From Koblenz to Harrback Lock (near the tiny village of the same name on the River Main) I have travelled with several ships and have a catalogue of memories, met some really nice people and have been treated like one of the family during my stay on board the ships. More to the point I wrote about the experiences and the people on the route, all nicely kept in my travel bag. My bag is now about 1km away from where I am in the motorhome, so I do not have my notes with me. This is the logistical problem I have.
There are only a few moments to get on board a ship, if the captain says yes. They are in the lock and the Banana is outside the lock; once out of the lock they don’t want to stop. So I have to introduce myself, ask for a lift and convince them that although I am a bit crazy, I am not dangerous or mad.
I will write a retrospective up-date when I have my note book and computer in the same place; in a moment I will recount the events of yesterday. Today is Friday the 13th, only three ships have been through the lock so far today (10am). One was a gas carrier, the other a passenger ship, both could not take the Banana. The third was the Green Peace boat called the Beluga 2. I asked them for a lift and told them that the police had given me their number, and I had texted them on the 12th, yesterday.
At first they did not acknowledge they knew about me and were very defensive. I told them exactly what I am about and that I have no axe to grind about their activities either way. They said no to the lift idea at first but as the conversation flowed they softened a little and said that they could not make a decision and would have to refer to HQ. They had my details from the texts I had sent but had not had a look at the website. They would contact their HQ and phone me if there was a good result. I took some pictures which did not come out well. I got the impression they are not welcome everywhere and they also have to be careful what they say and who they say It too. So they will get a mention in the book.
Day 42 – 12 May 2016
Approaching the lock at Harrback, on the River Main. The captain Tolga radioed in to say he was 30 minutes away and had a banana in tow, which he intended to leave at the lock; where would be best to leave it? The reply was ‘you cannot bring it in the lock. It cannot pass the lock and it cannot be put on any of the land around the lock. Tolga tried to reason with the controller but was told it was not his problem. I thought: it soon will be. I commented that you should never tell officials what you are going to do because they will say no. Always do it, then find out why you cannot do it again.
Tolga said he was worried about me in a no-go situation and offered to take me through the lock. I said that was out of the question. He has a ship number and can be fined, I don’t and unless a policeman is called there is little they can do. I said just leave me below the lock at the end of the jetty where I can put the Banana between the jetty and the river bank, and I will sort things out from there. I said my good bye’s and scrambled up the ladder on the quayside.
I sent GPS coordinates to the motorhome and settled down to eat a snack I had in my bag. As I was sorting things out there was an inaudible announcement in German on the lock side PA system. No need to translate it, the tone said it all: basically sod off with your Banana. I sorted out my snack and walked away from the quay, just out of sight of his cameras and looked for my camera. As I did so, a large 4×4 Jeep screeched to a halt 50cm from me. A large red faced German man got out and started shouting, pointing in the general direction of the Banana he indicated he was a fan of Monty Python. That is my translation of what he was shouting. I understood only this week we are doing fruit, come at me with a banana, be as rough as you like.
He came closer and shouted louder. I decided I had nothing to lo0se with this man as it was clear he wasn’t in the mood for a friendly chat. I turned off my charm and switched to how ‘dare you’ mode. I went at it with vengeance. Ok, you get to press the buttons around here, but you don’t get to shout at me, whatever I have done. I have travelled 700km with this Banana and have had permission from everyone along the way; who do you think you are to think you can stop me using an international water way, with a legal vessel? You cannot. I took out my note book and demanded his name, wrote down the car number and told him to look to see if my spelling was correct.
Then I told him to phone the police because I wanted to report him for his actions and his aggression with his car. He gave me his name and started to say that he was sorry, he was a bit over the top. I said ok, let’s start again and shook his hand. He said it was the fault of his boss who won’t let me through and went off as quickly as he could back to his command post. The police arrived soon afterwards. We all had a laugh at the situation, they said wait till morning as he might not be on duty. They indicated this was not the first time they had dealings with him.
Next morning, I attempted to get a lift from several ships, with no hope as they just head straight for the open lock. They wait downstream if the lock is in use and time it so they arrive just after the gates open. I made up my mind to go through the lock with the next big ship.
A real monster of ship came along; I had fitted my 12v battery outboard and, with some difficulty followed the massive ship into the lock, being pushed in all directions from the thrust of the propellers which were at dead slow. Once inside the lock, having made several attempts to catch hold of a ladder set into the 6m high wall; I eventually hooked a line onto a tread. I waited for the lock doors to close; but they did not. I then heard shouting from the ship saying I should leave the lock because I should not be in there. I said give me a tow and we can all get underway.
The lock keeper came down and started shouting at me again. I spoke to him in French for the fun of it; mixing in a few German and English words to make sure he understood I had no intention of leaving the lock until I was lifted up to the other side. He said he would phone the police, so I said ok, and got a drink out of my bag. Ten minutes later I made a phone call to the press who had come to take photos and write the story. During the conversation I explained what was going on and then to my amazement the ship started its main engine. The crew had tied ropes to the lock side and they attempted to wash the banana out of the lock with 2000 HP engines.
