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11th May, 2019

Kiel and Kiel Canal

The run across from Stockholm was a pleasant experience, calm Baltic seas and a sunny sunset, al rather nice. Approaching Kiel yesterday morning, we embarked the Pilot 0600 and made our way past the Kiel Can, east locks, and berthed ‘down-town’ by 0800.

This was my first call to Kiel and the berth arrangement, layout of bollards, design and so forth, was a particular challenge – especially for the aft mooring lines at low water. It took an inordinate time to get mooring lines ashore and onto the bollards, but an hour later, we were all-fast alongside, gangway I and the tours away. It was a beautiful sun rise and a lovely day – the skies remaining lovely and broadly ‘blue’ throughout the day.

And so to the Kiel Canal. As I write this I reflect upon what a wonderful transit we have had, the best in my experience with Saga. No particular reason, the conditions were fine, a sumptuous feast on the Veranda deck, courtesy of Gavin and his team, it just went right. Loads of things to see, particularly on the east half that provided me with plenty of humorous ‘Bing-bong’ material!

So how did the day unfold. We were scheduled to leave Kiel, after our overnight, at 0730 this morning to be in the locks for 0830. The Holtenau side, the Kiel end, had one lock chamber out of service for maintenance, which, as you can imagine creates delays. The delay forecasted for the Saga Sapphire was 4 hours at the Kiel end and 5 hours at the Brunsbuttel end, so along day envisaged at around 19 hours with the time for the transit.

Leaving the berth, Chris my 3rd Officer was driving, of which the manoeuvre went to plan, quite text book. I took the Conn from Chris to approach the locks, the 4 hour wait dissipated and I was only delayed around an hour. A good start. In the locks for 0900 and out into the Canal 30 minutes later, is when I sighted my escort tug. Oh boy, that’s not so good, I thought!

Saga Sapphire, apart from the height restriction to get under the bridges, is one of the largest ‘under water volume’ ships to transit the canal. I have attached a picture of our electronic chart which shows the limitations of the ship to manoeuvre around the canal. Because the Canal is a one-way system, ‘sidings’ are provided so that ships can wait for oncoming ship to pass; it’s all about traffic flow management. Logical. I have included a picture of ships waiting for the Saga Sapphire to pass. However, you just can ‘wait’ with the Saga Sapphire, the old girl is not that manoeuvrable, therefore we use a powerful tug ‘made-fast’ aft. We use the tug as a ‘brake’ if we need to slow down and gives stability in direction. The tug needs to be both manoeuvrable and have about a 40 ton, or more, bollard pull, reasonably powerful.

The tug provided, and not for free, was a thirty old classic, traditional drive with an 8 ton bollard pull. A classic looking tug, but not much help. As I talked through my concerns with the canal-transit pilot, he equally became quite concerned, however, I had a light-bulb moment during that conversation. I changed my stance and articulated how we could transit, with that tug as escort and be in a manageable position. That solution was to be given priority and not be requested to stop, i.e. we keep going!

The pilot had some protracted conversations with the Canal authorities after which Saga Sapphire had priority. The day was getting better. After a continuous navigation of the Canal, no stopping, we arrived at the Brunsbuttel Locks just before 1800. Now the race was on to get us out of the locks and in to the River Elbe so I could attend my own Farwell Cocktail party. There are always time pressures!

I dispatched Simon, Staffy, to do the ‘glad-handing’ at the door at the start of the Farewell Party, whilst I drove into the locks. The minutes of waiting for the water levels to adjust and the gates open, took for ever. It was like watching paint dry. Long story short, we slipped out of the Locks at 1845 and I just made it on ‘stage’ for my ‘talky bit’ and then off to Formal dinner.

A long day today, departing for our berth in Kiel early this morning seems an age away, still it’s a sea day tomorrow before Dover on Monday. So, time to rest and catch up with the desk.

Captain Stuart Horne

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.