Danube Kayak Expedition
Last year, Dan Vilcan from Young Europe Society and Alice Merk from Coraliam MTU, Estonia started on a Bike tour using bikes that were more than 15 years old, for more than 900 km from Estonia, to Latvia and finishing in Kaunas, Lithuania see story here . This summer the story not only repeats but amplifies. Together with Rancz Pavel from Aeroclubul Turbulencia they decided to kayak the Danube from the point where kayaks can float freely (km 2455,3) near Ingolstadt.
Let’s follow their progress:
Day 1 – 22.06.2018
Equipped with two kayaks designed for rapids and one sea kayak that proudly states that was made in West Germany we started our journey at about 16:00 from km 2455,3. The current was good and the first 10 km passed relatively fast. We have said good bye to my father and sister whom we thanked for transporting us and three kayaks all the way to Germany and we started to paddle.
At km 2446 we encountered our first lock. Just when we pulled next to it a heavy rain started. It was hard to figure out how to operate the gates of the lock but we managed after 45 min hassle. First open the first door, second put all the three kayaks in, three close the door and hold the red button till it is tightly closed and water starts to descend. After around 15 min. press the red button again so the lower door opens and you the kayaks can exit.
Less than a km after the first lock I tried my luck to enter a fast river merging into the Danube. I was really close to flipping the kayak. My only thought in those seconds was at the tent that was on my kayak together with my sleeping bag, mattress and jacket that will get wet for sure if I flip. Lucky I didn’t.
Around 21:00 we pulled on the right shore of the Danube to camp for the first night. Except a few mosquitoes and quite low temperatures the night was calm and we could rest well.
Day 2 – 23.06.2018 (58km)
Around 8 AM we woke up. The tents and the sleeping bags kept us relatively warm. We had an amazing breakfast thanks to the homemade salami and ham prepared by the Sarig family.
Day 6 – 27.06.2018 (54 km 2185,0-2131.9)
After we woke up we grilled some sosage for breakfast. They were very tasty. At 9.30 we put the kayaks on the water.
The whole day was full with strong front wind. Moreover we had to take the kayaks out of the water at two locks. On the positive side is that the Danube regained its transparent color and that the landscape from Passau to Linz is breathtaking.
About 21:00 we passed Linz and we started to search for a place to camp. We found a good one where we started the fire but rain came and sent us to sleep. The rain stopped at sunrise.
Day 7 – 28.06.2018 (46 km 2130.6-2085.5)
The rain did not stop in the morning. We cooked pasta with the raincoats on. Because it was too rainy to pack the tents we went to sleep some more. At 12:30 we prepared the kayaks and started.
The Danube was again like a lake but at least we did not have front wind. We passed two locks and after the second the current increased. Today we saw on Danube two huge floating tree trunks. Initially I thought they were standing still but at a closer look they were floating with the string.
We found two islands and we stopped at the lowest point of the lower one to camp. We made fire and pasta carbonara. The rain continued during the night.
Day 8 – 29.06.2018 (72 km 2084.5-2012.0)
In the morning we had rain. We waited till it stopped, around 9:30, and we started to paddle. At the beginning we had front wind but after half hour it changed to tail. Also the current increased. Our luck did not stop here, we passed two locks without lifting a single kayak – we went to the locks with big boats.
After the first lock we decided to have a break. We stopped and we saw a sign for restaurant in 50m. We went for lunch and a Romanian family (mother and daughter) served us with extraordinary schnitzel and beer.In the evening a small rain caught us but having tail wind and good current did not bother us.
We camped on an island next to the sign 2012 km to the Black Sea. Pali prepared a great soup and after we ate we went to sleep.
Day 9 – 30.06.2018 (63 km 2012-1949)
We woke up around 4 AM because our tent started to catch water from the ground. We moved it and put the wet things to dry. After an hour we were back to sleep.
The soup Pali cooked in the evening was an excellent breakfast.
At 10:30 we departed. Soon after we encountered front wind which slowed us a bit. The weather is better now but more windy. Nights are also colder.
The first lock of the day we passed at km 1979.9 and we managed to get along two cruise boats in the gate. On the second lock we weren’t that lucky so we had to carry the kayaks on land.
We pulled on the left side of the channel for small boats and camped. For dinner we had grilled sausages.
Day 10 – 01.07.2018 (84 km 1949-1865)
Once we woke up around 7:30 we had breakfast and prepared the kayaks. At 10:00 we were on water.
