The Danube represented another challenge for the Circumeuropa team. The river greeted the small boat with waves, a strong current and wind. The waters swelled by the recent rains brought with them hundreds of drifting logs. None of the crew had ever had a similar experience. The “Fox” moved forward, slaloming through the trees that seemed to attack the boat. The sky clouded over and it started to rain. This is how the “baptism” of the Danube looked like for the Circumeuropa crew.
“We expected it to be more complicated than on the rivers, but we didn’t take into account the fact that the Danube would be so big and full of trees uprooted by the storm. We were not afraid. However, it required increased attention and a lot of concentration on navigation” – Cristian Ilea, coordinator of the Circumeuropa project.
Upon re-entering the country, the team was greeted by a motorboat that accompanied “Vulpea” for part of the way and waved the Romanian flag.
Moldova Veche is the place where the Circumeuropa crew did their re-entry formalities in Romania. The Romanian authorities were kind and interested in the Circumeuropa project.”I felt that people knew about the project and that we were supported. We enjoyed the curiosity and sympathy with which we were received in Moldova Veche.” – Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.
“Vulpea” docked at the pontoon of the Romanian Naval Authority where it stayed overnight. But sleep was not as peaceful as the crew members had hoped.
“Very early, at dawn, I was woken up by loud bangs. At first, I didn’t realize what was happening. Then I realized that the boat was being hit by the logs coming from upstream. We had to defend the boat. Here I faced a dilemma I have had since the beginning of the expedition: to film or to intervene? This time I decided to film.” – Crisitian Ilea, coordinator of the Circumeuropa project.
“Cristi woke me up, I was fast asleep, I didn’t understand what was happening, who was attacking us. We went out on deck in our pijamas and realized that we were being assaulted by drifting logs, some of them of considerable size. I took the pole and tried to keep them away from the boat. You can see how much and how we succeeded in Cristi’s filming” – Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist
In the afternoon the weather calmed down and the Danube revealed a different, much friendlier face. Its waters, although still rapid and choppy, no longer carried so many logs, and the sun also appeared. The Circumeuropa team decided that it was time to raise the mast of the boat that until then was lying on the deck so that “Vulpea” could pass under the bridges on the rivers it crossed. Turns out that wasn’t the best idea.
The act of raising the mast lasted over two hours and the crew benefited from the help of the people from the ANR.
The Danube revealed its splendour with the entry of Vulpea into the Cazane area. The cliffs that line the river provide an overwhelming spectacle. The craft surfed the eddies that the current of water creates and proved a lifesaver for the crew.
“At one point we decided to raise the rudder in the boat because we didn’t want to be swept away by the strong water current. I had great emotions when I lifted the drone for the first time, but the photos and images captured were worth the effort” – Cristian Ilea, Circumeuropa coordinator.
“I stayed at the helm so the boys could take care of the filming. Even though I don’t have a lot of experience as a skipper, I managed. Or at least that’s what my crewmates say” – Oana Gavriliuc, researcher.
In the Cazane/Cauldrons area, the Danube narrows the most in Romania. On certain sections the distance between the vertical rock walls between the two banks does not exceed 230 meters. The approximately 9 km long sector is divided into two: Big Cauldrons and Small Cauldrons. The river is turbulent and surface eddies make navigation difficult. Sometimes the water gives the sensation of boiling, like in a cauldron, hence the name of the area.
In the area of the Cauldrons, traffic on the Danube becomes significant. In addition to ships and barges that transport goods, there are also small boats that take tourists to the attractions on the shores. Ponicova and Veterani caves, the huge stone sculpture depicting the face of Decebalus are just a few of them. “Vulpea” did well on the Danube, it slid quickly downstream, on sometimes turbulent waters, helped by the river’s current.
“We completed some stages in a shorter time than we expected. We were helped a lot by the water current, which practically doubled the speed of the boat.” – Cristian Ilea, Circumeuropa coordinator.
“Most of the time we left very early in the morning, around 5.30 – 6.00. We tried to avoid navigating the Danube at night and wanted to arrive before nightfall at the next place we proposed to reach” – Oana Gavriliuc, researcher.
In Orșova, the boat was also equipped with two flexible solar panels brought by very good friends from Timișoara and Bucharest. Crew footage, data transmissions and live streams consume a lot of current, and the only source of electricity was the batteries charged by the engine while underway.
The first lock on the Danube that “Vulpea” overcame was the one at Portile de Fier 1. “I underestimated the height of the mast and on the first attempt the upper part hit the bridge. To our joy without causing damage. We were a little scared, but we were supported by the lock staff who gave us advice and we managed, tilting the boat slightly to get through safely.” – Cristian Ilea, captain of the expedition.
The boat passed a little later, without any problem, the sluice at the “Poríle de Fier 2”.
The next important point that the Circumeuropa team wanted to reach was the visit to the “Portul Cultural Cetate” where the crew members hoped to meet the poet Mircea Dinescu.
