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Kiel Canal

Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

31st August, 2017

After a steady run up from Dover we made good time for Brunsbuttel, the west end of the Kiel Canal, or more correctly, ‘Nord Ostsee Kanal’. Transiting the canal involves a number of Pilots, as you will see……… this was to be a night-time transit, a first for me.

To get to Brunsbuttel, located on the River Elbe, we needed a river Pilot. Embarking the Elbe Pilot at 1600hrs, with 33 nautical miles to go. 2.5 hours later we were off the Brunsbuttel locks and it was time to change the pilot – to the Docking Pilot, although the Captain does the docking!

The Docking Pilot embarked and I drove into the locks. Once I had ‘parked’ in the locks, 22 minutes after embarking, the Docking pilot debarked. The Canal Transit Pilot then embarked, along with two Helmsmen.

Now then, the Canal authority requires that their ‘own’ helmsmen steer and not the ship’s helmsmen. I can understand the Canal authorities’ stance, it’s probably more about ‘assurance’. Imagine the mayhem if one ship drove into one or other of the canal banks! The relationship between the Canal Pilot and the Canal helmsman is an interesting one, it’s not as you would think.

The Helmsman physically points the ship to drive along the canal as he sees fit, not the Pilot. The Captain retains overall legal responsibility and the Pilot’s function is more as a ‘communicator’ and ship movement manager. The Pilot is constantly in touch with the Canal Traffic Centre gaining knowledge of what ship’s where so we can range to pass at safe points. Yes the Canal has ‘lay-bys’. In essence, the Helmsman is the Pilot!

About halfway along the Canal it was time to change Pilots - and also time for me to hand over to Tom, my Staff Captain. At around 0430, my phone rang. We were ahead of schedule and due in the Kiel locks [eastern end] at 0530. Taking over from the Canal Pilot I parked in the locks whilst the lock water levels were adjusted to the Baltic level. The Canal Pilot debarked, the ‘Baltic’ Pilot embarked. We’re required to carry a Pilot out of Kiel the 10 nautical miles to the Pilot station. At 0630 we debarked the Kiel pilot and were set free in the Baltic to “charge” our way towards Gdynia.

So, to summarise. We used a lot of Pilots in Kiel, five in fact, plus two helmsmen. The great thing about the Kiel Canal is that it saves around 200 nautical miles steaming compared to going around the top of Denmark.

This was a night transit and yesterday, when we started, seems so long ago! We will be doing it all over again on 12th September when we come back through westbound. Then it will be in daylight and what a spectacle for our Guests that will be.

It’s midday. Night night!

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.

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