From our Volgograd berth we sped 35 km down the Volga in warm sunshine with 2.5 knots of favourable current.
The beginning of the great Volga-Don Canal, marked as it is by an imposing statue of Lenin, cannot be missed. As the only portal between the Black and Caspian Seas it is a busy waterway and we were told to anchor off for 4 hours to wait for our turn in the queue.
After obligatory swims the crew turned Tainui’s cockpit into a beauty parlor while I dozed.
In the late afternoon we finally left this grand river, which has been part of our lives for quite a time and for thousands of miles. I can see why it is an object of such affection for Russians.
Passing under an impressive faux neoclassical archway, we entered the first lock in company with a bulk carrier and a tugboat. Moving through locks in close succession, you tend to travel with the same vessels, which become familiar friends. We pressed on into an inky black night under a zillion stars, passing huge ships at very close quarters in the narrow channel.
It is quite fun managing locks and channels in the dark and we had hoped to continue with our friends, but approaching Lock 2 the engine temperature suddenly skyrocketed and we limped alongside the lock entrance. The cause was found and fixed easily – a weed-clogged salt water inlet – but we lost our friends and our place in the queue and settled in for the night.
Everywhere we stop, Tainui and my crew cause wonder and delight. At Lock 7 for example, two local fishermen told us they had never before seen a foreigner, let alone a foreign yacht. They chatted interminably and were very curious. Clearly enamoured of Rosie, they pressed armloads of fresh garden vegetables on us (her) and marvelled at our very existence here in Cossack country.
Tainui’s crew now works like a well-oiled machine. Rosie is the bespoke chef while Jenny is our full-time line handler. She lassos impossibly high lock mooring hooks with grace and ease. Maxine is left to spill her bloody marys uninterrupted. I sit back and feel proud, a bit old and very blessed.