Made it to the Black Sea!

Sulina, Sept 6th
There is no time for any extensive blogging but I just want to tell that Anders and I have arrived to Sulina, Rumania, which is where Donau ends and falls into the Black Sea. We arrived on Sept 4th, just according to the schedule, received by Lennart, my mate for the sailing on the Black Sea. Here we have made a tour out on the delta, seen hundreds of pelicans and what must have been 100 000 cormorants, a mighty sight. We have made the boat ready for sailing, said good-bye to Anders this morning and are now on our way out on the Black Sea. What a marvelous feeling to breathe the air from the sea after so many months on rivers and channels! Sailing down to Sozopol will take 4 – 5 days, winds are good and spirits high.

Through the Iron Gate to Rumania and Bulgaria

Vidin, Bulgaria, Aug 29th
The high point this week was our passage through the ”Iron ’Gate”, where The Donau has carved its way through the big mountain range of Eastern Europe, the Carpathians. In the 1960ies Serbia and Rumania cooperated here to build one of the largest dams of Europe, drenching vast areas with cities and villages, from where the inhabitants were forced to move in thousands. It gives both countries huge amounts of electric power and, through the locks, has made it very comfortable for boats like mine to make this trip without risking one´s life in the strong currents. But still it is marvellously grand landscape. Especially the Kazan gorge, a part of the Iron Gate,  was impressive, where the river narrowed to 150 m with 300 m high mountains on both sides.
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Approaching Kazan
The whole area has become intensely exploited by the tourist industry, for good reasons. An interesting sight was also the sculpture av the face of king Decibel directly in a rock by the river, a work of 12 sculptors during 10 years and finished 2004.

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King Decebalus
The passage through the Iron gate also meant the passage through the last locks of this trip. The first one, a 32 m giant lock led ur through the real iron gate.
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Anders and Ann at the lock
The second one, much smaller was the last lock of this long journey through the canals and rivers of Europe, n:o 410 when I count from my start in Lübeck last year.
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Nils leaving the last lock, n:o 410
The Donau is here for a long time the border between Serbia and Romania and further ahead it becomes the border between Romania and Bulgaria. We had to spend quite some time to check in and out of these countries and it was fascinating and sometimes frustrating to go through all those administrative procedures. 

In Vidin we checked in to Bulgaria and went for a dinner at a fish restaurant on a boat by the river. This was the last dinner with Ann, who was going to leave us the next day.
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An english-speaking Bulgarian neighbor at the restaurant helped us understand the menu. We started to talk to him quite a bit about his connections to Sweden and about our boat-tour, which impressed him immensely. When he heard that Ann was going by train to Sofia tomorrow he immediately offered her a ride because he was going to Sofia by car tomorrow together with his wife. Ann accepted gladly. So now Anders and I will continue on our own on there last part of the trip to then Black Sea.

To Belgrade

Belgrade, August 20th
On Monday morning was the time for checking-in to Serbia in Apatin, where we had to call an agent help us through the steps: showing documents to the harbormaster, going to a bank for payment, back to the harbormaster to sign lots of papers and then to the police. I was concerned that there would be trouble as my ”driving licence” (förarbevis och kanalintyg) as captain on the boat was lost. The Swedish authority in charge of those certificates had just the same day opened after their summer vacation and I had them send a pdf-file of my certificate, which arrived just a moment before we were meeting the harbormaster. My worries were over – and were all the same unfounded as they after all never asked for my certificate!
We, Johan and I, had then a comfortable three day´s journey on the Danube to Belgrade, anchoring one night and the next night staying at a marina in Novi Sad, the second largest serbian city by the Donau.
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Castle in Novi Sad
The Donau was very wide most of the way and it felt more like going on a huge lake than on a river:
IMG_2881But still there was a good current enhancing our speed. Oddly enough there was not much traffic, we had the wide Donau to ourselves most of the time, encountering just 3-4 ships (barges or cruising ships) a day. Further into Serbia there were hills and mountains, making the landscape more varied and beautiful.
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Cows grazing on the Donau beach
In Belgrade we tied up by restaurant Vodenica, were we were well received by our host with a shot of Serbian Slibovic (their aquavit made of plums). Outside the restaurant there is a floating dock, where Joy was tied up, rocking violently now and then with the surges of passing boats and loud music from a nearby beer festival and passing party-ships. But there were several advantages, nice and service-minded hosts, good WiFi and close to what turned out to be the best sight of Belgrade, their huge castle Kalmegdan, which is turned into a vast area for for walking and amusements and a great view of the rivers Sava (a big tributary) and Donau, especially spectacular at sunset:
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Illuminated castle Kalmegdan
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Lovely chapel at Kalmegdan with mosaics

