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Moscow 2007 Churches 2007 RUSSIA 2007 Home Page Scenery 2007 St Petersburg
2007 Page 1 - Life on board 2007 Page 2 - places we visited View Slideshow 2011 Page 1 - St Petersburg to Volgograd (Leningrad to Stalingrad) 2011 Page 2 - Volgograd to Astrakhan and Rostov-on-Don

May 2007 and October 2011 trips to Russia

The Boaters Page

2007 Moscow to St Petersburg

Or you can JUMP straight from here to 2011

The 1000-mile journey from Moscow to St Petersburg can only be undertaken from May to September; at other times most of it is frozen. It is busy with shipping at all times, not just the tourist ships such as we were on, but also a great many barges which are generally pushed singly or in pairs by giant push-tugs; their cargoes are generally timber, or sand and gravel. Unusually, we even saw a submarine arrive in Moscow along the canal.

 

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Evening at Moscow River Station
A surprise arrival: a submarine
Sometimes moorings are scarce
Working on our anchor
A larger cruise ship overtakes us
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Self-propelled timber barge
Push Tug
Push Tug
Push Tug
Push Tug Train
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Waiting in the Neva River one-way system
Smaller traffic
Smaller traffic
Maintenance boats
Boatyard
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Boatyard
Under repair
In need of repair
On our Bridge
The ship is steered by a tiny joystick. The larger lever is for the bowthruster

For the first 75 miles you are on the Moscow Canal which was built in 1937; it lowers you by 160 feet through 6 locks to the Volga River. The locks are wide enough for only a single ship, but easily long enough for two ships. There are floating hooks in the lockside for the ropes, but the remains of the original sets of bollards can often still be seen. The top gates are unusual in that they usually lie flat on the canal bed, and are rotated into an upright position once the ship has passed over them.

 

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Moscow Canal architecture is similar to England's Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. This building controls a stop-gate
To navigate across the many lakes and even along some of the twisting rivers, leading marks are used extensively
When the leading marks are lined up like this you are on the right course
The locks have impressive decorations ...
... which are illuminated at night
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Entering the first lock on the Moscow Canal
Some locks have very impressive entrances
The locks are up to 40 feet deep
They are only just wide enough for one ship
Although sometimes there is room for a smaller boat to sneak in as well
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This lock was duplicated in 1992 to ease congestion, but one of the pair is no longer in use
The top gate mechanism
The top gate rotates to lie flush on the canal bed, then rotates when the boat has passed
The original bollards set into the wall ...
... have now been replaced by floating bollards
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Approach the floating bollard ...
... get ready to throw the rope, ...
... throw it and miss, ...
... throw it again and miss again, ...
... throw it a third time and hook on to the bollard

At first on the Volga river you are on the Uglich reservoir, which was created to power a hydro-electric power station. At one point the spire of a church still stands above the water as a forlorn monument to a drowned village.  Strangely you travel downstream eastwards on the Volga, but after a brief diversion to the city of Yaroslavl you turn north in the middle of the next reservoir  onto a tributary (the River Sheksna) while the Volga turns south to head for the Caspian Sea.

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The next lock, rising 40 feet to the summit level of the 1964 Volga-Baltic Canal proved such a bottleneck to traffic that in 1992 it was duplicated, but the second chamber is no longer in use and the gates have been replaced by a brick wall. A flight of 6 locks follows, taking you down 230 ft to Lake Onega, which at over 150 miles long and 55 miles wide is the second largest lake in Europe. At the northern end of this lake is the island of Kizhi, which is a popular tourist stop and a Word Heritage Site with its museum of wooden buildings. The waters of the lake are exceptionally clean and pure, due partly to the quantity of charcoal on its base from the dense forests which surround it.

The treacherous river Svir connects Lake Onega to Lake Ladoga, is described as “somewhat of a nightmare from a navigational standpoint, being plagued with shallow stretches, narrow rapids, blind bends, dense fogs, and the constant threat of floating debris such as tree trunks”. Lake Ladoga’s waters unfortunately are not so pure. The pollution comes mainly from dirty chemical plants by the lakeside, which is unfortunate since this lake is one of the main water supplies for St Petersburg. It is also the largest lake in Europe, measuring about 130 miles long and 80 miles wide as well as being exceptionally deep.

The river Neva flows from Lake Ladoga down to St Petersburg. It is narrow, twisting, and fast-flowing. Ships travel westwards during the even-numbered hours starting at 12, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 o’clock, and eastwards during the odd-numbered hours starting at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11 o’clock. On the hour, everybody simply drops anchor and waits until the next hour.

The River Neva at St Petersburg is crossed by massive 8 lift-bridges. They are lifted to allow boat traffic every night between 1.30 and 6.30 am; between those hours there is no way of crossing from one side of the city to the other (although recently a high-level suspension bridge has been built at the eastern edge of the city). St Petersburg itself has been nicknamed “the Venice of the North” since it stands on 42 islands, with 65 rivers and canals being crossed by over 600 bridges. Many of the canals are busy with trip-boats, which appear to be powered by some sort of water-jet system.

