July 19 was the day we found out about locks – river locks, that is. We had been on the lower and middle Rhine, which have no locks; we went through one lock in the delta, and that was it. It scared me to death, too – it was sometime around oh-dark hundred, and the ship (which was previously as stable as the hotel in Amsterdam) suddenly lurched and clunked. It woke me up, and being an anxious sort, I was afraid we’d hit something. I got up and peered out the window – and saw a concrete wall less than a foot from the side of the boat, and a brightly lighted (deserted) collection of industrial structures. I was now awake enough to realize we were in a lock, and I went back to bed.
The Main is a much smaller river than the Rhine; the banks are closer and more rural, and the whole thing feels cozier. And it swarms with locks. We entered the Main just before midnight the 18th and went through 4 locks in the course of the night, three of which woke me up. Viking had a careful agenda made out, starting with a glassblowing demonstration in the lounge at 9:30, by a man from Wertheim. At 9:15 or so we arrived at a lock, and discovered that it was occupied by a boat coming in the other direction.
That’s the trouble with locks. They only operate in one direction at a time. Here we are behind the Frankenland, a barge, waiting for the downstream boat to cycle through the lock. You can see his superstructure behind the gates.
We spent a lot of time looking at the butt end of the Frankenland. Most locks are big enough to take three boats going in the same direction (300 meters long), but when you get 2 way traffic, everything slows way down.
Locks eliminate rapids. You build a lock where there’s a change in the water level, that would normally mean rapids or falls. You can’t drive a 110 meter boat down a class anything rapid. So when you get into a lock, you wait until they either fill it up, or pump it out, then you can drive out the other end. Here’s our opposing traffic, the Spes Salutis, exiting his lock, which was pumped out to let him down. Look at the other photo and see how high he was.
We, on the other hand, now have to be pumped up. Getting through that lock took over 2 hours, and instead of stopping to board the glassblower as we cruised through another city, he had to meet us at the lock and board there. Here we are entering the lock, behind the Frankenland, 40 minutes after that first photo was taken:
But it only took them about 15 minutes to pump the lock full, which I thought was pretty good. The other issue with locks, of course, is that you go through them in boats, and boats just don’t go that fast. These boats don’t, anyway. Until we got to the Danube, we were going against the current, so the speed varied, but the boat never got out of the 10-20 mph range. That, of course, is why they ride so smoothly.
I don’t have any photos of the glassblower but I have to say he put on a show. I wasn’t going to go, but there was nothing else to do – and after I listened to him for a minute or two I stayed. Do you like Victor Borge? (I do.) You’d love this guy. He was hilarious, and he arranged for one of the passengers to blow a glass Christmas ornament, right there in the lounge. Extremely interesting and entertaining, and yes, he had a full-on glassblowing torch.
The Main had another feature that didn’t make us happy. It has a lot of very low bridges. In some cases the clearance between the bottom of the bridge and the sun deck was in inches, not feet, which meant that to clear them they had to: flatten the rails; flatten all the furniture including the tables and shade canopies; and retract the wheelhouse inside the body of the ship like a turtle, leaving a little hole in the roof through which the Captain could stick his head to check on things, if he felt the need. This is a lot of work; so they basically closed the sun deck until we got to the Danube, or about half the trip. This was not in the prospectus and a lot of people were annoyed about it, because only from the sun deck could you get photos that didn’t have windscreen glass in them.