Day 90 – 3rd April 2020, Suez Canal Transit

42 New Canal convoy astern

I have been through the Panama Canal over a couple dozen times and am still impressed, as it is an engineering wonder, but today was my very first daylight transit of The Suez Canal, or “Ditch through the Desert”.

When it opened in 1869, the canal was 200 to 300 ft wide at the surface, but only 72 ft wide at the bottom, with a depth of 26 ft. Over the years, the canal has been widened and dredged deeper on multiple occasions, with the last project being completed in 2015.

Enjoy the photographs of our transit from South to North.

Pre-amble

During the initial years of operation, numerous ships ran aground, as it was only 72 ft wide at the bottom, so numerous widening projects were completed over the years. By the 1960’s, although it was dredged to about 40 ft, at 33 ft of draft, the channel width had increased to at least 179 ft.

In the mid 1960’s plans were being developed for a further widening, when the Canal shut down in 1976, as a result of the Arab-Israeli War. A number of ships were trapped in the canal for many years, about 15 if memory is correct.

By August 2015, after an $8.5 billion project, the canal was lengthened to 120 mls and a 2nd channel created between the Bitter Lakes and the Bridge, which permits north and south convoys to operate concurrently.

My first transit was southbound on a cargo ship in May 1976, less than a year after it re-opened. This was a night time transit, so as cadet, my job was to keep the searchlight trained on the stbd bank. The next transit was our 2015 WC, which should have been Northbound in daylight, but construction delays meant we went through at night.

01 Approaching entrance to Suez Canal

Navigating in the buoyed channel approaching the canal entrance

The Northbound convoy commences at 04:00, so right on time, we were awakened by weighing anchor (raising the anchor). Once the anchor is aweigh, the ship is navigated to the entrance of the buoyed approach channel.

02 Entering Suez Canal

On final approach, lined up for the entrance to the canal

At a distance, the entrance is readily identified by the shipyard, with floating drydock and large crane.

03Entered canal and passing the apartments

Entered the Canal and passing the housing estate to Port

Must be fun living in this area, with ships passing almost 24/7, with the start of the morning convoy starting about 05:00. Viking Sun was the lead ship in our convoy, as we had no warships today. The CMV Columbus was next, then 7 other cargo ships. Convoys are created with warships having first priority, followed by cruise ships, container ships then other cargo ships/tankers, etc.

04 Entering Suez appartments next to canal

Houses along the Canal entrance

05 Entering Suez Canal Mosque

Mosque among the houses at the canal entrance

We passed the housing estate, then a small boat basin, before reaching the first bend in the canal, which was a very wide and gradual turn.

06 Approaching first bend

Rounding the first bend in the Canal

Since the entire Canal is only crossed by 1 tunnel, 1 bridge and a number of tiny ferries, the pontoons seen below are a very common sight in multiple locations along the entire length of the canal.

07 Bailly bridge pontoons

Pontoons can be launched to create a floating Bailey Bridge across the canal

Can only assume these are to facilitate the crossing of military equipment and troops across the Canal, should the need arise.

08 After rounding the first bend

Approaching the power cable crossing

09 First straight passing under power lines

Passing under the power cables, lots of clearance

10 Armed soldiers atop a berm

Armed soldier atop the berm – in fact their were 3 soldiers along the fairly short berm

In addition to this berm, they have guard towers along almost the entire length of the canal, probably 1/4 to 1/2 miles apart. They are all manned by armed soldiers.

15 Guard towers all manned

One of many guard towers

11 First straight about half way down

Cleared the power cables and about 1/2 way down the first straight

12 Approaching end of first straight

Approaching the end of the first straight

12A Strong flood tide with us

Tell tale sign that the canal is tidal

Between the southern entrance and the Great Bitter Lakes, the canal is tidal. The buoy shows a clear indication of the tidal stream, which was flooding, or going with us.

13 Lush vegetation on West side

Once of many instances of lush vegetation on the West bank of the canal

Looking ahead, you are amazed by the contrasting sides of the canal. The Port, or West side is mostly irrigated with lush vegetation, while the Stbd side, or East side is barren desert.

13A Lush vegetation on West side 2

Another sight of the lush vegetation on the West bank

14 East side of canal barren desert

Barren desert on Stbd side or East bank

In addition to the pontoons ready for launching, the Egyptians have recently developed new technology and pre-built floating pontoon bridges, which are docked along the canal bank. When required, the entire structure is towed into place across the canal.