Last night we had an unpleasant adventure. Anders, (who together with Ann who had already arrived will be my new crew the coming weeks), arrived late in the evening and we had a late and good dinner at the fancy restaurant at the castle. It was almost midnight before we were back to our boat. But alas, the restaurant was dark, closed and locked, no-one answering the phone. Our boat had to be reached through the restaurant and we were locked out. I hadn´t gotten any warning that this might happen and was facing a considerable problem: a crew of three tired persons with nowhere to sleep. I then approached a neighboring party-boat for help, where they had a big party going on. Eventually I managed to get the attention of a nice westindian-looking guy who tried to help me get hold of the people of our restaurant. When he didn´t manage I saw that they had some small boats tied up by their big party boat and wondered if they could take us in one of them over to our boat. Eventually they agreed and we had the solution of our problem. The four of us, Anders´ still with his suitcase, was shown through the ongoing party to a small open boat. It had an outboard engine, which didn´t work so the driver took the only oar and paddled us slowly over to our own dock, making jokes that this was almost like Venice. The troubled crew was happy again and we could crawl into our beds in the middle of the night, accompanied by the violent music from party-boats around us. There are some unexpected challenges with this kind of trip. But all´s well that ens well.
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Today it was time to say good-bye to Johan after another of the many good adventures we have had on my boat. Thanks, Johan, for two good weeks and a great job by the rudder!
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Johan leaving, here outside our restaurant Vodenica

With good engine into Serbia

Apatin, Serbia, Aug 13th
My good mechanics made the job, cooling-system and generator is now working fine so with 770 USD less in my wallet I was now ready to go, after 6 days in Budapest and a couple of days behind schedule. Thanks, Mati and Vilmos, (see picture) for helping me, even working overtime on the weekend as their workshop was overbooked. Good job!
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And here is a picture of the cause of alla my ordeals: the old deficient water-pump.
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With Johan and Sofia I got some extra days in Budapest. We enjoyed one of the famous Hungarian thermal baths, Szecheyi, where we spent a hot day in the 86° soothingly warm water in the outdoor pools, where hundres of people meet and socialize (see pictures)
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Another high point was an organ concert in the St. Stephen Dome and then a great view of the city from the top of the dome. 

We left Budapest and had a great last view of this beautiful city from the river.
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Budapest with Parliament to the left
We were now into a new heat wave with temperatures in the 90ies but we had a lovely day on the Donau when Johan and Sofia took the rudder for long times which gave the captain good relaxation. We found a great marina for the night in Kisapostag.
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Johan and Sofia at the beautiful marina in Kisapostag
They had a restaurant for a good dinner and also a beach on the river for a cooling swim. For me it was the first time I was , swimming in the real Donau, all other times had been in different bays without current. It was a great experience to feel with my body Donau´s strong current, which all the time is helping carrying my boat toward the sea. Swimming against the current took you relentlessly backwards and it was very hard even to walk on the bottom against the current. Strong, mighty river!
In Kisapostag Sofia had to leave us to go home. Johan and me went on to Baja, where I met my next ordeal: a violent stomach flue. We had to take another day of rest in Baja (which ironically is kids name in Swedish for n:o 2) 
but had good comfort and service in the Hajoker Bootsclub, close to the center. 
Next day we went on to Mohacs, the Hungarian border station, where we went through all the formalities of leaving Hungary and EU, a very efficient and swift process which only took half an hour with no cost. This in spite of me not having all the required papers. My ”förarbevis”, a certificate on my competence as a captain is lost, I am working with the Swedish authorities to get a new copy but hasn´t got one yet. The Hungarian border police was displeased but let it go. But I am afraid this will be a worse problem for getting in to Serbia. 
We passed the Hungarian border, where the Donau is becoming the border between Serbia and Croatia for a long distance. The villages in both countries looke fine now but it was sad to think of what a cruel place this used to be during the war in the 90ies. 
We were instructed on the phone to pass the Serbian border station, Bezdan, and go to the first Serbian harbour, Apatin, where we were well recieved in the marina. Unfortunately now Johan got his share of the stomach flue, which makes the meal we shared on a restaurant in Baja a very likely cause. We had fried pork filet there but also a delicious tomato sallad, which seems to be the likely culprit. So there will be another day of rest here, which we have to take anyway as the Serbian border police doesn´t work on Sundays.
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Apatin marina

