The Rhine Gold – Strasbourg to Frankfurt

Dear friends, this is our tenth day in Germany, the time flew by. We had to stop for a while due to many different matters: I undertook my usual health check up, while Fine and Bruno paid a quick visit to Fine’s mum, near Hannover.

First of all, I wish to thank Norbert and Lukas from the Cercle Nautique de l’Alsace du Nord, who, on top of granting Clodia free mooring, came to pick us up at the train station. Thank you very much indeed!

A warm thank goes also to Pierre, a driver from Seltz who gave me a free lift to Beinheim, saving poor Giacomo from a two-hour walk, fully-loaded.

The Rhine, after the second lock in Sandbach, gets mightier. The stream is now much stronger, reaching six, seven, sometimes eight km/h. The buoy wakes are really self explaining.

Our navigation gets on quietly, mostly by rowing with the occasional upwind sail, for about 61 km up to Speyer, where we meet once again Sandro and his sister, Sara, on their way back from Amsterdam. We stop in a very modern and efficient Marina, although surrounded by a rather disturbing urbanization.

The Rhine is magnificent, however it still gives the clear impression of a river that’s been killed to make it navigable. The nice meanders that can be easily seen on Google Earth or any other map, are still visible, but are separated from the main water course. A few Canoeing, Rowing and Sailing Clubs have settled there, keeping alive these wonderful natural oasis. But the water from the Rhine can’t flow freely anymore.

Please take a look to the website of ECRR to understand the differences between a real river and a channeled one.

The big boats run fast and the waves sometimes are annoying, but so far we’ve never felt to be in any real danger. Sometimes I’m so daring to get across the ships trail: They either change direction (if they have enough room), slow down (quite rarely), or honk a powerful horn that wakes you up immediately. Ubi maior minor cessat.

In Speyer we have a great evening with Sandro and Sara, indulging in a culinary escapade in a restaurant called “Porto Vecchio Veneziano” (The Old Venetian Harbour). We’re very tired and hungry after so many kilometers rowed under a blazing sun, so we surrender once more to the consumer society.

And we consume, frugally, but we consume, and paying for it of course. Early in the morning I go for a quick tour of the city of Speyer, that’s quite nice: Its big cathedral (“Kaiserdom”) is listed as World Heritage Site by the Unesco. It houses the tombs of eight kings of Germany, four of which being emperors of the Holy Roman Empire too.

Then I visit a monastery dating 1228, where I find a plaque remembering Edith Stein, religious and philosopher dead in Auschwitz in 1942. Suddenly, a pleasant surprise: The monument to Jakob, a pilgrim of the 14th century who has reached Santiago of Compostela by foot: You can see how light he was travelling! An applause to him: Less is more.

Back on Clodia, we set sails, heading to Mainz.

The weather is quite variable: A dizzy rain followed by a blazing sunshine. The wind starts to blow at 10 knots and even stronger, headwind at first, then tailwind, then headwind again.

The landscape looks always very similar, with big forests, rare villages, and sometimes large industrial harbours or quays.

Still in Speyer, we visit the office in charge of releasing boating licenses. Everything gets sorted out efficiently in minutes, we’ll just have to stop in Mannheim to collect the license for Serena, the boat used to support the filmmakers of our documentary, and steered by Captain Fine.

By the river, Mannheim looks huge. Here, in 1868, was stipulated the Convention on the Navigation of the Rhine that still applies.

The next set off is glorious: Bruno raises the sails just under the BASF smoking chimneys, overtaking every ship and boat on his way. We’re in for a tailwind run that’ll take us to Gernsheim, where we moor in a small Marina, under the silent cranes of an industrial wharf.

Our evening gets by in front of a good beer and under a line of plane trees reminding me of France.

In the background we listen to the commentary of the match Sweden vs US (Germany hosts the Women World Cup Finals of football this year), but the main show is a striking red sunset over the Rhine, while a ferry boat goes forth and back between the river banks.

