The Kiel Canal
John Apps recommends his favourite canal for a stress-free holiday
Not just for transiting…
Alot less lives were lost building the Kiel Canal than the Panama Canal – but both necessitated a change of borders and major political upheaval to bring them about.
The Kiel Canal is marginally longer than the Panama Canal. However, the Kiel only shortens navigation by hundreds of miles, not the thousands by which the Panama Canal shortens the route around Cape Horn.
In this humble leisure sailor’s opinion, it is far better-run than its more exotic counterpart in Panama. When you arrive at the Panama Canal, before you can even think about transiting your boat is officially measured: you then have to wait several days until you are allocated a time a few days in advance of when you are scheduled to transit. If you can’t transit on the day allocated you will pay a fine and re-enter the waiting process.
You are required to have four line handlers, although not all of them may be needed as you are likely to raft up to enter and leave the locks. You also need a pilot for each boat in the raft, and he has to be fed and provided with sealed bottled water. At some stage you will have to pay for your transit to a Panamanian bank.
To transit the Kiel Canal you join a gaggle of boats milling around outside the locks at either Brunsbüttel or Holtenau and wait to be directed to enter. I have always done this single-handed and have never called up on the radio to ask permission, although many other sailors do. You enter the lock and either find a convenient place where you can moor to water-level pontoons that rise and fall with the water, or find another boat willing to let you raft alongside. At Holtenau you have to pay for your transit, no matter which way you are heading. For my Rival 34 in 2014, the charge was r18 each way.
On the Panama Canal, a fine is imposed if you can’t maintain a speed of 5.5 knots, and you are directed by your pilot on your exact route and an overnight stopping place, depending which way you are going. On the Kiel Canal, once through the locks the only restrictions are that you must use your engine at all times, although you can augment it with sails if the wind is favourable. There are also certain hours of darkness when you can’t travel, and if you haven’t finished your journey there are designated stopping places roughly every 20km.
Going east, the first of these is at Brunsbüttel, where there is a marina inside the canal on the northern side as soon as you exit the locks. Brunsbüttel, albeit slightly dreary in my opinion, does offer a wide range of services. The only time I stopped here I had a 23ft boat with an outboard, and petrol was difficult to obtain after a long haul under engine up the Elbe. Even if I don’t stop at Cuxhaven I usually take the opportunity to fill up at the 24-hour cardin-the-slot diesel pump at the marina there.
Delightful stopping places
From the canal, some stopping places look like just a few posts out of the main traffic – but they can be delightful on a fine summer’s evening, in some cases offering a designated swimming area with sandy beaches.
You moor between posts fore and aft at Dückerswisch. In theory, you moor with lines to two posts at the front and two at the back. While I could get two lines on the stern posts using prop walk, being singlehanded I was only able to tie up to one post on the starboard side on the bow.
The next stopping place on from Dückerswisch is the entrance to the Giselau Canal at 40.5km. I stopped here on my return as I rather like going down the canal into the River Eider. (There are alongside berths, and toilets are available in the lock office.) As with the Eider, this spot feels very unspoilt. I think if you wanted to buy milk or bread it might be a long walk and a ferry trip across the Kiel Canal to Oldenbüttel.
Rendsburg is at 66km up a dammed section of the old River Eider. From the Kiel Canal, Rendsburg looks very industrial, although it used to have a magnificent suspended ferry carrying cars across the canal. Now it is just a high-level bridge, and a new bridge is being built to carry the vehicles that used to use the ferry.
If you need fuel or food or a good night out, Rendsburg is the place to stop. There are a number of marinas at the old River Eider going towards Rendsburg: I have always stopped at the Regatta-Verein Rendsburg (RVR) Marina, which is closest to the town. It has its own restaurant under umbrellas overlooking the old Eider. Fuel is available there at reasonable prices, and it has some of the best showers I have ever used at a marina. There are two supermarkets together just a short walk from the marina, one of which is an Aldi.
A little further east from Rendsburg, at 70km, is the Borgstedter See, a lake left behind when the canal was straightened. This can be entered from either end, but due to a low bridge serving a village it is not possible to continue through the lake. I have stopped at a small marina at its western end, but facilities were limited – and if I need a marina I would prefer to travel the extra few miles to get to Rendsburg with its extensive facilities.
At 85.4km there’s a lake well off the canal called the Flemhuder See. There are a few mooring posts here, but most sailors seem to take advantage of the wide expanse of water to anchor. Once again, there is an allocated swimming area.
There is a waiting area just before the locks at Holtenau, but nowhere inside the lock where you can stop overnight. On the Baltic side of the Holtenau locks there is a marina to the left or, a few miles to the south, Kiel itself. Unfortunately, the highly-regarded British Kiel Yacht Club which used to be to the north up the Kiel Bight is no more, but there are other marinas in that vicinity.
The Kiel Canal is one of the most delightful waterways in the world. Instead of rushing through to get to the Baltic or home to the UK, take the time to enjoy the beauty that exists both nearby off the canal and as you make your way along it. I have covered some French canals in a motorboat, I have transited the Panama Canal and have been on several UK canals, but my favourite for a stress-free holiday is the Kiel.
The Panama Canal, approaching Culebra Cut
A stop at Giselau Canal Lock. Toilets are available at the lock office
Stopping place at Duckerswisch, 20km from Brunsbüttel
The ship lock at Holtenau being shared with pleasure craft