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A Polish River Cruise
by Wojtek Baginski

The project

The Vistula and The Bug are presently two of most near-natural rivers in Europe. They are shallow for long periods, without strong currents, often changing the main course, producing deposits, islands and branches. We live in Warsaw, thus these two rivers and the man-made connection between them were an object of our high interest and the route of the first big trip for our Jim Michalak designed Campjon.

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The Vistula River (12 km)

It was cloudy and a little cold that August morning. “Faraon” was waiting for us at our little marina, moored to the floating platform and covered with her short version of a folding roof. It protects the cabin against the rain and works well together with the cockpit drain holes located on the level of the raised cockpit floor (this year modification). It also protects the cabin while the boat is underway. Such a solution allows for boating anytime we feel like it.

This time it wasn’t an impulse. It was a well prepared plan. The crew was my boating partner Wojtek H, his 10 years old son Franek and me. The water level was not as low as usual, so after leaving the harbour we went quickly downstream from one buoy to another, heading north to pass Warsaw city.

Everybody here knows that Warsaw has turned its back on the river. This means that the main activity in the city is concentrated relatively far away from the river banks. On the other hand what distinguishes Warsaw among European capitals is just this unregulated state of its river banks. The natural sandy beaches and elements of nature in the middle of the city are a great attraction. Living in Warsaw we know that, but we both were really surprised with the effects of “turning back” as seen from the water's surface. Except a dozen large bridges, there were no signs of the 2 million people who populate the city.

Great! Almost No stone or concrete banks at all. Just green walls of brushwood along the banks, obscuring the whole city. The only part of the city we saw was The Royal Castle and The Old Town, historically connected to the river in an obvious way. Only after passing the centre of the city could we observe the Warsaw skyline rising higher and higher behind the green wall. It was amazing to discover that the further from Warsaw you are the more of Warsaw you can see.

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The Zeran Lock. (85 m + 3 m)

Our first and the only planned stop was a large navigation lock for commercial cargo barges, connecting the Vistula river to the Zeran Canal (in fact to the eastern system of European waterways). Three meters was the difference in water levels between The Vistula river and the Zeran Canal that day. We could observe this from the wet dark zone on the walls around us. The lock was 85 meters in length and 12 meters wide, so I think we could almost get lost inside. While we were waiting for the iron lock gate to open, a white passenger river boat appeared on the Vistula river and turned into the canal outlet. The man on the lock told us to give way to them and let her come into the lock first.

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The Zeran Canal (17.5 km)

The water level inside the lock rose 3 meters and we left after the passenger river boat. There were two sides of following that vessel during canal passage: the good one was that the passenger ship was cleaning the way of duckweed, and the dark one was that the canal was full of fabulous smells coming from the barbeque located on rear deck of this vessel. A horrible thing for hungry sailors! So we slowed down to let the ship go ahead and ate our sandwiches.

The Zeran Canal was built in the fifties to connect the Vistula river with Zegrze Lake after a dam with no navigation lock was built on the Narew river. It has a length of 17.5 km but it is a short cut from Warsaw to the Eastern waterways. Quite wide, two and half meters deep and empty, the canal was like a highway for our boat. Making waves is not allowed on the canals, so we didn’t go full throttle there.

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The Zegrze Lake and the Narew River (9 km)

Zegrze Lake is a man-made lake. It was created in 1963 when a dam with a height of 16 metres, was built on the Narew river near Debe, not far from Narew’s outlet into the Vistula river. The hydroelectric power station that was built next to it has a 33 sq. km lagoon that is 6 meters deep. The Zeran Canal was built at the same time.

Zegrze Lake is a wonderful natural reserve of clean air, greenery and clear water - an excellent place for a rest. Crowds of Varsovians (citizens of Warsaw) come here, especially on weekends. Water sports are very popular here. There is lots of space for marinas, sailboats, powerboats, windsurfers and all that floating jazz. The colorful sailboats look picturesque on the waters of the lagoon.

We expected that we would meet a real crowd of them and strong wind, which is not too friendly to our flat bottomed vessel with high freeboard, but this time there was not much wind. So we went on a smooth surface straight through the middle of the lagoon, disturbed by few other boats. The map and the binoculars were very useful on this part of the trip. Soon we came into The Narew river only to leave it by turning right into the mouth of the Bug river.

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The Bug River (11 km)

The Bug river is a midsized tributary of the Narew river. This is one of most natural of Poland's major rivers, with side branches, islands, and a unique mosaic of vegetation. It's hardly polluted at all, so we could observe relatively heavy traffic of local boats, fishing boats, and from time to time, tourist yachts penetrating the river for it's unique character. (A typical local boat is long and narrow with a raised bow, and it uses a global Honda or Mercury motor)

It was getting warmer and warmer. Wojtek decided to let Franio take the helm alone. He gave some instructions first, and Franio was managing very well! All of a sudden about half a mile from our destination (a small Popowo village), we lost the propeller's cotter pin on a sandbar. Of course we didn’t have another cotter pin on board (did I say it was well prepared plan?). Looking at the map we realized that the best way to reach the landing stage of Popowo village would be by pulling the boat upstream of the port along the shallow river side arm. Then we would cross the mainstream using oars.

So that's what we did. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and the only disadvantage was my wet blue jeans. Finally we reached the destination in good shape, after a short raft down stream It was a good day.

I came back to Warsaw that evening. Wojtek and Franio visited our friend Jacek (he owns his cottage in the Popowo village and he is building a plywood boat there) and as experienced sailors they started the trip back the next morning with some friends onboard.

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The end

There is a saying: the end is the beginning. In our case it means that we started to plan future journeys: South (up the river) and North-West (down the river). One of those was next year's trip “as far North as possible” - that means the Vistula river outlet to The Baltic Sea.

There are some canals in the Vistula delta that are unique for their technical solutions . We’d like to navigate there. Experience we’ve got this time tells us that our 8 HP outboard is good enough to go downstream and good enough for navigation on canals and lakes as well. But we'll need a bigger outboard to go upstream effectively. Never mind the way back, we enjoy rafting as well. We found out that silence could be another great attraction of motor boating.

As for comfort, there is nothing to add to campjon’s amenities. With the roof we built, she is like a little barge. In fact we had cargo onboard: a bottle of champagne for the birthday party of another friend stayng in the Popowo village. Anyhow, this trip had to end. If not, we would cross the frontier next evening, and enter Belarussian and Ukrainian waterways on our way to The Black Sea.... but that trip will have to wait for another day.

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There was a real crowd of Wojteks on the Wisla river: Wojtek H, Wojtek B and Wojtek D ( sort of a dregger named "Chudy Wojtek III" - which means "Thin Wojtek III").

Best regards from the rivers of Poland.

Wojtek Baginski.