Upstream – Wertheim to Würzburg

We slip the moorings from Wertheim early in the morning, on the 20th of July, with a brand new crew made by Paolo, Massimo, Holger and me. It rains and a rather annoying wind sweeps the water: We have a hard time to get out from the Tauber river, where Clodia is docked. Entering the Main, however, the wind is on our tail and we run fast with two reefs tucked in.

Still, this river amazes me: Steep sided valleys and castles, coniferous forest, I feel like being in the Alps. Our day is alternating between headwind or tailwind depending on the direction of the meanders we’re in. Then, when the evening comes, we stop for the night in a little village called Urphar, mooring to a pontoon on the side of a camping.

We drop the anchor toward the center of the river to keep the distance from the pontoon itself, to avoid getting bumped into it by the waves coming from the big ships passing overnight.

Holger ed I go toward a Garni that looks good, even if somebody tells us that’s closed. Well, let’s give it a try! We find an open door. Silence.

We get in: Inside the lights are dimmed and we see a man sitting on a bench, many set tables around him. Holger asks if it would be possible to get a couple of beers: “Nein… Geschlossen… Montag…” (Not, closed, it’s Monday).

I thank him anyway and so does Holger, telling him about what we’re doing. His expression changes: He hushes up for a moment, then invites us to take a sit.

He shortly comes back with two large Weissbiers in his hands, telling that we’ll be his guests. A world strikes me: He pats my shoulder saying “respekt”, while his eyes shine!

Thanks Volkmar, that’s his name: Your “respekt” and your look have repaid me, all at once, of everyone who laughed at me, who had already decided for a “no”. They’d never know it, but it’s them who gave me the right boost to take this journey.

I have to be grateful to the “no”, the defeatists, the racists, those worried, the destructives, the selfish, because it’s thanks to them that all of this takes place, to transform their point of view from the inside, carefully and not judging. Volkmar gives us two more beers showing me the biggest snail that I’ve ever seen. It’s African and on his hand, with sheer elegance, seems to express love. That he returns.

We have a quiet night and an enchanted wake up: The mist’s rising from the water and a few curious ducks come to see me.

Volkmar and his wife offer a good breakfast to all the four of us, giving food and beers. Bettina gives us beers and another man beers still. We’re in Bavaria, the stow is full: Of beers, of course! Beer is food, as Holger says, so I shouldn’t be starving to death (or at least I’ll die in a very good mood…)

The intake of beer in Bavaria is twice as much that of Germany, that’s in turn three times that of Italy. In Bavaria they drink about 240 litres of beer per year, per person. These figures come from a leaflet that’ve been given in a brasserie in France, in Saint Nicolas de Port. By then, I discarded them as unbelievable. Now I know that’s possible!

We set off after a nice evening that seemed like a lifetime. Lock after lock (so huge) we’ve already got halfway through this magical river. In Marktheidenfeld we’re waited by a journalist. He takes many pictures but doesn’t ask anything. He’ll write a wonderful article, thanks to Holger I believe, who gives him a copy written after four days aboard.

Living the river is quite different than looking at it from the side. All the books about rivers that I’ve read, including the beautiful “Danubio” by Magris (who has navigated on the Danube, though, but by motorboat) did not grasp the real essence, the power, the sheer pureness of this complex being.

What doesn’t get through, in my opinion, is the most important thing: Life. Everything comes from those rivers, the ocean is feed by rivers, we’re born along the rivers. And we get back there, sooner or later. Writers from all the world, get aboard! But by rowing, riding, sailing! Please, without a motor, that steals that marvellous thing that’s physical effort.

Else, you won’t understand. You’re water at 70 percent and you have to vibrate along with the same wave lenght of it. If not, you’ll write a river of words but you’ll never really tell about the river. All in all, I can’t talk about it too, I’m a humble water follower yet!

After a tasty plate of Spätzle (potato dumplings with many other things) we set seils to Lohr Am Main. The current get stronger, so I row faster but unavoidably slow down: A very very hard leg.

I get pulled by Serena for 7 km because I can’t go ahead and the sky is really menacing: I’ve still to be careful about my health. I drop the lace a few Kilometres before Lohr, an old port where the fishermen still work. They spread their big nets just beyond the locks, straight from the fishing boat.

I see old pictures of the shipyards, of the wooden raft sailing downstream, and of people leaving along the river, thanks to the river. And the marks of the floods, written on the walls. Arrived to Lohr, we look for a place to eat but a lone light shines in a desert town: We’re too late as usual!

The light smells by pizza and comes from an Italian restaurant, the only place open. Despite our proposition to favour local food, we hungrily get in. Salvatore (another one) welcomes us and serves me an extraordinary plate of “gnocchi alla bava”. Thanks Salva!

