A kinetic run to Kiel

At 5.50am it was still cold. We know that because that was the time we chose to leave Brunsbüttel. We left almost silently – well apart from the engine that is – to try and avoid disturbing the Danish boat next door. Turns out one of the locks was emptying at the same time, so immediately on exiting we had to avoid three large ships and get over to the other side of the canal. Once across there tea became the priority – mainly to warm up. Once the engine was running at around 2,000 revs giving us about 5.8 knots, we settled down for an exciting trip for the next 10-11 hours!

In fact within an hour we had an interesting illustration of the current state of geo-politics. We were over-taken by another yacht. Even from a distance it looked big and it turned out to be a VO70 – one of the round the world Volvo Ocean racing boats. It is now called ‘I love Poland‘ and is owned by the Polish National Foundation (PFN). As well as being used to promote Poland internationally, the crew is drawn from talented young Polish sailors to give them international racing experience. As they drew past us, they realised that one of the ships that had come through the lock in front of them was Russian. Very rapidly one of the crew appeared on the foredeck and hoisted up the Polish flag with a large Ukrainian flag underneath. I don’t suppose the Russians were in any doubt where their loyalties lay!

Having previously thought of the Kiel Canal as the M25 of yachting trips (and often equally stressful), today’s run was actually very pleasant. Bright sunshine and warm weather helped but there seemed to be more variety than previously and some quirky sights. One of these was a ship heading down which appeared to have dropped its lifeboat and the lifeboat was chugging along behind, as if to try and catch up and re-mount its station on the rear deck. In fact it was just a separate lifeboat making its own solitary way along the canal – something which raised far more questions than it answered ….  

The ugly duckling of lifeboats?

The main town along the canal – properly called the Nord-Ostsee Canal rather than the Kiel Canal – is Rendsburg and it is about two-thirds of the way between Brunsbüttel and Holtenau. When the canal (then called the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal) was built between 1887 and 1895 it cut straight through existing traffic lines including the railway line between Neumünster and Flensburg. To sort this two parallel swing bridges were built. However, the railway lines had priority over the ships and this frequently caused long delays for the ships passing through the canal when trains were coming. So, when they rebuilt the canal from 1907 onwards, they decided to fix this. As part of the process the Rendsburg High Bridge was built. The new bridge had a clearance of 42 metres above the canal and this meant that it had to be raised up by 36.5 metres. However, Rendsburg station is only a couple of hundred metres from the bridge and trains don’t do rapid drops very well (not if you want them to stop at the station anyway), so they had to build something called the Rendsburg Loop. The loop enables the trains to come down gently and still stop at the station and the district of Rendsburg in which the loop is built is named Schleife after the loop.

The other problem than of course was passengers, so to save them walking up 42 metres and down again to cross the river, they created the ‘transporter bridge’ or in german the “Schwebefähre” (suspension ferry). This has a gondola which hangs below the railway bridge on cables. It turns out that on 8 January 2016 the gondola of the transporter bridge collided with a ship – the Evert Prahm – and was heavily damaged. It was taken off for the damage to be assessed but it was found to be too badly damaged. Construction of its replacement began in April 2020 and the service started again in 2022. So, we were delighted to see it running again and very obligingly, it decided to cross just as we were going past.

Rendsburg transport bridge

The rest of the trip was fairly unremarkable, but very pleasant in the sunshine. We did have to wait around an hour at the Holtenau end for the lock, but the transit was fairly easy and we arrived at Baltic Bay Marina in Laboe at 17.05 having done 56 miles.