Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Voyage East V – Suakim, Port Sudan

The last couple of posts in this series looked at the journey through the Suez Canal which after it opened in1869 reduced the journey time from Europe to China massively to around 20 days. Before I move on to the Indian Ocean leg of the voyage one place where many ships (but by no means all) stopped briefly was Suakim (or Sawakin), or Port Sudan – seen opposite in the late nineteenth century.

This was a break after the Canal and also allowed for side trips to Khartoum. Port Sudan was founded by the British in 1909 as the terminus of a rail line linking the Red Sea to the River Nile and as a new modern port to replace Suakim. Ships stopping at Suakim and then later at Port Sudan didn’t stay long – Khartoum excursions aside there was little to do in Port Sudan – no really good hotels – though all the houses were startling built of white coral (see the house of long term foreign resident Mr. Jack Wylde, of the firm of Wylde, Beyts & Co below).

Before the British upped Suakim’s status somewhat as a Port and with the railway it clearly was a bit dull. The indomitable English woman traveler Ernestine Sartorius mentions it in her 1886 book Three months in the Soudan: “At last, at about twelve noon, we began to get into the opening of the port of Suakim. The town lies so low that until the vessel turns in, nothing is seen of it. It has by no means a striking appearance, and the only good thing about the harbour is its safety, when once you are in. The mouth of it is very narrow, and is closed in by the land on one side and a deep, heavy bank of coral on the other.”

The Voyage East I - Gallions Reach: Where the Journey Began

The Voyage East II - Port Said

The Voyage East III - Alexandria
The Voyage East IV - Through the Canal
The Voyage East VI - Resupply at Aden
The Voyage East VII - Gibraltar
The Voyage East VIII - Suez- You Rather Hoped Not


Chris Waugh said...

I don't know how this post managed to grab such a firm hold on my attention, but it compelled me to open Google maps, in which I found a Sawakin and, a few dozen kilometres further north along Sudan's surprisingly short coast, a Bur Sudan.

Would "Bur Sudan" be an Arabisation of Port Sudan?

Anyway, both harbours look incredibly safe, with insanely narrow entrances and both being too small for any wind to whip up any kind of significant swell in the harbour (unlike my hometown of Wellington, which has a similar entrance leading to a very wide harbour on which the wind can get quite a powerful swell going).

Sawakin had one large-ish looking ship and what seemed like a couple of warehouses at the inner end of what seems to be quite a deep channel leading into the harbour, but the harbour itself seems to be dominated by two large islands and only small boats can be seen in the harbour-proper. And the town seems more like a loose collection of desert villages than a port town.

Bur Sudan looks a little more Metropolitan, but its harbour looks very much like a narrow but deep estuary- except that there doesn't seem to be much more than a minuscule trickle of a stream leading to it. It has fairly industrial-looking port facilities and some large-ish ships docked, but I can't figure out how anything bigger than a rowboat manouevres in such a narrow space. And one section of the harbour is covered in what looks like floating containers. But it certainly looks a lot more like a city.

But neither has anything looking like a harbour bounded on one side by a coral bank and on the other by land.

Anyway, a post that can get me intrigued about such seemingly obscure places has got to be good.

Chris Waugh

Paul French said...

My understanding (and it's not much)is that Suakim was a port but then after the opening of the Suez Canal the British extensively upgraded it to a more modern port which did for the coral harbour. But it was a natural stopping off point after the 100 miles or so of the Suez Canal. Suakim and Port Sudan are the same thing I think - Bur Sudan is a new one on me.

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