April 21, 2010
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Victoria
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 173 days
Although Queen Victoria is approaching the end of her 2010 World voyage and preparing to meet her big sister in Southampton tomorrow, this Blog is going back to last week when she transited the Suez Canal for the third time. Just two days earlier we had visited the port city of Aqaba where over half the ship’s guests and many of her crew had been to the historic city of Petra. I was lucky enough to go there last year and you can read more about that, as well as our 2009 transit of the Suez Canal on this link:-
When we arrived at Port Suez, it was a very early start for many of our Officers and Crew as Queen Victoria made her approaches at about 3:30am. We had about 450 guests, who were taking a very special tour to Cairo and the iconic Pyramids, before rejoining the ship in Port Said later that day. That reminds me of the very old joke of a day when a guest asks a crew member where the bathrooms were; “Port Side” said the crew member. “Oh I don’t think I can wait that long” replied a perplexed guest!
Anyway, back on board our guests were taken ashore in the ships tenders to join a road convoy to Cairo, while Queen Victoria weighed anchor and headed to the entrance of the Canal at about 6.00am.
About 8% of the world shipping traffic goes through this canal, which unlike the Panama Canal has no locks. The terrain through which the canal passes is flat, and the minor difference in sea level at the ends is easily coped with through the length of the canal. There is just one shipping lane but it has several passing areas, so on a typical day, three convoys transit the canal, two southbound and one northbound. The first southbound convoy enters the canal in the early morning hours and proceeds to the Great Bitter Lake, where the ships anchor out of the fairway and await the passage of the northbound convoy. The northbound convoy, which we were a part of, starts shortly after 6:00am and then passes the second southbound convoy, which moors to the canal bank in a by-pass, in the vicinity of El Qantara.
Although there is not as much to see as there is on a Panama Canal Transit, it’s still a good day to be out on deck and watch the goings on along the canal bank, which often isn’t much more than a few fisherman looking for their daily catch.
You can get to see quite a few army bases along the way, although we seemed to be more interested in them than they were in us!
The convoy sails at a set speed of around 8 knots and this low speed helps prevent erosion of the canal banks by ship’s wakes. Historically there has been quite a bit of conflict in the area, and some of the scars remain in the form of metal strewn along sections of the canal bank.
By 8:00am we were through the Little Bitter Lake and heading to the Great Bitter Lake, and then by 11:30am we were just over half way through our transit as we passed Ismailia on the west side. On the East Bank of the Canal is the memorial of 6 October, 1973 which was inaugurated on 5 October, 1992 and was modeled after a Bayonet.
There are only a few crossing places on the canal, most of which are simply small ferries connecting roads on one side to the other, such as this one where the ferry slips in between the convoy where it can.
The Ahmed Hamdi tunnel south of the Great Bitter Lake was built in 1983, but because of leakage problems, a new watertight tunnel has now been fitted inside the old one. The El Derdan Railway Bridge twenty miles north of Ismailia was completed in 2001 and is the longest swing span bridge in the world, with a span of 340 metres (1100 feet). It’s certainly an impressive feat of engineering.
The Suez Canal Bridge which is also called the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge is a high-level road bridge at El Qantra. In Arabic, al qantara means “the bridge”.
It’s a very impressive structure with its 70-metre (230 ft) clearance over the canal, which left about 14 metres for Queen Victoria to pass beneath it.
Two hours later Queen Victoria took the western route of the canal rather than the eastern bypass channel, which is used by most of the traffic heading to the Mediterranean Sea. But we were heading to Port Said, so our guests on tour could rejoin the ship. When we arrived, guests had enough time to look along the quayside for some souvenirs just before our other guests returned. It was getting a little chilly (certainly not as warm as we were used to), so along with the welcoming team of Hotel and Entertainment Staff, there was some hot Chocolate waiting for them.
Later that evening, I met up with Elaine Reed, who told me that she had taken an overland trip from Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo. On the way she had managed to follow Queen Victoria along a road parallel to the Suez Canal, and took some pictures from their car.
What a great sight Queen Victoria is, although certainly very different pictures than we would normally see. Here’s another great photo from Elaine, this time of Queen Victoria passing under the El Qantra Bridge.
Thank you again to Elaine for these stunning and unusual pictures. That’s it for today but I’ll be back tomorrow with news of Queen Mary 2’s recent star of the month and then next week with some final pictures of both our Queens Celebrating the last days of their 2010 World Voyages. Cheers for now Alastair.