Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Fun and Games on the way to Willington

I waited for it to start raining this morning before moving off from Swarkestone - destination Willington.
Although now single-handed again, Hil having left for home after breakfast, it seemed an easy trip: just over four miles and one lock.
The fun started shortly after the Ragley Boat Stop pub, when I was hailed by one of CRT's contractors busy mowing the towpath (the bit in the middle that people walk on, not the bit at the edge that boaters might want to tie up to). He told me that there was a tree down ahead, but that I might get through if I was careful. Well, get through I did, albeit with a few souvenirs collected on the roof!
Tree down on the way to Willington
Next came Stenson Lock - at 12ft 4in one of the deepest on the system and with an overbridge at the tail preventing the single-hander bow-hauling the boat in, no alternative  to a daunting climb out via a wet and slippery lock-ladder. (I'm not sure which I hate most, climbing out of an empty lock or back down into one when going downhill, but its certainly the part of single-handing that I enjoy least). The first problem was a noddy boat moored squarely in the middle of the lock-landing. I thought perhaps the crew might be waiting for someone to share the lock with, but they made no move to do so as I just squeezed in ahead of them (I did see the curtains twitch though!). This made it difficult for the boat leaving the lock to pick up a crew member, but the steerer could see my plight and understood.
Once into the lock - and having clambered out - I tied Starcross to a bollard and went to open a ground paddle. I'd noticed that on the Trent & Mersey's broad locks, unlike those of the Grand Union, the incoming water comes from the front of the lock and runs down the side, so to prevent the bow being forced away from the side wall it's best to open the paddle on the opposite side of the lock. Unfortunately this means you are on the other side of the lock to the rope that is your only means of controlling the boat. It was obvious as the lock filled that the untertow was pulling Starcross into the top gates with significant danger of the bow being trapped. I therefore closed the paddle and went to pull the boat back towards the tail of the lock. At this point another boat turned up and we swiftly agreed it would be easier for all concerned if we went through together.

Approaching Willington I found myself following a day boat from the Midland Canal Centre at Stenson, progressing very slowly down the cut and zig-zagging from one bank to another. Nothing unusual here as day-boats are often hired by people for a first taste of boating and some steerers get the hang of it quicker than others.  It was when they came to tie-up that the entertainment began: Ignoring a good spot, they attempted to moor at an obviously shallow and difficult bit. The steerer took the boat in to the bank and two crew members jumped off with the centre rope: so far so good. Then he decided that the back end was too far out and in trying to bring it in  succeeded only in taking the bow out! As he was using a lot of power to do this the boat now headed out into the channel again with the bank crew hanging on to the rope for dear life until they realised the futility of this and let go. We now had the situation of the crew on the towpath, the boat on the opposite bank and the rope in the cut!
To his credit the steerer resumed progress without getting the rope round his prop but whether through embarrassment or lack of confidence he made no further attempts to moor and  passed several vacant spots on the "official" visitor moorings before disappearing under Willington Bridge with the crew still gamely walking down the towpath!

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