In Lohr we’re reached by Enrico, who’s riding by bike from Glasgow to Ukraine, and has booked a few days with us, aboard Clodia, through this website.

He tells us about his reckless life, a childhood in Sicily, Catania, then Rome and Glasgow.

The next morning I meet a man over a wheelchair, and a strong woman on his side. He wears a captain’s hat, his name’s Manne and lives aboard. He gives me a Bavarian flag and a few beers from  Aschaffenburg, from where he comes. His story is strong: Struck by a stroke some years ago, he doesn’t give up the boat and builds a system to get hoisted and move aboard. In his eyes, I can see the passion and the admiration, the sadness and the strenght whom has won it. When you have little, you make do with what you’ve got. But Manne has got a lot! Thanks to the river.

I also see Frank and Jessie who give me Paula, a grunting rubber pig that’s now at bow on Clodia, and always makes me smile. Thanks.

The current is now too strong and the effort is terrible, I miss Bruno even here. In the end, we get to Wernfeld, after just 12 very hard Kilometres.

The Main has overflown, the banks are under water. I meet Harim, who already followed me with his kayak in Lohr, and our evening gets by with a mixture of pennette (a type of pasta, gift of Volkmar) with tomato sauce cooked by Paolo and wurstel grilled by Harim and Moni.

We’re moored in a wonderful marina, surrounded by nature: The only noise comes from the trains passing very often, in the night too. But this is good, it means less trucks on the roads. We also meet Günther, who gives me lots of food and Hermine and her husband who want to donate me 20 euros. Thanks for those gifts. Fantastic Germany.

Early in the morning, we struggle to win our lazyness (and a bit of healty, logical, worries) to face an ever increasing current.

The game is immediately very tough. When I get out from the protection given by the marina, rowing at my best, I just can’t move! I try to change direction and get back, when on the other side of the river the current gets weaker and, as a miracle, the wind comes to my aid. My enemy-friend.

Now is on my side and I’m happy, a force of nature helps me in fighting another strong force of nature. Wind against current, and Clodia built to sail: And sail it does, very well. People stare at me, it’s crazy to go upstream against this current, reaching as much as 6km per hour, faster than my rowing speed.

On the sides I always find a passage, touch the trees, sometimes I turn, stop and restart. It’s a fight made of directions, resistance, attention, cunning. The art of river navigation.

Konrad would be happy. With a motorboat it’s so easy and ordinary: I’m enjoying it, even if I’m dead beat. Hours by sails and oars, oars and sails, not a moment to rest.

And I’m not a good sailor. As I said, I miss Bruno who’s a magician in these situations. Water observation is critical to foresee the next move, the submerged obstacles, the trunks and the big rocks.

However, this leg is glorious. I get to Würzburg pushed by so much wind: Here the Main, surrounded by vineyards, isn’t any wider than 30 metres. The impressive current makes waves so high that looks like rapids. I’m grateful to this wind: By rowing it would’ve been impossible to make it!

The last bridge crossing is a struggle, 10 minutes for 30 metres. But now I see Würzburg, with its onion-shaped domes and its castle nestled between the vineyards. Würzburg is in the vineyards! After a lock, I turn back and see a marvellous bridge, with many statues placed at its guard, and a deep green in the background.

In the Hafen Bar marina we’re welcomed by Coony, Tom and Alwin. They have read the half page of the Main Post newspaper with the article about us. Wonderful welcome, fantastic location, in a protected bend of the Main, overlooking an island reserved to non-human animals. Tonight we can listen to plenty of music around! There’s a graduation party and in Würzburg live something like 30.000 students. A very nice, royal, city. Today we visit the “Residenz” housing the frescoes by Giovan Battista Tiepolo.

Alex and Manuela from their boat greet me, they’ve helped us in Lohr. Nearly old chaps! In the evening we see a few little fires lit on a nearby boat, that’s equipped with tables and benches: The marina’s owner, very kind, invites us for dinner, on top of granting free mooring and services. A true gentleman.

In Würzburg I meet the Orient. I get this feeling, even if I’m still so far away. However, the shape of  the church over us speaks clear and loud. But, where does the orient begin?

Let’s take a look! A big hug.



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1 Response » to “Upstream – Wertheim to Würzburg”

  1. Holger says:

    Grande Giaco,
    hope you are well ! It was really a great honour for me to stay aboard and to spend time with you, Clodia, Fine, Paolo and Massimo. A realy grande barbuzzi which I enjoed very much ! Hope to see you again perhapy at the channel at Beilngries or at the Danube. We’ll see what is possible ;-) A big hug for a really really nice man who brings me river Main even closer to my heart :-)

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