With engine problems to Budapest

In Bratislava we had a new change of crew: the happy kids left me and took a bus to Vienna airport. Joyce and Sam came from Vienna with Uber. We then had a lovely but hot day in Bratislava, a very charming city, with a well preserved old town without cars and outdoor restaurants everywhere. I also climbed up, despite the heat, to the impressing castle and got a magnificant view of Donau, the five bridges and the fresh new-built suburbs of Bratislava.
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Slovakia is a small country, only half the size of Sweden in population, but is evidently thriving after it became a separate country 1993, when Tjeckoslovakia was divided into Tjeckien and Slovakia.
Then came the first day for Sam on the boat and it unfortunately became a very stressful one. First the front part of my construction for the mast gave in because of some big surges, scary for the crew of course but fortunately no big deal as the front of the mast landed and got good and safe support at the bow (see picture).
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Then the problem with the cooling system continued, which meant that I had to go in slow speed, slow indeed as a long part of the day was the canal into the big lock Gabcikovo with no current and the wind against us. I even had to stop the engine a couple of times so the engine could cool down. The lock went well, though, with its swimming bollards and Sam on one of the ropes in his first (and probably last) lock. The day was hot, in the 90-ies, I was stressed by the engine problem an my crew was quite fed up when we arrived at a marina in Komarno, Slovakia after the longest day of the trip, 10 hours. Sam then decided to stay at an hotel to get a good night´s sleep and I was sad that for the first time on the trip my crew had had a really bad experience of life on my boat. The next day was not any better as the problem of the cooling-system continued and we decided to tie up after a couple of hours at a deserted restaurant-ship (see picture).
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I had a consultation with a mechanic in Budapest and Sam went into the village and managed to get hold of a local mechanic. He was a nice man who seemed to know his job well and after a couple of hours he managed to get the cooling system to work much better well to my great relief. Sam gave up boat-life at this point and went to a hotel in Budapest but Joyce and I started with renewed hope the next day toward Budapest. But alas, the relief was short, the cooling system deteriorated again. Through a dramatic beautiful landscape with high hills (see picture of Visegrad with its castle)
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we managed still to go all the way to the Wiking Marina in Budapest, where the mechanic who had promised to help me was waiting.
Now we got some really good days in Budapest, which is an exciting and very beautiful city. We had a nice dinner at an Hungarian restaurant with music (see pictures).
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Joyce now left me and the boat to go with Sam to Berlin and then back to Stockholm. She is really not a boat-person and had heroically endured nine weeks of the discomfort of boat-life, just to be with me and make this great adventure possible. Of course she had enjoyed many parts of it but now she was really ready to leave. I will for ever be grateful, Joyce, for your endurance!
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To Budapest came now my grandchildren Johan and Sofia to become my new crew. (see picture with Donau in the background). The mecanics have been working very professionally with my engine problems, found that the water pump of the cooling system was failing and ordered a new one, which hopefully will arrive today. August 8th. So tomorrow we will leave Budapest after some delay, heading for Croatia and Serbia.

With grandchildren to Wien and Bratislava

So much has been happening the last two weeks that I didn´t have time and energy to write my weekly blog last week. Today is July 30th and I have some restful days in a peaceful marina, MYCB, outside Bratislava, where there will be a new change of crew. It is now almost two months since this adventurous trip began in Lagarde, France, and I am for the first time feeling some tiredness from this boat-life, always going to new places and with new crews every week to be instructed and taken care of and a sometimes failing engine which also needs daily care. Your position on rivers and canals are always in kilometers. For Donau it is the number of kilometers left before it reaches the Black Sea. My position in Bratislava is km 1870, which means that we have done 540 km during our three weeks on the Donau but also that there are 1870 km left before I can raise the mast and set sails on the Black Sea. So I can well need some rest now to recharge the batteries for new adventures and challenges to come.