“I spoke with Mr. Mircea Dinescu on the phone, but due to the health problems he was facing at the time, he could not follow up on our invitation. He managed to be a good host, even from afar, and at the end he offered us his last volume, “Ship of Fools” with dedication. The book is now in the small library on “Vulpea” – Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.
Each stop was for the Circumeuropa team an opportunity to meet new, special people, who became reliable friends and who helped the crew in various ways. In the town of Corabia, “Vulpea” moored in the tourist port, in the place reserved for fishing boats.
“The owners not only did not get angry, but also invited us to an evening of stories around the fire. I found out that the people have an NGO, “La doi pescari” and they want to organize a fishing club in Corabia and do nice things for the community there.” – Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.
After another ten hours of continuous navigation, the crew arrived at Giurgiu, where it turned out that finding a mooring place is not very simple. “I found a yachting club from Giurgiu, “San Giorgio” on the internet and called the first phone number found on the website”. The man who answered us (Mugurel Roșu) knew about our project and was even happy to give us a helping hand. We tied “Vulpea” next to his sailboat and told about Circumeuropa and the route we are about to travel” – Oana Gavriliuc, researcher. The library on “Vulpea” has been enriched with a book, a water travel diary, written by Mugurel Roșu.
At Fetești, where “Vulpea” docked the following evening, the crew experienced other emotions. An international NATO exercise involving 10,000 soldiers was in full swing, and the Danube branch, Borcea, was blocked.
“There were few options. In order to avoid it, we would have had to turn back a long way, sail against the course of the Danube and enter another arm, towards Cernavodă, or wait for the military exercise to end.” – Cristian Ilea, the initiator of the project
The military officials coordinating the NATO exercise announced the next morning that the pontoon bridge over the Danube would be opened over a length of one hundred meters, for one hour. The Circumeuropa team thus managed, with some delay, to continue its journey to Brăila and Galați. In Galați, the Circumeuropa team visited the headquarters of the Romanian Naval Authority and the naval traffic control center, the place from where the specialists supervise the traffic on the Danube.
Oana Gavriliuc, the team’s researcher, leaves the boat for a while, but is going to board, this time on “Gaia” in Istanbul.
Cristi and Cosmin continue their journey towards Tulcea and Delta. Water traffic in the area where the Danube separates Romania from Ukraine is quite congested. Many cargo ships that look huge next to “Vulpea” are heading towards the Black Sea. Some of them are anchored at the edge of the waterway, probably waiting to be controlled by the border police.
In Tulcea, “Vulpea” spent the night at a pontoon located in the place where the Danube describes a wide bend which turned out to be also the place where the ships turn towards the Sulina arm. So the crew had a morning shaken by the waves caused by the ships.
The team is completed by Cosmin Apreotesei, a good friend and experienced skipper who will stay on “Vulpea” until Mangalia. In this new formula, the crew sets off to Delta, more precisely to Mile 23, the place where the great athlete Ivan Patzaichin was born.
“Mila 23 is a special place for me. I had the opportunity to film a final interview with Ivan in the very place where he grew up, where a memorial center is now being built. I admit that my eyes were filled with tears when we docked.” Cristian Ilea, project coordinator
Mrs. Lucica, supervises the erection of the memorial center and welcomed the team with stories about Ivan Patzaichin and a traditional meal based on fish products freshly caught from the Danube.
Circumeuropa stopped the next day for a few hours at Sulina, the place where the Danube flows into the sea. “Vulpea” had an incident while mooring in what is called Bazinul mic, a portlet near the main branch of the Danube. The strong wind pushed the boat towards the shore where it hit, slightly, the propeller of an engine on a fishing boat. The consequences were not very serious, a scratch in the hull of “Vulpea”.
“Gabytzu helped us, a man in love with water and boats, settled in Sulina. He towed and guided us with his boat and we managed to tie ourselves to a pontoon”, Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.
From Sulina, “Vulpea” entered the Black Sea, and it was the first time in its existence that it sailed in open waters. The dolphins met the small boat just outside the waterway. The waves, quite big and the wind put the crew and the boat to the test.
“For the first time we sailed without an engine, only pushed by the wind, with open sails. The feeling of freedom that all sailors long for has finally made its presence felt. The 360-degree horizon blending into the sky simply takes your breath away at sunset.” – Cristian Ilea, project coordinator
“Vulpea” faced the waves continuously for 22 hours, and the crew members took turns at the helm. “Orienting was not an easy task either, especially at night, because “Vulpea does not have navigation equipment on board. I used a special navigation application on my phone and the compass” – Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.
Around 10:00 a.m., exactly two weeks after leaving Timișoara, “Vulpea” met “Gaia”, the vessel with which the Circumeuropa team will continue its journey to the Bosphorus and further around Europe, to Amsterdam.