Sahula Cruising

14 May 2012 | England
25 October 2011 | Ipswic
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
25 June 2011 | Frankfurt
09 June 2011 | Frankfurt
25 May 2011 | Regensburg, Germany
18 May 2011 | Linz
12 May 2011 | Nova Sad
12 May 2011 | Vienna
05 May 2011 | Budapest
22 April 2011 | Viden
08 April 2011 | Constanta, Romania

Rpt 53 vidin, Hells Gate, Horriblus Danublius, Belgrade

27 April 2011 | Belgrade, Serbia
David Haigh
Passage Report No. 53

Danube: Vidin, Bulgaria, Hells Gate, "Horriblus Danublius," Belgrade

April, 2011

Sahula is moored to the high, black, riveted steel side of an ancient river barge. It is the Vidin port authorities "pontoon," located near the city centre. The harbour master and port police meet, documents are checked.

Vidians promenading the river and city mall stop to view the new arrival with the "boxing kangaroo" flag flying.

Captain Jord of the river passenger ship, "River Countess" has left orders to wake him. He is expecting Skipper and Crew. A ship tour and invitation to dine confirmed "...the best meal they'll have for weeks."

Passengers (US, Australian, English and European - elderly) are intrigued by the Sahula adventure. Australian passengers more so. Captain Jord announced on ship intercom that an Australian yacht was passing close by and the crew would be aboard in port.

The Captain's Table enjoyed a gourmet meal and wine. Bulgarian Folk Dancers entertain. Camera's click of wives with yachtsman, Crew.

"River Countess" ( is a 110m (361 ft, draft 1.5 m - "we clear some bridges by 10-20 cms") of luxurious, Danube and canal, cruise ship for 134 guests, between Ruse, Bulgaria and Basel, Switzerland. She takes 12 days (at speed and at night) to Sahula's two months.

A premonition of the River flow upstream: Captain Jord: "...we can only do six knots."

Time slips by: "it is the" - "Oh" - Sahula's date was the "19th"

A nearby service station provides fuel, a mall supermarket supplies. Water is not on tap.

Vidin's, wide mall, old building, riverside parks, restaurants and castle, enhance Sahula's stopover.

Sahula leaves Bulgaria to "transit" (not visit ports, only anchor) for Belgrade, Serbia. Officials are efficient - "Good trip." Harbour pontoon was free.

The River winds its way through low Romanian and Bulgarian banks. The tide turns Sahula at anchor (sandbank "820," 2-3m) on a starry night.

Chine fishing boats replace the narrow carvel design. Goat herds drink at the River.

Serbia provides the opposite river border to Romania.

To generate hydro -electricity (shared between Serbia and Romania) and to preserve river height, the River is dammed; Prahovo dam and lock system is the first. Sahula enters (no waiting time) the "concrete canyon" with a 9 barge Ukrainian pusher. "Small is beautiful." Mooring lines (amidships and forward) are placed on the "floating" bollard.

"New," neat, Serbian villages evidence those flooded by the dam. Villages line the Serbian, Danube, hillsides - colourful red roofs and well painted, some large, houses, reveals an agrarian prosperity.

100 plus kilometres - Sahula's longest daily distance (usually 70) - the dam lake reduced the current effect.

Iron Gate or the Gorges has a reputation, now much abated by the dams. Where previously a barge may take four days towed through fast currents and hidden rocks, it now is a much faster passage through flooded, high sided, gorges and locks. Then there is the "wild winds." Captain Jord: "...wild winds can come from no where with 2 m. waves."

Sahula anchors opposite Turnu Severin (930) to ensure a full "Gorge" day.

The Hells Gate lock master, "enter, lock free" (Russian - English). Sahula alone (no waiting) ties up in another two "concrete canyons" to move up, 28 m.

Lexus, Albert and Caesar wimper for attention from the lock quay. Crew is smitten by few week old, plump, (motherless) pups. Caesar opts for freedom, falls, caught by Crew, adroitly balancing his camera. Skipper vetoes a ship's dog (or three).

The "canyon" resonates to the metallic grinding of many bollards slowly floating with the rising waters then rumbles with the guillotine gates, final, frothy plunge, before the green light releases Sahula to the River.

Trajan's Tablet marks the Gorge entry. It records the "Father of the Country" - "overcame the hazards of the river" (around 103 AD) and moved an army along a cliff road (planked timbers set into the cliff) to contest the Transylvanian gold mines from Decebalus, King of the Dacians. Ensuring life thereafter, Decebalus countenance, chiselled into a granite bluff, overlooks the contested Gorge, appropriately named "Hells Gate" or "Iron Gate." For some 100 km's the River wends its way through the Transylvanian mountains cutting narrow gorges and valleys for Swiss like villages.

