Sunday, 18 June 2017

Getting Locked In

River Cherwell at Aynho
This is Captain Carl at your service once again. Due to popular demand, I find that I am compelled to "do the jottings" again. Actually, this is only half true, it's got nothing to do with popular demand. In a moment of madness I said to the wife (Linda) that I'd do the jottings this week hoping she'd decline my offer. She didn't, so here I am slaving over a hot keyboard on the towpath in Banbury.

Last Sunday we were back on the Thames. We'd had a long day so decided to moor at Pangbourne. Our old friend the wind disapproved of our decision to call it a day and did battle with us for a while, ceaselessly blowing at gale force and keeping us from the riverbank. We pretended that we had given up the mooring idea for a few minutes. As I expected, this had the desired effect of fooling the wind, and before it realised what was going on we had turned hard to port and tied up in the shelter of a big bush type thing.
Whitchurch-upon-Thames from the toll bridge

On the whole, the weather this week has been very good. The great wind of Pangbourne has been left behind to sulk, and the days have been calm, dry and increasingly sunny. As the weather has been so hot, we have been getting up at around 5 am and making an early start. I tell you, it's a different world at this time of the morning. Cool, still, mist rising off the water, birds singing. I imagine the Garden of Eden would have been something like this.

Changing the subject, let me tell you something about locks. On our travels we have seen many different types of locks on the rivers and canals. Deep, shallow, rickety, stubborn, heavy, creaky, poorly maintained, the list goes on. The design of some locks seems very odd, they push your boat towards the overgrown, shallow, weedy offside of the canal. On the South Oxford canal there are two "diamond" locks. These are nothing to do with jewellery or great wealth, but are named after their curious shape, which, if you almost close your eyes and look the other way when it's dark, do appear to have a diamond shape. I don't know why this should be. I have heard that the shape allows the lock chamber to hold two or three narrowboats at a time, but I don't know.

Shipton Weir Lock - diamond shaped

The reason I am going on and on about locks in this tedious fashion is because of an incident that happened to us today. We arrived at Grant's Lock, the last lock before Banbury, and were thinking longingly of a shady mooring to escape the blazing sunshine. Linda emptied the chamber, opened the gate and I cast off and approached the lock. I could see that the gate wasn't fully open, but a lot of the locks on this particular waterway have gates that don't open all the way. Now, I know what you are thinking. You're thinking "the silly sod tried to force his way in and got jammed between the gate and wall. Serves him right. Idiot". Well you are wrong. I didn't get jammed between the gate and wall, the boat gently slid a third of the way into the lock chamber with inches to spare and promptly got jammed on something lying at the bottom of the lock. Bugger. Going hard astern made no difference, the boat was going nowhere. We tried opening the paddles on the top gate, hoping to flush the boat back. No good.

After half an hour of trying everything we could think of we were joined by other boaters waiting to use the lock. A sea of perturbed faces looked down at me as I gunned the engine without moving an inch. Two boats were now behind me, waiting to come up. We persuaded the owner of the first of these to try to pull me out of the lock. He duly passed me a line, which I secured to the stern, then we both hit 'hard astern'. Linda tried the "flush him out" trick by raising the paddles at the other end but it was no use. Our boat didn't move an inch. Then, a lady called down to me in my new place of abode. "Can you move forward?" she helpfully enquired. I looked up and dolefully shook my head.(note from wife - if I'd have asked such a damn fool question there would have been Words!)
Grant's Lock - jammed tight

Amongst the increasing crowd of waiting boat owners was a man with a long pole with a hook on the end of it, or boat hook, as we call it. He had decided that enough was enough, and clambered down to join me in the dark, dank, shadowy confines of Hades. After fishing around with his pole he asked permission to go forward through the boat. As all this was going on, I decided to take my own advice from last week and lighten the water tank. Running a tap for around half an hour didn't help, if I'm honest. Meanwhile, at the bows he was still fishing around, then suddenly shouted up to the seething mass of humanity that now thronged the lock "get me that long rusty metal angle iron thing will ya?" Within seconds the said item was lowered to him. He used it as a lever and moved the bows across the lock a few inches. Suddenly I thought "try reverse", so I did, and the boat drifted back out as sweet as anything.

The man with the pole then filled the lock, brought his boat in, emptied the lock and drove forward to the gate. After a short struggle he removed the offending object (a branch), cleared the silt around the gate which allowed the gate to open fully, and left. I'm overjoyed to say that we were then able to negotiate the lock and come out the other end. Thank so much to all the other boaters that helped us and showed remarkable patience, as we were stuck there for 2 1/2 hours.

That's about it from me, I'm still on the towpath as the temperature inside the boat was 31 degrees last time I looked, time for a cool beer. Cheers!

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS As we approached Oxford from the Thames on Friday we saw a group of young 'uns larking about by the water's edge. There was a sudden shout, and one of them fell in, making quite a big splash. We looked in horror as the girl came to the surface. Then she started laughing and swimming about having the time of her life. No harm done then, except maybe for some astonished fish.
The Thames at Port Meadow, Oxford

PPS. Linda here - I shall be back next week to tell you a bit more about our trip down the Thames - the historic towns of Abingdon and Wallingford, a shrine to George Michael that we stumbled upon in Goring, the toll bridge in Whitchurch, a shady mooring by Somerton Deep Lock and much more. Have a lovely week everyone. 

Abingdon Monastery Garden

Signpost at Abingdon Lock

Sunset at Wallingford

a strange craft on the Thames

Canalside Cafe

Lift bridge at sunrise