Sunday 26th July. Shortly after the Dutch tugs passed by, we walked the dogs and headed off through the Serrig lock, which is soon followed by the Kanzem lock, then completed the final 5kms of the Sarre and entered the Moselle, or Mosel as it is known in Germany.
We picked up a bit more flow from the Mosel and were soon ticking along nicely at 8.5kms. Nearly every river and canal in Europe is marked by kilometre signs, and many have a mark every 100m, so you always know where you are. We entered the Mosel at 201km and the first lock at Trier is at 196km. We have a large blue navigation folder covering the Mosel, the Rhein, the Sarre and the Maas. It’s really good but doesn’t tell you the VHF number for each lock. I did a bit of research on navigation guides for the Mosel and one stood out as being the favourite, Maas, Mosel, Saar, by Manfred Fenzl. Thankfully I found an e-copy through Amazon and was able to download it to my kindle. It has more info on the yacht havens and also VHF channels for the locks, so between that and the blue book we had enough information for this leg of the journey. We thought.
At the Trier lock I established it was VHF79 and in my best English accent I called the lock and asked to go through towards Koblenz. The reply was a machine gun fire of German. Sorry, I don’t speak German, I said, helpfully. Rat tat tat tat came the reply. The lights on the lock were double red, meaning ‘you’re not coming through anytime soon’ so we tied up along the wall, well away from the lock and out of harms way but at least able to relax while we waited and walk the dogs.
After a while of still nothing happening Frank decided to go and speak to the lock keeper to see if he could get us underway. Apparently the guy refused to speak English, kept saying to Frank ‘Deutsch, Deutsch, Deutschland!!’ To which Frank was replying in gaelic that he was Irish and asking if the lock keeper could speak gaelic. This might sound odd but can sometimes have the effect that the person panics and reverts to English as the common language. But not this guy. He was determined that he would only speak German (fair enough, we are in Germany) and told Frank that he had to learn to ask to pass the lock and in which direction in German. He also said something about ‘hinter Gotcha’, which we later found out meant ‘behind Gotcha’, when a commercial barge called Gotcha passed us and entered the lock, immediately followed by the lights changing to 2 green, meaning ‘you can now enter’.
I immediately set about using Google Translate to learn how to say ‘I would like to pass the lock please, going in the direction of Koblenz’. Try it. It is so complicated that there was no way I would be able to get through this simple sentence for the remaining 9 locks we had to negotiate through to get to the Rhein. I settled on ‘pass das schloss bitte, richtung Koblenz’. Certainly not perfect but seemingly enough for the lock keepers to rattle off some reply (to which I always responded with ‘dankeschon’, regardless of the fact we had no idea what was being said!) and we passed all the locks with very little trouble after that.
Our first stop on the Mosel was a small yacht harbour at Schweich. It is also a camp site and shortly after we’d moored on the teeny tiny wooden staging (about 3m long) Frank took the boys for a walk and came back saying that we had stayed here before, with our first boat, Armanda. What convinced him was the fact they have 2 red telephone boxes situated near the clubhouse-cum-restaurant and a fuel quay on the river. My memory doesn’t stretch to such detail and to be fair, I was just glad to have found a spot to stay for the night.
The following morning I went to pay for the berth and having completed the information slip as best I could (I really don’t know any German) she wrote down that it would be €22.10. I offered a credit card and she shook her head and pointed to a sign which must have said something about not taking cards so I gave her cash, and in doing so realised we were now down to just €10 in the ships purse. I checked google maps and realised we were a couple of kms from a good sized town with 2 or 3 banks in the main street so while Frank did the engine checks I cycled into town to replenish our cash reserves and get some bread.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful but the scenery is very picturesque, with steep-sided hills covered with vineyards, often with a backdrop of forested hills rolling off into the distance. Because of the gradient many of the vineyards have shuttles on rails that carry tools up and grapes down as required.
We planned to stop at the port at Bernkastel but it wasn’t for us – a mile out of town with much smaller boats than Thirza – so we decided to keep going for a bit. Very soon we spotted a floating quay, similar to many others that we had seen so far, but whereas the others tended to have large locked security gates preventing anyone from getting ashore from the riverside (no good when you have dogs) this one had no gate at all, so we stopped at Bernkastel-Whelen. Almost immediately someone came to tell us this was a trip-boat stop and we would have to leave. ‘Dankeshon’, my stock reply now. We decided to risk it and when we checked out the times on the information board, the last boat for the day had left here at 5pm.
Frank did his usual dog walk and reccy of the place and came back to say there was a burger, kebab and pizza place in town. That’ll do! So, a couple of glasses of wine, a burger for Frank and half a pizza for me later we were very happy to have chosen this spot of the night.