Sahula entered the Lower Kazan's (lower gorge) swirling current. Crew, cameraman, runs hot and exclaims; "LTD - living the dream." It is a spectacular, spiritual, place of steep, granite bluffs and towering, 1000 m., rock cirques dropping to a 150 m., wide Danube. An Orthodox Church and monastery, perches precariously over the channel.

Crew wishes to swim the gorge. Skipper provides wise counselling, "later..."

Sahula's daily distance extends to 100 km, driven by Captain Jord's "forceful gorge winds" and waves, curling astern. An "uphill" advantage.

Anchorages are "mined" by fisher's clear plastic buoys and flooded, remanent trees.

Anchored fleets of barges, a falling barometer, rising wind - premonition of the unknown.

Roman emperor's tablet cut into the gorges hill cliff, marks the River's gorges, castle guarded, exit, to again cut through the Serbian and Romanian, rolling hills and flat plains.

The distance sign ashore marks 1000 km's.

In the cliff lined, narrow gorge exit, two metre, wind whipped (30 knots), waves (katabatic gorge wind) - Sahula, the only boat moving, surfs into a dust haze.

Depth rapidly drops to 1.6, alarm sounds, visibility to metres. A near, invisible, green buoy close to port guides a relieved Skipper back on course. Relief.

In Veliko Gradiste (Serbia), Skipper is informed the River, due to the gale, has been closed.

Sahula berths alongside a barge. As a small town, Veliko Gradiste officials are reputed efficient. The barge is leaving, the River has been "opened." Sahula glides alongside a pontoon, Tanya (engine) shudders, clunks and stops. Sahula ties to the pontoon. A rope is around the propeller.

Skippers considers the worst - bent shaft and/or propeller - stranded in a small town, 1000 km in deepest, Eastern Europe.

The cold, yellow grey, green, Danube challenges its removal. Crew dives in, freezes, hyperventilates, in nil visibility, dives three times and cuts clear the rope (20mm mooring line), freeing the propeller. Teeth chattering, Crew, shivers and shudders to warmth.

There is no damage. Relief is palpable.

The pontoon owner demands 30 Euro for four hours - "you must go." Sahula, pays for peace - anchors off.

Skipper was warned the Serbians had invented a new meaning for "bureaucratic." Vladimir, English speaking, helps out. "no you don't need an agent (18 in town) you must go to the Harbour Master, then the Border Police and Customs (all close by). The Serbian "river permit" to go to Belgrade, costs 50 Euro; you must hand in your passport if you go to your anchored yacht and get it back to tour the town; you must pay the permit fee at a bank (special form required to deposit into a special account). To depart you must go again to the Border Police and Harbour Master and receive your permit, then you can leave - I know, it is terrible, it is the Serbian system."

"Why does Sahula need a river permit, isn't it an international waterway?" "Serbia owns the River off Serbia; it doesn't recognise the international waters - I know, I know..."

Skipper and Crew fill fuel containers at a local service station, buy food at the nearby supermarket and enjoy a meal and beer in the town square. A day marked as Sahula's "horriblus Danublius"

Crew's birthday (24) passes uneventfully - thankfully. Border Police officer, "You leave?, strong wind today." Officialdom has been helpful - "it is the system." Fleets of barges are anchored, awaiting improved weather. Sahula, released, sped before it.

Off Ram village (1075), Roman fort guarded the steep sided channel. At Smederevo (1115) once an ancient capital (1430), a large fortress, built as defence against the advancing Turks, confronts the River.
Anchorage is under the power lines (1145), Ashore the village, Donja Vinca's rubbish dump pollutes the River. A utilitarian anchorage to ensure an early arrival at Belgrade (1170).
Tanya drives Sahula to her first river capital.
Next Report: Belgrade, Nova Sad, Croatia, Hungary.
24th April, 2011

Vessel Name: Sahula
Vessel Make/Model: van de stadt 36 extended to 40 feet
Hailing Port: Townsville
Crew: David - single hander
David is retired (60 ish young) academic who taught potential environmental radicals environmental law, law of the sea and coastal law. He's now setting out on a global cruise aboard Sahula. He's travelling solo except when potential crew take the plunge and join up. He welcomes worthy souls. [...]

About Sahula

Who: David - single hander
Port: Townsville