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Seems like kind of a big deal

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday February 20, 2011 05:22 PM

This item made me very happy:

Iran naval ships to cross Suez Canal on Monday

CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Iranian naval ships will sail through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on Monday, a Suez Canal official said, in what will be the first passage of Iranian naval ships through the canal since 1979.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described Iran's plan to send the ships through the canal en route to Syria as a "provocation."

Let's hear it for the Egyptian junta! And may Avigdor Lieberman's head explode.

I love canals. The only one I regularly visit is the Cape Cod canal, a relatively modest affair which nevertheless cuts a couple of days off my sail from New York to Maine. I dream of the Panama, but will probably never see it.

Does the Suez have locks? I don't even know. Locks are so cool. I have gone through locks on the Ohio and the Green River in Kentucky, in a canoe, and weensy cute little ones on the Saranac Lake waterways in the Adirondacks, also in a canoe. Never been in one in the sailboat, yet.

Perhaps I may yet follow an Iranian frigate through the Suez. If so, I'll feel that I'm in excellent company.

PS: Reuters needs to employ an expert in nautical terminology (I'm available, by the way). One does not "cross" a canal, unless perchance one swims the hundred feet or so from one bank to the other. One "transits" a canal -- which is pretty illiterate too, of course, but it's at least the Said Thing.

Comments (8)


"Locks are so cool."

As a former Assistant Lockmaster on the Rideau Canal, I fully concur. I spent a lot of hangovers cranking manual sluices and gates:


Good times.

If you're up for an extended trip, I'd recommend doing the Montreal-Kingston-Ottawa-Montreal triangle.


I don't know why this should be a big deal. Any country not at war with Egypt has the right to move warships through the Suez Canal.

What's interesting, although unsurprising, is how few of the news reports even make mention of the international law regarding the passage of the canal, even though it's obviously an important dimension of the story.

The full version of a Reuters article buries this information on the second page. Most media outlets would not, however, run the full wire article, so the only part of the story reported would be the whingeing of an Israeli minister.


In fairness to Reuters, at least the opening part refers to Lieberman as "vociferously far-right," and speaking out of turn, besides. Come to think of it, that's actually pretty daring stuff nowadays for a major Western news agency. I hope Dan Williams doesn't lose his job.


I lived for a while in Ballsbridge, Dublin, near the old Grand Canal -- the south-side counterpart to the better-known Royal Canal on the north side. Long disused for transport, but kept up as an "ameeeenity", as my Dublin corner-boy friends called it. Those locks were 200 years old or so, at that time, and though there were screw-threaded wheels that opened the sluices, the gates themselves were operated by simple big timber levers.

There is, of course, a recent Youtube video, showing the Mount Street bridge lock, just around the corner from where I lived. The fall in water level just at this point must be something like ten feet; most of the locks are much less.

The lock just down-canal from this one was part of my shortcut from my flat to my "local"; I remember tottering woozily across the little gangway on the lock gate, after closing time, and wondering just how deep the water was.


I really like those old manual locks. They fitted a few of the locks on our system with hydraulics and they just aren't the same now.

There's something about how just a couple of people and some really basic technology can harness so much power that always impressed me. When you forget your order of operations and something goes wrong, it definitely gets impressed upon you in a hurry.

The bottom sluice gates (the ones that the guy is cranking in the beginning of the video) on ours had a basic exposed ratchet. Cranking on the way up, the pawl would protect you from the handle spinning back on you under the pressure of the water. In order to drop the sluice gate down again once the water was drained, you had to flip back the pawl and just let the handle spin free. The thing is that you had to remember to put the pawl back in position before you tried to open the sluice again when the lock is full. When I was there, one guy forgot to put the pawl back and lost his grip on the handle. Even though his arm was extended in open air and the handle only spun back less than half a revolution, it broke both of the bones in his forearm. I had a few close calls myself

btw, I never knew you lived in Dublin. Did you like it?

Clapham Omnibus:

Week-end diversions:

Concerning your comment on IOZ about Ralph Kirkpatrick's harpsichord: My memory is that he played a Challis on the CBS Masterworks LPs from the 1950's. I note that there are a few of his Scarlatti performances up on YT now. The unidentified instrument sounds like a Challis to me.

The following link to Fernando Valenti playing Scarlatti on YT id's his instrument as a Challis. Someone has uploaded a large YT archive of Valenti doing Scarlatti.

The uploader asks for help in applying Kk. and Longo numbers to his uploads. (Up your alley, eh?)

A Challis used metal and plastic everywhere but in the walnut veneered case. The soundboard looks like aluminum in this photo:


Yes, I liked Dublin a lot. This was back in the mid-70s, before Celtic Tigerhood trashed the place.

I believe Kirkpatrick did use a Challis, and yes, they did have aluminum soundboards, if memory serves. It's kind of a spectacular High Modern sound, especially with that big barking 16' deployed. But it does rather bring Sir Thomas Beecham's characterization of the instrument to mind -- "two skeletons copulating on a tin roof".


when thinking about what new (future rich but still resource-constrained) egypt could offer in trade for chinese development assistance, canal pricing finally hit me.


MJS: photos on Aljazeera today show the Iranian ship facing sideways in the canal, as if it was trying to bridge it instead of travel through it. is this SOP for canal transit?

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