Sunday, 11 March 2012

On Manoeuvres (12)

This is one of an occasional series of stories about manoeuvring a narrow-boat on the canals and rivers. There may be other ways to achieve the same result. However, the method I employ has been devised or adapted by me using trial and error. (Trial and Error are two of my regular boating companions) Our boat is a semi-traditional in style and just over 50 feet long. Rosie has a keel depth of twenty five inches and weighs in at a tad over eighteen tons. The techniques described are intended to help new comers to boating.

We have already had a look at working a boat through a lock. This brings me to a point where boat crews work together as a team, to work a pair of boats through one or more lock. If the boats are travelling in the same direction and passing through wide locks you might pair up to share the task. If boats are passing in opposite directions its usual for the lock crews to help each other.

On the surface, assisting each other might seem to be a good thing. The problem is that you may not understand the working methods of the other boat when passing through a lock. So, if I am waiting to enter a lock that someone else is operating. I do not operate the gate paddles. I only assist with the manual opening and closing of the lock gates. If someone else comes along to lend me a hand I always say that I will operate the gate paddles and they might lend a hand with the heavy gates. The opening and closing of the gate paddles is crucial to our safety.

When working as a pair with another experience boat through a wide lock. I like to have a quick word about working together. It's better if one crew do the top gates and the other crew do the bottom gates. That way the team on a pair of gates already knows the position of the paddles and any other apparatus. I like to agree which boat will leave the lock first. The first boat out of the lock picks up one half of the lock team and moves off along the cut to the next lock. The second boat out of the lock picks up the second half of the team and follows on behind.

If the other boat is a hire boat - I assume that the crew has limited experience (not always the case) and I take extra care to keep an eye on what the other crew is doing. If they are at all unsure about what they are doing, most new comers are more than happy to be "shown the ropes." We saw the best and the worst of hire boat crews last summer on the Rochdale canal. The first crew consisted of five friends who hire a boat together every year. They were the best and slickest crew I have seen for operating locks. The Memsahib learned a trick of two from them.

The second hire crew was busy draining down a top pound because they had the paddles open on both ends of the lock. This was their first ever lock. They were stood around looking into the lock and could not understand why the level was not changing. We soon fixed the problem for them and they decided to moor up and watch a few boats pass through the locks before continuing.

If the other boat is not a hire boat and owned, then I expect the crew to be a bit more experienced. However, it might be that the boat has been loaned to friends for a holiday cruise. Not all owner crews are good at sharing a lock. Last summer we met the owner crew from hell coming down the Wigan flight of 23 locks. The lady who became known to us as Mrs Bucket was leading the locking crew of four for the boat in front of us. She insisted on not sharing their lock. They preferred to lock alone. However, she insisted on locking up each gate paddle even though we were stood at the side of her and waiting to enter the lock. As she explained, "It's the law you know, all gates must be locked up again after leaving the lock."

Never argue with an idiot, they will only drag you down to their level and then easily beat you with years and years of experience.

The Bucket boat crew eventually paused in a pound about half the way down the flight for a cup of tea and a sandwich. So we passed them into the lock ahead that they had just set. Mrs Bucket was not happy and came over to take issue with us. I explained to her that "Lock flights are not mooring zones, its the law you know." No, we did not lock the gate paddles behind us, though I was very tempted, neither did we offer to share. We were soon at the bottom of the flight as a boat coming up left all the remaining locks set for us to go straight in.



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