The following morning we set off before we got kicked off and followed the river through the vineyards and hills. Only about 2 hours after we’d left, we spotted a town pontoon at Traben-Trarbach. We could see it was big enough to take us and also, if we moored in the right spot, we could get the scooter off. We knew there was a yacht haven about 4 kms on but our experience is beginning to tell us that these havens are really only designed for max 12m boats. We are a rare and unwelcome visitor to these parts but with an abundance of trip boat and town pontoons we seem to be managing to stop when we want to.
Tied up and with the scooter off, Frank went to see if he could find some stern packing, in an attempt to stop the rattle we were getting from the prop shaft. On his return he said there was somewhere to get the packing, but it was closed until tomorrow but there was an Aldi and Lidl in the town, along with an Edeka, which seems to be our Tesco equivalent. Before I set off to do the shopping and got properly stocked up with all sorts of goodies, Frank did 4 trips to the nearest fuel station to get enough diesel to fill the tanks and the 2 spare cans. At €1 per litre it was madness not to!
Frank had also sussed out the marina, and although we could have got in there, we both prefer to be on the river in amongst it all so stayed put. The only downside of this was there was no electric or water provided – no problem not having electric but we try to take on water wherever we can. Still, we knew we would be ok for a few more days (7, probably) so it was no problem.
The following morning (29th July) Frank got the packing, did the job and by 10am we were underway. We decided to stop for lunch today and at about 1pm we spotted two sets of town pontoons with one of them having the hammerhead free. We headed for it and had tied up before someone came to say it was reserved for someone else. ‘Eine stunde’ I replied. No problem, they will be arriving at 4pm, he said (I think). Ok, gut!!
Frank took the boys ashore and I followed him up the ramp, curious to see if there were any services provided…..and bingo, wasser!!! I got the hose out and filled the water tank while Frank walked and I prepped lunch.
We moved on after an hour or so and found our berth for the night on another trip boat pontoon in Belstein, a beautiful little village built out of the slate bedrock. Determined to have at least one night out in a proper restaurant on the Mosel I tried to book a table at the local hotel restaurant, overlooking the river (and Thirza, of course). Thankfully the waiter spoke English and he explained they didn’t take bookings, you just turn up and get seated or turned away.
At about 7:30pm we headed up to the terrace and was seated immediately, overlooking the river, and ordered a glass of local wein as our aperitif while we chose our meal. We were given an English menu (there is a god) and Frank chose the venison and blackcurrent stew, while I chose the beef and local beer stew – both served with sautéed potatoes. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal – the first we’ve had in Germany.
We’d worked out from the information board that it seemed the first trip boat would be here at 9.20am so we were up and walking the dogs by 8am. At about 8.30am a man turned up and opened the ticket office. He wandered down the pontoon and we immediately started to say we were leaving now. He gestured that there was no hurry and said that the boat would be here at 9.20am, as we’d guessed. He and Frank had a bilingual chat (he spoke German, Frank spoke English) but somehow managed to ascertain what we were doing, where we had been, where we were going and that we thought the town was beautiful. He told us that some scenes from Schindler’s List were filmed here. He was a very nice man.
We finally let go of our ropes at about 8.50am and were quickly at the lock, where we passed the trip boat coming up from Cochem. What timing 😊
Only about an hour after the lock we started to see the grand castle on the hill above Cochem. It is an impressive sight and we looked for a mooring place. The harbour here is in behind a wall near the bridge. There are no pontoons, just the two walls – one to the shore and the other protecting the harbour from the river – with plenty of space for us. As we moored up we both remembered being here with Armanda. It is such an impressive town and we remember being behind the wall looking up at it all. We both even agreed exactly where we had moored with Armanda, on the river wall. This time we were on the shore wall – which mean the scooter could come off for a sight see and visit the castle on the hill, which we did.
We managed to find some stickers for the scooter and shared a ½ litre of local wein siting on the side of the river enjoying the glorious sunshine. Wonderful!
That evening, as I walked the boys, Bosun jumped up and then down a low wall (about 18 inches) but misjudged it. He landed badly and hurt his shoulder. The noise he made was awful – I wanted to weep! I carried him back to the boat and both Frank and I examined him. He was whimpering and licking his lips – classic signal of pain – but we didn’t believe anything was broken. I spoke to our UK vet and he advised to administer the anti-inflammatory and pain relief meds Bosun had for his cruciate ligament earlier in the year and to monitor whether there is any or no improvement.
Friday 31st July – we awake to a blistering hot day and after a very gentle morning walk for Bosun we set off for the last two locks to the Rhein, both of which were uneventful, with the last one actually speaking English! Wonders will never cease.
