The Good Side And The Bad Side Of A Statue At Port Said

Statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps in a garden at Port Said Shipyard
Statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps in a garden at Port Said Shipyard

As you’ve probably already guessed, I am quite fond of old stuff. Especially when it has some relation to dredging. Last post on Omar’s graduation1 not only brought back my memories on the interesting lectures by professor de Koning2, it also rekindled my inspiration to write about something that I have up my sleeve for a long time already. Although, due to the current global turmoil3, the message that I want to convey has been drastically altered. It turns out to be more of an opinion than an informative perspective on the history of the Suez Canal.

It was in the early years of my career, that I was building dredge ‘10th of Ramadan’ for the Suez Canal Authority4. We designed the dredge and prepared the components at Damen Dredging Equipment5, but the actual construction took place at Port Said Shipyard6, a subsidiary of the client. I’ve spent many hours roaming over the yard to locate components that were sent there and we needed them to inspect or install. On one of those excursions, I encountered the statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Ferdinand De Lesseps was an interesting figure7, who owed his success to being the right person at the right time at the right place. In his earlier career, during a quarantine period in 1832 in Alexandria, he received a book that discussed Napoleons ideas about connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea8. Captivated by this idea, he was able to use his connections and positions to get the concession to dig the canal as we know it in 1859. In honour of this achievement a impressive statue was placed at the beginning of the Canal at the Port Said side after the opening in 1869.

As it happened in those days, the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez, claimed the canal and all involved land and business for the French government. All revenue from the Canal ended up in France and not in the country that had worked so hard for the Canal. This has been a great disappointment for Egypt. When Nasser declared the Suez Canal a national property in 1956, the statue was removed as a gesture that Egypt was independent and no European country had any business ruling it as a colony. In a careful act of historical awareness, the statue was not destroyed, but placed at the Port Side Shipyard to be taken care of until the future would find an appropriate purpose. There it is kept in honour by a select group of craftsmen, who depend for their subsistence on his legacy.

Statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps at the entrance of the Suez Canal (Credit: Google)
Statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps at the entrance of the Suez Canal (Credit: Google)

In 1956 it was not so much vandalism by the people that the statue was removed from public space.7 It was a statement by a public conscious government with history awareness that prevented further harm from mindless destruction. Now, over half a century later, we see more acts of iconoclasm to historical statues, and then in a so called civilized world… A lot of historical figures were children of their own time. And for sure, those times were not very civilized in hindsight. OK, I am history aware and enjoyed my history lessons. There I had to learn that the raids of the barbarians on Rome, the Crusades to occupied Jerusalem and the iconoclasm in our own Reformation era were to be condemned. So, imagine when a lot of historical figures were removed from the street by emotional destruction, would later generations not condemn us in turn? What I would find even worse, is that future generations would not be aware of the dark side of those old ages as there are no statues to remind them to it. Maybe we can reintroduce a penalty for those ‘heroes’ from their own days: ‘the pillory’9. Just as with all sentences, the penalty can only awarded by the government, or an appointed committee, not the public. If that fails, store them under the custody of people who take good care of them without reverence. And at least let the pedestal remain to remind people of their history. ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana)10

Possible implementation of a statue with a pillory sign?
Possible implementation of a statue with a pillory sign?

References

  1. Graduation Omar Karam: Rock Cutting The Egyptian Way, Discover Dredging
  2. Boundary Conditions for the use of Dredging Equipment, Lecture notes i82 A+B, prof. J. de Koning
  3. Violence and controversies during the George Floyd protests, Wikipedia
  4. The Ancient History of the Cutter Suction Dredge ‘10th of Ramadan’, Discover Dredging
  5. DTC – Think Global, Act Local, Damen Shipyards
  6. Port Sid Shipyard, Suez Canal authority
  7. Ferdinand de Lesseps, Wikipedia
  8. Mémoire sur la communication de la mer des Indes à la Méditerranée par la mer Rouge et l’isthme de Soueys (p.352), Google
  9. Pillory, Wikipedia
  10. George Santayana, Wikiquote

See also

Graduation Omar Karam: Rock Cutting The Egyptian Way

Graduation presentation of Omar Karam
Graduation presentation of Omar Karam

Egypt is a great nation when it comes to ancient engineering. No other country has such a concentration of impressive monuments and such an interesting history as over there. If you are not convinced that modern Egyptians are not capable of great engineering feats you are wrong. Last Monday, Omar Karam graduated at our R&D department of Damen Dredging Equipment1 on his thesis about ‘CSD Rock Cutting.’

Cutting processes have been extensively described by Sape Miedema in ‘The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model’2. Omar has been using the frame work of Miedema to make some useful tools for the estimation of the production of our dredging equipment in rock. In due time, you will find the results of his thesis in the online dredge selection tool ‘Sandy’. Omar’s curiosity and ingenuity does not end here. He will continue studying at a university, but I do hope to meet him again, as he would be a valuable asset for our dredging community. Keep an eye out for him.

Program structure diagram of cutting force calculations
Program structure diagram of cutting force calculations

His graduation brings me back to my first lessons in dredging technology at the Delft University of Technology by the illustrious professor de Koning. In a sense he was an old school engineer, who hammered it in to us that thinking is done by doing it with your hands3. Back than the Polytechnic School was just rebranded to University and he was mocking that as a university, we had to set the topics in a broader perspective. So, he started his introduction on cutting technology with some slides of the unfinished obelisk at Aswan4 as every aspect of the cutting process could be illustrated.

