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Rite of passage: Champa Pandaw conquers first big challenges

There's something very exciting – not to say nerve-wracking – about the maiden voyage of a new ship. Dispatches from our new build supervisor Captain Duncan Trollope, along with his resolutely non-arty photos (he's a ship-builder not a photographer!) tell us that the RV Champa Pandaw, whose jungle gestation we described in a previous blog is delighting her first passengers as much as we had hoped.

As described, Champa Pandaw was commissioned with the specific purpose of tackling the fast currents of the upper Mekong which, last season, defeated the efforts of the Laos Pandaw to reach her goal of Jinghong in China's Yunnan Province. Our solution? To literally double the engine capacity of the new ship, to a mighty 1440 horse power, which is twice the capacity of the 700hp Laos Pandaw (she has since had another engine added).

That was the theory, and so far the results have been good. The biggest challenge that CP has had to face is passage through Laos's fearsome (and highly controversial) new $3.8bn Xayaburi Dam. Designed to generate hydroelectric power for that country, and due for completion in 2020, the dam is already dictating which vessels can and cannot proceed north of 19 degrees North up the Mekong.

RV Champa Pandaw

As these pictures show, the dam's shipping lock has a width that is only a matter of centimetres wider than Champa Pandaw. You can practically hear the captain and crew breathing in as they enter its concrete-walled embrace.

It takes nerves of steel as well as supreme technical skill to pass this navigational test, and barring a few bends of the fender and a bit of damage to the roof, Champa Pandaw's super-competent master passed with flying colours.

As the man on the ground responsible for all this, Captain Trollope admits to having sleepless nights in advance of the first test of whether he (and the dam-builders!) got the maths right when it came to executing the design and construction. His anxiety, he tells us, was not helped by colleagues winding him up on the matter.

"No matter how many times you calculate it, you can't help worrying that when it comes to the test, she won't be able to pass through" Duncan tells us from Vientiane. "Either she will be too wide to enter the lock, or even worse she will go in and then won't be able to get out!"

Thankfully for all concerned, CP passed with flying colours. Any cruise operator who wants to follow Pandaw's pioneering passage into these stunning upper Mekong waters will have to match the technical competence of our architects, engineers, pilots, masters and captains. The bar has been set high, and in the meantime, Pandaw has this fabulous four-country Laos to China route to itself.

 

See it all, from Laos to China, Yunnan Province

THE MEKONG: FROM LAOS TO CHINA

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