Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Suez Canal

(This is all from memory. Any difference between what I remember and how things are is what it is. Suck it up.)

You've probably read about the M/V Ever Given getting stuck in the Suzed Canal just north of the Red Sea.

The Suez Canal was closed for eight years following the Six Day War, both by ships and bridges destroyed and by mines. Several ships were stuck there (the Yellow Fleet). After the Yom Kippur War, by international agreement, the wreckage and mines were cleared and the Canal was reopened. The first convoy through was largely ceremonial. By tradition, transiting warships lead every convoy. For the ceremonial convoy, the first ship was an Egyptian destroyer. The second ship was the heavy cruiser USS Little Rock, which was a bit of a shock to the Soviet Navy officers there. The USSR regarded Egypt as a near-client state, but it hadn't been the Russians who cleared the Canal of ordnance. When a reporter asked a Russian officer the name of the American warship, he said "the USS Surprise".

Convoys, led by any transiting warhip(s), assemble off Port Said in the Med and Port Suez in the Red Sea. The southbound convoy starts first and sails through the northern part of the canal to the Great Bitter Lake. That convoy anchors there for several hours while the northbound convoy passes by. Then the southbound convoy weighs anchor and finishes the transit.

So this is no shit:

There was an American warship which was transiting south. The first thing that went wrong was that the Captain got confused as to when the ship should enter the Canal. The entrance to the Canal at Port Said was lined with stone seawalls that extended about three miles into the Med. The ship entered the entrance and was ordered to get the fuck back out, as the northbound convoy was approaching. Turning around in that narrow channel was an interesting evolution. On the seawall was a shack that had guards or maybe the Canal pilots. As the ship jockeyed to turn around, the bow of the ship came very close to the guardshack, to the point that the men inside ran down the seawall.

The warship went back out into the Med, the Captain fuming away. Once everything got going, the pilot boarded, along with an electrician. A light had to be mounted to the bow that projected two beams of white light, one to each side. The electrican oversaw the installation by the ship's electrican's mates, then he was escorted to the mess decks, where he spent the transit eating and smoking. Follwing the electrician were two line-handlers. The Captain had a conniption fit, but the pilot told him that the line-handlers were part of the package. They also spent the transit smoking and eating. Both the electrician and the line handlers were guarded for the entire time they were aboard.

The ship led the convoy down to the Great Bitter Lake at a blistering speed of maybe eight knots. The transit started during the night. As the sun rose, the crew gawked at the wreckage of two wars which lined the Canal. There were wrecked tanks and antiaircraft guns.

When the convoy reached the Great Bitter Lake, all of the ships in the convoy anchored and waited for the northbound convoy sail by. Most of the Bridge crew immediately headed for their racks to get some sleep. Once the other convoy passed, the southbound convoy got underway and finished the transit. At the mouth of the Canal, a boat came by to collect the pilot, the electrian (and his light) and the line-handlers (all of whom left with packs of cigarettes stuffed in their pockets).

The northbound transit, some time later, was like a walk in the park. The attitude was "ok, just another canal transit."

1 comment:

none said...

I was aboard the 2nd USN ship (USS Brownson DD868)headed north after the opening. Hot, miserable, the water was so saline we had to shut the evaporators down midway. Going topside during the transit, I noticed that the tank on the east bank had a functioning turret, because it tracked us. This was in 1975.