From Sassnitz we rounded Cape Arkona on the northern tip of the island of Rugen, and headed west transiting the Fehmarn Belt en route towards the start of the Kiel Canal at Holtenau. It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled westbound through the Kiel Canal, with our normal Baltic itinerary favoring an eastbound transit instead. There is more to look at on the stretch of canal between Holtenau and Rendsburg in my opinion, with the narrower and more meandering waterway at this part of the canal flanked on either side by trees and rather expensive looking property.
The length of time for a transit through the canal is very unpredictable and not conducive to planning an accurate and fuel economical schedule so it is imperative nowadays to allow extra time to get through the canal. Indeed to start with, before even entering the canal, we were forced to wait for nearly 2 hours whilst the eastbound traffic cleared the canal. Entering the locks at lunchtime in less than pleasant conditions (heavy showers, leaden grey skies and at times near gale force winds); I could see this being an extremely long day! Though perhapse not as long as the day for our Cruise Director Jo Boase and two of her team, Kayleigh Lucus and James Selman, who were to race the ship along the 61 mile length of the Kiel Canal to raise money for the Saga Charitable Trust!
So it was quite a surprise when the transit of the actual canal itself was completed in a personal best time of 7 hours and 10 minutes (that’s a PB for the Ship). This didn’t help the Saga peloton however who were having some problems! Initially taking the lead Jo’s team raced ahead as the Saga Ruby waited for the lock gates to open and our initial slow progress looked promising for the cyclists as they peddled out of sight. The team of cyclist remained in the lead and reported in that they were on the ferry in front of us as they crossed over to the south side of the canal. But it wasn’t long before the Saga Ruby caught up and overtook our cyclists when they had to divert from the canal for a short distance.
The Ship proceeded down the canal with a “green light” all the way to the locks at Brunsbuttel. Receiving regular reports from Jo and using the kilometer markers as a way to gauge how far behind they were, it looked initially like the team was starting to gain back some of the lost distance. But the strong headwind and the rain were starting to take their toll on the trio and predictably disaster struck. I received a phone call that the wind had been causing issues with James’ contact lenses and as a result he had crashed. We had a man down! Not wishing to leave there fallen comrade Jo and Kayleigh had to call for motorized support in the form of a taxi. By the time the taxi arrived the cyclists were 30km (19 miles) behind us and the Saga Ruby was entering the locks at Brunsbuttel. Jo and Kayleigh had no choice but to accompany James in the taxi in order not to be left behind in Germany, vowing to complete the distance on the cycling machines in the gym once they’d returned.
We departed the locks at Brunsbuttel a little after sunset, thankfully with a full complement of crew. With tide against us it was nearly 1 am by the time we met the pilot tender for the pilot to disembark on at the mouth of the Elbe. By now winds had increased to gale force and the swell was over 3 metres, and despite several attempts it was decided that in the interest of safety the pilot would have to sail with us, disembarking at our next port.
We continued our passage north of the East and West Frisian Islands before turning south towards our destination, the port of Vlissingen (Flushing) on the Dutch side of the Western Scheldt, another maiden port for the Ruby as well as being the 7th country visited during this 2 week cruise.
Vlissingen is a city in the south-western Netherlands, on the former island of Walcheren. With its strategic location between the Scheldt River and the North Sea, Vlissingen has been an important harbour for centuries. Vlissingen was a main harbour for ships of the Dutch East India Company and is famed for the wharves on the Scheldt where most of the ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy are built. Now the port is looking to raise its profile and generate interest from Cruise Ship operators and as such warmly welcomed us to the port.
Departing that night at 10pm dropping the pilot off a few hours later just before 1 am, it was only a couple of hours further sailing to the one port of call passengers did know about on this cruise, Dover.