As I’m writing this (publishing will be in arrears as usual due to lack of wifi!), we are enjoying our last evening tied up at a lock on the Main-Donau-Kanal. Tomorrow will bring the Danube. After so much preparation and planning over the last couple of years, it seems incredible that we are finally here, and in seemingly such a short space of time.
Anyhow, where did I get to? Ah, Bamberg. So we left at 8:30 on Monday 5th June. Eric came and waved us off, after making sure that Cy had the location of the club in Vienna (their sister club). Uwe, Gaby and their daughter also waved us off. We had enjoyed our days here so much, we were sorry to leave.
After half an hour we reached the end of the River Main and the start of the Main-Donau-Kanal (MDK). The Main is a looping, meandering river covering 384 kilometres with 34 locks. The MDK is a man made canal, and it certainly felt like it, at least for the first section. It is 171 km long, with 16 locks – some of these are almost 25 metres high, and runs from Bamberg to Kelheim, where it joins with the Danube, or Donau, as it is called here.
We had a significant wait at the first lock of the day, but drove straight in to the next three. Our luck ran out at the last one, Erlangen. It took two hours from arriving at the lock to leaving the other side. These delays are part and parcel of travelling on the rivers and canals. The lock-keepers are very good, however, priority is always given to commercial traffic. Depending on the timing, a vessel may have just entered the other side. The lock cycles can easily take half an hour with large vessels manoeuvring in and out again. You may then need to wait for the next barge to arrive for them to operate the lock again. Our radio communications are probably a huge source of amusement to the barges and lock-keepers alike. To quote Rick Munden, who’s blog has been our bible, ‘you are the foreigner, you are the entertainment’. We certainly feel we have been the entertainment on quite a few occasions. It is fair to say that Doris looks a bit different to most of the boats that pass through here, so we get lots of waves and stares. Occasionally, a large audience gathers to watch us bickering as we ascend a lock. It’s always the ones where we have a spot of bother that people seem to be watching.
With all the delays experienced, we were always aware that this was just the process of managing the traffic.
Anyway, by the time we escaped from Schleusen Erlangen and the pretty scary 18 metre rise, it was getting on a bit. Light was fading and it was raining (sounds familiar). We edged into the first available harbour. This was Sportsboothafen Suss. There were no other boats there, but there was a large dead fish floating around. Someone soon appeared for the mooring fee and to show us the facilities. It was a little strange, with a small domestic kitchen and a fridge with some beer and a bathroom decorated like one in someones house. Still, it was a good mooring place, wifi was available, and as the rain cleared, a mist rolled up off the water that looked really eerie.
We settled in for the evening. Unfortunately, we developed a computer problem, resulting in our AIS and GPS systems going kaput. Cy stayed up til the early hours trying to get it all up and running, but to no avail.
An early start the next morning took me into the nearby town of Alterlangen , while Cy worked on the computer systems. Thankfully, we were both succesful. Breakfast pastries and full navigation capabilities were online before 10am. We stopped mid-afternoon at Nurnberg Motoboot Club. Ideally, we would have carried on a bit longer, but our guides were showing no further mooring for quite a long way so we decided that it would be sensible to stop. It was raining heavily again, and the poor chap from the club that rushed out to meet us got completely soaked. We were OK as we had our full waterproofs on! We were really lucky to arrive here on the same day as a couple who had recently made the trip up the Danube from the Black Sea. We spent a couple of hours on their boat and they went through lots of useful information with us, including a full list of all their stopping places. A trip to the supermarket followed by dinner filled the rest of the evening.
Cy was up early the next day and had greased his stern glands before I was even awake (not a euphemism, honest!). We were out of the boat club promptly and managed to follow the same barge all day, through 6 locks. The last three locks on the ascent were probably the highest we have done on the entire trip at 24.67 metres.
At approximately 2pm, we passed the European Continental Divide monument. This is effectively the summit between the rivers Rhine and Danube, and at this point, the water drains north to the North Sea and south to the Black Sea, hence it is known as the divide. We will be travelling downhill from here all the way to the Black Sea. According to our extensive internet research, it is the highest navigable point that can be reached by a boat from the sea. It was a significant moment, if not a significant monument, although perhaps striking in its simplicity.
We passed through one more lock for the day, the first downhill in a while, and stopped for the night at the town of Berching. We opted for a place on the town quay, rather than the boat club. It isn’t really designed for small boats to tie up as there are few bollards and they are very widely spaced. However, we managed to rig a few lines and with some creative fendering Doris was secure enough.
We had to clamber over the railings to get out, but there was a kiosk selling various beverages nearby. In the interest of public relations, we (Sarah) felt compelled to buy beer when we checked if it was OK to stay there for the night. We received a cheerful, yes its okay, and were given a map of the town. The weather was good and we headed off for a wander.
First port of call was to check out if there was a petrol station close enough to be of use. We located one easily enough, and it was close to a section of the old Ludwigskanal with an old lock and barge on display. The Ludwigskanal and the development of the MDK have quite an interesting history and well worth a Google if you’re into that sort of thing. We then walked into Berching proper which is an old walled town, much of which is fully intact, complete with town gates and within them a lovely cobbled streets and quaint buildings.
This morning (8th), was very misty, so were a bit later leaving than intended, but still before 9, so not too shabby. We played ‘follow that barge’ which got us through the locks without having to wait. We decided to stop a bit earlier in the day at a suitable (which means free) mooring at the Kelheim lock, rather than continue on to a marina berth. The evening has been warm and still and the scenery has changed to become steeper and more craggy. Cy has managed to get an oil change done on Pat.
We are now just a few kilometres and one lock away from the junction with the Danube.
We are pretty amazed that we got this far. The journey from Wales to here has certainly had its ups and downs, with many more to come. From the point that we join the Danube tomorrow to the Black Sea is 2400 km. Our journey on the inland waterways (from Calais) has so far covered 1535 km and through more than 300 locks. It feels to us that a new chapter of our adventure begins tomorrow…