From Red to Med - the Suez Canal

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April 10th 2014
Published: June 26th 2017
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Traversing the Suez Canal

Geo: 29.9768, 32.5327

Temperature: 21C 70F

Distance travelled: 3356 nautical miles

Aqaba was our last visit to Asia Minor otherwise known as the Middle East. We now head for the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. This is the long leg home. Although we still have a few more stops before we disembark, the talk now turns to what next….??

We have made the acquaintance of 3 Australian families. As they are so far from home, Aussies tend to make the most of their travels to other parts of the world. Alyson is travelling with her mum, Joanna. They will disembark in Napoli where they will travel by train to Rome and stay for 2 nights before flying on to Paris for another 2 nights before taking another flight to Venice to pick up the MSC Armonia for a 7 night Eastern Med cruise. After that they fly to Cairo before flying back to Dubai where they take the flight back to Sydney. Ashleigh, a young antiquity and anthropology major holidaying with her Aunt and Uncles disembark in Genoa and after a few days R & R on the Italian Riviera take another MSC ship for a 10 night trip around the Western Med. Finally Jo, Petr and their 11 year old son Sage will disembark in Genoa and after a week of traveling Northern Italy, will meet up with Petr's parents in Venice. They live in the Czech Republic and Petr's father thinks he is meeting them for a few days when really they have booked a 10 night cruise as a surprise for his birthday. We, the Brits, on the other hand, will have to grab our luggage and dash off the ship as soon as possible. We dock at 10am and our flight is at 1:05pm. As P & O's Ventura is also rumoured to be in town, it will be like Whacky Races in Genoa that day with everyone trying to get to the airport by whatever means of transport is available. However, that is still not for another 7 days so until then…

Having backtracked down the Gulf of Aqaba we once again passed through the Strait of Tiran before making a sharp right in to the Gulf of Suez. The Red Sea, having been between 800-2000m deep several days before, is now only 20m deep at this point. We now had Egypt on our portside and the Sinai Peninsula on our starboard. This must have been where Moses and his posse crossed the Red Sea to escape the slavery of the Egyptians on his way to receiving the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai

The morning after we had left Aqaba we both heard movement out on the balcony. I drew the curtains back expecting to see a cutlass wielding pirate only to be confronted with a cutlery wielding cabin steward!! He was going along deck 10 opening the connecting screens between each cabin. Was this something to do with the high winds we were experiencing?

'No! Mr Christopher!' he replied. ‘I need to wash all the outsides of the windows'.

‘What's with the butter knife?' I asked

‘Easy to open screen!' said Reg with a look that implied,Don't you know anything!!'

We arrived at the Port of Suez around 5pm where we dropped anchor off shore to await further instructions. At around 6pm we heard a lot of commotion. Voices were detected, the sound of horns clearly audible and outboard motors suddenly revved and then just as quickly cut out. There was talk of Pirates but I thought we were a bit too far north and too near civilisation to be in danger or risk of hijack. I went out on the balcony and immediately saw an Egyptian gun ship pass within 50 metres of the Lirica's starboard side. I turned my attention in the direction of the noise. Ohhh! Pilots!! It was the pilots coming along side.

We took our position in the convoy. The Suez Canal is a man-made navigable canal in Egypt that runs between Suez on the Red Sea and Port Said in the Mediterranean. Every day there are 3 convoys of ships organised. Two from north to south (departing from Port Said) and one from south to north, the one we'd be in (departing from Suez). The ships cross each other at the ‘Large Bitter Lake'. Along the canal the ships follow each other at approximately 1 nautical mile distance and maintain a constant speed of 9 knots. I've probably mentioned this before but a nautical mile takes in to account the curvature of the earth. There are 360 degrees on a navigational compass. Each degree is divided in to 60 minutes. 1 nautical mile is equivalent to 1 minute of navigation. The duration of transit from start to finish will take about 15 hours. On every ship transiting the canal up to 2 pilots (not pirates as first thought) accompany each ship and are responsible for the punctuality of the ships and the signalisation spots which are present every 10km or so.

