Suez Canal Transit: Can I Call it a Big Ditch?

Cruise Flashback; Galveston to Dubai 2013

Suez Canal, Egypt; May 11, 2013

FEB. 12, 2021, DALLAS – There are two great Canals cutting through continents – the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. They are very different.

To cross between the Caribbean and the Pacific through Panama, you must go through locks that raise and then lower your ship over the hills of Central America. My pre-pandemic plan was to transit the Panama Canal for the first time on Jan. 25 of this year, as part of my 2021 World Cruise. I prepared by reading “The Path Between the Seas,” by David McCullough. It’s a fascinating look at the history of building this great infrastructure. But my 2021 transit wasn’t to be (although faithful readers may recall that my suitcase made the transit on a cargo ship last fall). Now I am booked for two transits through the Panama Canal — on Jan. 24 of 2022 and on Jan. 8 of 2023. We’ll see if either or both occur.

The Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea requires no locks, as there is little elevation change between the two bodies of water. You simply cruise through what essentially is a wide ditch.

Suez Canal, NASA, Public Domain

Our transit in 2013 took most of the day and included a stop of a few hours in the Great Bitter Lake, allowing ships heading north to pass us before we carried on through the one-way channel. The canal authorities opened a second channel a few years later, making the transit faster.

I recall the day being hot with little breeze and even less change in the landscape. In other words, essentially a leisurely sea day spent either in the pool or inside.

Volleyball game during Suez Canal transit, 2013

The Suez Canal separates the more developed Egypt to the west with the desert of the Sinai Peninsula to the east. On one side were lush irrigated fields, villages and small towns, occasional industrial areas and roadways.

Suez Canal Watercolor, 2021

The other side was barren but more interesting. Every kilometer or so was a guard building or small shack. The few men in these lonely outposts stood at the water’s edge or on rooftops. They watched us through binoculars and sometimes held firearms. But mainly they just smiled and waved.

It wasn’t until the canal made a rare slight turn that I could see the entirety of our caravan of ships interspersed with required tugboats.

Turn in Suez Canal, 2013

During a direct watercolor challenge in 2019 I painted the ships behind us as we left the canal in Port Suez. My perspective was a bit off – it looks more like the view from a high-flying drone. But you get the idea.

Suez Canal Watercolor, 2019

Original Suez Canal post, 2013