Crossing the Continental Divide


Amsterdam to Budapest River Cruise – Avalon Waterways – Day 8
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Continental Divide on the Main-Danube Canal summit

This afternoon our on-board activities included an excellent lecture on the construction of the Main-Danube Canal and locks by a guest speaker. On this Amsterdam to Budapest cruise we go through a total of 68 locks and this section along the Main-Danube Canal contains 16 of the biggest and most interesting ones.

For those of us who were not familiar with the European waterways and the lock system, it was an educative and fascinating lecture, even if we didn’t understand all the technicalities about canal and lock building. To think that a huge ship like ours could lift itself from Bamberg at 242 m above sea level to a summit of 406 m above sea level was mind boggling enough.

Continental Divide

At approximately 6.00 pm as we were nearing the Hilpolstein lock and the summit of the Main-Danube Canal, we were alerted to be on the sundeck by our cruise director. We had reached the summit of the European watershed (EuropäischeHauptwasserscheide) and as we cruised past this concrete wall, I thought that it was some sort of official land surveyor’s marking to show the Continental Divide. It was only later on that I found out that this granite sculpture was actually a work of art by Hanns Jörg Voth, an accomplished German artist, to mark the summit of the Main-Danube Canal. The official marker is the small piece of concrete next to the wall.

So What is a Continental Divide?

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Granite sculpture by Hanns Jörg Voth

If they did teach us about Continental Divides at school all those years ago, I do not recall it and most probably too, it was a case of me not paying attention. So my lack of attention at geography lessons has come back to bite me as when we passed this significant landmark, I of course didn’t know which rivers were flowing where at this European Watershed… but I was not the only who was a bit ‘in the dark’.

Put simply to me, a Continental Divide is a drainage divide which separates the major river basins. The European Watershed however has a triple divide with the Main-Rhine flowing into the North Sea, the Danube into the Black Sea and the Po draining into the Mediterranean Adriatic Sea. So far we have been cruising the Rhine and Main Rivers and the rivers on this side of the divide drain out to the North Sea. But past this granite wall, which symbolizes the ‘Continental Divide’, and when our ship started stepping down from the Bachhausen lock to reach the Danube, the rivers flows out to the Black Sea.

As we cruised along the summit of the Main-Danube Canal, we were amazingly at the highest point on Earth reachable by water crafts from the sea. And to celebrate our adventurous cruising day, we had a Pirate-themed dinner which was good fun.

Photos of the locks and the Continental Divide: Continental Divide Photo Gallery

Next page: Regensburg

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