The first part of the day was interesting because in about 20 km we entered Vienna. We did not stop in the city because of the very high docks – almost impossible to get out from the kayaks.
We continued to paddle as the speed of the Danube increased and so did the front wind. Soon enough we encountered the ruin of a medieval fortress and at its base a social modernist abandoned building. Immediately we knew we’re in the East. The marking of the Danube changed as well. While till now every 100m had a sign, now we see one at every kilometre.
In less than an hour we arrived in Bratislava. Here we stopped to do some grocery shopping and we were impressed how much better the city looks from the Danube in comparison with Vienna.
We exited Bratislava shortly after the sunset and installed the tents and went to sleep the coldest night so far.
Day 11 – 02.07.2018 (65 km 1865-1800)
The morning sun was a relief after such a cold night. By 9 AM we were paddling. Unfortunately, we entered the huge artificial lake created to generate electricity. The huge sign NO SPORT made us understand that the lock administration will not let us pass with a big boat. We worked almost two hours to transport by hand the kayaks from the lake to the Danube. How we all missed the civilised locks in Austria and Germany where you placed your kayak on a trolly and pushed it to the other side.
We entered again the Danube and started to paddle. Everything went well and we stopped for lunch at a small terrace on the Slovak side of the Danube.
By sunset we camped 50 m away from the 1800 km sign.
Day 12 – 03.07.2018 (61 km 1800-1739)
By 9:40 we were paddling. First 30 km we made in three and a half hours. In Komarom, HU, we stopped for lunch. It was a way to big lunch for us. The rest 30 km were extremely difficult because we were too full. We stopped three times and twice I entered the Danube to chill myself.
We found a nice place to camp next to Kravany nad Dunajom village. We went to check for a grocery store and since it was closed we ended up at the pub.
Day 13 – 04.07.2018 (61? Km 1739-1678?)
The morning was excellent. We had quick breakfast and by 9 AM we were paddling. We did around 20 km in very good weather and we took the first break.
After 12 more km in the same nice weather we stopped for lunch. We had amazing and huge hamburgers.
15 km more and we stopped again for a beer break. After the beer we took right on a channel that leads to Budapest. Large boats use it but it is unmarked. This is the reason why I am not sure about the km we stopped this evening.
Now Pali is preparing a tasty soup and we prepare for dinner.
Day 14 – 05.07.2018 (73 km 1678?-1605?)
For breakfast we ate Pali’s soup and by 9:15 we were on water. We had strong front wind for the first half of the day.
We reached Budapest and the wind continued. The city looks amazing also from the kayaks.
After Budapest the wind stopped but the rain came. Two warm rains after and the sun joined us. We stopped for pizza. Than we paddled more.
By 20:20 we pulled on the left side of the Danube to sleep. I cannot say exactly at what km since in Hungary kilometers on the Danube are seldomly marked. The last one I saw was 1608, about 30 minutes before we pulled the kayaks out of the water.
Day 15 – 06.07.2018 (69 km 1605?-1536)
In the morning the rain was about to start. Therefore, I decided to cook tuna pasta. This time after we ate the rain stopped.
By 9:17 we were paddling. The day went smooth with no rain or face wind. We stopped at Dunavecse for some groceries and we had a small lunch in the afternoon.
The weather was nice so at all three stops I decided to go for a short swim.
In the evening the Danube started to be better marked and we camped opposite from km 1536. During the night some storms came and went.
Day 16 – 07.07.2018 (77 km 1536-1459)
We ate some cold breakfast and by 9:20 we were on water. Rain just started and it was just the first out of four we encountered today.
Till 6 PM we have had tail wind which helped us to advance.
After 36 km we stopped during rain for a brake. We ate some chocolate. Trying to get the kayak out of the Danube, Pali fel in the water. Funny but wet experience.
For the rest of the day we kept our eyes open for some restaurant. We missed the first one and encountered two closed ones in Dunaszekco.
Hungry and tired we put the tents outside Dunaszekco and fantasised about the excellent breakfast we are going to have in Mohacs.
Day 17 – 08.07.2018 (59 km 1459-1400)
We woke up early and hungry. We hoped to paddle 11 km and have a big breakfast in Mohacs. By 8:30 we were on water and at about 9:40 we saw on the left side of the Danube a huge building with some flags.
