Monday 14th August
It is only once you are in it that you realise what an amazing feat of engineering the Nord Ostsee Kanal really is! It is 98 km long, with just one lock at each end. It is at least 103 m wide and is 11 m deep and all the bridges have 43 m of clearance! This means that ships that are 32 m wide, 235 m long and 40 m tall drawing up to 8 m can use it! So pretty big!
It was started in 1887 by Kaiser Wilhelm 1 and opened in 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm 2 and then widened from 1907 to 1914 to enable the new 'dreadnought' sized ships reach the North Sea directly without having to go through the narrow Denmark Straits. It also saves ships sailing to or from the Baltic over 260 nm.
However there is nothing new! Harald Blue Tooth dragged is marauding ships across this part of the country rather than risk the Skaggarack! And when Denmark ruled the area prior to 1864 there was the Eider Canal, which was built in 1784 and still goes from Tonning to Kiel, joining the Kiel Canal around the 50 km mark. It is supposed to be a very scenic alternative to the canal, but can take you up to 7 days to do and we are 'canaled out'! The canal banks are very green with nice looking paths and trees all the way. I expected it to be industrialised and a bit grim but it is quite the contrary!
It is 0900 on Monday 14th August and we are ready to leave a very sleepy Brunsbeuttel. Our Dutch neighbours are keen to get going and as we are tied to them we need go first so they can go! We have 65 km to motor to Rendsburg Yacht Club, our stop for tonight. You cannot use the canal under sails alone. The wind is on our bows so there is no point in motorsailing and want to get this bit done.
The ferries come at you from all directions!
The canal is virtually empty apart from the kamikazi ferries which hurtle from one to the other and have right of way so you have to avoid them. We pass only one large ship and some schooners and a Viking ship on their way to an event in the North Sea.
The marina at Rendsburg is in a little 2 nm long lake on our port side, it has plenty of space and so we have no problem in finding a free box mooring. The only problem is that it is for a much longer boat and as our stern lines are much too short, we pull up with a shudder about 2m away from the pontoon! We extract ourselves from the posts and dig into our deep locker to get our long shore lines which have somehow made their way to the bottom of it and have another, this time successful go!
Grace safely berthed, second time lucky!
Rendsburg is a typical German town but we manage to find a nice square round the back of the church for a beer!
Germany feels so familiar even after 26 years!
At 1030 next morning we slip our mooring and head back towards the canal, at about the kilometre 80 mark we see another English yacht going in the opposite direction and we both wave and cheer excitedly at each other. It is our first one since we saw Grace's namesake in Groningen.
Another English yacht!
We were just remarking on how quiet the canal was and how few ships we had seen when we noticed that the signal light posts coming up to a corner were flashing red, white and red. We were not totally sure what this actually means as the only published guidance we have for sportboats like us is that if all the lights are red then everyone has to stop immediately to starboard but otherwise carry on!
The ship that has just appeared round the corner and in front of us is huge! It is sweeping round over towards our side of canal as it negotiates the bend. We can see nothing in front of us other than a huge wall of blue, orange and rust coloured containers. I slow down to dead slow to allow time for the ship to get round the corner, it starts to straighten up in the middle of the canal. I increase our engine revs to stop us from being push onto the bank by its approaching bow wave. We are so close to the cliff like sides of the ship I can almost touch it. Looking up to the bridge, there is someone on the bridge wing and he waves at us. I was going to wave back but then I notice it, there is literally a 'hole' in the water created by the suction between the ship side and canal wall. We all hold on tight as Grace comes over the crest of the bow wave and then plunges down into the void and then slowly claws her way back up the other side. Our depth gauge reading went from 11 m as we crested the bow wave down to just 6 m as we fell down the other side!
This ship is big!
The ship has passed, the canal is mirror calm again and we meet no one else until we reach the locks at Holtenau at kilometre 98 and the end of the canal. Passing under the huge autobahn bridge we are in the waiting area. Monitoring the traffic on the VHF we realise that there is just one lock in operation so we could be in for a bit of a wait. 16 yachts waiting to enter the canal have been there for 4 hours!
We settle in for a bit of a wait and drift about in a most proficient way which only 5 weeks of Dutch canals can teach you! However by 1400 the second lock is in operation and it is our turn to go! All 10 of us rush towards the lock gate, none of us want to miss the chance to get through or find a space!
The commercial locks are vast! We are about 3/4 of the way along it!
Jump onto the tree trunks!
Time for a lock selfie!
We need not have panicked, the lock is huge, more like a lake really and plenty of room for all of to moor along side. Anne, stern line in hand throws all caution to the winds and makes the leap onto the logs floating around the edge of the lock and secures us to the big steel rings that are fixed to them. As the single huge lock gate behinds us close and the one in front opens there is no change of water level. Here they must just control the water flow.
Finally after 6 weeks, 678 nm sailed and 144 hours run on the motor, Grace is in the Baltic!
The Baltic Sea!