Shane was feeling ready for action today. We had a couple of options to do Silver Propeller Awards. One was an out and back and the other a loop. The consensus yesterday was that the loop felt more like going forward than the out and back, though it actually seemed like it would not actually be faster, just felt like you were going the right direction. Both had a similar number of locks. Paul gamely came along too, despite it being a cold day, no ice though so must have been above zero, but there was a bit of wind chill!
Bryn found a towel to put on the damp seat so people could sit outside, more comfortable and less cold , and out of the driver’s view. Later he got his hand warmers too and accepted a blanket over his knees, but rejected my offer of long John’s! We all got happed up warm and Shane was fidgeting to stave off the cold while driving.
The Walsall loop had a mixture of industrial and graffiti and places where nature had dominated. There were points that had had a toll where the canal narrowed and quite a variety of bridges, aqueduct and tunnels. Bryn took over driving after a while.
We reached the locks and Shane and Bryn leapt off to work them. Luckily I had not driven much so was warm enough. Glad I had knitted two pairs of gloves, and had both on! Shane started to work a lock ahead and Paul joined the locking team.
The locks turned out to occasionally need the handcuff key for antivandal devices which Bryn had not met before. Whether they were openable or not was hit and miss and some needed a bit more brute force than normal. The driving, by comparison, seemed surprisingly straightforward as the locks seemed a bit wider than the ones we had driven into before.
But don’t speak too soon! We were most of the way through the locks with Shane opening one ahead and Paul and Bryn opened a gate but it would not fully open. I thought I might squeeze through and tried repositioning a few times but Bartimaeus just did not fit through. They closed and opened hoping something might move, still no further. Fortunately I wasn’t wedged and was able to reverse and move within the lock. I got on the roof and climbed out of the lock at the ladder and asked them to close the gate again so I could cross the gate and see if three people pushing would help. Nope! We could not see what the obstruction was at all. I thought we should try a pole to jab around but not feeling I was cut out for that task and wondered if we should fill and empty again to try to and move water. Just then Shane appeared and tried first with a boat hook and then, with the bargepole. Then Bryn let some water in opening the other end. Shane managed to feel something and then felt like it may have moved and the gate seemed to open a little further and Bartimaeus managed to squeeze through.
At the next lock we encountered a similar problem, but not quite so bad – with Shane pushing on the gate from the inside as well, I started to get through the gate. Then I stopped moving forward at all. I tried more revs, and we tried extra water throughput again, and Bryn and Paul tried pulling Bartimaeus with the front rope. In the end Shane came in, switched to diesel and rammed up the throttle and we moved at last.
We had got through the first set of locks. We decided to stop for lunch and just pull in at the lock bollards. No-one else was on this stretch anyway. Shane fed himself quickly and wanted to press on so while the rest of us finished our lunch he set off again. The water was pretty murky though and as the time went on he found the going was slower and slower and worried we would not get through and might get stuck completely.
We decided to reverse and try turning the boat right round at an off shoot, though it was a bit reedy. The nose went in but then got stuck against the reeds and stopped going forwards. Bryn got off and started to pull the stern on the rope, with some success. The propeller turning in shallow water can pull even more water out from below the boat and make it even harder to move. Shane got out and helped him pull but we were getting stuck in shallow water and sludge at the front too. I was on the bow as spotter and tried a little poling, but felt Shane would do better and he managed to move Bartimaeus’ bow a bit.
He went to the back to try and manoeuvre again. He got forward a bit and I got off to help Bryn pull the rope while Shane managed the stern, combining using the engine and pushing. Then Paul got off and joined behind Bryn on the rope, wrapping it round his waist like an anchorman in a tug of war. Luckily Bartimaeus wasn’t pulling back so we were able to relax and rest periodically then resume our heaving. I had memories of singing the Volga Boat Song at school. With our combined efforts, gradually Bartimaeus turned enough to begin driving again and the three tugs all got back aboard and we all started back, but it was already sunset. There was no chance of getting back to the start, but we found some mooring posts and pulled in.
With maps out Shane and Paul worked out that transport was possible for Paul getting home and with heavy rain forecast he set off. I am hoping he got home safely, as it has got windier and wetter. It is nice and snug inside though and it is satisfying to have resolved several issues, but no silver propeller photo and we still have to get back through those gates…should be easier in the other direction.