The Suez Canal

Wednesday 22 April

The day got off to a slow start. We woke to the thump of tug boat engines and the squawking of gulls. After coffee and breakfast (the last mini melon) the skipper called port control; call back after 08:30. Over the buildings to the east of our anchorage we could see the northbound convoy on the move, ships dwarfing everything.

The Suez has no locks, it passes through one lake, Great Bitter Lake and is just over 100 nautical miles (193km) long. Though there are stretches of single channel, the canal has in recent years been expanded to create a second channel to enable ships to pass. Apparently there are usually three convoys a day, two southbound and one northbound, the latter starting around 04:00. We will ultimately be tagging along at the back of the northbound convoy as far as Ismailia on Lake Timsah, not quite halfway.

At some later date Temptress will complete her northbound transit when we’ve worked out where to go next. There is an excellent diagram of the canal layout on this Wikipedia page (scroll down to layout and operation) showing the two bridges, one for road traffic the other rail, the tunnel and the power lines. The air draft is in metres what Temptress’ is in feet so we have no worries on that score!

At both Port Tawfik at the southern end and Ismailia there are yacht moorings. It’s at the first of these that Temptress will be measured so that the charges for her transit can be settled upon.

Whilst waiting, I set the bread to rise. It’ll go in the oven when we reach the moorings. I make a loaf using three cups of flour every three or four days depending on whether we also have any alternatives open like wraps (all the dozen packs we brought in Langkawi have long been used up), crisp breads or cream crackers. Having a variety makes lunches and breakfasts more interesting!

Whilst waiting we listened, fascinated by the exchanges; one tanker trying to explain his cargo of palm oil and coconut oil was not dangerous! Then we heard Bird of Passage calling but being ignored. At 08:30 Kevin also tried to call but could not raise a response. So we left for the yacht club.

Behind the wall had been quiet and peaceful, the other side it was blowing from the south enough to whip up a chop. As Temptress turned north into the canal the wind picked up a notch and by the time the moorings were reached it was 25 knots gusting more straight round the corner from the canal. Stupidly we had not thought things through beforehand so had only one long line in the cockpit. It took a few attempts to get it on and back to the boat even with the marina tender in attendance and another yachtie in that boat helping out. Eventually we were settled with two long lines off the stern and the storm warp cum anchor warp plus the long line from the cockpit locker on the bow.

Forms were filled, gas bottles sent off, fuel order confirmed, cash handed over (our last but we have a plan) and food delivered. Again the latter was not exactly what we expected but its food so we won’t go hungry, most disappointing were the things missing like cabbage, green beans, cauliflower and chickpeas. However my request for a carton of yoghurt had interesting results, the fridge is now stacked high with three dozen, may be more little pots. Guess what we will be eating for breakfast for the next few weeks! Small melons resulted in two footballs, we will donate one to Silver Tern and three bunches of herbs morphed into a whole carrier bag full so more pesto will be made! Today’s forgotten loaf turned out well though, neglecting the dough whilst rising seems to work. And the hard cheese I requested is excellent; two types both pre sliced and very tasty as we found at lunch time.

Then the wind got up again. Another few hours with winds ten knots or more higher than predicted. Kevin lifted the anchor off the bowroller so it no longer caught on the mooring lines as we sway sideways in the gusts. Captain Heebi says the canal is closed for navigation on Friday due to high winds (40 knots was mentioned), so looks likely we will be making the first leg of our transit early tomorrow morning if the paperwork can be completed in time. Apparently a canal official has to measure the boat before our canal measurements can be entered into the system as it’s the first time we have transited. Also the fees we pay are for a return trip, not that we will be returning anytime soon!

The late afternoon was calmer. Two more boats arrived; Oddity who we left in the anchorage off Ras Abu Sawmah and a catamaran we don’t know Munchauzen. So including Bird of Passage who arrived just prior to us this morning, Ariel who has been here for a few days and intends to spend a month on the moorings, plus an enormous ketch rigged catamaran we haven’t identified, there are now seven boats here. The yacht club manager is competing with Captain Heebi for our money but as we have little cash and it’s all committed to the Captain’s services he is a bit disappointed with us. Still he’s friendly enough and cheeky too, asking if we have a boat shirt for a friend. The gas bottles and jerrycans were swiftly filled and returned to us, the bags of garbage taken ashore, all services to be paid for.

The southbound ships pass the end of the yacht club basin; early afternoon it was a procession of container ships, later tankers and by four pm, gas carriers. It’s fascinating watching, ‘Transit-Vision’; the pilot is taken off by the launch hovering at the end of our moorings then the ships head out into the Red Sea. In between the big ships, tugs large and small and even a small Egyptian naval vessel pass southwards. Kevin counted the visible containers aboard one ship, thirty stacks along its length, twenty across the beam, stacked eight high. That’s an huge amount of goods being shipped. Later the animal ships, a few smelling of sheep followed by one distinctly bovine.

Early evening as we finished off the last of the rum with Jules in a mini celebration. As the sun set, quarantine came by to measure our temperature and a two page form in Arabic and English to record amongst other things that we had had no burials at sea or crew prostrate from fever since leaving Djibouti. I offered our Indonesian Green (Health) Book but it was declined! And after supper our passports were returned, visa-less by immigration. Not certain why they bothered as we aren’t allowed to enter the country given the current situation anyway. I washed my hands thoroughly after handling the passports, they can stay on the chart table for a day or so; will that make them virus free? Our fear is more of them transmitting something to us but the officials don’t see it that way. And then the wind came back, this time from the north. This crazy place only has extremes, flat calm or 25 knots. And by nine pm it’s calm enough again for the mosquitoes to come buzzing out to bite us. Argh!

We still don’t know when we will transit, definitely not tomorrow, may be Friday (the weather closure seems to have vanished), or may be Saturday. We believe any delay beyond 48 hours now means that the canal will pick up the extra mooring charges not us. We are in Captain Heebi’s hands.


  1. Hi there. This is making very interesting reading and as I know your information will be correct, Susie, some of the information will be part of tomorrow night’s Zoom quiz. Keep up the great progress.


  2. Ship watching. Loved it. Stay a while. Be certain of the engine. At least now you can relax. First leg of the canal is the toughest. Have long lines ready for the canal. Boyo boyo you’ve done well. It’s a pleasure from here. Crate of beer cheaper from the dodgy guy than anywhere in Europe.


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