I held on to the side of the lock, clinging to a ladder with all my strength. I told the journalist what was happening and she said she could hear the roaring of the engines. I said I would have to go because it was getting dangerous. I hung up and hung on. The ship gave its best and failed to move the Banana even 1cm. the engine stopped after about five minutes and the crew came to the stern to continue some general maintenance. I offered the rope and asked if they would like to get underway now. They didn’t reply. I found the number of the police man that had visited the evening before and called him on my mobile. The lockkeeper had told me that the water police were on their way from Schaffanburg, which I knew to be at least three hours away if all the locks were in his favour. The officer remembered me straight away; he listened to what had been happening and told me the water police were on the way.
I said it was ok by me and I was comfortable and could wait, I was going nowhere. I passed this information on to the crew who totally ignored me. 20 mins later the officer turned up and climbed down to me. He greeted me with a warm hand shake and I filmed all that happened. I told him I had just seen a large passenger ship which had docked downstream a few moments ago and I had decided to let it pass as I thought it unfair for holidaymakers to have an expensive trip spoiled by stupid officials and a stubborn Banana captain. He said if I go out of the lock he would sort it all out, I asked him what about he captain of the ship and he said that would be worked out too. He climbed back up the ladder and went to assist my docking outside the lock.
Once on the quay we had an open discussion about the situation. He really wanted to understand what the problem was so it could be solved. He quickly realised the press was involved, international law being thawted by an official who was in the wrong and at least negligence on the part of the lock keeper when the ship started its engines. He also asked if I could find a way around the lock by using a truck. I said that was not on the table, the Banana trip is a voyage on water and I could mail the package to Bulgaria much more easily. He took the point that I had to go through the lock, could not go back because that too was through locks and that I was going to make a stand and not go away.
He went off the see the lock keeper and half an hour later the keeper let the water go at the fastest rate possible. I had tied the Banana very well, but had used the loops that were meant for people to hold on to. The force of the water coming out of the lock was phenomena, l fist thought it would be ok but soon saw the flow was very very strong and I climbed down when one of the elastic cord steel loops was pulled straight and gave way. I jumped onto the Banana and grabbed the steel ladder, forcing the Banana back to the lock wall with all of my strength.
My weight pushed the Banana deeper into the flow and for about five minutes it nearly overpowered me, but out of pure indignation I refused to let the official win a tiny battle by getting the Banana thrust backwards. It would have only gone about three meters before the main tow cable would have held, but I was determined not to give him that satisfaction, and held on as I felt the muscles stretch in my arms and back. I replaced the torn bungie with another rope and tied the Banana more securely as the flow diminished. I climbed up to get my camera and went back down again to wait for the gates to open. I sailed the Banana through the swirling waters and at one point made no forward progress at all. Eventually the disturbed water settled and the Banana happily chugged into the lock, a tiny bit of inflated plastic in a world build for the passage of thousands of tons of steel.
Two policemen were waiting on the top of the lock, they through another rope down and after securing the Banana I climbed up to find out what had gone on in the lock keeper’s tower. They had told he exactly what I had said and also informed him that if he did not let me pass I had promised to follow every ship into the lock and keep on doing that until I go through. I had also said that I had set aside six months to make the journey and that I would keep on trying until October; or until it came to trial. If that happened I made it clear, I would press charges for the laws they had actually broken and also bring into question the way these officials treat people. I had been told by the canoeing club that they had problems with this lock and were seeking to do something about it.
When the waters had risen to the top of the lock the gates opened and 3500km of rives and canals opened up to me. I saw a ship coming down the river and said to the policemen that I could sail out easy enough but it would take a long time, better they towed me and to may surprise and huge amusement they agreed this was best and pulled me along as I filmed from the Banana, making jokes along the way.
I managed to film most of the events and it will make very good television. The contrast between the reasonable, helpful, sensible and patient diplomatic policemen and stubborn, rather stupid and somewhat aggressive petty officials who’s only job is to open doors and close them again for travellers to go through, is as good as it gets. For this I want to thank the lock keeper for a blatant display of being in the wrong and thinking he is so important no one can do anything about it.
I thank him for doing it on camera and exposing the ridiculous behaviour that sometimes is perpetrated by those whose only function in life is to serve the people who pay them, and don’t. I am also happy the voyage is going to continue, but mixed in with that feeling is the thought that there is now one tin god who has seen he cannot take on someone who has a banana and knows how to use it. In all the good humour and diplomatic way the police dealt with this difficult and unusual situation deserves as much praise as I can give.
They did their job and upheld the law, but did it in a way which was of real benefit to all, including the lock keeper who did not end up getting charged, and the right of passage through the lock was upheld.
I pulled the Banana up on to the spit of land separating the flow of the river to the hydroelectric dam and the lock. I then went of to set up the motor home near the lock where tomorrow I will be able to see the oncoming ships and slip into the lock grounds to stand on the edge and ask for a lift.
Nearly midnight and still not finished all my correspondence; but off to bed soon despite not sorting the videos out and recording, transferring and cataloguing them. That will have to wait as tomorrow I will be standing on the lock sides talking to the captains, asking for a lift and persuading them to stop and tie on the Banana just as they get going out of the lock. Good night, tomorrow is another chance to have an adventure.