From Linz, where I finished my last blog, there was a five-day-trip to Wien, now with three teenagers as Joyce´s and my crew, my grandchildren Agnes, 16, and Christoffer, 13, joining Gustaf, 15. So the boat became then quite a boisterous place with those great kids, so full of energy. There was a lot of swimming in the harbors and of course every night cardgames, which always has been the tradition when these kids are sailing with grandpa. We had another heat-wave this week, which we enjoyed, especially as we could be cooled down in the coolish Danube water (except Joyce who had a real hard time with the heat). And the Donau gave us an abundance of magnificent views of the landscape, some parts wild wooden hills (see picture with captain by the rudder),
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other parts as in Wachau, the wine district, with hills filled with vineyards and lovely towns and villages (see picture)
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There was a series of big locks, the kids did a good job there and all went smoothly. (see picture).
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In Krems Joyce and I celebrated our 4th anniversary by staying on a modern hotel with AC, a blessing for Joyce indeed in the heat-wave and a good relaxation for me too. And here is a lovely picture with my crew on a sunset walk along the Donau in Tulln, the last stop before Wien.
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Then we spent six whole days in Wien, where we stayed at the Marina Wien, a comfortable place with a restaurant and the subway close, expensive (38 €/night, the other marinas seldom over 20 €/night) but well worth it. Here we had another small change of crew when Gustaf left us (see picture)
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and Agnes´s boyfriend Philip joined us. In Wien we of course made the most important touristy things, of which Schuberts last little room in his brothers apartment where he died at age 31 and his brothers piano where he made some of his great last masterpieces was a high point for me – thank you, Schubert for giving me so much help to join sorrow and joy (see picture).
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But also Kunsthistorisches Museum with Raphael magically beautiful picture of ”Madonna in the Meadows” (see picture),
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two charming Mozart-and Strauss-concerts and a lunch at the Donauturm (Danube Tower) with a revolving restaurant and a magnificent view of the city were all well worth the Wien-visit.

But there was another big event that took most of my energy in Wien. My mast, 150 kg heavy and 13,4 meters long, had been delivered there from Travemünde, Germany, where I left it a year ago. This has saved us from having the mast on deck in all af these 400 locks, where it would have been very vulnerable. But it also took a great cost, 2000 USD for the transportation, the biggest expense of the whole trip. Worth it? Maybe. And there at the Marina Wien it had been delivered and was waiting for me. I had now the task to build a construction for it on deck, good enough to last to the Black Sea and comfortable enough to live with for a month. Construction is not an easy game for me but I had gotten good advice from a very good handy-man, Lennart. Now it involved getting the material (timber, screws and good straps to hold it) from Bauhaus, a huge hard-ware-store, which meant renting a truck for the transportation. And then measuring, sawing and drilling and mounting it. A sign that it created some stress for me was that these days I woke up at 5 in the morning instead of my usual 7.30. It was indeed quite a challenge to get it right, especially for not to making it interfere with the cover over the cockpit, which is badly needed for protection from rain and sun. But I got it done and on the picture you can see the result together with the happy crew, Christoffer, Philip and Agnes.
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In Wien, Joyce left me for a couple of nights that she will spend with his son Sam in a fancy hotel before they will join me in Bratislava. I and the teenagers went on toward Bratislava, a day trip from Wien. The first big waves from the big boats showed some instability of the construction, which we corrected. After the lock in Wien the Donau became far more violent than before, with a strong current, taking us at more than double speed downstream, eleven knots instead of five, which means a current of six knots! This is definitely a current too strong for my boat to manage upstream, which is why there is no way we can go the same way back. There was no problems to navigate and we were expecting an early arrival in Bratislava had we not run into problems. The cooling system of the engine had earlier shown some signs of failing but now suddenly it failed seriously and the temperature of the engine went high up to dangerous levels. I had to stop the engine but we could make good speed all the same with the current. Thing was, though, that we had to find a place to tie up the boat to let the engine cool down and work on the problem – probably a stop in the intake of cooling water around the propeller. I found a possible small harbor in Hainburg close to the Slovakian border, and had to use the hot engine quite forcefully to be able to get out of the strong current to get into the harbor. It went well, the harbor was luckily deep enough for us and we managed to tie up the boat alongside another ship. After some diving down to the propeller of me and Philip we found a possible cause to the problem in weeds entangled in the propeller. It would be possible now when the engine had cooled down and there came some water through through the exhaust pipe to go the rest of the way down to Bratislava but it had now become too late in the evening. So we stayed the night in our emergency harbor, fortunately with a restaurant close with ice-cream for the kids. Next day we went on low rpm without problem to this peaceful marina outside Bratislava, which I mentioned in the beginning of this blog. It is run by a family and includes a restaurant, where we had a good and cheap dinner yesterday. And today: a farewell to a great crew and a night alone till Joyce and Sam comes.
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On Donau into Austria

