Skip to navigation Skip to content
< Back to Saga Sapphire blog

2nd July, 2019

Kiel Canal Transit

In stark contrast to our calm, warm and sunny departure from Tallinn a mere day ago, upon approach to Kiel lighthouse we encountered chilly gale force winds from the north-west, with frequent squally showers. These conditions were not forecasted, and were simply just not cricket!

Fortunately though, as we approached the canal entrance at Kiel-Holtenhau a few hours later, we experienced some shelter from the wind by land and trees – and those nasty showers also dissipated – creating an all more pleasant environment outside for those who wished to view the beginning of our transit from deck.

Assisted by 1 tugboat tethered onto the aft end (back end, for those landlubbers out there) which is a requirement of the Kiel Canal authorities for the entirety of our transit due to our size, we made an entrance into the northern lock chamber at Holtenhau just prior to lunch time.

Once the lock gate behind us slid closed, the chamber water level inside was equalised to that of the level of the canal, and the gate ahead of us opened. Once the ship entered the fresh water of the canal, she ‘sunk’ down about 30cm further into the water – for fresh water is less buoyant than salty seawater. This is one of the important stability calculations we must make prior to entering the canal, to avoid potential embarrassment of landing on the bottom during our transit…

It is 55 miles from one end of the canal to the other, and with an average speed of approximately 6 knots this normally means a total transit time of around 9 hours. But this can vary depending on how many ships we meet coming the other way – for this can mean stopping in the ‘sidings’ (intermittent, wider areas of the canal designed with enough room for ships to pass each other) and waiting for them to pass. Fortunately though as we are one of the largest vessels permitted to use the canal we are normally given priority, for it is more awkward to stop and ‘hover’ on this ship than it is others. I attach a picture of our chart system which shows the outline of the ship and just how little safe water we have to manoeuvre within the canal (safe water is displayed as white; shallow water is coloured blue, and land is displayed as a sandy colour).

The maximum height permitted to transit the canal is 40 metres; and Saga Sapphire measures 39.3 metres in height. But in order to achieve this, we must first fold a 4 metre section of our mainmast down, for normally we measure 43.3m in air draft (height of the ship from the waterline). Additionally, another exemption we must apply for is our draft (depth of ship under the water) as the normal maximum permitted for a ship our size is 8.1m; however we drew 8.7m on arrival.

So we squeezed our way through the canal at a normal person’s jogging speed throughout the day, passing fisherman on the banks, as well as walkers, joggers and cyclists, all stopping to admire this rather elegant, elderly giant conducting one of her last transits of the canal with Saga. We held a special German–style Beerfest on the Veranda deck aft, along with sausages, sauerkraut and all sorts of other delicious themed foods for all to enjoy – except myself of course as I was stuck on the Bridge overseeing the navigation. I deserved no sympathy though, for all sorts of goodies were sent up to the Bridge for myself and the team to enjoy also.

Just before 22:00, we reached the other end of the canal and the Brunsbuttel Lock chambers, where we used the southern chamber and finally let go our tugboat which had been faithfully dragging along behind us for the past 10 hours or so. The weather had calmed significantly since our arrival earlier on in the day, and it was now a pleasant calm summer’s evening with plenty of clear skies as the sun set towards the west. Water levels equalled again, we proceeded out into the saltier waters of the Elbe River and eventually a few hours later into the North Sea.

Well, the Kiel Canal transit was our final highlight for this cruise, and we had one final sunny day at sea to enjoy prior to returning to our homeport of Dover and conducting our turnaround day; all off and all on for the start of our next adventure. So, I shall speak to you all once again after we get underway on our “Highland Heritage” cruise…

Captain Kim Tanner

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.