Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Navigating the Moscow Canal

Sunday 17th July 2011

Around 2.30 p.m. we started our journey of over 1300 km. to Saint Petersburg, during which numerous locks would lower our vessel from the 162 metre elevation of the Moscow Northern River Station to almost sea level.

Leaving the Moscow Northern River Station

On our right, we passed a long quay equipped with a forest of electric grab cranes. On the landward side of the cranes, there was a range of ‘mountains’ of sand and gravel. Although a Sunday afternoon, a couple of cranes were at work. Most of these construction materials are brought to Moscow in large, unpowered Dumb Barges which are propelled by sturdy tugs. The tugs have a specially-designed bow to allow a barge to be close-coupled. The barges have a complementary arrangement which includes a substantial coupling so that the two vessels may be locked together. On our way north, we were to see many of these sand barges, feeding the seemingly insatiable appetite of Moscow’s construction projects. Occasionally, we saw tugs propelling two barges. We also saw a number of sand carriers which were conventional, self-powered barges.

I was surprised to see a former warship tied up. Obviously de-commissioned, she still carried her fleet number ‘754’. Gun turrets were still in place, but the gun barrels had been removed. Various radar antenna were visible.

Our ship has three rather squat funnels – it was clear why when we passed under a road bridge with 14 metres clearance - our funnels cleared the underside of the bridge with perhaps 1 metre to spare.

We were now in the Moscow Canal in a much less urban setting and small forests lined the banks in places. The canal was built in the Stalin era using convict labour and the buildings associated with the canal have many classical affectations. Passing through a wooded section of the canal, we passed a colonnaded building carrying graffiti. Wide steps led down to the water and a number of youngsters found it a convenient bathing station. As our journey continued, we found many more places being used by groups for bathing. There were also fishermen, often with small tents.

A well-patronised bathing place on the Moscow Canal

With rather poor timing, the Captain had scheduled his welcome party for 6.45 p.m., as we were approaching the first of six locks on the Moscow Canal. The Captain briefly introduced his officers and staff to the passengers and then disappeared back to the Bridge. Shortly afterwards, I excused myself as it’s always fascinating to watch locks in operation, particularly with larger vessels. The upper lock entrance was flanked on both sides by a colonnaded building, each carrying two statues on top. After we’d entered the lock, the upper gate was closed behind us. At each lock, the upper gate was a single gate which rotated out of the floor of the lock chamber to rise up above the surface.

Having entered Lock 6, the upper gate is raised behind the ship to allow the lock chamber to be emptied.

Water was then discharged from the lock chamber, lowering the ship by about 8 metres. The massive double hinged gates at the bottom of the lock were then swung open, fitting into recesses in the lock walls. The lower lock entrance was flanked by two collonaded buildings, just like the upper lock entrance.

We passed through another three similar locks during the evening. The buildings at each lock had a different style. The buildings at the fourth lock had pillared rotundas crowning the buildings at the upper end and bronze statues of a sailing ship under full sail at the lower end. During the night, we passed through two more locks but I didn’t wake, although one of the passengers told me next morning that there was quite a bump in one of the locks. Since leaving Moscow, the ship had been lowered 49 metres to the level of Rybinsk Reservoir on the Volga River.

My pictures of our transit of the Moscow Canal are here.