We have left the Danube and are now cruising on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, a manmade waterway that opened in 1992 which connects three of the largest rivers in Europe. Prior to the opening of this canal, a ship wanting to freight goods from the North Sea to the Black Sea would have to sail all the way around Spain into the Mediterranean, past Italy and Greece and up into the Dardanelles, passing through Istanbul. The canal now makes it possible to bring a ship directly from the North Sea across the continent and into the Black Sea, travelling only on inland waters. This must save a good deal of time and many euros.
Early today we crossed the continental divide, the high point from which the rivers to the east drain into the Black Sea and those to the west flow in the other direction to the North Sea.
Over the past week we have entered locks which have raised our vessel to a higher elevation, but today we are entering locks which drop us down closer to sea level.
At 10am we had a celebration on the sun deck, to mark us passing the highpoint of our river journey. We pulled up close to the Leerstetten lock and waited for about 30 minutes for a barge travelling in the opposite direction to be raised up to our level. Once it cleared the lock we received the green light to move forward into position inside the lock.
The entire sun deck behind our wheelhouse had been laid flat, so everyone came up to the bow of the boat on the top deck to view our descent. Bavarian coffee and mimosas were served. Dramatic classical music played through the ship’s sound system. It was quite an occasion.
The level of water dropped quite rapidly, something like twenty-five metres in maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Everyone’s eyes were on the gate ahead of us as it rose up out of the water. Looking back the way we came, we could see that the ship’s wheelhouse had now been lowered completely so that it could pass under the lock.
That was something I won’t forget. We have passed through many locks already, some of an equivalent depth, but it was clever of the ship’s crew to turn this one into a celebratory event. By the time we reach Amsterdam we will have passed through sixty-six locks.