I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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I’m reminded that spring is here when I hear the birds chirping outside my bedroom. A pair of house wrens have a made a nest in my trumpet vine, protected under the eaves. They have only two babies to feed this year. Another couple perch on the balcony railing, chatting away—probably deciding where to build their own nest—until the new parents screech and chase them off. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

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Spring is often the birth of new beginnings for Gunter and me as well. During the eight years of our circumnavigation, spring often brought the sailing season. It was during the spring of 2002 that we embarked on our longest voyage, from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands—twenty-one days at sea. “This will be a voyage of risk, of that I am sure, but I suspect it will also be one of renewal and reward,” I wrote.  I knew that we would never regret taking off to sea in our 43-foot catamaran, because I believed that we would eventually achieve our mission to sail around the world. And we did. It took us eight long, but rewarding, years.

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“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams,” said John Barrymore. Continuing to fulfill our dreams after retiring is what keeps us young.

Accomplishing much, whether it’s sailing around the world or something else, takes planning… and courage…and dreams. So I don’t fault the Kaufmans for wanting to achieve their dreams. But great gain also involves great risk. How much risk is too much is a question only they can answer. They had to suffer the setback of being rescued and sinking their sail boat, their home for eight years. That’s enough already. I wish them well.