Friday, 11 May 2018
Pride comes before...
I have reached the Llangollen Canal and it is as beautiful and as challenging as I remember. The moorings are remote and plentiful, the roads are few and far between and the walks are clearly marked and wonderful. I saw a sign this morning that rather sums up the area. It was on farmland at the start of a wooded area. Painted simply on a board: 'Please walk our woodland trail'. So different from other areas where footpaths are blocked and farmers do everything they can to keep you off their land! (Mind you, I understand why when irresponsible dog owners let their pets run riot amongst the livestock).
This canal has a noticeable flow, thanks to the Llangollen feeding the Hurleston Reservoir at the junction of the Shropshire Union Canal. At some bridge holes I am almost being brought to a standstill, thanks to the water funneling through. The bywashes at the locks are very lively and I almost came to grief at one this morning.
I had cruised through Wrenbury, which, for a small village, is overly blessed with lift bridges - three in quick succession. These are a particular challenge for us single handers as the bridge mechanism is almost always on the offside, opposite to where you are encouraged to tie up your boat. So where boats have crew, they would walk across the bridge, raise it and usher the skipper through. If I do it that way I would have to swim across the canal to fetch my boat! Instead I have to find something to tie up to on the same side as the mechanism. Then climb along my gunwales (usually through bushes and overhanging trees), wind the bridge up, climb back down to my stern, steer the boat through, tie the stern to anything I can find while I wind the bridge back down and then get back on board. It is very labour intensive!
I had managed all three bridges without any assistance and I was feeling very proud of myself. I had also done three locks and several miles. I had one more lock to do before mooring up for the rest of the day.
When I got to it, I found a hire boat just going in. I tied my boat up and wandered up to find they hadn't made much progress. Why? Because they had all four paddles open in the lock and was doing their best to drain the pound! I ran to drop the bottom paddles and instructed the boaters on the correct use of a lock and what might happen if they didn't do it right. They seemed entirely unconcerned and bumbled off, waving merrily and leaving me to close their gate. I sighed and felt that warm feeling of superiority as I reset the lock and easily cruised my boat in past the turbulent bywash.
I filled the lock and, as usual, I brought my boat out to the neck of the lock where I left her balanced while I popped off and closed the gate. I hadn't noticed an innocuos length of concrete with a gap running underneath just past the top of the lock. As I pulled the gate closed I saw my bow swing slowly round so the boat was lying against this concrete. I thought nothing of it until I tried to steer the boat forward. Nothing. No movement whatsoever. I tried reversing into the neck of the lock so I could straighten her up. No. It was as if she was sitting on top of the concrete slab for all the notice she was taking of the increasingly anxious revving of my engine.
I went and inspected the length of concrete and discovered that the flowing canal was disappearing under the shelf and appearing again beyond the bottom of the lock. The strength of the flow was such that my boat was sucked firmly against the side. No amount of pushing, pulling or revving was shifting her. I felt the panic rise (despite my boat's name).
I stood back, massaging my aching back, and tried to think it through. The only way of lessening the force of water was if there was less water flowing through. So I did what I had just sneered at when the hire boat did it, I opened all four paddles on the lock so that it was acting like the bywash. After a couple more minutes of pushing with all my strength, my boat starting grudgingly to move forward. I took a flying leap onto the stern and rammed the throttle open. I shot past the concrete bywash and on to the safety of the lock bollards beyond. I then ran back to drop all the paddles before I drained all the water out of the pound!
I moored up a few minutes further on. My neck, shoulders and back are aching from the effort and the anxiety and adrenalin have left me drained. I still love this canal though!