In Saal, by the Daunbe near the end of the Main-Danube-canal, we stayed at a big, fancy marina with a restaurant in the harbor and one of these infrequent “Boottankstellen”, where you can fill diesel directly in the tank. From there we went by train to Munich to pick up Gustaf, my grandson, and had a couple of hours in the medieval centre of Munich for lunch and sightseeing (see picture of new crew):
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Then it was time for our first day on the Danube (whose real name in German of course is Donau – why do the English insist on their own name?). It was a mighty feeling to take my Joy and Joyce out on this legendary river. In a way also surprising that Donau here is a pretty small river, about the same size as the river Main. There was not much traffic either so we were often alone on the river, admiring an often mighty landscape with wooded and rocky hills on both sides and now and then old castles or ruins of castles. Our first day we were aiming at Regensburg, the first big city on the way, which the guidebooks raved about as a must. The problem was, though, that the marina there was full. I had hoped that we could stay overnight at the lock in the middle of Regensburg but the lock-keeper was more than clear with his message that we were not allowed to do that. So maybe we had to miss Regensburg and anchor somewhere later along the river as there was no marina there for a long time. But just after the lock I saw a private small dock, which we decided to try. To my surprise it was deep enough for my boat and I went ashore and jumped a locked gate to try to find the owner and get a permission to stay. Eventually I found out that the dock belonged to a Wasserrettungszentrum, where they teach lifesaving on the river. I also managed to get the permit to stay overnight and information on how to unlock the gate. What a pleasure to have another successful problem-solving!
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We had a very pleasant afternoon and evening in Regensburg, situated on islands and shores of a Donau, which there had parted into several branches. The famous medieval stone bridge was being renovated so we missed that but the dome with wonderful stained glass windows was well worth the whole visit. And also of course a great traditional German dinner in a Biergarten – the traditional beergarden of many of the old restaurants in Bavaria.

After two more days on Donau we came to Passau, another of these cities that all our books and guidebooks were raving about. And we were not disappointed. Like once Napoleon we thought this to be the most beautiful city in Germany, a three-river city where both the river Inn from the Alps and the river Ilz from the Bavarian Forest connects with Donau. We were all so charmed by this city so we decided to spend an extra day here. Joyce and I spent a luxurious night at a hotel by Donau (picture showing our hotel Am Paulusbogen from Donau, the dome in the background).
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The old town of Passau is situated on a triangular peninsula, the tip being where the rivers merge. As most of the city was destroyed in a fire 1660 it was rebuilt in a pretty homogenous baroque style. The dome, also in extravagant baroque style (see picture).
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It also had an extravagant organ, the biggest in the world with 17000 pipes, which we enjoyed in one of their daily noon concert. The peak experience, though, was climbing up to Vestre Oberhaus, a medieval castle high above the city with a stunning view of the city and its hilly serene surroundings. You could clearly distinguish the different colors of the three rivers when they were merging, the Ilz blue, the Donau greenish and the Inn brownish from all the stuff from the glaciers of the Alps. It was one of the most beautiful views I have seen, probably not captured in my panorama picture.
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Close after Passau the Donau became the border between Germany and Austria and a little further on it had Austria on both sides. Donau had now grown considerably, especially as the river Inn is actually bigger than Donau. The strength of the current was also for a long time much stronger so we made good speed. The landscape changed and became even more beautiful with high wooden hills on both sides with even more old castles and ruins on top.
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Further on I had a celebration when I passed the 400th lock (sic!) after starting the trip in Lübeck last year. The last stop of the week was in Linz, a big city, where Hitler spent his youth and even during the last months of his life planned to retire, build enormous buildings and be buried. For us it was the place for our next change of crew, Lennart leaving us and my grandchildren Agnes and Christoffer joining us.