Friday, 22 July 2011

The Volga – Baltic Canal

Thursday 21st July 2011

On Thursday morning, I woke around 5.0 a.m. as we were entering the second lock on the Volga – Baltic Canal (Lock 5). The lock is built on an embankment, above the level of the surrounding land, so it must look odd from outside. It looked pretty odd from my standpoint. The lock chamber is 270 metres long, allowing a second river cruiser to follow us into the lock. Lock width is 17.8 metres.

A second cruise ship follows us into Lock 5.

Once both ships had securely moored to ‘floating mooring hooks’ set in vertical guidance recesses in the wall of the lock chamber, the upper lock gate was closed and the sluices opened, discharging water into the lower pound and lowering the ships 14 metres. The double lower lock gates were then opened and the ‘traffic lights’ changed from red to green.

The ship did not immediately move and I soon worked out why. The next lock (lock 4) was only a few hundred yards ahead and a cargo ship was emerging from this lock and sailing towards us. Our ship waited until the freighter was clearing the lock before slowly moving ahead. A second, similar freighter followed the first out of the long number 4 lock.

Passing the first of two freighters between Lock 5 and Lock 4.

We passed both ships ‘port-to-port’, that is to say, we kept to the right. Both ships were riding low in the water so were presumably loaded but I’ve no idea what the cargo was as all the sliding hatch covers were closed. We entered the lock, followed by the other river cruiser. The lock entrance was flanked by the usual two equipment /control towers. They are of brick construction with a concrete facing and major repairs were in hand on the left hand building. All the concrete facing had been removed and was in course of being replaced. It looked as if the right hand tower had already received this restoration. There was a small village on our left, half hidden by trees. Otherwise, the view was densely forested rolling hills. The lock was emptied, the lower gates opened and we moved into the pound connecting locks 4 and 3.

The bank on our left had been recently improved by piling and providing space for waiting vessels to tie-up. A decent gravel surface had been provided and electric lighting fitted throughout. Some of the lighting standards also carried closed-circuit television cameras. We moved into the lock, followed by our ‘shadow’ cruise ship and, once again, the chamber was emptied and the lower gates opened. As we left the lock, we passed a moored freight vessel, waiting for its turn the enter the lock. At this point, the river broadened and we passed a number of ships waiting at anchor, loaded timber carriers and oil tankers.

Just before Lock 2, more construction work was in progress with two floating cranes involved in piling a new wing wall. A swing bridge took a small road across the lock entrance. The bridge had been swung aside to allow us to pass and a single car was waiting to cross. Only a half lifting barrier and flashing lights prevented the car from a watery fate. The original construction on this series of locks seems inferior to some of the earlier work. Yet some builder had seen fit to place an inscription on rather battered tie-plate, built up in weld metal with the date ‘1960’ and the name (in Cyrillic characters) 'Pilikin'. There were also three letters 'b B B' arranged in a triangle. I wondered if this was the equivalent to the old "Mason's Mark" - the "Welder's Mark".

After the locking operation, we entered a very broad stretch of river. I was intrigued as we passed a tug propelling a single barge. The barge was loaded with a huge steel fabrication and a fabrication comprising a large cylinder with various pipe connections. Both items were painted green and I guessed that they were for the oil and gas industry, but I really had no idea. We passed more ships at anchor, pointing upstream, cargo carriers and oil tankers. A river cruiser and two patrol launches going upstream passed us. As I looked behind, I saw that we’d still got our ‘shadow’.

Our ship and its ‘shadow’ gently moved into Lock 1. A security guard was patrolling with a gun. I think it was the first gun I’d seen since arriving in Russia (apart from those in museums). The lock operated without incident and I noticed that the left bank of the pound had also received the modernisation I’d seen between Locks 4 and 3. Two ocean-going oil tankers were moored here.

On the right bank we passed firstly a small tank farm with its own quay (occupied only by a yacht), then a large pile of logs. A floating crane and a cargo ship were moored by the timber. Beyond the logs there was a gravel dump attended by two floating cranes and another cargo ship. One hatch cover was open and I could see gravel in the hold. A member of the crew was hosing down the deck. Next, on the left, we passed another large pile of logs with a tracked bulldozer fussing around the logs. A bucket dredger was moored here. On the right a small cargo boat had pushed its bow against a recess in the bank so that the hull was perpendicular to the river. It looked very odd. A large tank was mounted on the foredeck and I could see a tangle of pipes and hoses but there was no activity to give a clue as to the purpose. I’d seen them seeding a lawn in the Transfiguration Monastery in Yaroslavl by spraying water apparently mixed with grass and I could only suppose that the cargo boat was engaged in some similar process, stabilising the river bank perhaps, but I don’t know.

Passing another cruise ship on the vast expanse of Lake Onega.

We’d passed through the last lock on this section and soon we were into Lake Onega en route to our next stopping point, Kizhi Island.

My pictures of the Volga-Baltic Canal are here.