We decided to stop since it looked like custom building. There the Hungarian authorities put us to fill in papers and go to five different offices in the same building. One hour later we were allowed to go with the mention that if we stop again in Hungary we will have to do the procedure again.
Hungry and sad we paddle 20+ more km till we get to Serbia. We stopped at the first restaurant Pikec Čarda, which is the first building on Serbian territory. They refused to serve us because we didn’t do the customs control. We continued for a km and found Čarda kod carine, a delicious restaurant where we had fish soup.
About 20+ km we entered Apatin. Here we parked at the marina and a hospitable employee helped us with the custom procedures. All went fine except one police officer felt offended we entered the police station bare footed.
We had shower and filled our bottles of water in the marina and paddled two more km downstream to camp.
Today was a full day of uncertainty and we are all happy that we just have to exit Serbia and enter Romania to finish with customs. We will not go on Bulgarian shore.
Day 18 – 09.07.2018 (72 km 1400-1328)
All night rained and in the morning we woke up around 7:00 on the lovely shouts of three fisherman who were calling the fish to their bait.
We went back to the tents and waited until 10:00 when rain stopped for half hour so we could depart.
For the most part of my day we had front wind and 41 km of continuous rain. All soaked we had time to paddle to dry out since finding a place to camp on the left side of the Danube isn’t easy in these parts.
Eventually at km 1328 we found an abandoned fishing station and we set the tents under an almost falling roof.
We cannot camp on the right side of the Danube because that is Croatian territory and we don’t have custom clearance for Croatia.
Day 19 – 10.07.2018 (38 km 1328-1290)
We left early in the morning at 8:45. We paddled easily the first 30 km. We stopped in Back Palaka for lunch.
After a great lunch weather also got better. We decided to stop on the first beach and was ourselves and our clothes. By 16:00 the tents were set and the clothes hanged to dry.
Day 20 – 11.07.2018 (68 km 1290-1222)
We woke up early and had some cold breakfast. By 8.30 AM we were on water.
After the first 20 km we stopped for some drinks and than we continued to Novisad. There now is the Exit Festival which brought back memories from 2012 when I joined Exit.
Ten km later we stopped for lunch. The fish stew was perfect and we also did some grocery shopping.
At km 1222 we set our camp and enjoyed a bottle of beer and some local brandy.
Day 21- (75 km 1222-1147)
Today we departed at 8:30 AM and we had good progress. No face wind and excellent weather for kayaking.
We stopped after 27 km at a small terrace for drinks and we continued uneventfully to Belgrade. In Belgrade we met our friend Rui and had lunch.
After Belgrade we entered a small channel that seemed endless. At km 1149 we exited the channel and we realised it is very hard to find a place for tents.
We crossed the Danube twice and after km 1147 we found some grass to pitch the tents in front of some fishing station.
Day 22 (61km 1147-1086)
At 8:18 we started to paddle. All went fine for the first 30 km. We stopped for lunch and had again amazing food.
After lunch the front wind increased and it became hard to advance. Next to km 1090-1086 it was close to impossible to find a place to put the tents. We crossed the Danube twice and eventually we stopped in front of the house of a nice man. He came to say hello and we told him about our expedition.
Day 23 – 14.07.2018 (52 km 1086-1034)
We woke up and ate a whole watermelon. By 8:20 we were on water. In this part Danube is huge, more than 5 km.
Around 11:30 we arrived in Veliko Gradiste and had the lunch. After we went to do the custom control and by 14:30 we were paddling again.
We arrived in Moldova Veche about 15:30 or 16:30 according to the Romanian time. In the custom there was no one. A huge deserted building. I called the emergency line where I was redirected to the police, where I was told that they will call the custom office. Ten minutes later a lady appeared and told us she didn’t saw us when we approached the dock. The formalities took another two hours and endlessness patience since we were the only ones in the custom.
Almost at 19:00 we departed and at km 1034 stopped to camp.
Day 24 – 15.07.2018 (67km 1034-967)
After breakfast we started paddling at 8:20. The first 40 km were uneventful. In the first break we found blackberries.
Once we approached the National Park The Iron Gates things have changed. We visited the Ponicova Cave and continued to the almost floating church next to the huge sculpture of Decebal.
Since land to camp is very scarce in this place we put our tents on a floating dock. We found a floating restaurant where we had dinner and we went to rest on our floating dock.
