“In Amsterdam the water is the mistress and the land the vassal. throughout the city there are as many canals and drawbridges as bracelets on a Gypsy's bronzed arms.” ~Felix Marti-Ibanez
Last Monday found us at Marsworth waiting for the wind and rain to ease. We awaited the delivery of a Tesco order before we commenced to cruise on new water. Neither of us have ever been down the Aylesbury Arm. Our need to stay in the general area for Les' upcoming surgery on March 3rd meant we were restricted by how far we could cruise.
The Aylesbury arm is convenient and we didn't see any restrictions posted so off we cruised into the staircase lock, down onto a new bit of canal. It felt great to be doing single locks again! The pound directly below was a bit low in water several days before when we walked down to have a look. After two nights of near continuous rain it was full and we soon reached Blackjack's lock which sports new brickwork repairing the breach from March 2013.
By this time the winds were quite furious. Rain was pelting from bruised and livid skies and we had the devil's own time mooring up. With some quick moves on Les' part he managed to tether the stern with mooring chains while I hung on to the center rope for all I was worth. Meanwhile the wind shoved our boat at an angle across the canal. It took the combined efforts of us both hauling on the center line, slipping in three inches of muck and mud, to get NB Valerie's nose back.
Finally, wet and exhausted, we managed to pull in the bow and moor up. Hot showers, clean, dry clothes and something warm in our bellies soon revived us.
The next morning we watched NB Ramses II pass us early in the morning, heading for Aylesbury. As he passed, the bloke steering gave us a queer, intent look, loaded with meaning. We've seen his boat around the general area. In retrospect I am sure he knew what the Aylesbury Arm was like in flood and wondered why we were faffing about instead of making a beeline for the basin. Oh well, live and learn. And boy have we...that night the high winds rocked us and the continuing precipitation drummed on the roof.
Friday morning dawned dry and bright and we decided to move on toward Aylesbury. We wanted to catch a bus at the station in town and visit family on Monday. This arm is only six miles long although it sports 16 locks to move boats from near the summit level at Marsworth down to Aylesbury town. Moored up just before lock 10, we figured we could easily cruise to the new digs of the Aylesbury Boat Club and suss out the area.
Off we went, fools who travel where Angels fear to tread! With each progressive lock the water was higher and higher. In many sections the towpath was a thick mire of sodden muck. In other places the canal had overflowed, pouring across the towpath. Two lock gates had so much water flowing over them that we could not budge the gate without tying our bow rope to it and hauling it open with NB Valerie in reverse. We naively assumed this was a problem with just a couple of locks, and thought we could keep moving and eventually outpace the issue.
My LL Bean waterproof snow boots eventually became wet as water poured over the tops while I worked the locks. My jeans were soaked to the knees. Les slipped on some Wellies but they have no real grip and he nearly lost his balance and landed on his back in four inches of fast moving water pouring across the towpath, hiding three inches of complete sludge underneath. Signs on the lock gates asked that the locks be left empty so we left the paddles up carrying loads of water along with us as we moved on down.
Eventually we fetched up at Red House Lock (13). So much water was pouring over the top lock gate it sped the length of the overfull lock in seconds and thundered over the bottom gates, crashing to the bottom pound in a maelstrom of whirling water with unbelievable force. I waded into flowing water six inches deep obscuring the towpath and the lock itself to reach the bottom gates. Water poured across the cottage yard and flowed down the small embankment, lapping all around the base of the Red House, obscuring the deck. A 70-something silver haired man stood at the sliding glass doors looking out at his disappearing yard with worry etched on his face. I waved, and he smiled and turned away.
Les and I managed to work the top gate open and Les brought the boat in. We hoped leaving both lower gate paddles up on our way out would ease the water pouring from the lock into the yard of the lock side cottage. As NB Valerie slowly began descending with the water level in the lock, the silver haired gent appeared in sweater and Wellies to chat with Les. As they talked I realized our boat had stopped descending and was hovering mid level. Hundreds of gallons of water a second overflowing the top gate meant we could not empty lock 13 and move down.
The cottage owner called CART on his mobile and Les explained the situation. We were told this flooding was common at Red House Lock with heavy rainfall and the only thing we could do was refill the lock and reverse out. Up went the boat in the lock, the top gate groaned open at my extreme urging and Les moored the boat on the bollards. I checked my email forty minutes later to find this notice from CART:
Notice AlertLock 28, Grove Lock to Lock 45, Lock 1 to Lock 16
Friday 7 February 2014 until further notice
Type: Navigation Closure
Reason: Water resources
Original message:Due to excessively high water levels following recent heavy rainfall, the Grand Union Canal between Grove Lock 28 and Marsworth Lock 45 and the Aylesbury Arm, will be closed with immediate effect. This is in order to allow the running of flood water through locks.
This closure will remain in place until further notice, and will be reviewed at 12:00pm on Monday 10th February 2014.
You can view this notice and its map online here:
You can find all notices at the url below:
I had checked my email that morning with my tea and cereal. There was nothing from CART at that time. Apparently our phone call set off an alarm and the alert was sent--too late for us. For the time being we are trapped here at lock 13, making careful use of our water, and sussing out the 3.8 mile round trip walk to the shop in Aston Clinton for supplies should we need them. Still, we have groceries, coal, wood, diesel, and each other. We feel fortunate our home floats and is water proof. So many others have suffered much worse. Below is video Les shot of Red House Lock yesterday afternoon:
Stay safe everyone! Stay warm and dry if possible. Take care!!