Day 17: Sailing the Suez Canal on Holland America ms Rotterdam

ms Rotterdam sailing the Suez Canal

Day 17: Sailing the Suez Canal on Holland America ms Rotterdam

Holland America Africa Explorer Cruise – 49 Days from Rotterdam to Cape Town

Date: Monday October 13, 2014

Weather Forecast: Sunny; 22 C/71 F

Sailing Through the Suez Canal – from Port Said to the Red Sea

Dress Code: Smart Casual

Location Information:

The Suez Canal shortens the journey for ships travelling between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea anywhere from 7 to 11 days compared to going completely around Africa. Port Said, Egypt is the northern-most port (at the Mediterranean entrance) and Suez City, Egypt (at the Red Sea) is the southern entry for the canal – splitting Egypt in two. Construction of the 102-mile canal was between 1859 and 1869, and consists of both man-made canals and existing bodies of water. Approximately 18,000 ships (50 per day) go through the canal and the annual toll collection is US$5 billion. The Suez Canal does not have locks as it is at similar sea depths to the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea.

Jill on ms Rotterdam in the Bitter Lakes

Suez Canal Details:

  • 24 meters deep, 200 meters wide, 102 miles long
  • The Suez Canal is too narrow at the sea floor (60 meters) to allow one ship at a time
  • There are no locks
  • Passage takes between 12-16 hours (dependent on wait times)
  • Ships travel in northbound and southbound convoys (30-40 ships) each day at fixed times (2 southbound convoys – midnight and 07:00; 1 northbound convoy – 06:00)
  • There are 3 bypass points (2 of them are also waiting points): Port Said to first bypass point = approximately 30 miles; bypass to Ismaila = approximately 12 miles; Ismaila to Great Bitter Lake = approximately 15 miles
  • Ismaila is the half-way point and there is a small lake where 5-6 ships can wait (Former President Mubarak’s summer house is also at Ismaila)
  • The main holding point is the Great Bitter Lake to allow the northbound convoy to pass (distance from Great Bitter Lake to Suez City is approximately 35 miles)
  • Tolls are calculated for each vessel – tonnage being the largest factor. (We were told that the cost for ms Rotterdam to sail through the canal for this voyage was US$300,000)
  • Under international treaty the canal may be used by any flagged vessel in times of war or peace
  • The canal is owned by the Suez Canal Agency (SCA) in Egypt
  • There are plans for the construction of a second canal (45 miles long) that will run parallel to the current canal, double capacity and reduce wait and transit times
  • The new canal should be completed in 2-5 years

Ships waiting in the Bitter Lakes to enter the Suez Canal

WJs Day:

Today the culinary team on ms Rotterdam had prepared an Egyptian-style breakfast in one station of the Lido. It was wonderful and a terrific way to safely sample Egyptian food. Some of the dishes were Foul medames, Koushari and Tameya (falafel).

With our departure from Port Said being pushed to an earlier time last night, we had missed quite a bit of the transit and ms Rotterdam was waiting for the southbound convoy in the Great Bitter Lake when we woke.

Fishermen in the Bitter Lakes

Cargo ship sailing the Suez Canal

Military compound along the Suez Canal

At various times throughout the day, Location Guide KK, gave fascinating commentary while we cruised the Suez Canal – informative details on the history of the canal as well as the sights along the way. It was difficult to drag ourselves away from the Crow’s Nest – where we had fantastic views of the happenings along the canal (complete with Egyptian army compounds in many areas).

Egyptian military along the Suez Canal

Mosque in Suez, Egypt

ms Rotterdam leaves the Suez Canal and enters the Red Gulf

ms Rotterdam sails past Suez

Dinner at Canaletto:

For dinner we went to Canaletto to sample their new menu – which was divine! The emphasis is on sharing (family-style) plates – which we love to do whenever possible.

Salumi at Canaletto

Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella at Canaletto

We started with the Small Plates – Salumi (prosciutto, coppa, grizzini, shaved pecorino and assorted olives), Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella (with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, tomato with balsamic Saba reduction), and a half-order of Rigatoni (Italian sausage, Kalamata olives and spicy tomato sauce).

Rigatoni at Canaletto

Next we ordered from the Large Plates – Potato Gnocchi (braised beef short rib, mascarpone, butter roasted carrots and celery), Sautéed Veal Piccata (lemon angel hair, capers, kale crisps).

Gnocchi with Braised Short Rib at Canaletto

Sauteed Veal Piccata at Canaletto

Dessert was also a huge hit and we realized we ordered way too much (desserts are also portioned for sharing). The Tiramisu is our most favorite Canaletto dessert, but the Torta Al Cacao (with walnut praline and vanilla bean gelato) was also delicious.

Tiramisu at Canaletto

Torta Al Cacao at Canaletto

The $10 per person surcharge for dinner at Canaletto is definitely worth it!

Tonight’s entertainment in the Showroom at Sea was called “Variations” by the Rotterdam Singers and Dancers.

Next – Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt

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