Day 25 – 16.07.2018 (61km 967- 906)
We woke up early and by 8:20 we were paddling. The first 24 km passed uneventfully. At km 943 we encountered the Iron Gate I lock. We were lucky because we only had to wait for 15 min. This lock is a huge one with two levels. It took one hour and a half to pass it.
By 14:00 we were paddling again. At 16:00 we stopped for lunch and than we continued until almost the sunset.
By 20:30 we had our tents prepared and around 22:00 we went to sleep.
Day 26 – 17.07.2018 (58km 906-848)
It took us a while to woke up and we started paddling at 9:30. Yesterday we had a discussion in which Pali mentioned that we should slow down and not to focus only on performance. We decided to reduce the target from 60 to 50 km/day.
In the morning we had side wind which made all of us wet. We reached the Iron Gates Lock at 16:20 and we had to wait a lot. I tried to exit the kayak but I feel on the high angle slippery dock. I almost flipped the kayak, but managed to keep it floating in the last second.
After the lock we paddled for about two hours and Pali find a nice place for camping. We cooked some dinner and went to sleep.
Day 27 – 18.07.2018 (52km 848-796)
We started early in the morning to paddle. It was 8:05 when we entered the water. All went smooth and easy till the Danube turned West. We experienced very strong front wind and waves from all directions. We stopped for a few hours on the Kutovo Ostrov in Bulgaria and we considered to camp there. There was no place for a single tent and we were very low with our supplies.
We struggled one hour to reach the Romanian side and the Vidin-Calarasi bridge. Once on the shore we set up the tents and went for shopping to Calarasi. We ate and went to sleep.
Day 28 – 19.07.2018 (66km 796-730)
We woke up very early to catch the lowest head wind possible. The wind was still strong but at 7:00 we decided to depart. We made it to the small channel near Calafat in about one hour and from there the rest 15 km we had side wind. We advanced better.
We stopped for breakfast and turned more East after. Now the wind blew from the back and it helped us to advance.
About 18:30 we stopped to camp and we cooked rice with tuna.
Day 29 – 20.07.2018 (74km 730-656)
This morning we decided to skip again the breakfast and to take advantage of the morning chill.
For the most part of the day we had tail wind and everything went smooth.
We stopped near Bechet to eat a late lunch or an early dinner and continued to paddle till km 656. It was very hard to find a place for tents but eventually we places the tents on a sandy beach.
Day 30 – 21.07.2018 (61km 656-595)
In the morning we took the time to have breakfast. By 8:30 we were on the water. We paddled and stopped two times before lunch to swim.
We arrived in Corabia at noon at the same time our friend Tihamer arrived. He borrowed us two of the three kayaks for this expedition and he joins us for the weekend. We ate a fish soup and did some grocery shopping.
Once on water we paddled for about 30 km and passed the place where River Olt flows in the Danube and the towns of Turnu Magurele on the Romanian side and Nikopole on the Bulgarian side.
Right after Turnu Magurele we stopped at a place we thought is a restaurant. We helped a nice lady to change a beer barrow and she served us with some excellent fresh beer. She brought us four plates of chicken soup. It was surprising that she didn’t want to charge us for anything.
The local hospitality did not stop there, two km after some people on the dock with a huge boat invited us for beer. We stopped and spend good time with them. By the time we left them it was already night so we just paddled a few hundred meters and camped on the nearby beach.
Day 31 – 22.07.2018 (59km 595-536)
After a quick breakfast we started the day. It was warmer than usual so we stopped several times to chill in the Danube.
Next to Zimnicea we stopped for mici and beer. After about 10 km more Oltenian hospitality stroke again and some huge family who was celebrating the weekend invited me for beer. They packed us with excellent dinner (pork steak) and wishes us all the best.
The clouds started to gather and a storm was imminent. We camped just in time not to be hit by the huge ice rain. Sadly me and Alice put the tent on a lower surface so soon we were floating on a icey lake. We moved the tent to higher grounds and fell asleep on the sounds of thunder and wild hogs.
Day 32 – 23.07.2018 (72km 536-464)
In the morning we made a big fire and made tea and boiled eggs.
We paddled to Giurgiu where we stopped for lunch and Tihamer closed his adventure on the Danube.
After Giurgiu, we passed several huge islands and we barely managed to find a piece of sand to put the tents on.
