RTW sun, sand and ships on the Suez canal

Since I decided to stay on the CMA CGM Kerguelen until Southampton instead of disembarking in Algeciras, the blog posts I had scheduled for the journey ran out a few days ago. So, you get a bonus blog post about the Suez Canal to keep you entertained while I travel in all possible comfort and luxury. There will of course be a post later about the overall experience onboard the biggest container ship of my long travels.

My Suez experience was suffering a bit from jet lag. We had been catching up to central European time zone since we departed Singapore and had turned the clock back one hour five times in about a week. I was feeling the jet lag and kept waking up around 4 in the morning and not managing to get back to sleep.

We arrived on the Suez south anchorage point sometime on the 10th of June, and stayed there most of the night. Our passage through the canal was due to begin around 4 am, and while I was actually awake at this time I didn’t venture on the bridge. I tried to get back to sleep and must have succeeded at some point as I woke up finally around 8 am.

After a quick wash and some fruit for breakfast I went on the bridge. We had been told we could only stay on the bridge for maximum 5 minutes at a time, but we could walk through it to the side wings, where there would be a good view. There was two of our crew on the bridge and two of the Suez crew, including the pilot. When I got there, we were in the Small Bitter Lake, just about to enter the Great one. I hadn’t really known before that there were lakes in the middle of the transit, but had rather imagined a straight line from south to north. However, the passage on the south side before the lake is very narrow and doesn’t allow ships passing each other, and the convoys departing at either end of the canal are timed so that the ships can pass on the big lake.

I watched on the wings for almost an hour, until I got hungry. We were going very slow, at about 8 knots, and you could hardly feel we were moving. It was very quiet. As the superstructure is toward the front of the ship, and the engine tower toward the back, you can hardly hear the engines from the bridge or the cabins, which is really nice. And even though there were several other container ships before and after us, you couldn’t really hear them either. It was very peaceful.

The passage through the Small Bitter Lake was marked by round concrete lane markers, which I eyed suspiciously and wondered whether they had explosives in them. Perhaps they were just a physical barrier after all. I mean sure, if one of these massive ships would veer off course, they would sweep the markers aside, but they would very quickly run aground.

There were thousands jellyfish in the water, of at least two different species. One bigger, and completely transparent, the other smaller and a smoky blue. I didn’t see any other sea life, but there must have been as there were fishermen using the concrete lane markers as fishing bases. During the early morning the wind was surprisingly cold and there were a few clouds as well, so I was glad of having worn my long sleeved shirt. Update: the jellyfish have become an issue on the north coast of Egypt. I don’t know if it was the species I saw as we went through the canal, but they are taking the same route we did.

The right hand side had only sand, a low stone wall, and regularly spaced watch towers. Egypt on the left side had some buildings and even a few trees with red leaves on the lake shores, and increasingly more signs of habitation later on. There was a road with regular traffic toward the north, and even a railway where we saw a train transporting what looked like hewn stone blocks. I kidded that maybe they were building a new pyramid.

I went on the deck around 11 am. When I got out of the super structure, I saw that there was a guy selling handicrafts! I thought there wouldn’t be due to the highest security level (3 on a scale 1-3). It was a nice surprise and I checked out his wares later, even though there was really no space in my luggage for more souvenirs.

We were making our way north on a newly scooped up passage running parallel to the old one. Below the lakes there was only the old channel, and further north we would join the main channel for a while, but that as well had been widened. I walked around a bit, watching the sand pass us by and at this time I was the only passenger on deck. Now, officially we were not allowed to take photos due to the elevated security level, but I did sneak a few photos on my iPhone. I mean, we weren’t the first to make this transit and there must have been thousands of photos available online of every inch of the canal, right? I avoided taking photos of any military looking installations, though.

After lunch I had a nap and went back out around 2 pm. One of the other passengers was in the bow, on a side platform near the very front where there is a good view over the side of the ship. I stood there chatting for a bit and took some photos with my camera. Then I walked aft, and had some more shots of our wake and the ships following us. A Maersk ship we had seen the previous day on the radar was now behind us. It was almost the same size as our ship so it was fun to see making the same transit.

When I got back to the bow, I first thought the other passenger had gone. But he, and three young Chinese cadets, were all on the scaffolding/walkways which stands behind the passage through from port to starboard but in front of the containers. The two ladders up were a bit daunting, but I made it and the view was worth it. It was out of the sun, with a nice breeze and it was the best spot on the ship.

Soon enough, the remaining two passengers found us as well and climbed onboard. We ended up drinking a bottle of Chardonnay I had bought from the slop chest some days earlier, and some potato chips. It was very pleasant sitting there, watching the canal and drinking wine.

A few kilometres before the ocean, the passage ahead forked. The way directly north would pass by Port Said, but that was only used for ships with a shallower draught. We took the right fork which also lead to the ocean, but a few kilometres east of Port Said. And soon enough we were through to the Mediterranean. We had completed our transit in the foreseen 12 hours, and were right on schedule. It was already cooler, with a nice cool breeze flowing.

I never think about the Mediterranean extending to Africa, but as a European sea, so it felt like coming home.
P.s. I will update this post with more and better quality photos once I get to the UK.

Leave a Reply