We were securely moored last night with spikes hammered their full length in to solid ground. Nevertheless looking out of the window and seeing the river speeding by gives food for thought. It was no surprise to be in the same place when I looked out of the window in the morning, but I don’t normally think to check – sometimes I even get a surprise because I have forgotten what to expect.
I made more of a song and dance about casting off than usual. Often on a canal Clare has cast off the front rope before I’m ready to drive – I didn’t want that today. We also had to scan for cattle before she even started. Clare cast off the stern rope first and then carried the bow rope on board. It turned out we didn’t drift at all until I reversed away from the bank.
It wasn’t very far to the first lock. As we approached, I saw a massive weir with sluices open throwing water across our path. I instinctively steered away from it and closer to the lock jetty. As the bow entered the flow, I realised my mistake. Despite my best efforts we were pushed in to the lock jetty with more force than I would have liked. I did manage to reduce our forward speed at the last moment so we kind of stopped, rather than scraping along.
Clare hopped off with the bow rope, which surprised me. She seemed to think I’d intended to stop there rather than drive in to the open lock. Perhaps I should have styled it out. She stepped back on and I drove in. The lock-keeper was great. I told him we were novices to the Thames – as he could plainly see. He assured me that I hadn’t done too badly, but we agreed I would have done better if I had gone faster and further out.
The locks today have all been similar to each other, though completely different from others we’ve seen. The gates are generally well balanced and easy to move. The paddles are operated by a wheel, and have red and white-topped poles to show if they are open or closed (respectively). If there are staff on, they do all the work for you!
With both gates closed, Clare and I held a rope at each end of the boat and the lock-keeper operated the paddles at the other end.
Our friendly lock-keeper assured us that the entrance to other locks was nothing like as fierce. Some locks would be unmanned, but the lock principles were always the same. He also asked us if we had a licence. I told him we have a “gold” licence (which includes unlimited time on the Thames) – he then said he wasn’t going to check. He must think I have an honest face. As we drove away I noticed a small boat with a blue light on top. Let’s hope we don’t need that.
Soon after, we met a boat coming the other way. The river meanders a lot here, so I had seen it coming across the fields in unbelievable curves. When it eventually appeared in front of us I wasn’t sure we would pass on the correct side, but everything went smoothly. I was mindful of the possibility of meeting another boat at one of the sharp corners, which is my excuse for cutting it too sharply. On a canal I usually realise we are aground by the way the boat rolls. This time I just gradually realised we weren’t going forward any more.
By then we were quite firmly grounded. I had thought a blast of reverse would let the current free us but it wasn’t to be. Eventually I realised I could use the bow thruster to push the bow in to the main current. Once we were sideways to the current we were washed off the shoal I could now see under the stern. The only way to regain control was to face downstream. After a couple of bends, I chose a straight section in which to perform another pirouette. The bow thruster brought us round smartly and we carried on our way. I was careful to take corners a little wider after that.
As we passed a field of sheep, I noticed a lamb further down the steep bank than usual. Its mother and its sibling were standing nearby bleating. As I watched, the lamb tried to climb up but slipped on the wet clay. I could see it was shivering – we didn’t have a blue light, but we were going in for a rescue!
I was able to use the current and electric drive to let the boat drift slowly over to the bank. Clare got off to do the real work while I held station and made suggestions (some were useful). Clare did a great job and we were both a bit emotional when the lamb was reunited with its mum. I’m sure my Mum and Clare’s Dad would have been proud of us.
I’m getting used to the current a little. I was even able to carry on a phone call as we went through a narrow bridge arch later in the day.
I chose another moor-able spot opposite a nature reserve, so we are spending a second night moored against the bank. This time there is a footpath alongside, so we don’t expect anything to nibble the ropes. We had dinner on the bow deck which was sheltered from the cool breeze, and caught the last of the day’s sun. The current is still zooming by, but I am confident we’ll still be here in the morning.