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18th June, 2018

Kiel Canal

Yet another early morning with a stunning sunrise. Our pilot was booked for 0700 and to enter the Haltenau Lock, near Kiel at 0800. Unfortunately we had a VHF call at 0530 to say that due to unscheduled maintenance on the locks at Brunsbuttel we would not embark our pilot until 1220, and the canal transit would not start until approx 1400 hrs. After a quick discussion with Rob, the OOW, we made a plan to proceed to the anchorage area about 6’ NE of the canal entrance.

We were anchored by 0720, so I took the opportunity to head down to the gym and meet with my Gym buddy Florin, who is our Fitness Director. We usually work out together every sea day morning at 0615 for approx 75 minutes. Florin is such a positive person who is a great motivator and I look forward to our early gym sessions. After the gym work out I normally head to the pool to swim 12 lengths – it’s a lovely pool as it’s indoors, it’s warm and at 0715 I normally have it to myself. After this I spend 15 minutes in the sauna, a cold shower follows, and then I am set for the day.

Today we had planned a charity cycle ride along the Kiel Canal to see if some intrepid cyclists could "beat the ship”. We were raising money for a charity called "tackle prostate cancer" which I have recently become involved with. I have been thinking about some charity work for several years but nothing had quite "grabbed me" until now. One of the key things I like about this charity is that it is run by volunteers with no-one taking large salaries, and we've all heard of those!! The ladies have been very good in raising awareness for breast cancer, but us men don't like talking about personal things like prostate. Well I am now on a mission to raise awareness and what better place to start than Saga Sapphire. The Kiel Canal challenge fits in perfectly with the tackle campaign of "cycle to the moon - Save a dad", with myself being a father to two beautiful girls aged 12 & 14. Tackle is trying to raise £250,000 to raise awareness of prostate cancer, and encourage more men to have the PSA blood test.

There were many crew members who could not participate in the Kiel cycle challenge due to Schengen Visa restrictions, so we set up 2 bikes on the aft end of the Verandah deck and shortly after 0900 we officially opened this year’s race. Jan, Hotel Director, and myself were on the bikes first. Rico, my cycling buddy, was next up to cover another 30 minutes. Resty, our Assistant Cruise Director set up a schedule for crew to sign up for. It was wonderful to see representation from all departments and we had a full house from 0900 - 1900. There were even 3 guests that took part.

Finally we had word that we would embark the pilot at 1220 and expect to be at the first lock around 1300. Our 4 intrepid cyclists were notified, Chief Officer Emmeline, Deck Cadet Sarah, Stuart our resident house musician and Nat our Explore Ashore Manager. They were to disembark at the Haltenau Lock and then try to beat the ship to the Brunsbuttel lock, a distance of some 110km or 68 miles. It was a race !! - Sapphire vs the 4 Amigos, who would reach the destination first? Would we be left behind? So shortly after 1300 the 4 Amigos disembarked with bikes and headed on their way - little did they know that this transit was going to end up being 11 hours instead of the usual 7-8!!!

Due to her size and draft Saga Sapphire requires a tug to be made fast for the entire canal transit. The canal has many passing places called “sidings “where large ships can safely pass and we had to slow down many times to wait for a ship transiting in the other direction. This is where the tug is really useful to steady the ship and hold position while waiting. There are many small ferries that cross the canal linking roads on both sides. These ferries are free to use for foot and car passengers with the cost covered by the canal transit charge to ships.

Some 11 hours later the cyclists finally arrived at the agent’s office in the dark, and they only just beat the ship. They looked "rather tired"- there were a few tales to tell, especially from Stuart Anderson who seemed to take an "alternative" route to everyone else!! Falling into a ditch, walking down a railway track, and asking some firefighters for directions were just a few he managed to share!!

I've just realised this is a very long blog so best I draw it to a close, otherwise you will all be asleep.

The BIG news is that we raised £5,150 (excluding gift aid) for tackle prostate cancer which is incredible. A HUGE thank you to all those who donated, and to the staff (+ guests) who took part on this very special day.

I go on leave on 20th June and am due to return on 22nd August. Au revoir.

Captain Julian Burgess

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.