16 Bailly bridge pre-built

On of the new floating pontoon bridges

17 Entering last straight before lakes

Entering the final straight before Great Bitter Lakes

18 Final straight before lakes 2

About 1/2 way along final straight before the Lakes

19 Approach Great Bitter Lakes

Approaching the Bitter Lakes

The Great Bitter Lakes is a common anchorage for both Northbound and Southbound convoys, as the approach channel is only single lane. Therefore, a S’bd convoy will have navigated South to the Lakes and anchored, while our N’bd Convoy passes them in the Lakes. Once the N’bd convoy is clear, the anchored ships will resume their transit.

20 Entering Great Bitter Lakes 2

Entering the Bitter Lakes

21 Great Bitter Lakes looking astern

Entering Bitter Lakes looking astern at following convoy

The next few photos show us navigating through the Great Bitter Lake, which is many miles wide.

22 Great Bitter Lakes 324 Bitter Lakes app 1st turn25 Bitter lakes open water26 Bitter Lakes S'bd Convoy anchored27 Bitter Lakes approaching the end28 Bitter Lakes sandbar

I watched most of the transit from our balcony on Deck 4, which is 2 decks below the Bridge. While transitting the Lakes, I spotted one of the Bridge Lookouts

23 Bridge team in protective gear due to pilot

Bridge Lookout in protective gear

Since the vessel required a Suez Canal Pilot on the Bridge, the Master operated the Bridge with a bridge team in full protection equipment, with gloves and masks, to limit the potential of them catching any virus. Once the pilot disembarked, the Bridge was thoroughly disinfected and those on the Bridge entered quarantine in their cabins. The Staff Captain and remaining Deck Officers, not on the Bridge in Suez are now conning the ship.

This is one of many measures being taken to ensure this vessel remains healthy.

29 New Canal approaching

Approaching the end of Great Bitter Lake

Above is the result of the Canal Authority’s last major capital project, the creation of a 2nd channel. The original single channel was only wide enough for 1 ship, so all passing was completed in the lakes or passing bays. By creating a new 22 mile long channel, N’bd and S’bd convoys can operate concurrently.

30 New Canal entering wide angle

Approaching the Canal at end of Great Bitter Lake

As seen above, the new channel is to Stbd and it opened in August 2015.

31 New Canal just entered with pontoon at original canal

At the beginning of the double lane, the median is low and narrow

32 New Canal just entered

Entering the new channel

33 New Canal pre-built bailey bridge

Floating bailey style bridge for new canal

34 New Canal road for military vehicles to cross

Road across the median with dock for the pontoon bridge

35 New Canal transit 1

Navigating N’bd in the new channel

When digging out the new channel, the sand was simply piled up on both sides, so no doubt it gets blown back into the channel, requiring frequent dredging.

36 New Canal one of the connections between canals

One of many cross connecting channels, suitable for small boats

37 New Canal Sbd ship in other canal

S’bd convoy operating concurrently with our N’bd convoy

Having 2 lanes for concurrent N’bd and S’Bd convoys has significantly increased the canal’s capacity. Seen above is one of the S’bd ships.

38 New Canal some of extensive construction of East side

East shore still barren, but experiencing significant construction

Next few photos show the transit through the new Canal.

39 New Canal transit 440 New Canal transit 7

41 New Canal transit 9

Another cross-connection between the 2 channels

42 New Canal convoy astern

Looking aft at CMV Columbus

43 New Canal transit 11

2 ships in S’bd Convoy + one of the dredges

43A Suez Canal dredge

1 of 2 Suez Canal dredges we passed

44 New Canal bulker s'bd

Passing a bulker from the S’bd convoy

45 New Canal & original

End of new channel, looking astern

46 New Canal transit 14

Entering the original canal, just South of the bridge

Since the bridge only has 1 main navigable section, I doubt whether they will be able to double the canal through the bridge. If they eventually succeed, it will require some extensive modifications to the bridge.

Next few photos show the approach to the bridge.

47 New Canal transit 15 with Bridge

50 Original approach Bridge51 Original approach Bridge 2

52 Original approach Bridge 4

Passing under bridge with lots of clearance

The Murbarak Peace or Al Salam Bridge is for cars, but when we crossed below it was completely empty – no traffic. This is considered as the bridge that joins Africa and Asia.

