Wednesday, 03 April 2019 The Suez Canal
I woke up several times during the night and looked out of the porthole. The Queen Mary was right next to us also waiting to enter the canal. We weren’t moving for some time. In the morning I heard Earl get up and he went on deck to take photos. I could see through the porthole that we were in the Suez.
I got up and showered and when Earl came back we went to have an early breakfast. Val joined us. On and off for the rest of the day we were on Deck 11 watching the different stages of our passage through the Canal. It was very interesting.
Transiting through the canal is not supposed to be the most exciting part of the cruise. But in spite of the limited things to see along the way I was super excited to be there at all. I remember The Six Day War and learning about the importance of the canal at school. I never dreamed that I would actually see it in real life. Most parts are very narrow and the strip of water is in the middle of the desert and that is actually beautiful in itself.
Officially every ship has to use 4 pilots for the transit, although often less are used depending on the transit.
People on the banks of the canal cheered and waved as we passed through. It was really rather festive.
An exciting part of the trip was cruising under the Mumberak Peace Bridge also known as The Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge and the Al Salam Peace Bridge. It crosses at El-Qantara and it links the continents of Africa and Asia.
At 4 we entered the Mediterranean Sea.
Here are some facts about the Suez Canal that I found here.
- Suez Canal opened to traffic in November 1869
- It was built by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps using Egyptian forced labour; an estimated 120,000 workers died during construction
- It stretches 192km (120 miles) between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea
- It is 300m (984ft) wide at its narrowest point
- By 1955 approximately two-thirds of Europe’s oil passed through the canal
- The waterway closed 1967 due to the Six Day War, reopened 1975
- About 7.5% of world sea trade is carried via the canal today
- Receipts from the canal July 2005 to May 2006 totalled $3,246m
- In 2005, 18,193 vessels passed through the canal
The fact about The Six Day War fascinates me the most as I remember this being a big thing for South Africa. It meant that ships had to sail around the Cape again which was good for our economy!
I knew that fourteen ships had been stranded in the Suez for eight years but never knew what happened to them during that time. A little research on the internet brought up a wonderful story about those amazing sailors. The following is a paraphrase from this website
The Six Day War resulted in the Suez Canal being closed for eight years. Fourteen foreign cargo ships (British, American, German, Swedish, Bulgarian, Polish and Czechoslovakian) were trapped in The Bitter Lake for all that time.
These ships clustered together in the middle of the lake and created a sort of ‘country’ of their own. They called themselves “The Yellow Fleet” because of the yellow sand that blew from the banks and settled on the ships. There was little to do but clean and maintain their ships and move about aimlessly to keep the engines tuned.
Each ship had its separate function – The Polish freighter was the post office. The British organised soccer matches. One ship was the hospital and another a movie theatre.
There was only one woman among the crews!
There was nothing for it but to create activities to pass the time. One of things they did was water ski on a surfboard pulled by a life boat!
They also played Bingo and a lot of sport!
The Tokyo Olympics did not go uncelebrated. They had their own mini-Olympics which Poland won.
Christmas saw them installing a floating Christmas tree lowered a piano onto a small boat, which roved around the lake and serenaded each ship.
The Yellow Fleet dubbed themselves the “Great Bitter Lake Association” and made special badges. They even had a club tie.
In 1975, they were finally able to disband and return to their homelands. But by that point, the crew had learned that, no matter your circumstances, home is truly where you make it.