Yesterday morning our mooring spot was being buffeted by the waters rushing out of the weir. Even though the battery was quite well charged, I started the diesel engine before we set off. Switching between electric drive and diesel drive is as simple as stopping or starting the engine, if the engine is warm, starting is as simple as turning the key. But starting the engine from cold requires putting high revs on in neutral, pre-warming the engine for five or ten seconds, and then starting it. Not something to do in response to realising that the current is too strong.
I did use a lot of throttle to get us out of the first corner, I’m not sure how well it would have worked on electric – probably OK, but a bit less relaxing. Once we were underway the battery voltage very quickly came up to maximum, and the sun started to shine. So I turned the engine off again and drove on electric. The current was strong enough to take us over the river bed at a respectable cruising speed while using less than our solar power.
At the King’s Lock we kept away from all the currents taking us towards the Duke’s Cut and went in to the lock. The flow passing the lock exit was also quite strong, but by turning perpendicular to the stream in advance I was able to let it take the bow where I wanted it to go and push the stern in behind. It was another gentle ride to Godstow Lock. This is an electrically powered lock – all the locks between here and London are I believe. The sign had said self-service, so Clare and I were trying to work out what to do when the lock-keeper shouted to us that she would do it – so the sign was wrong then. The lock was quite deep, but we emerged in to a very wide and gentle section of river alongside the Port Meadow. I was really enjoying the very gentle pace. We even had a chat with a couple of canoeists as they overtook us.
Beyond Port Meadow, the channel narrowed and our pace picked up again. I made a point of having a good look at the junction with Sheepwash Channel as I knew we’d be back there.
I also knew we were not far from our planned mooring point. The first mooring we passed looked ideal – no tree cover. In this stream we needed to turn upstream to moor. The channel didn’t feel wide enough to turn though, but I knew there was a widening a little further down. I slowed as much as I could before using the bow thruster to perform a pirouette. It went pretty well, but there was only just enough room, and I did bump the bow gently – my excuse here is that the current was unexpectedly towards the lock, and not down the mill lade.
After lunch I walked down to the lock to check that I had understood the rules about mooring. As I’d thought, it was free for the first day. The lock-keeper was very pleasant and we shared stories about cycling and (her) canoeing trips in Scotland. On the way there I realised why all the water was coming towards the lock. Next to it was a hydro-electric plant. The surprise flow was towards its three metre screw.
Outside the plant was a “human sundial”. The instructions were to stand on the name of the current month and use your shadow to read the time. It was impressively accurate – and permanently on summer time.
After dinner we went to have a closer look at the approach to the lock. It was going to be tricky in the fast flowing water, so I wanted at least to have a feeling I knew where to aim. The towpath along the channel was tricky walking. The headroom under the railway was not enough for me to walk upright. I reckoned it would be easier on the boat. When we came out from under the bridge, we had to walk round a huge railway swing bridge. This has recently been restored – indeed it looked ready to take trains. Apparently this is one of only two movable bridges over the Thames – the other is Tower Bridge.
We carried on to the lock where there was some activity, so we went to look. A group of young women on a hire boat were locking down on to the Thames. Various clues made us think they were Japanese – significantly they had some English, but were not using it to communicate between themselves. Just as they were about to leave the lock, a second boat arrived. There was some arm-waving and calling between the crews. We could tell the first boat crew wanted to turn, just as I had done. The crew on the second boat gave some suggestions (unintentionally unhelpful) and drove in to the lock.
The inexperienced skipper was now trying to turn the boat round. Doing what the other crew had suggested was close to impossible – trying to make the bow go upstream without a bow thruster just wasn’t going to happen. We went and spoke to the crew members still at the lock. We told them they needed to turn the other way using the rope and described what to do. They shouted to their friends in their own language. After some more arm-waving and translating they got the boat turned round perfectly. They all seem very pleased with themselves and grateful for our advice.
This morning driving through was relatively straightforward. I met a boat coming the other way at the narrowest bit, but he waited for me (I had priority, going downstream). Otherwise driving under the railway bridge was indeed easier than walking.
Clare helped another boater come down through the lock towards us, but his boat was so short that he didn’t need to do anything special to get in to the flow. Once we were on the canal though, we found a boat completely across the channel. It must have had a mooring spike pulled out by a passing boat.
As we drifted up very slowly, a woman on the boat in front looked out to to see what we were doing. She seemed to know the owner of the other boat, telling us he was likely on a conference call and unable to assist. She, however, gamely raced up the towpath and pulled the boat back in. A youngster in a pushchair in the hire boat behind the errant boat then struck up conversation with her about what had just happened.
We soon found one of the few suitable mooring spots for us to leave the boat while we go back to Edinburgh. Unfortunately there was a boat moored in such a way as to leave not enough space for us either side. I asked the lady reading her book on deck if they would consider moving up a bit. They were only too happy to help and we were soon moored up successfully – they even complimented my driving skill, though I did confess that the bow thruster had done the hard work.