48 New canal fishermen in small boats

Throughout the canal we spotted lots of small fish boats using drift nets

North of the bridge, the canal is almost straight for 20+ miles, as it heads to Port Said or the new exit channel.

The next few photos show the transit through the original canal.

53 Original city on West bank by bridge54 Original pontoons ready for launch55 Original ferry ready to depart once we pass55 Original pre-built pontoon ready for use56 Original west bank homes57 Original transit 158 Original transit 4

To reduce the traffic through Port Said, they have built a new exit channel.

59 New exit channel

Original canal went straight ahead, with new exit channel to the right

60 New exit channel 2

While fairly wide, since it is so new it is barren on both banks

61 New exit channel 4

Approaching the end, The Meddy is in sight

62 New exit channel dredge and container port

Container port and another dredge at the entrance

63 New exit channel pilot boat approaching

Pilot boat approaching to take the pilot off the ship

64 New exit channel app breakwater 2

Breakwaters protecting the north entrance to the canal

66 Suez Canal exit

Canal exit with small beach

Our transit north was continuous, as we didn’t have to anchor waiting for the Southbound convoy to clear, so we completed the transit in about 10 hours from entrance to exit, or 12 hours, if also considering the buoyed approach channels.

17 thoughts on “Day 90 – 3rd April 2020, Suez Canal Transit

  1. Fascinating, informative and a great post! Like you in the original normal time we would have missed this crossing since we would have taken the 4 day overland tour. Now unexpectedly you have crossed the canal at daytime and thanks to your detailed narrative and photos I felt we have crossed the canal with you.
    Thank you Andy for taking the time and allowing us to cruise with you. Wishing you and Judi continued good health as well as the Officers and the Crew of Viking Sun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mona Liza – affirmative, had the cruise continued per the schedule, we would have missed the Canal, as we would be on the 4-day overland with you & Steve.

      Still would rather have got ashore to Luxor & Giza. Oh well, next time.

      Like

  2. Thank you for the story and letting us be apart of your trip through the Suez Canal. The pictures were amazing. This makes me wish I was still on board.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the continuing commentary on the voyage. I’ve only been through the Canal once before, your narrative and photographs brought it all back. I hope you get to see some dolphins in the Med. Common and Striped are the most likely.

    Like

    • Thanks Robin – watched for them in the canal, but nothing. So far in the Meddy it has been rather windy & choppy, as we passed through a low pressure. If it calms down hopefully we will see some.

      Like

    • Thanks Ingrid. Ten hours is a really quick transit, as if Al went through Suez in his Navy days he probably had to anchor, taking up to 18 hrs.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Hoping all is well in Arizona.

      Like

      • Once Al got his wings flying on/off a aircraft carrier, he didn’t spend much time shipboard and never deployed to the Middle East area. He spent his time either in CA, Adak Alaska, or Asia flying P-3’s.
        We are doing great. Thank you for your thoughts. Again, fascinating post!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for this interesting journey in pictures! I have never done this and was looking forward to do it! But we had to leave in Dubai.
      Sorry we missed it. We Swedish people living on Malta in the Mediterranean Sea were not allowed to disembark, when Viking Sun will pass Malta, as the harbours here on Malta are shut for ships now.
      However a Maltese couple in the ship Columbus behind you will disembark in Malta. First the Public Health Superintendent refused them but had to reconsider. The couple wrote an open letter to the Public Health Superintendent. The letter was published in Facebook and two papers on Malta. Prime minister and transport minister intervened in the case, due to humanitarian grounds. The couple, both 70, are not infected by the Corona virus but fear that the extended voyage to England, where they would then have to get a repatriation flight home to Malta, will put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.
      Have a healthy trip to Lisboa and on to your home!

      Like

      • Thanks for the information on why the Columbus is heading to Malta. I noted her destination on AIS and figured it was for a technical stop. Our stop in Lisbon is only for bunkers and stores, so we hope to disembark in Portsmouth, UK.

        Like

  4. Fantastic pictures and description. Thank you Andy for keeping us informed along your journey. Hope you and Judi, your fellow Canadians and all the staff and crew remain healthy for the remainder of your voyage.

    Like

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