Kiel Canal

  Monday, April 11, 2016 / Stephanie / Sailing  

The Kiel Canal was a grand finale to complete our first year aboard Detour!  We'd traveled through Europe's inland waterways, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, and now we'd transit the world's busiest artificial waterway.  The Kiel Canal (A.K.A. Nord-Ostsee Canal) connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) through Germany.  We'd use this 98-kilometer (60-mile) route to access Denmark.  The Kiel Canal has a webpage  filled with fun facts for those of you who love numbers.  It rained all day.  We departed Cuxhaven with an inbound current boost, registering 9-knots on our speedometer, and arrived at Brunsbuttel two-hours later.  SHIPS!  Oh, the ships coming down the Elbe River were GINORMOUS!We entered the Kiel Canal at the Brunsbuttel lock.  I hailed "Kiel I" on VHF 12 to inform the lock-keeper we were awaiting entry.  The light signals here are different than those to which we had grown accustomed.  Rather than a green light for go, we were waiting for an occulting white light to alert pleasure vessels it was our turn to enter the lock.Pleasure vessels use the old locks at Brunsbuttel.  These smaller locks are 125-meters (410-feet) long and 22-meters (72-feet) wide.  There are bollards in the lock walls, something to which we have grown accustomed in various locks, but rather than secure to the bollards, pleasure vessels secure to floating pontoons.  The floating pontoons are wooden, actually a bit slippery!  It was difficult to keep the fenders in place since the floating pontoons were so low on the boat. Overall, easy locking with plenty of room to spare. This end of the Kiel Canal was quite industrial.  As the day progressed, neither the visibility nor the scenery improved.  Bridges along the canal are set at 40-meter (131-feet) clearance.  There were traffic lights at the start and end of pull-off sections of the canal which we presumed signaled the ships to indicate oncoming traffic.  We had ample space to move aside; the canal is 162-meters (531-feet) wide at 11-meters (36-feet) deep.Pleasure vessels are not permitted to operate at night in the Kiel Canal.  We'd completed approximately 3/4 of the canal and were totally drenched after a nine-hour day in the rain.  We anchored at the only, permitted anchorage we could find at Borgstedtersee.  A bit of pre-planning with the heater had the boat warm and dry already when we retired inside.  The next morning, we set out with the only goal to complete the canal.  We'd rigged a motoring cone (navigational signal) on our flag halyard.  Finally we'd identified these plastic triangles we'd found aboard when we purchased Detour.  We'd read that Germany is quite fond of using motoring cones to indicate a sailing vessel is motor sailing.  We'd also read that motoring cones were necessary in the Kiel Canal as sailing vessels were required to motor.  A bit of luck gave us a morning clear of rain, and a bit of downwind sailing.  We followed the rules of course, keeping the engine in neutral.Our exit was at the Kiel-Holtenau locks.  I hailed, "Kiel IV," on VHF 13 as we approached and was asked to wait at the pleasure boat pontoon until the appropriate light signal was given from the lock.We waited while we watched two cargo ships and two naval ships enter the new locks.  The old locks, however, seemed completely closed with no light signals and 'do not enter' signs posted at the entrance.  Maybe we'd lock through the new locks with the GINORMOUS ships? An hour later...the lock seemed to have made no progress.  We saw no other approaching ships on the AIS and wondered why we were not being signaled to enter.  Across the river, a ship wharf was launching sailboats and motor boats into the water with record-breaking efficiency.  As one boat was launched, the next was already being backed toward the crane.  Newly launched boats were rapidly moving off the wharf wall and crossing the river. A line of pleasure boats formed at the pontoon.  The crane continued to launch...Two-hours later, waiting pleasure boats were rafting to one another.  We socialized with a family who confirmed for us that the old locks were closed and we would go into the new locks with the ships.  The old locks have actually been closed for several years, as a result there are not canal fees for pleasure boats at this time.  The new locks are quite large, 310-meters (1017-feet) long and 42-meters (137-feet) wide.  Finally, some activity at the lock.  Incoming ships were about to exit.   It was now nearly three-hours since we'd docked at the waiting pontoon.  The captain of the boat rafted directly to Detour informed us that an announcement had been made informing pleasure boats we would enter next.  Chaos ensued.  In a flurry of dock lines, all of the pleasure boats cast off the waiting pontoon.  We stood, bewildered in the cockpit, as boats zigged and zagged 'round one another in the center of the river.  What about the queue!?  These boats were all out of order!  It looked like the starting line of a regatta!  Oh, how we missed the self-regulated structure of Dutch boating!  A loudspeaker instructed the pleasure boats to utilize the starboard wall of the lock.  The anxious boats entered willy-nilly and we patiently moved ourselves near the end of the so-called line hoping it would give ample time for things to get sorted.  It was still somewhat unclear which boat we were to raft-to as we entered the lock.  A larger, double masted sailboat was clogging up the works mid-channel waiting for smaller boats to take the floating pontoon along the wall. Who he thought he would raft with, I've no idea.  Detour's stern was being swept by a cross wind, and the bow thruster couldn't lower quickly enough as Brian urgently steered between pleasure boats and the stern of a 300-something foot cargo ship.  I noticed a man atop the lock wall directing the pleasure boats where to raft as the floating pontoon filled.  Brian was able to get the steerage under control and I informed him that we were being directed to raft to the third boat ahead of us.  Brian made a spectacular stop as I and the captain of the boat to which we were rafting secured lines.  The very last boat squeezed inside the lock while the doors were closing; two boats behind us still not secure.  Brian motioned for the last boat to raft to us, a look of relief swept over the woman's face as she and I confirmed via hand motions that I would take her bow line.  Finally, everything was under control and Brian and I gaped at the sight before us. We don't actually know if we were lowered down or lifted up, but within what seemed like moments the gate was opening and the man atop the lock wall was signaling the pleasure boats to exit between the ships. 


  1. From Stephanie Grandjean on Apr 16, 2016
    Our own perception of our size changes daily! Tiny alongside container ships, then when sizing up the slips in marinas we feel HUGE!

  2. From Stephanie Grandjean on Apr 16, 2016
    Enjoy Stockholm! We could have sailed to you but the forecast has us headed up the Jutland side of Denmark.

  3. From Grandma on Apr 11, 2016
    That was exciting. You must have felt as though you were like a car sandwiched alongside a semi on the highway. Just looking at the pictures the pleasure boats looked small. I enjoy your sailing so much via the blog.

  4. From Lynne Woodward on Apr 11, 2016
    I so enjoyed joining you down the Kiel canal - I've always wondered what it's like. The story was a real page turner. We're in Stockholm - welcome to Scandinavia!