Locking through the Rhine Main Danube Canal

One of the most interesting  parts of our river cruise, at least to the Ramblers was watching the Maria Theresa traverse the series of locks that made river travel possible between the Rhine and the Danube. We especially enjoyed our trip through the 106 mile long  Main Canal”s 16 locks, even staying up late to watch the locking process at night. The MT’s lights illuminated the dark water of the canal as we moved through the silent countryside. We found it almost mesmerizing.

Map showing the canal
Map showing the canal

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was finally completed in 1992 but later computerized between 2001 and 2007. The governments would like to add yet another lock between Regensburg and Passau, but construction has been stalled due to a combination of cost and environmental concerns. However, if constructed, this lock would prevent the low water conditions which have plagued the Danube this year.

Model of how ships are raise and lowered as they go through the canal.
Model of how ships are raise and lowered as they go through the canal.

Locks are needed for a variety of reasons; low water, a stretch of rapids or rocks, to allow a boat to move from a higher to a lower water lever or vice versa, or to get around a dam. Primitive locks aided European river travel for centuries, but in the second half of the 20th century, the construction of the Rhine Main-Danube Canal has increased the number of locks dramatically. There are 16 locks in the 106 mile canal, and their length, width and depth limit the size of boats that ply these rivers. Some also feature bridges that connect both sides of the river bank. Unfortunately, they are not very high and force river cruise ships to lower their pilot houses and take down their sun deck canvas and remove the sun deck chairs and tables.

Waiting in the lock along with a barge
Waiting in the lock along with a barge

A ship is lifted either up or down depending on the direction traveled, as the Danube end is 107.3 meters higher than the Main end. As we were heading towards the Danube our ship would first be lifted and then lowered to meet the level of the Danube.

Entering lock from the stern
Locking back from the stern as we enter a lock

The  vessels that use  the Main Canal can be no longer than 190 meters or 682 feet  long, and 27.11 meters or 37.6 feet wide. The maximum depth inside the lock is 2.70 meters or 8.9 feet which limits the draft of the boats as well. Some of the locks are larger in area, but the size of the smallest determines the size of the boat. This has resulted in the long, narrow lines of barges and passenger boats including the Maria Theresa.

Going down
Going down

She is 38 feet wide, and we noticed that piloting her into the smallest locks was much like threading the eye of a needle. This was not an easy task and depending on who was piloting the boat we at least once  heard scraping noises as the MT entered the lock. This happened very seldom however, as the skill of the pilot was amazing.

Entering a narrow lock
Entering a narrow lock

The Maria Theresa’s Captain is very proud of his ship’s appearance and if the sparkling white hull got a scrape, it was immediately touched up. The MT carries a small boat on her stern, and periodically it is launched so that the crew can inspect the hull and maintain its pristine condition.

The Ramblers thought you might enjoy a post on locking through, as it was fun. There were always a number of passengers outside watching the process. The crew really earns their money at this time as they have to lug the heavy lines around the bollards and then release them, again and again. Most time they were supervised by the “old captain.”

The old Captain
The old Captain

He had captained  Uniworld ships for many years but loved sailing so much that the company lets him sail along when he wants as a supernumerary. At every lock, he would be outside checking that the crew did things right, while puffing on his pipe. We imagine that he is an valuable resource for the Maria Theresa’s Captain and crew.

On to Bamberg!

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