Phases of chip forming in rock cutting
Phases of chip forming in rock cutting

The story according to de Koning is: ‘Around the quarry of the obelisk, they have found diorites5. These are some sort of volcanic balls of rock. In combination with the marks and scratches all around the obelisk, archaeologists believe these stones have been used to pound the granite. The impact compresses the bedrock and the resulting stresses fracture the contact surface(1). For every hit a whiff of dust is created. Eventually the dust is collected and scooped away for the next layer. Next, trees would be planted in the trench on one side of the obelisk. The growing root system displaces volume and create shear stress underneath the obelisk that would sever the obelisk from the bed rock(2). At last the trees are removed and dry wooden dowels would have been inserted in the shear cracks. Saturating the wooden dowels will make them grow. The last strands of rock will now be broken due to tensile stresses(3). Repeated insertion of new dry dowels and saturating them will lift the whole obelisk enough to pull some ropes under and carry the obelisk away to the building site.’

Although the diorites and the scratch marks are a smoking gun, current archaeologists argue about the feasibility of this process as experiments yield a very low production and it is doubted that the obelisk could be finished in the lifetime of the client6. Even if disputed, de Koning told a story that conveys the message; I vividly remember it and makes me understand the rock cutting process.

These mysterious monolithic ornamental spires have been an inspiration for many legends and stories. When we have solved the riddle of the rock cutting with diorite balls, it may inspire the development of new rock cutting technology for the dredging community and we can put the story of the obelisks to an end.7

End of the story on the cutting of obelisks (Credit: Uderzo)
End of the story on the cutting of obelisks (Credit: Uderzo)

References

  1. Innovation, Damen
  2. The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model, TU Delft
  3. De Koning (1978), Denken met de handen’, TU Delft
  4. Unfinished obelisk, Wikipedia
  5. Diorite, Wikipedia
  6. The Unfinished Obelisk, NOVA
  7. Asterix and Cleopatra, Goscinny-Uderzo

See also

Modern Uses And Legendary Excuses For Manual Depth Sounding

Depth sounding lead and rope
Depth sounding lead and rope

Never waste a moment to tell a good story. Usually, you’ll find informative or educational stories on this platform. This time, I literally found an opportunity to tell you a fun story. All it took, was this nifty little classic navigational instrument. The crew on the dredge used to calibrate their modern survey system1 or checked the delivered depth with this ancient tool. Ever seen one like this? It is a depth sounding lead2. Well, I doubt this one was made from lead, based on the estimated weight and appearance, but it does have all the other characteristics of a normal depth sounding lead.

Evolving from a stone on a rope, the depth sounding lead was used to sound the depth. The plummet was made from lead. The rope was marked at regular intervals according to the shoe size of the current king. Cast overboard, the lead sank and keeping the rope tight, the depth at that location could be read from the markings on the vertical rope. It involved some nimble dexterity to stand at the lee side of a fast moving vessel in a choppy sea to handle the lead, a bundle of coiling rope and accurately reading the depth at the right moment. Hands down to all those seafarers that explored the world in old times and managed to navigate the globe on this instrument.

Sounding the depth manually with rope and lead (Credit: Wikipedia)
Sounding the depth manually with rope and lead (Credit: Wikipedia)

The depth was not the only information gained from this action. When you look closely, there is a hole at the bottom of the lead. On the picture above it is empty, but it ought to be filled with grease or wax. When the lead touched the bottom, some of the dirt was caught in the grease. When the lead was retrieved, the cling-ons were inspected. These could be either: sand, mud, gravel, peat, silt or even shells and other biological detritus. The material was reported on the charts also. This made navigation in charted waters easy: compare the sample with the indicated bottom condition. And that brings me to my fun story.

Before the Dutch reclaimed their land, there was a large water body in the Netherlands, called the ‘Zuiderzee’3. Or, South Sea as opposed to the North Sea, which most of you might know. This Zuiderzee, was extensively used for fishing. The skippers did not have charts, but they relied on oral tradition handed down through the ages of where what kind of soil would be available. Near Urk, you might find rocks. Near Pampus, there will be a lot of mud and around Stavoren, there is the famous ‘Vrouwenzand’ (Sand Bank of the Lady of Stavoren4). So, when the fishermen cast their depth sounding leads out, they knew the location of their vessel and the depth beneath it.

Map of the ‘Zuiderzee’ (Credit: Wikipedia)
Map of the ‘Zuiderzee’ (Credit: Wikipedia)

One of those skippers boasted he did not even have to see and feel the sample, but just by tasting it, he could pinpoint his location within a hundred yards. Hard to believe, right? The cabin boy on board thought likewise. So, he devised a cunning plan. After lunch, the skipper went down to the cabin for a short nap and instructed the cabin boy to bring him the lead to taste the sample. But, our clever cabin boy sank the lead in the crate with potato’s. The bottom of the crate was covered with clay from the potato’s. Carefully bringing the sample to the skipper, the cabin boy woke him up and awaited his reaction. The skipper woke up groggily and grappled for the lead with half closed eyes. He stuck his finger in the sample hole and tasted the material inside. Suddenly, his eyes went wide open and he exclaimed: Oh, disaster! The dikes have broken again! The land is flooded and we are sailing over farmer John’s potato patch!

You never know what you dredge from the bottom of a potato crate
You never know what you dredge from the bottom of a potato crate

References

  1. Positioning and survey system, Damen
  2. Depth sounding, Wikipedia
  3. Zuiderzee, Wikipedia
  4. Lady of Stavoren

See also