I very much prefer ferries over bridges (such as the mast-chomping ones, specialized on damaging boats led by stupid sailors…).

Nature doesn’t make bridges, with very little exceptions: They stop too many things, join a little and divide a lot. But we humans regard them as so important.

The next day, 4th of navigation along the Rhine, will take us to Mainz, after a 36 km run.

This is a wonderful city, seat of a bishop and very important in history, placed 202 km away from Strasbourg. Sun, a weak wind, then a strong headwind welcome us here.

Thanksfully, on the map I had spotted something resembling a Marina, in a secondary channel running parallel to the Rhine. We suddenly turn from an awkward navigation, harshened by shortwaves slowing us down, to a gentle channel full of life, with big ducks, gooses, swans, houseboats and many tiny boats.

We moor in a forest of masts, a very unusual thing, to discover a wonderful surprise: This Marina is the headquarter of MSC (Mainz Segel Club). After a brief quest across the boats, we meet a kind gentleman who offers us three beers and a good catalogue of nautical items.

Soon after, commodore Harald comes to visit: He was already aware of our journey and we’re quickly invited to the monthly Club meeting, to tell the full story.

In the wait, I try to sleep under a drizzle: The meeting is set to start at 8 p.m. The Club’s base is an old fortress dating 1843, made out of a nice pink stone from the Vosges.

It’s surrounded by a magnificent forest, even if not very far away from a few industrial plants. A wood full of boats, what a charming place!

All members welcome me warmly: One of them speaks a fluent Italian because he has spent many years working in Marghera (Venice), Naples and Milan. We can sense love for boating and lots of respect: Everything works well and the people are kind. You can eat for cheap and have a good time in the peace of the forest. A beautiful tale.

The meeting takes place according to schedule: Funny enough, instead of applauding, people knock their knuckles on the tables. Josephine presents us with her wonderful German from Hannover, telling our story. I try to add a few details while Bruno, modestly as usual, seats back to take a few photographs.

Our audience seems to be sincerely moved and some of them come to greet us, a glimpse shining in their eyes. I’m so happy to share these emotions, sowing simple, natural, seeds in people. This journey is just about it. We goodbye all the Club members, going for a much deserved rest.

The night is rainy but I sleep like a log under my tent. In the morning the rain has gone, although a nasty wind sweeps up. A friend met last night, Winfried, comes to tell us that the museum where a few roman ships (found in the Rhine) are kept, is closed until September. We’re not the first ones rowing up here.

I’m thrilled, the Main is near. Still 2 km on the Rhine then I turn right, raise the two sails and begin an exhilarating, wind-powered flight of 35 km (aside a couple of km through a meander). Just three locks, very easy to pass, slow us down. One of them even has a reduced lock for small boats. What a beauty!

The arrival in Frankfurt is way beyond my best expectations. We enter by sailing and there are lots of sailboats here! It’s a real surprise for all of us. We see many Clubs and plenty of laces between big ships and passenger boats.

I travel fast, still pushed by the wind, turning only to ask for information in a nice Sailing Club. Then we decide to go upstream toward the city center and the Westhafen, passing it and getting back by rowing at first and then upwind.

We’re in a very modern suburb of Frankfurt, housing a Marina nestled within an urban plan designed to recover the old docks.

Technology and respect living together, a strong yet human-oriented architecture: An interesting match.

The Sailing Club hosting us is wonderful and today we’ll make a video of the many people navigating along the river.

I’m just thinking that, on the italian river Po, if you go sailing you’re taken for crazy except for a few rare pioneer, such as my friends Andrea and Giorgio! Here in Frankfurt, there are as many as ten Sailing Clubs, and the Main is much smaller than the Po.

Maybe we’re the crazy one, not them.

A big hug and fair winds.

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1 Response » to “The Rhine Gold – Strasbourg to Frankfurt”

  1. Chris says:

    This is a great journey Giacamo and we follow it with interest. Totally in harmony with your view on life.

    The Ness Yawl is a real star by the way.

    May your arms be like Popeye’s.

    All the best.

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