First stage: Bega and the Danube-Tisa-Danube canal

by Cosmin Jitariuc

Saturday, May 27th, 2023, the Circumeuropa project started. It was a start full of emotions, with breakups and meetings, with hugs and tears. The team formed by Cristian Ilea, director of photography, the initiator of the project and skipper, Oana Gavriliuc, biologist, researcher and skipper, Valentin Bogdan, geologist, speleologist and skipper and Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist and skipper, set off on the water route that will last approx. half an year.

The expedition marked several firsts right from the start. For the first time after almost 70 years, the Romanian-Serbian water border was crossed by a boat: the sailboat “Vulpea”. And still after all this time, the locks on the Bega, the one at Uivar in Romania and the ones in Serbia were reopened.

Until leaving the country, “Vulpea” was accompanied by a boat of STP Timiș, the ISU boat and the one of the border police.

The former port in the town of Otelec from Timișoara, the last town on the water to the border with Serbia, was reborn for a few hours. The locals greeted with joy, kürtőskalács and shock, the passengers of the boats that stopped for a short time in the port.

The first day was a long one for the crew. After leaving Romania, “Vulpea” slipped through the abundant vegetation on the Bega and after a few hours of sailing in not exactly friendly weather, it arrived at the Itebej lock. The Serbian authorities and the people working at the lock were both surprised by the expedition, although they had been notified of the Circumeuropa team’s arrival. It was the first meeting with the Serbian officials and the formalities lasted more than two hours.

The surprises soon began to appear. Immediately after the Itebej lock, the Bega turns into a real jungle. The long period when no craft traversed the navigable channel gave nature the opportunity to expand. The bed has not been dredged for a long time and the fallen trees, vines and reeds create a landscape similar to the Amazonian jungle, spectacular but equally dangerous for navigation.

There are no moorings on Bega, in this area, so the Circumeuropa crew tied “Vulpea” to a tree on the shore. It was a quiet night in a wild and very beautiful landscape, and the fatigue accumulated during the period before leaving for the expedition had its say and quickly sent everyone to bed.

The journey by water continued with the passage of the lock at Kleck where the team made a short supply of fuel with the help of the employees there who provided them with a car for traveling on land. Each lock was a surprise for the crew but also for the employees of the hydrographic facilities because they haven’t seen boats there for a very long time, almost 70 years.

Oana Gavriliuc, the researcher of the expedition, managed to put into operation the laboratory organized on the boat in completely different conditions from those she was used to in Timișoara and took the first water samples.

After Kleck, Vulpea entered the Danube-Tisa-Danube canal, a branch that connects Bega, Danube and Tisa, also on the territory of Serbia. This canal is also known as the Franz/Francis Canal, after the name of Emperor Francis II, because its construction began in the era of Franz Joseph.

Here the navigable channel is more generous, but even this channel has not been used for a long time, since the period when the transport of goods on the inland rivers declined, towards the middle of the 20th century.

Most of the locks on the route operate with the original, mechanical, hand-operated system, which is over 100 years old. “Vulpea” also locked in Botos and shortly after the storm that swept over the whole region forced the crew to take shelter and tie the boat to a fishing pontoon to spend the night safely.

After a stormy night, literally, the Circumeuropa team headed for the end of the journey on the Bega and DTD canals. Not before passing the Kajto Sovo lock.

“Vulpea” entered the river near the town of Baziaș, and the Danube greeted it with big waves and strong wind, a first for the small boat. Due to the storms and floods of that time the current of the water brought logs and branches and it was a real challenge for the crew to slalom through the obstacles that appeared in the boat’s path.

The Circumeuropa team docked in the town of Veliko Gradiste, on the Serbian shore, where it completed the exit formalities from the neighboring country. This time the process was much easier and shorter in duration because the authorities there are used to cargo and passenger ships that go up and down the Danube and cross the border by water, and part of the border police personnel speak Romanian.

However, in the end, the Serbian authorities wanted to take a photo of the crew and the boat to prove that everything was in order and the Circumeuropa team safely crossed the border with Serbia.