Respect on the Trent

I chatted with the man from the boat moored next to us at Newark.  He had changed his plans when there had been a strange knocking noise from his engine.  I could sympathise with that because I had been anxious not to set off on to potentially difficult waters with a concern about the state of our diesel.  He mentioned that the tide meant his departure time would have been a bit after 10am on Sunday.  I know the tide is about an hour later every day, so it sounded ideal for us in the early part of this week.  The forecast for Tuesday was very wet, so we decided to see if Monday was an option.

Clare phoned the lock-keeper who sounded positively welcoming.  I did a last grocery shop and we set off in the brightening afternoon.  Clare ended up driving most of it, though she still handed over to me for the trickiest bits – all well within her capabilities.  The day’s cruise ended at a pontoon mooring, but we had to go beyond it and then turn back upstream.  The river is a dozen boat lengths across at this point, so turning wasn’t tricky.

Cromwell weir.  Viewed from the visitor moorings  a long line of fluorescent orange markers are strung in an arc to protect and warn of the weir.  The entrance to the massive lock is tiny by comparison.  The sky above has some very dark clouds.
Cromwell Lock and Weir from the Visitor Moorings

Once facing upstream it was very easy to drive very slowly, and the space was (slightly) wider than every single lock we’ve ever driven in to.  There was plenty of guidance from other boaters, but once Clare had the bow rope ashore I could just leave her to control the final approach.  By the time I’d attached the strop at the stern to the only available cleat, we were in just the right spot.

Tight mooring.  The bow of a narrowboat is moored against a floating pontoon.  The fender at the front of the boat is almost against the structure of the ramp that connects the pontoon to the land.
Bartimaeus Tightly Moored at the Bow
Moored. A narrowboat is moored against a pontoon. The vegetation on the far side seems very close. Behind the boat there is a cruiser moored before the entrance to the lock.
Bartimaeus in Just Enough Space

I remarked that the ropes at both ends were something of a trip hazard.  We are usually both sure-footed and cautious, and we wouldn’t be out after dark, so I wasn’t concerned.  We hurried to see the lock-keeper before he went off duty.  I wanted to buy the chart we would use for the next day’s trip to allow for some evening study.

The lock-keeper was just as friendly and welcoming as he had been on the phone.  After selling us a chart, he talked us through some of the most awkward bits on it.  I was rather taken by his control panel and said so.  He was pleased to talk us through the operation.  I was surprised to discover that the traffic lights were manually operated, rather than automatically responding to lock operations.

Lock control panel.  A panel of buttons and lights for operating a double lock is mounted in front of a window.  The right hand part has three sets of pairs each of seven buttons and lights for operating the lock gates and sluices.  The left hand section has fewer buttons, used for operating the traffic lights.
Control Panel for Cromwell Locks

The Cromwell Locks are technically a staircase of two locks, but the lower lock gates are usually left open so it doesn’t feel like that.  The control panel allows each lock gate and the sluices on it to be opened or closed separately, and controls the red and green lights.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to put on amber lights, but then this lock is never self-service.

While exploring the facilities around the lock I came across a memorial.  A troop of engineers in a boat were swept over the weir in 1975 during a night-time exercise in stormy weather at high tide.  Only one of the eleven men survived.  That night the warning lights at the lock were off because the storm had caused a power cut, and the weir is much wider than the lock.  I presume the barrage was not in place in those days.

Trent Chase Memorial.  A memorial stone made of Scottish granite stands in a fenced off area.  Red roses bloom inside the fence.  A bronze plaque lists the names of those who died on a military exercise in 1975.
Exercise Trent Chase Memorial at Cromwell Lock

At some point during the late afternoon, Clare tried to get on the back of the boat and instead landed in the water.  It happened so quickly that she was already holding on to the ladder and obviously safe before I had time to react.  She calmly placed her phone down at my feet for me to secure.  Strangely my phone later seemed to suffer from water inside in some sort of sympathy – I still have no idea how it got wet.  It was dry by morning – phew!

In the morning, the lock-keeper came to talk to us and make sure everyone had what they needed and knew where they were going next.  The three narrowboats went down in the lock together and we set off out of the lock.

Cromwell lock exit.  A large sign stands atop a concrete wall marking the entrance to Cromwell Lock.  The lock is big enough for many narrowboats.  The river is much wider and extends to the weir which appears as a vertical wall of water.
Below Cromwell Lock and Weir

The weather was great – bright sunshine, low wind and warm air.  We were happy to follow one of the other boats out, but knew that all the crews were novices on this section, so we shouldn’t simply follow them.  The “chart” we’d purchased was in fact a booklet of annotated aerial photographs.  It was usually easy to identify the landmarks on the river side, but the numbered kilometre markers were unmistakable except on the first page where the print was blurred.

For most of the way the simple rule “keep to the outside on corners” was enough.  There were a few places where that didn’t apply.  More significant were the warnings of especially solid obstacles – grounding on mud is less of an issue than on solid gravel.  I was pleased that we were able to go at a gentle pace.  If we had been fighting fast moving water we’d have needed to run the engine at higher speeds which gets wearing after a while.

I wasn’t quite sure when we met “the flood” – the front of the incoming tide.  At this distance up the river, the tide rises about a foot in an hour, and then recedes again for the next eleven hours.  I thought I’d noticed a change in the way the boat was moving on two occasions, which could have been when the water under us changed direction.  On the first of these I fancied I could smell salt water, but that might be fanciful.

It was quite intense making continuous observation for nearly four hours, but none of the manoeuvring was in any way difficult.  Clare took over the driving for quite a while, but we continued to work together on confirming our position and planning our next change of direction.  We make a good team.

I probably could have worked it out from the paper booklet, but instead I used my phone occasionally to see how far we still had to go and our current speed.  We had an absolute cut-off time at Torksey Lock to arrive before the lock-keepers went off duty at 4pm.  We arrived below the lock with a full half hour in hand and Clare phoned to request passage.  We were expected, and very soon the gates opened and the lights turned green.

Torksey lock.  The flood gates are operated by long beams.  A blackbird is perched on the end of the near one.  A capstan used to operate a different gate is mounted above a further set of gates below.
Torksey Lock from Above – Blackbird for Scale

The friendly lock-keepers got us through very efficiently.  I was surprised to see that the equipment was human powered – we’ve been seeing electrically powered locks for some time.  We filled up with water before heading to the visitor moorings.

I’ve known we were heading for the tidal waters since we came back aboard in March.  I knew we needed to make sure the boat was in excellent shape, that we were wearing our life-jackets just in case, and that we should listen carefully for advice.  The lack of excitement on the day is a sign of success.  There are still two more stretches of tidal Trent in the coming months, if we treat them with the same respect, I’m sure they’ll be just as successful.

Sunset.  A line of trees are silhouetted against a sunset.  The sky behind is dark above with lines of yellow red and orange below.
Sunset at Torksey