Tale of Two Canals

Huge container ship, Ever Green, loaded with containers.

The container ship Ever Given at Rotterdam, 2020.
Image from Flickr (Kees Torn) via Wikipedia.

Container Ships and Dreadnoughts

Since 1849 I have studied incessantly, under all its aspects, a question which was already in my mind since 1832. I confess that my scheme is still a mere dream, and I do not shut my eyes to the fact that so long as I alone believe it to be possible, it is virtually impossible…The scheme in question is the cutting of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez.

Ferdinand de  Lesseps, Developer of the Suez Canal, 8 July 1852

Ever Given

With this day’s announcement that the container ship Ever Given has been freed from its undesirable ground perch on the Suez Canal, all maritime traffic is again free to sail along the 193 km (120 mile) canal.  The delay meant at least 369 vessels had to wait for the obstruction to be cleared but as of this day can now start to move forward or, from earlier days, Make steam! The cost of the Ever Given grounding estimated, by Lloyd’s of London, to be $400,000,000 USD per hour.

Marine Traffic Map

The Ever Given at 399.94 m (1,312’ 2”) long, 58.8 m (192’ 11”) wide across the beam and a draught of 14.5 m (47’ 7”) makes it one of the world’s largest container ships. In contrast the Suez Canal is about 200 m (656’) wide and is able to accommodate vessels with a beam of 77.5 m (254’ 3”) , and a draft of 20.1 m (66’). Over time changes have been made to increase the size of the Suez Canal but so too has the size of commercial and naval vessels increased. With the increased global demand for goods, container ships have grown in size. One wonders how much bigger these commercial vessels can become? However, this is not the first time that large vessels or canals have collided with the desires for greater commerce and control of the waterways.

The recent Ever Green grounding is not the first time that the Suez Canal has been obstructed or featured in the desires of nations. However the episode has been my impetus to recall those sea stories and river narratives I have read or watched. Perhaps today is time to bring O’Toole, Hawkins, Wallach, Lukas, the SS Patna to my thoughts again…another time…another time.

Maersk Line Suez Canal Time Lapse Journey

The bow of HMS Dreadnought.

The bow of HMS Dreadnought.


Fisher was volatile, egocentric, overbearing, belligerent, and bellicose. He was also passionately patriotic, brilliantly intelligent, and possessed of prophetic powers that were almost uncanny in their accuracy. Even his contemporary enemies, of whom there were many, had to acknowledge that he had been responsible for almost every important innovation incorporated in the battle fleet in 1914…

A History of the Modern Battleship, Richard Hough, 1975

A revolution in sea power occurred when the brainchild of Sir John “Jackie” Fisher, HMS Dreadnought was commissioned 2 December 1906. HMS Dreadnought (Fear Nothing) was unequalled or unrivalled. Dreadnought was 160.6 m (527’) long, a beam of 25 m (82’ 1”) and a draught of 9 m (29’ 7.5”). It was the first vessel to be powered by steam turbines and it was the first of 35 Royal Navy dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts to be built that served during the Great War 1914 -1918.

With its appearance upon the waters HMS Dreadnought’s presence did not go un-noticed. Germany commenced its own build of warships commencing with their own dreadnoughts commissioning 19 vessels by October 1916 when the program stopped in favour of U-Boat production.

The stern of HMS Dreadnought.

The stern of HMS Dreadnought.


The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal in 1900. Renamed in 1948 as the Kiel Canal. (US Library of Congress Wikipedia image)

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal in 1900. Renamed in 1948 as the Kiel Canal.
(US Library of Congress Wikipedia image)

The advanced design and appearance of the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought also affected a major German waterway. The 98.26 km (61.06 miles) Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal [KWK], now the Kiel Canal, required widening to accommodate increased commercial traffic as well as the demands of the Imperial German Navy. Between 1907 and 1914 the fresh-water KWK was widened and its lock capacity increased. These important modifications allowed Germany’s new dreadnoughts to sail from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to sail around Denmark.

On 31 May – 1 June 1916 some 250 warships of two rival nations, Great Britain and Germany, met upon the waves at the Battle of Jutland. Of these 28 Royal Navy and 16 Imperial German Navy were dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts. Not amongst them was HMS Dreadnought being in refit at the time of the only major naval engagement of the Great War. Twenty-five vessels, 14 British and 11 German were sunk – none were dreadnoughts.

Ten Imperial German Navy dreadnoughts were scuttled at Scapa Flow, Orkney Island, Scotland in 1919.

The sea on this misnamed planet Earth. (P. Ferguson image, 2011)

The sea on this misnamed planet Earth.
(P. Ferguson image, 2011)

The sea has never been friendly to man.
At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad, 1906

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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