 

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Unusual river traffic in St Petersburg
The fastest way to commute in St Petersburg
We board our canal trip boats
The trip boats appear to use water jet propulsion. Here one engages 'full astern' to stop and moor
Aiming for the canal off the river Neva
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Some of the bridges are quite low
There is quite a lot of traffic on the canals ...
... of varying types, but mainly for pleasure
St Petersburg is beautiful when seen from the canal
The cruiser Aurora

There are apparently a number of sailing ships on the river, but they are all replicas built to act as restaurants. Of some interest however is 19th century cruiser “Aurora” which is an impressive sight with its 4 giant funnels. Its main claim to fame however must be that in 1917 it fired a single blank shell to signal the start of the 1917 October Revolution.

 

2011 Update, St Petersburg to Astrakhan and Rostov-on-Don

In 2011 we returned to St Petersburg to join the autumn migration south to Rostov-on-Don to escape the winter ice. On this trip we retraced our steps from St Petersburg up the Neva and to Uglich before following the Volga all the way to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, then by the Volga-Don Canal to Rostov-on-Don. The ship was a little bit larger, capable of carrying almost twice as many passengers.

Starting from St Petersburg we joined the Neva river traffic and made good progress until we reached the main River Volga whose level was very low indeed, and we had to wait for several hours with a queue of other boats above one lock before Nizhny Novgorod while the river in the next stretch was gradually brought back up to navigable level.

 

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Our ship, the Maxim Litvinov
River traffic on the Neva at St Petersburg
Push-tugs are still extremely popular
Often the tugs push more than one barge
Passenger ships waiting for better water levels
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A few cargo ships also waited for better water levels
Low water levels on the Volga near Nizhny Novgorod
Low water levels on the Volga near Nizhny Novgorod
Low water levels on the Volga near Nizhny Novgorod
Low water levels on the Volga near Nizhny Novgorod

The level in the stretch of river to Nizhny Novgorod was certainly very low indeed, and we crawled along the centre of the river with the bottom of the ship brushing against the river bed. The captain told me later that he can navigate as long as there is at least 18" of water beneath the keel; for this part of the trip we must have been right on that limit.

We encountered a fascinating suction dredger, which had an extremely long tube to discharge silt outside the navigation channel, as well as a much smaller dredger of a more traditional style.

 

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As we approached this, we could not work out what it was.
This end of the dredger sucks silt from the river bed.
The silt is pumped along this floating pipeline ...
... and discharged outside the navigation channel.
A more conventional dredger, using large scoops.
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The docks at Kazan
The docks at Kazan
The docks at Kazan
The docks at Kazan
The docks at Kazan
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Exploring the Volga Delta in a small boat
Exploring the Volga Delta in a small boat
Exploring the Volga Delta in a small boat
Exploring the Volga Delta in a small boat
Exploring the Volga Delta in a small boat

After spending an afternoon in a small boat exploring the Volga Delta near Astrakhan, we returned upstream and prepared to enter the Volga-Don Canal.

 

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The channel in the Volga is marked with Red buys
A striped buoy marks where the channel divides to enter the Volga-Don Canal
The canal entrance is also marked by a statue of Lenin ...
... and by a lighthouse (no it's not the red-and-white striped tower over the flats)
The lighthouse at the entrance to the canal
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Pairs of leading marks also show the way into the canal
The arch over the first lock comes into view
A large signboard confirms that you are in the right place
The Hammer and Sickle motif is prominent at the lock
Red lights show while the gates are opening
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Still waiting at the red light
We have a green light to proceed into the lock
Entering the lock, we are a very tight fit indeed
We have to go as far forward as possible
When we are in the right place, the red light comes on and the "STOP" sign illuminates

There are nine locks in the flight from the Volga up to the summit level, and boats were queuing in both directions for every lock. The total passage time for the flight was about 6 hours. The locks had one interesting design feature, namely an 'arrester' wire that is stretched across the lock chamber ahead of the lower gates, so that a downhill boat which fails to stop in time will (hopefully) be brought to a halt before it demolishes the lower gates. The wire works on the same principle as that on an aircraft carrier, in that while one end is fixed in place the other end is attached to a series of weights which will be raised by the wire to provide a steadily increasing force. I do not know what the breaking strain of this arrangement would be, but I find it hard to imagine it bringing a 5000 ton barge to a halt within the required few feet of travel unless it was moving extremely slowly already. The wire is moved out of the way by a small crane before the gates are opened.

 

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Passing a push-tug in the short pound between the first two locks
Entering the second lock we can see that the next downward-bound boat is just above the top gates
A typical Volga-Don boat (number 197)
The river at Rostov is very busy with traffic both moving and moored
Some boats are not as smartly painted as others

The summit level of the canal is a huge reservoir, 45 km across but with a narrow zig-zag navigation channel marked by a system of buoyage which I found very difficult to understand, and then there are locks down to the river Don leading to Rostov where the captain performed an interesting manoeuvre before reversing the last quarter mile towards his mooring spot.

 

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This small boat at Rostov seemed to be acting as a ferry
Moored on the quayside at Rostov
A lift bridge in the distance downstream of Rostov
The quayside at Rostov
A ship from the Don heads for the Black Sea past Azov

 

 

2007 Page 1 - Life on board 2007 Page 2 - places we visited View Slideshow 2011 Page 1 - St Petersburg to Volgograd (Leningrad to Stalingrad) 2011 Page 2 - Volgograd to Astrakhan and Rostov-on-Don
Moscow 2007 Churches 2007 RUSSIA 2007 Home Page Scenery 2007 St Petersburg
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