The rain forecast for much of yesterday didn’t come as early as threatened. The day was very grey, but mostly dry. As darkness fell though, the rain came on more heavily. This morning was noticeably brighter, but there were some menacing clouds around.
I was checking the water levels on the Environment Agency website to see if I could make my own predictions about the state of the river. The water level readings are more detailed and updated more frequently than the summary for boaters. There is no doubt a strong link between the information in these two sources, but it is far from obvious.
My conclusion was that there seemed to be a pulse of water coming down the river, but that we should be able to keep ahead of it if we set off after breakfast. The river is divided in to reaches bounded by the locks. I reckoned we should be able to get as far as Shifford Lock. There is mooring and an electrical charging point advertised at this location, so I reckoned it would be a good place to be if the “red boards” come up and we are advised to stay put.
We cast off with the now familiar manoeuvre of turning to face downstream. Today we were just upstream from a large post with a sign warning of the bridge we’d come through yesterday. I didn’t want to hit that, so I let us drift (backwards) downstream of it in the middle of the channel. I then experimented with turning without using the bow thruster. In effect I did a three point turn in the river, mostly ignoring the fact that we were drifting downstream throughout. It worked well, but did need plenty of spare river.
We were soon at Radcot Lock where we could see activity. It was a lone boater ahead of us, just closing the gates behind him. Clare worked us through, and I waited at the lock landing below to pick her up.
At the next lock Clare found the same lone boater being helped through by a lock-keeper. The lock-keeper apologised saying he needed to go to another lock and left us to it. By the time we were ready to leave the lock, I could see that there were two boats coming the other way. I assumed they would put crew ashore at the lock landing, but then I wouldn’t be able to stop there to pick Clare up, so once Clare had opened a gate for me I told her to hop on and leave them to sort things out. A very irate man on the first boat berated us for not doing it right. He told us we should always leave both downstream gates open – contradicting the written notices at the lock.
We were mostly past him when I realised what the real trouble was. The lock landing where they might have got off (and I thought Clare would get on) was flooded. In these conditions, leaving the lower gates open as he described makes perfect sense – but we weren’t to know. If he’d just explained, we could easily have reversed back in and done as he suggested.
The next reach was a little harder to navigate. The flooded lock landing was clear evidence that there was more water in this reach than normal. On straight sections it was easy enough to dawdle along a little faster than the flow, but on the sharp corners it was trickier. On gentler corners, keeping to the inside of the curve means we stay out of the strongest flow which usually goes around the outside. But on sharper corners, keeping both ends of a boat nearly sixty feet long out of the main flow is not easy.
Sometimes there seemed to be no avoiding being flung to the outside of the corner. Usually that was a reasonable enough line, but sometimes an overhanging tree or other hazard made that a poor choice. I made enthusiastic use of the bow thruster and propellor and avoided most things, though we did take on a few willow branches at one point. It was hard physical work swinging the tiller against a surging propellor, and hard mental work trying to read the river.
Before lunch time, we had arrived at Shifford Lock – and this time we spotted the electric mooring point. It was on a side arm that led to a weir, and was almost invisible when travelling upstream.
We moored up there and plugged in the electric cable, but got no power. We figured there might be something the lock-keeper needed to do, so we got on with lunch and kept an eye out for a lock-keeper.
When the lock-keeper arrived he initially told us that there were no moorings and we’d have to move, but he’d speak to us after he had adjusted the weir. When he came over he told us that he wasn’t usually at this lock, and had thought the jetty we moored to was unsafe, but now saw it had been fixed. We explained that we were hoping to charge up and he went to get some keys to open the box to turn the electric on.
We got power for a few moments before the onshore circuit breaker cut out. We tried the other socket, and tried limiting the maximum current, but the same thing kept happening. We gave up on the charging, but paid a mooring fee to stay overnight. We have a very peaceful spot, with a good view of the sky for solar charging, despite being surrounded by trees.
At some point during the day, the red boards did go up on the reaches behind us. The worst of the rain has passed, so I’m hoping the flood will be a short sharp bulge. If, as seems likely, the red boards appear at our lock tomorrow, we will be fine where we are for a day or two. We can even cycle to a shop a few miles away (other shops are available) if we decide we need to.