Storm, What Storm?

Yesterday the news was full of reports of damage and even deaths caused by Storm Ciaran.  I had been keeping a special eye on the weather forecast for the last few days, but nothing seemed to be showing for us.  We still had Heather on board, so despite a wet day forecast we pressed on again.  None of us dislike being in the rain, and most of the things we enjoy about boating are unchanged.  With the cover up, the driver needn’t even get very wet.

The forecast turned out to be mostly correct for us.  We got quite a lot of rain, but in a tree-lined valley bottom we were rarely aware of the wind, and certainly didn’t feel any of the 40mph gusts which we were warned of.  There are more other boats moving than we have been used to recently.  Quite a few of them are wide-beam boats which can sometimes be daunting, though generally the canal is wide enough for two of them to pass, so we can sneak by without a problem.  It is normal to leave lock gates open behind you if you see a boat coming towards them.  If we spot a wide boat we usually make a point of opening both gates, instead of saving some effort and shimmying out of one.

Wide narrowboat passing moored narrowboat.  The wide boat is driving away from us and appears to occupy most of the canal.  It is heading towards a lock with its gates open.  It has just passed a narrowboat which is waiting against the towpath to come in to the lock just vacated by the wide boat.
Keeping Out of the Wide Boat’s Way

Despite the large amounts of rain recently, some of the pounds between locks are surprisingly low, and we have seen one or two Canal and River Trust (CRT) employees letting water down from locks above to balance things out.  One of the locks we entered seemed to have a permanent bubbly leak at the top end.  The lock was quite deep in frothy foam when we arrived.  I’m not sure if the froth is a natural effect of soft water or something we should be more worried about.

View down the side of a narrowboat in a lock.  Most of the surface of the lock is covered in a white foam several inches deep.
Bartimaeus in a Bubble Bath

As we approached one lock we could see a number of CRT workers there.  I went up to see what was happening.  A work boat was in the lock with a couple of workers removing vegetation from the inner walls of the lock.  Another worker on the lock side told me they were doing some work but would be able to let us through in 15 minutes or so.  He then hurried to qualify the time estimate.  I assured him that I knew he meant canal time and we’d be patient.  We tied up on the lock bollards and decided this would be an excellent time to have lunch.

Work boat in a lock.  Two workers are removing vegetation from the walls inside a lock using the boat as a platform.  The boat is a narrowboat with a small cabin at the back and an open deck at the front.
Weeding the Lock Walls

Once I’d had enough lunch I stuck my head out and was waved in to the lock.  I had seen that a boat coming the other way was waiting above the lock, so it was only polite to get going.  I offered to work the lock as long as Clare and Heather would drive in while they were finishing their lunches.

The bought coming the other way turned out to be a fuel boat.  One of the crew came out to help with working the lock.  We talked about the weather – or rather the lack of a storm before moving on to the other perennial lock conversation, where are you going?  He told me that the fuel boat had previously worked in the Birmingham area.  The owner had tripped while coming back from the pub to the boat, banged his head and drowned.  The boat had been bought by an existing fuel boat business in London (owned by his colleague’s father) and they were now taking the boat to be put in to service there.  I wondered if this was the same business we had bought fuel from in September, but I didn’t manage to ask.

Once the lock was ready we opened both gates.  The fuel boat had not been tied up above the lock, so the driver opted for the uncommon manoeuvre of coming in to the lock as Bartimaeus was coming out.  This isn’t what people normally do, but in many ways it is the most sensible thing.  It is much easier to control a narrowboat by driving it forwards than dawdling in reverse in the wind.  I could tell that Clare was a bit surprised, but I knew she would have no difficulty steering the correct course.

Two narrowboats pass in a lock.  The front of a modern live-aboard boat has just reached the open gate as a traditional narrowboat enters on the other side.  The traditional boat has sacks of coal and a diesel pump in front of the small cabin at the back.
Bartimaeus Out, Fuel Boat In

By mid-afternoon we had reached Berkhamsted and I’d spotted a mooring in a park near the station.  Heather was leaving us by train train the next morning, so it seemed an ideal spot.  We discovered we were right next to Berkhamsted Castle too, which we had a look around before it closed.  Dinner in the pub on the other side of the bridge was a very enjoyable way to round off Heather’s stay on board.  As ever we have enjoyed her company and many and varied contributions to boat life.

A narrowboat entering a lock under a bridge.  Only one gate is open but the narrowboat fits neatly.  A low bridge just clears the cover over the driver of the narrowboat.  The bridge is painted in high contrast colours with the words "Grand Junction Canal".  The grey roof of the boat is speckled with autumn leaves in bright yellows and oranges.
Colourful Bridge in Berkhamsted
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