When we began watching at 5 a.m., our ship was already moving slow and easy. It was windy and cold and that woke us up to see the event we had never experienced. Lights were bright and beautiful on both sides in the dark.
But, thirty minutes later, we couldn’t see a thing. It was total white out. The white out continued for several hours and we didn’t think it would ever end or we would ever get to enjoy the experience we had wanted to do for a lifetime.
The white out was fog/smog/pollution and we watched our ship sail right into it as the white out covered the entire area. It was scary going into total white out because we couldn’t see where we were or get any idea of what was going on around us. We didn’t know where we were but Capitan Betten and that Suez Canal pilot on board did. Several times the Seabourn Ovation had to blow it’s horn to warn other ships of it’s position so others wouldn’t hit us during this total white out.
Then the white out started to slowly disappear and a sliver of our dream we thought could come true. Finally, 2 hours later, there was a beautiful blue sky, bright sun and the water appeared.
We could see our dream come true as we were transiting the Suez Canal that goes through Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea with Captain Stig Betten of Norway at the helm. But it looked like a river it was so wide (673 feet wide/205 meters).
The sights and sounds of the Canal were enjoyable for the entire 120 miles through Egypt like: the call to prayer for the Muslims, a train moving down its track, a pickup truck full of workers waving and hollering at us as they passed, military outposts along the Canal, lights shining brightly through the windows of the houses in the villages,
people going about their daily chores,
children playing, fishermen fishing from their tiny boat close to us, a ferry carrying vehicles across the canal, and a crane worker moving sand from the Sinai Desert into a dump truck.
Due to the design of the Canal, the Seabourn Ovation had to arrive at the entrance in the Mediterranean Sea by 11p.m.the night before our transit. “When we arrived, the Suez Canal Authority told us where we could anchor and wait with all the other vessels scheduled to transit southbound with us. A group at a time goes through the Canal in convoy northbound or southbound as the Canal has one lane, then 2 lanes, then one lane and the Canal traffic cannot meet when there is only one lane,” Captain Betten explained.
Seabourn Ovation could only go 8.6 knots speed limit for the entire 120 mile length of the Canal or be fined a hefty fee because vessels cannot meet at the one-lane sections of the Canal. And for the right to transit the Suez, ships must pay depending on the size and number of guests on board,” Captain Betten said.
In 2014, a second lane was added over the central 45 mile section of the Canal. “It was severely challenging with only one lane,” the Captain complained. As a result, wider vessels can transit and the number of ships increased from 49 to 97. The expansion also reduces the transit time. It used to take the Seabourn Ovation 16-18 hours. Now, with the new improvements, it takes only 12 hours.
When the Seabourn Ovation began the transit through the Canal, Captain Betten was in the bridge almost 24 hours supervising all the procedures and formalities necessary to go through the Canal. “Correct documents had to be presented and approved and if they were not, the transit would be delayed until all had met the Egyptian rules and regulations, many of which are still performed the same way as many years ago,” the captain explained.
Seabourn Ovation took 3 Suez pilots onboard who knew the route through the Canal. “These pilots may and may not take control of the ship but the Captain is always responsible, and has absolute authority on the ship every minute. They advised our officers at the helm how to con (drive) the ship through the Canal,” Captain Bitten pointed out.
The first pilot came from outside the Canal about 3:30 a.m. When he left, another pilot took the ship through Port Said and into the Canal until 10 p.m., and when he finished, a third pilot took the ship from 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. when it exited the Suez Canal. And when the pilot left, the Seabourn Ovation was then free to proceed on.
Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway running north-south across the Isthmus of Suez. It is an open-cut, and, through extensive straight lengths occur, there are eight major bends. The Canal connects 4 lakes to make the Canal: Lake Manzala, Lake Timsah, Great Bitter Lake, and Little Bitter Lake. It is 79 feet deep/24 meters and 120 miles long/193.30 km.
Comparing the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal is like two opposites. The Panama is controlled with locks, is organized, has tug boats to help guide each ship, has “mule” machines that pull a ship through the canal, and has pilots who take absolute control of the ship by conning the ship through the Canal. It is 48 miles long (77.1km) and locks are 110 feet wide and 1050 feet long in the original Canal. When through the last lock, the pilot releases the ship to proceed on its own. Both Canals collect billions of US dollars each year and the revenue has increased since the addition of the second Canal built parallel to the original Canal.
When we began watching the Seabourn Ovation at 5 a.m. go through the Suez Canal, we only could see for 30 minutes and then it was solid white and the ship was blowing its horn to show its location. But a few hours later, we were blowing our horn in total celebration of finally getting to transit it, for the experience was another outstanding one for us and our travels in this magnificent world. Photo Copy © 2018 carolyntravels.com Photo Copy © 2018 carolyntravels.com