World Champions Quiz update. Round 5. Movie Posters. We had an inspirational round and scored 10/12. Our nearest rivals slumped 3/12 each making us 2nd 1 point behind Malta and 4 points in front of 3rd place China, our chums from Australia.

This evening's theme dress was ‘White'. Just white. As I'd left my cricket kit in 1977 I was going to don my waist coat and carry around a length of cane borrowed from the Aurea Spa and go as ‘Jimmy'….Jimmy White!!! However we weren't the only couple who weren't ‘playing the game'. For us (and most of the guests) it was just another ‘Informal' night!!

This evening show was a first. Usually on MSC Cruises, the shows are either internationally renowned songs and dancing or none verbal entertainment such as acrobats and bendy people. Tonight a ventriloquist was top billing. It was time for Claudio de Negri, a multilingual ventriloquist and magician from Switzerland turn in the spotlight. His act was a refreshing change from all the above as he used a mix of puppet dummies and audience participation for this well scripted show. It was fast paced in the usual 5 languages. For this reason it was very entertaining. Shows, in general only last about 40 minutes. I feel MSC has the timing absolutely spot on. It gives the acts just enough time to leave the audience entertained without getting fidgety and starting to look at their watches!! On this occasion, Claudio introduced another puppet or angle to his act to avoid complacency and keep the interest of his audience.

Whilst those who had made the effort (and probably some who didn't) headed up to pool deck 11 for the 11:45pm ‘white' party, Roisin and I sat on our balcony. We then heard the strangest noise coming from the deck above. We could hear Jingle Bells!!! WTF it's the middle of April!!! We couldn't quite hear the lyrics but the tune was unmistakeable.

I have come this far without mentioning the ‘Lady in the Wheelchair'. I must warn you that this is not going to be a ‘piss take' of the less fortunate or even a schadenfreude moment. The following is purely observational and factual (OK, with maybe a little piss take at the end!!) There are a few wheel chair users on board but there is one particular lady who uses what looks like a designer model with plenty of gadgets and hooks for hanging bags. We had seen her moving about by shuffling her feet to propel her backwards, like a child would use its feet to move while sat in a pedal car but hasn't quite worked out how to use the pedals. This one time Roisin and I were standing waiting for someone standing in an alcove out of view when the lady in the wheelchair approached the lift and pressed the appropriate ‘call' button. When the lift arrived and the doors opened, she thought no one was looking and with the swiftness of a gazelle and the nimbleness of a Prima Ballerina, she darted out of her wheelchair and pushed it in to the lift then sat back down in the chair. Her face returning to the pitiful blank expression as the doors closed. From this day we have named her ‘Lou' from Little Britain's Lou and Andy characters!!

Since our observation almost 2 weeks ago, others have seen her manipulating members of staff in helping her, carrying things and receiving preferential treatment that includes moving to the front of queues. Ashley and Alyson saw her at Petra. As an alternative to walking the several kilometres to the site, a constant stream of buggies are available…for a price. I understand this was included in the MSC excursion. ‘Lou' pushed her way to the front of the queue, handed over her ticket and was helped on to the buggy with her wheel chair stowed behind. When it was time to return through the steep ravine once again she was observed pushing her way to the front. Due to her supposed circumstance people do not want to challenge a poor, defenceless disabled wheelchair user for fear of being criticised and uncaring and insensitive. However, she had lost her return ticket so had to pay the extortionate rate of €30…and expected to tip the driver at the end. This, to some, is referred to as Karma!!

