It was tight squeeze, but they made it; newly-built cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse reached the sea yesterday after a 26-mile journey along the River Ems in northern Germany.
Ahead lie a few weeks of sea trials and the completion of finishing touches, before the 122,000-ton ship arrives in Southampton on April 20 for its launch celebrations and naming ceremony ahead of a summer of sailings from the UK.
The river is more used to much smaller craft, and in order to cope with a ship the size of Eclipse, the water level has to be raised by closing a barrier at high tide until the water is overflowing its banks in places. Even so, the journey can only be made when the tise and wind conditions are perfect.
There were only inches to spare as the 121-ft wide vessel was inched through locks; a section of railway bridge had to be removed by crane, and at one point the ship crossed above a motorway disappearing into a tunnel beneath the river. And even with the barrier closed, there was barely enough depth of water, so the journey was made in reverse, with a tug at each end, and a a speed no higher than five miles per hour.
Leading American cruise expert Stewart Chiron tells me: “The trip was flawless and ther ship looks fabulous, but there is still a lot of work to be done before the ship is finished.
“When we arrived at the yard, they surprised us with the cutting of the first steel for Celebrity Silhouette
Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis – who didn’t actually have to take the controls – explained: “No cruise ship Captain ever expects to encounter the challenges that the conveyance presents.
“Whilst I am accustomed to docking in tight ports, I prefer to be chasing sunshine in the open sea. Celebrity Eclipse is only a few metres slimmer than the narrowest lock we have to navigate which really isn’t much room, particularly when the president of company is onboard and keeping a close watch!”
Thet’s not president Dan Hanrahan in the picture below, by the way – it’s a local dog keen to shepherd the ship on its way to the sea.