Suez Canal Transit


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,

Eugénieas 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,

300px-S_S_Yacht_BlencathraThe 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.

DSC08753rBeach front of the Mecure Hotel

DSC08752rI saw the above blue building in the distance, but have not be able to find out what it is . . .

DSC08757rOn 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.

DSC08773rDuring 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.

DSC08783rMore 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.

DSC08793rThe 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.

F & B

Food & Beverage always helps to make a holiday.

Dining in the Symphony Dining room – breakfast, lunch or dinner. Maureen and I started having our breakfast in the restaurant, but ended up on deck sixteen at World Fresh Marketplace – the choice was larger, but each evening we had our dinner in the Symphony restaurant.

Breakfast in the World Fresh Marketplace, which was very good with a huge choice of food from around the world. On one side, we had a darker décor (see above pic) and on the other side of the ship we had a lighter décor. (see pic below)

The darker area concentrated on hot dishes – roasts, curries, Chinese spicy dishes, and the lighter area on ‘cool’ dishes – salads, puddings, cakes etc. It was a joy to wander around and check all the dishes, which for me made choosing what to eat, without overeating, the decision of the day.


A colourful spread of puddings, jellies and sweets, some sugar free, others gluten free, they did their best to satisfy as many people as possible.


A wide choice of food from around the world – hot or cold.



Smoked salmon for breakfast or lunch . . . just help yourself.


I had read comments on the lack of bars for such a large vessel, and the difference in the western and Chinese culture of visiting bars. As soon as we had settled in we investigated which bar was going to be our favourite. The above picture shows Bellini’s, which concentrates on Champagne.


Or was it the Fountain Pool Bar, near the pool area.


Seaview Bar near the pool was popular, particularly on hot days.

Sitting at the bar we could watch the passing desert as we moved gently along the Suez Canal.

For those who are TT, a fruit and veg bar- drinks produced by blending / crushing various fruits & vegetables.
But, for us The Piazza Bar replaced the Crooner’s Bar on other ships.

Maureen & our friends at the Piazza Bar for a pre-dinner drink.


Same bar area of the Piazza bar

This bar was close to the main ‘entertaining’ area of the dance floor, which was also used as a centre of offbeat entertaining.


Specialty acts


Jazz band

The female acrobat returned a few nights later with a double wheel.


Plus of course we could dance or in my case crush Maureen’s feet.

Another popular bar was the Wake Bar


This was a favourite place for many to have their breakfast – the World Fresh Market was just for’d of the Wake Bar, and the day could start with a Bloody Mary and fried eggs if this was to your liking.
There was a ‘day starter’ menu available at the bar if you wished for a breakfast cocktail. This menu changed to lunchtime cocktail menus around 11.00 am.

Additional bars were Crown Grill (part of a small restaurant) –


and there was a bar inside the casino, which we didn’t use.



I bet (excuse the pun) the casino will be popular with the Chinese during the Majestic Princess’ year long China contract.