We started our transit of the Suez Canal at about 06:30am. Suez is not like any canal I have seen. In most part it is more like a river than a manmade construction. Despite the ship transiting in single file convoy, the canal is a few hundred metres wide. There are what appears to be military installations every few kilometres that are manned at all times and mainly consist of a few huts with a perimeter fence. These outposts are not surprising as the Suez Canal remains a strategic water way that connects the Med and Europe to Asia and the Indian Ocean (and beyond) and although shipping companies still have to pay silly amounts of levies to transit the waterway, it is still worth every cent as it knocks days off circumnavigating Africa saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Some stretches of the canal look manmade with the artificial bank walls showing little evidence of erosion. It was easy to imagine the navvies digging the channel sometime during the 19th century. There are several small towns scattered along the Suez Canal. It looked as if the whole township of one of these settlements had come down to the bank to watch the MSC Lirica sail back toward Europe for yet another season.

The Suez Canal flows in to several lakes. The Great Bitter Lake being the midway point where the North convoy and the South convoy meet to continue their journeys. It is likely that these lake were here long before the Suez Canal and formed part of the Nile delta. The canal, in essence, joins each lake together then breaks out into the Mediterranean in the North and the Red Sea in the South. Larger cities have been built on the shores of these lakes. Safaga is one of the cities we passed as we sailed from one part of the canal, through the lake in to the next part of the canal. Safaga was originally on the itinerary for this voyage being the feeder port for excursions to the likes of Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza but due to the recent troubles in Egypt, was understandably cancelled.

At 2pm one of the animation team dressed as an ancient Egyptian messenger appeared on the stage at the aft end of the pool deck and proclaimed that the Pharaoh, the Queen of Egypt and the Great Priest of Osiris are coming on board to deliver the key to the Mediterranean Sea and to meet all the brave explorers who dare to cross the Suez Canal.

Next the fanfare. We recognised it as the Triumphal March from Verdi's opera Aida. Pole bearers led the royal procession from deck 12 with the one at the head holding a very dead octopus aloft. These were followed by the Egyptian royalty, their servants and the half a dozen minions wrapped in toilet roll..oh wait…they're supposed to be Egyptian mummies. They were carrying small bowls of various foodstuff. This is to anoint the unsuspecting guests who have signed up to be initiated!!! They followed the procession unaware of the ceremony they were about to partake in.

Once the royal procession had walked the whole length of the portside deck then back around the starboard side; down the steps to the pool deck, one lap of the pool deck then on to the stage. The staff captain climbed on to the stage and received a large golden key from the Pharaoh. Unlike the last ceremony we were involved in, the volunteers never sat on the edge of the pool, the minions never ran around gunging everyone with flour, tomato sauce, eggs, crème, cocoa powder. There was no jumping in the pool to wash everything off. No, those who had signed up to take part in the procession lined up and in single file moved across the foot of the stage where the Queen of Egypt placed a dollop of whipped crème on everyone's nose then the Pharaoh used a ladle of water to ‘anoint' the guests. The only saving grace was that everyone involved had to ‘kiss the octopus'. There was no time for foreplay or a first date. It was a matter of ‘pucker up' and get in line!!

The ceremony seemed very tame in comparison to last time but on reflection the last time may have been seen as a little reckless and due to the mess created and all the extra work involved to clean the pool afterward, the animation crew may have got a reprimand hence we had just witnessed the toned down version.

I noticed at one point, ‘'Lou's' wheelchair was standing abandoned with the owner nowhere to be seen. A quick glance down at the line of those partaking in the initiation ceremony and sure enough, there she was in line, fresh lipstick and was that blusher I could see on her cheeks? She was already puckering up. As long as she wasn't expecting a second date!!

At approximately 4:50 we sailed past Port Said, having exited the Suez Canal. We were now in the Mediterranean Sea. The temperature already seems to have come down a few notches. Next stop Crete.

Additional photos below
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13th April 2014

Maybe this question is inappropriate but.... Have you seen any boats with refugees? According to the news there are thousands of people trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy to get away from Syria.
14th April 2014

Ragnhild, thanks for the heads up. We'l keep a look out and you'll be the first to know if we see any.
5th April 2019

150 yrs
Prof Prem raj Pushpakaran writes -- 2019 marks the 150th year of completion of Suez Canal!!!

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