Day 33 – 24.07.2018 (62km 464-402)
In the morning we had great paddling session. About 30 km later police stopped us in Oltenita. They informed us that there is no restaurant near by. Border police gave us two breads and wished us good luck.
We stopped 20 km further and we placed the tent next to two nice fishermen. The dinner was cooked at a great outdoor fire and last tuna pasta made all of us full and happy.
Day 34 – 25.07.2018 (402-???)
Today we woke up very early and by 7:20 we were paddling. After about an hour the border police stopped us. They asked about our data and told us that next to Calarasi is an awesome festival.
If we’d had more time we’d checked it but we choose to take the channel to Calarasi city center. We stopped for great lunch and we continued on the channel till we met the Danube.
Soon after we camped and went to sleep.
Day 35 – 26.07.2018 (approx. 25 km)
The morning was as normal as usual. We had breakfast and we started paddling about 7:30.
We saw all sorts of animals on the left side of the Danube: cows, donkeys, sheep, goats, horses and dogs.
The first break we took 7 km away from Fetesti. After the break the wind increased tremendously and it took us two hours to make the 7 km to Fetesti.
Once there, we ate pizza in a very very strange place. It was not bad, just strange.
We left Fetesti and passed under the bridge. The wind continued so we stopped and camped on the left side of the Danube after the bridge. We hope tomorrow we will paddle more.
Day 36 – 27.07.2018 (approx. 50 km till km 240)
We woke up at 5:30 and by 6:30 we were on water. In just one hour the front wind started. It was a very difficult day but we managed to pass Giurgeni. In Giurgeni we stopped for groceries and camped a few km after the bridge just before a huge storm. Sadly we couldn’t prepare dinner so we all dreamed of an early breakfast.
Day 37 – 28.07.2018 (71km 240-168)
At 5:30 we woke up and the rain waited till we had breakfast and put the kayaks on the Danube.
At 6:30 rain started and gave us another brake about 11:00 to have our brunch. Right after brunch a huge storm started bigger than any we encountered before in this trip. We couldn’t see 10m in front of us. We aimed for the closest shore. In one hour the storm passed.
In the evening we reached Braila, we stopped for dinner and grocery shopping and camped at km 168.
Day 38 – 29.07.2018 (64km 168-104 / 56 Nautical Mile)
This morning we woke up at 6:30 so by 7:30 we were paddling. Till noon we experienced mild front wind and passed the long city of Galati.
On the way to Issacia we were stopped twice by border police just for routine check-up and rain hit us also twice. By 18:30 we camped next to Issacia and went to a restaurant for dinner.
Day 39 – 30.07.2018 (about 60 km)
We departed at 7:10 and about noon we were in Tulcea. I knew the town but it was an amazing experience to see it from the water.
We stopped for long time. We ate, did grocery shopping and Alice even bought some clothes.
About 15:00 we continued and we were threatened by a storm that decided not to visit us after all.
At 18:00 we camped after Baltenii de Sus and had a relaxing evening.
Tomorrow we aim for the sea.
Day 40 – 31.07.2018 (about 60 km)
Ten minutes to six we woke up and in one hour we were ready to paddle. We knew it’s going to be the last day of our expedition.
For the first two hours we enjoyed tail wind and excellent currents. We took a break to swim and to rest a bit and meanwhile the wind changed direction. For the rest of the day we faced front wind but the nice current helped us.
Behind Tulcea there are some shorter channels that can take you to Sfantu Gheorghe and we took every possibility to ease our way. After the last shortcut I checked the map and saw that between us and the sea there was a line of about 15 km. Full of enthusiasm and joy we paddled against the wind and reached Sfantu Gheorghe. We stopped in the town to find place to camp and about 18:00 we departed with the kayaks to meet the Black Sea.
It was an amazing feeling to see in front of our eyes just water. There were waves on the sea and I didn’t park the kayak on the sore as Pali and Alice. I decided to paddle against the waves and on the return I soaked my kayak. It didn’t matter because we were extremely happy. We celebrated our success and closed our expedition. We decided to stay five more days in Sfantu Gheorge to rest and enjoy the place.
We are all looking forward for our next adventure.
Key facts of the expedition:
Total distance: Ingelstat-Sfantu Gheorghe: 2471.5 Danube Kilometers + 11 km Channels = 2482.5 km
Total time: 40 days (22.06-31.07.2018)
Average distance/day: 62 km/day
Number of locks passed: 16