After you clear the lock at Koblenz you are only 2kms away from the Rhein – and I have to say I had butterflies as we approached the mighty river and turned upstream to make the 1/2km journey to the harbour. With the revs upped from the usual 1400 to 1800 we still only made 3kms against the flow. It was painfully slow but at least we weren’t standing still, or worse, going backwards!
Eventually we arrived at the Rhein Marina and headed for an empty spot. Immediately a man came along saying that we couldn’t moor there but we could raft against the big boat on the end…….which turned out to be his boat. He was very helpful and we gently lay Thirza alongside then fendered-up in anticipation of the effect of the huge commercials sucking and blowing water ahead and behind them. It is fascinating to watch water levels drop and then return to normal as the heavy commercials pass by.
Once tied up Frank did his usual reccy to get the gate code and see what was on offer in the town. When he came back he said there was a pizza place a bit further along but here was a hotel with a short walk along the bank where we could get a glass of wine in the garden. Although it was now about 6pm it was still blisteringly hot – the lock at Koblenz had a time, date and temperature digital display and it was reading 38.5oC!!
We weren’t in the mood to eat yet so a cold glass of wine in the shade seemed perfect, so off we went. It was better than perfect. The garden bar is a hole in the wall of the hotel and most of the seating is beanbags that you could move to a shady spot to suit yourself, along with a small portable table. The music was Ibiza-style chillout, not too loud but enough to create the right atmosphere. The lawn was perfectly cut and the waitress bought 2 large dog bowls of water when she brought our drinks over. The dogs rolled and lay on the cool grass while we sunk a few glasses of local white and we discovered we could get braised beef and char-grilled vegetable wraps…….HEAVEN!! With our evening rounded off with a final glass for the road we returned to the boat very happy and relaxed for our first night on the Rhein.
Saturday morning we woke up feeling refreshed and raring to go. The final section of the Rhein has no locks at all, and with the increased current we were soon underway at an average of 13kms and in amongst the BIG boys. There were barges, trip boats and privateers everywhere you looked. In front coming at you, behind coming at you, on the right over taking and on the left blue boarding…….for a while it seemed like chaos!
Blue boarding is where the vessels coming up stream want to take the line of least resistance – where the flow of the river is less so they get a better speed. Up next to the wheelhouse on the starboard side goes a blue square with a white flashing light in the middle. When you see this you cross to the other side, but only if safe to do so. If you have another vessel overtaking you at the same time it is sometimes more sensible to stay put and let them work it out. Mostly it works really well and it is interesting darting to and fro across the river to accommodate the poor souls going up stream.
We had wanted to stop in Bonn, but on arrival it was clear that the only ‘town quay’ was also home to all the local sea gulls (please don’t ask me why there are sea gulls in Bonn – but they were there) who had crapped every inch of the pontoon. In any case, having turned into the current to moor, we were approaching VERY slowly and it was clear that the swell, wakes and waves on the river would make it virtually impossible to stay there and feel safe. We spun around and headed for the harbour that was just a few more kms downstream.
We made our way into the little harbour and soon spotted the sign ‘Gaste’ or guest, and aimed into an empty berth. It looked tight but we thought it was worth trying when a guy on shore said no way could we get in there. Asked how wide we were (I didn’t understand a word he said but at the same time he opened his arms wide so I knew he meant what was our beam. I called out ‘vier’. He then shouted to another man on the next set of pontoons who indicated he would find us a spot, which he did. He was lovely and as we literally squeezed Thirza and fenders into the gap that must have only been 4.3 meters wide he was telling us to breathe in! Once in we wondered how we would ever be able to prize Thirza out but we figured we’d work that out when we leave. In the meantime the nice man, Reiner, told us there was a bbq later at the club, everyone was welcome and you just need to bring your own food. Don’t mind if we do!!
Having settled down and put the sunshades up we headed off for a walk with the boys. We’d spotted a beach area on the way into the harbour so went there for a cooling dip.
It was lovely and as we headed back to the boat we just had time to make the burgers and salad dressing for the bbq before joining Reiner and his wife Luff, along with Dieter, the club president and his wife Ingrid (no idea how to spell any of their names so just guessing!) We had a nice couple of hours in their company, spending just €6 for the 6 drinks we had, and bought one of their club burgees as a souvenir.
When we’d walked the dogs we sat on the deck for an hour enjoying the humdinger of a thunderstorm that passed to the west of us, before heading to bed.
Sunday 2nd August. We couldn’t believe it when we woke up at 9am. We must have needed to rest but we quickly got ourselves up and dressed, dogs walked and water tanks filled, managing to get underway by 10am. Destination, Koln.