Management of the constant stream of commercial shipping on the inland waterways is a complex choreography, run with calm efficiency by the lock keepers and dispatchers.
Larger vessels need to be locked one at a time, often with only inches to spare on each side, and there is a limited number of roadsteads where those waiting their turn can be parked. The waterways are busy and it is difficult to imagine how they could cope with an influx of small pleasure craft like ours. As it is, we are an absolute novelty, hence the indulgence we are given.
The canals are often very narrow and ships in transit need to be spaced carefully. They pass one another smoothly in impossibly tight places, day and night. We usually anchor off the fairway at night and I never cease to marvel when one of these huge behemoths loom silently into view and glides past us. The whole business runs smoothly and I have not heard of logjams or accidents, although they must occur.
I cannot speak highly enough of the efficiency and calm professionalism of the lockkeepers and despatchers. They all know Tainui and Max and they regularly call us up to see how we are going. At Lock 13 for example, the keeper said she had heard from Lock 12 that we needed to do some shopping. She advised us where to anchor once through the Lock 13 and arranged for a taxi to be be waiting for us on the shore to take us to the supermarket.
Setting out into Tsimlyansk Reservoir she called us to check that we had an anchor. When Max said yes, we had 5 of them, she was bemused and reassured. And at the southern end of this long reservoir she was relieved that we had tied up in Volgadonsk without mishap. We did not tell her about Maxine’s spectacular backflip into the sea while filling a bucket of river water.