In my last two posts, W1702 – Pirate precautions and W1702 – Salalah Souq, I described the extra security measures being taken on board while we sailed the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and our visit to Salalah in Oman. As we neared our next port of call, Safaga in Egypt, the Captain announced that we were out of the danger area for pirates, and that the measures were no longer required and would be removed. It was also revealed that two fake machine guns had been installed on the crew deck at the stern of the ship, and we got to see one of them:
We arrived in Safaga very early in the morning, and for once I decided to have a lie in and not go up on deck to watch us sail into port. When I did get myself up on deck later, I was very underwhelmed at our surroundings, and was glad I had voted for sleep! We were moored alongside a crumbling cement works, which made for some very non-scenic viewing:
Carol and her Aunt Annie were especially impressed with the view outside their cabin:
As I have probably mentioned in a previous post, I booked my shore tours at home, long before we set sail from Southampton on this epic voyage. There were two countries that I declined to book tours in, Oman and Egypt, as I felt very unsure about the security there, and wanted to wait until we were nearly there to assess whether going ashore in these countries would be safe. For Oman I did think it would be safe, and Carol and I enjoyed the tour ashore we made in Salalah.
However Egypt was a different story, and I did not want to book tours in two of the three Egyptian ports we were due to visit, Safaga and Alexandria. In the third port, Sharm El Sheikh, I did slightly nervously book a tour on a glass-bottomed boat along with several other people on my dinner table, although Carol said she had a bad feeling about Sharm El Sheikh and refused to book the tour.
This apprehension proved to be well founded when the Captain announced that due to an increased security warning level in Sharm El Sheikh, our visit there was cancelled, and instead we would stay on overnight in Safaga.
Carol and I, along with quite a proportion of the other passengers, remained on board ship throughout our stay in Safaga. Many of those who did brave it ashore were on a marathon 13 hour tour to the Valley of the Kings, which involved a four hour coach drive in each direction to get there – too much of an ordeal for me quite apart from the security problems.
When we set sail the following morning, we had an even clearer view of the cement works, but we did also get to see some slightly more scenic views of the port:
We could also see just how busy a ferry port it was:
We spent that day sailing north up the Red Sea and then the Gulf of Suez towards the Suez Canal. The Captain had announced that we would arrive there around 10pm and anchor up, and that we were due to join a convoy of ship’s sailing north through the canal around 4am.
The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It was constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, officially opening on the 17th November 1869. The canal offers a considerably shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans – by sailing via the Mediterranean and Red seas and avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans, the journey is reduced by approximately 7,000 kilometres or 4,300 miles. Unlike the Panama Canal, which we traversed much earlier in the cruise (see W1702 – A man, a plan), the Suez Canal contains no locks, and sea water can flow freely from on end to the other.
The Suez Canal was originally constructed with just one lane, convoys of ship’s alternately sailing in one direction or the other, with just two passing places at the Ballah Bypass and the Great Bitter Lake. In August 2014, construction work began to expand and widen the Ballah Bypass for 35 km to speed up the transit time for the canal. This expansion was planned to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day, and opened on the 6th August 2015 at a cost of $8.4 billion.
That afternoon news broke of the awful terrorist attacks in Alexandria and north of Cairo, and just before dinner the Captain came back on the tannoy to announce that in the circumstances our planned visit to Alexandria was under review. Urgent telephone conferences were planned with the company head offices, and a decision would be announced the following day.
Speculation was rife amongst the passengers as to what will happen, everyone thinking it very unlikely we would still go to Alexandria, especially when the State of Emergency was declared in the country. Some thought, or maybe hoped, that we would go to Crete instead, I thought it more likely we would get an additional day in our next planned port, Valletta in Malta.
I got up very early the following morning to watch and photograph our passage through the Suez Canal. I arrived on deck just as we were completing the passage of the shorter southern section, and were about to enter the Great Bitter Lake:
Carol and I went back on deck to watch as we sailed most of the much longer northern section. Once again we were in convoy, with a warship ahead of us, and a car carrier then other merchant astern of us:
As we travelled along there was endless sand on both banks, occasionally broken up by a road crossing with a vehicle ferry waiting for us to pass on one of the banks:
Eventually we came to where a new town has been constructed on the eastern bank:
Shortly afterwards we passed several monuments to the canal and those who built it on both banks of the canal:
A while later we reached the Mubarak Peace Bridge, which crosses the canal on the outskirts of the city of El Qantara. The bridge, also known as the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, was built by a Japanese company, and 60% of it’s cost was paid for by a grant from the Japanese Government. Construction started in 1995, and it was opened on the 9th of October 2001. The bridge has a 400-metre cable-stayed main span and two 1.8-kilometre long approach spans, and is 70 metres high.
Sailing through El Qantara we did get to see a little of what an Egyptian city was like – we were in the strange situation of having almost visited Egypt – we had been in one of it’s ports and sailed through it’s canal, but never set foot on it’s land!
It was then time for the Captain’s noon report, and as expected he announced our visit to Alexandria was cancelled. To my surprise, and the delight of virtually everyone, we would indeed be making a visit to the port of Heraklion in Crete following a day at sea instead. Our visit to Malta later in the week would remain unaffected by this change. Just an hour later we could book shore tours in Crete, showing hard and fast the planning work must have been in the previous few hours. My adventures in Crete will be the subject of my next post.
Postscript: The evening we were in Safaga, it was designated ‘Arabic Night’, and some of the passengers and crew were suitably attired: