waiting to enter the canal at daylight, and positioned his vessel in front of the French Imperial Yacht in such a way that HMS Newport could not be passed.
Admiral Sir George Nares, 1831 – 1915
When dawn broke the French and Egyptians were quite ‘upset’ (to say the least) at the position of the Royal Navy vessel..
Captain Nares was reprimanded by London, but unofficially congratulated by the Admiralty. He rose to the rank of Vice Admiral later in life.
In 1875 the Khedive of Egypt (ruler of Egypt as Viceroy, under the Sultan of Turkey) offered nearly half the shares in the canal for sale.
The PM of Great Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, bought them for Great Britain against the advice of his senior ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, because he wanted to control access to India and the Empire East of Suez.
The cost at the time was £4 million, and the canal remained under British control until Nasser nationalised it in 1956, although there was a lease on the canal, given to Ferdinand de Lesseps, for 99 years, which would end in 1968.
The view from the Wake Bar from the Majestic Princess’ stern area was of green and pleasant land on the starboard Egyptian side, but on the other side, a desert that has been fought over for generations, from Lawrence of Arabia in WW1, to the Israelis in recent years.
The Majestic Princess being a passenger ship on her ‘maiden’ voyage to China, was given the lead position in the southbound convoy. You can just see the next ship, which is a black dot well astern of us. The tug just astern of us followed in our wake all the way through the canal – I presume ‘just in case ‘ anything went wrong.
It was far more pleasant to be a passenger, when transiting the Suez Canal this time, than a deck officer on the bridge of a cargo ship, which I was in the mid 1960’s. The guy in the red shirt is Will, our New Zealand friend who was on the Conway with me from 1960 to ’62. Will has memories of being blockaded in the canal during the Six Day War in 1967.
The Mubarak Peace bridge across the troubled waters of the canal. The bridge was built with the help of the Japanese government and opened in 2001. The height of the two main pylons support the span at 154 mtrs (505 feet) above the water allowing for a clearance under the bridge of 70 mtrs, so the largest any vessel can be is 68 mtrs above the water level.
Some very nice-looking homes on the starboard side of the canal as we approached the town of Ismailia.
Car ferry waiting for us to pass – plenty of horns sounding and much waving of arms from those on land as well as the passengers onboard.
Shortly after we entered Timsah Lake, which appeared to be a holiday area.
Beach front of the Mecure Hotel
I saw the above blue building in the distance, but have not be able to find out what it is . . .
On our port side a striking difference to the holiday feel of Timsah Lake.
The original canal was 164 km long, and over time with various expansions became 193 km long, and its depth grew from 8 meters to 24 meters. Even with these expansions it was realised that a second canal or further expansion would be required. Under the old system ships would anchor in the Bitter Lakes and wait until the opposite convoy had passed before continuing their transit. In certain areas of the canal, when I used to sail between Asia & Europe in the 60’s, we used to tie up alongside the canal bank in wider areas of the canal, to allow the opposite convoy, north or south bound, to pass.
The new part of the canal, which is 35 kms long, took just a year to build, see the right hand picture
The occasional cut over, but I should think for only small craft.
Warship passing from the Bitter Lakes to the Mediterranean via the new expansion – she didn’t fly a flag of nationality that I could see, so I presume she was Egyptian, with the canal being Egyptian water.
Ships that pass in the day, as we entered the Bitter Lakes – the container ship is sailing north in the ‘new’ canal.
The Bitter Lakes – there are two linked to the canal, the Great Bitter Lake and the Small Bitter Lake. Before the canal was opened in 1869 there used to be a dry salt valley, which after the canal was opened became the Bitter lakes – the valley flooded. The ‘lake’ is used as a passing area for the north & south bound convoys. When I was at sea we would anchor in the lakes while waiting for our convoy to be ready to resume the transit.
This time Majestic Princess just steamed very slowly passed the various waiting ships.
The water flows freely between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and many Red Sea creatures have migrated to the Mediterranean and colonised their new home. North of the Bitter Lakes the water flows with the seasons – it flows northwards in winter and southwards in the summer months. South of the Bitter Lakes the water is tidal and influenced by the tidal flow of the Red Sea. Due to the salt in the original valley, the salinity of the Bitter Lakes is very high, about twice as high as normal sea water.
During the Six Day War in 1967 the canal was closed and fifteen ships were locked in the Bitter Lakes. They became known as the Yellow Fleet because of the sand blown from the desert that covered their decks in yellow sand. The crews cooperated with each other and created their own post office and stamp. The Yellow Fleet stamps have become a collector’s item. The canal didn’t reopen until 1975.
Our friend from NZ, Will, spent some time in a Blue Star ship, Scottish Star, marooned in the Bitter Lakes.
I was looking for an example of the stamps used by the Yellow Fleet and came across this envelope, which is addressed to a home in Birkenhead (UK). The address is quite close to where I used to live in Tranmere.
At 144,212 gross tonnes the Majestic Princess was not the largest passenger ship to transit the canal – this honour is held by Quantum of the Seas at 167,800 gross tonnes when she transited the canal in 2015.
Heading northwards . . . . .fully loaded.
More and more sand on the port side . . . .
Trucks waiting for the ferry to cross the canal . . . I think the ferry only accepted two at a time.
The queue for the ferry went for quite a long way.
The southern end of the canal is quite near – Port Tewfik – which used to be spelt Taufiq in the 60’s.
Port Tewfik at the Southern end of the canal as we passed the final point and entered the Red Sea.
The pilot has left us – full ahead in to the Red Sea.
4 thoughts on “Suez Canal Transit”
As always Geoff, many Thanks for the teach-in and entertainment. Regards to Will and Mei and the Cuthberts. I can truly say, wish I was with you all. – What I thought would be a regular income, has turned into a cash call for Solicitors. – Such is life !
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Morning Mike – we all had a drink to you (in the bar) on the first night, now it’s your round. :-o) Sorry to hear that you are paying for your legal eagle’s next cruise . . . . . cheers Geoff & Maureen
A fascinating read. Thank you.
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I’m pleased that you liked it . . :-o) thank you.