I`ve been asked how i manage to travel the canals without the help of a crew. Well the same tasks have to be undertaken ie mooring the boat and operating the lock but obviously being on your own it takes longer but hey time is on my side and if i don`t get there today then tomorrow will do.
Mostly i have been travelling with friends Andy/Tina and John and between us we get into a routine. With 3 boats going through wide locks as here on the Gd. Union we usually take any 2 through the lock first and 1 of the 2 will go ahead and prepare the next lock while the other helps the 3rd through. If i go ahead i might have the lock ready with the gate open so that the following 2 can go straight in and i then become the 3rd boat and the sequence carries on with one of the others going ahead. Sometimes the boat going ahead will have the kettle on and by the time we lock 2 boats through everyone has a cuppa.
So cruising alone and no one to brew up so my first task before setting off is make up a flask, very handy when winter cruising.
Lets say i`m going uphill and as i approach the lock and from a distance my first hope is i see another boat coming down towards me in which case i stop mid stream and wait for them to exit the lock and i can go straight in without having done a thing.
In the absence of another boat coming through my next hope is can i see a slight gap between the gates showing the lock is empty. If no gap can be seen then all i can do is moor up and walk upto the lock to prepare it. Another alternative is to put the bow against the gate leave the engine in gear slightly and step off the back with a rope, empty the lock and the boat will gently drift in as you open the gate. I`ve given up doing this for many reasons the main one being that the boat usually pushes the opposite gate open and you then have to go all round the lock to shut it.
Right there is a slight gap so i edge the bow upto the gate and gently repeat gently nudge the gate open. Now remember i`m going uphill and if i stay on board and take the boat into the lock i then have to climb up onto the roof walk along and then climb the lock ladder to get upto the lockside. All movements on /off and around a boat in a lock can result in an accident the least being a slight tumble and the worst falling in and either side of the boat will find you not only in deep water but also the sandwich filling between a brick wall and 17 tons of steele boat.
My way no matter if i`ve nudged the gate open or opened it by hand is to slowly bring the boat in and as i pass the steps as pictured below i take a centre rope, i have one each side of the boat coming from a roof fixing half way down the boat to within easy reach of the tiller,
and step off not jump as these steps can be slimy and walk up to the top of the lock lifting the rope over the lock gate i then take the rope around a bollard to bring the boat to a standstill before it hits the top gate. Just a small bump on the gate can be enough to empty a book shelf or a worktop of whatever you might have left out.
Cor never done so much typing lets take a christmas ad break and put the kettle on.
Des Lynam is dressed up as santa with a very pretty Mrs Santa selling something but all the bloke wants for christmas is some puppies?
Some jeweller is selling diamonds so bright they leave a trail of light behind as you walk, bit like the vapour trail behind a plane in the sky.
Woolworth are doing some deals on DVDs that have been out for ever, never the latest ones are they.
Oh and all hurry down to Tesco and you might bump into the Spice Girls.
But wait a minute, Phil Collins music now they`ve got my attention...........chocolate! Mr Cadbury i`m your best customer but please please tell me .. HOW on earth did you teach that Gorrilla to play the drums.
Right i`ve got me cup of tea and put another log on the fire so i leave the rope around the bollard so i `ve always got contact with the boat and i shut the gate. The ground paddle has to be raised to fill the lock and lift the boat to the next level. On single locks both paddles can be raised as the boat has very little space to move around in but on these double locks the sudden inflow of water can cause the boat to be thrown around not a problem if 2 boats are using a double lock but i am here on my own so i just half raise the paddle on the same side as the boat and the water will sweep in under the boat to the rear and hold the boat to the side of the lock as the lock fills i can fully raise the paddle and can then cross the lock to raise the other paddle as by this time the lock has filled to such a degree that incoming water will not have a dramatic effect as when the lock was empty.
Now this tip i learnt from a lady when i first started life on board, she was waiting to lock her boat through from the other direction why in 90% of couples on a boat is it the lady doing the locks? We`ve got lady bus drivers and pilots so what makes it a must for the bloke to stand on the back of the boat and watch the ladies struggle with lock gates. That little tip would have come in handy on one of the first trips out when i opened both paddles and the boat went diagonally across the lock and one of the single steps fitted at the eachside on the curved part of the stern became caught in a gap between the bricks of the lock wall, as the water went down one side of the boat didn`t and it tipped at an alarming rate but because of another tip i learnt i was standing next to the gate paddle watching the boat( never take your eyes off a boat in a lock) as i dropped the paddle down to stop the water draining and the boat tipping anymore it slid out of the gap in the brickwork Phew could have been nasty.
With the lock full i open one gate and slowly exit as i clear the gate a little reverse will stop the boat as i step off with a stern rope, no the ropes not stern just plain rope thats attached to the back, shut the gate step back on and away i go.
So thats going uphill, going down is much the same but as the boat enters the lock i am already level with the lockside so no walking up the steps with a rope this bit is done as i exit and shut the gate but the rope i use is the stern one.
Swingbridges are a pain thats the hand operated ones as opposed to electric key operated. The problem is they always pivot on the non towpath side with no where to moor because of bushes etc, goes back to the horse drawn boat days when the horse can walk past without the tow rope coming in contact with the bridge. What i do is get close to the bridge and take the front rope with me across the bridge open same and pull the boat through grabbing the stern rope as the boat passes close the bridge walk back across and pull the boat towards the towpath and away you go. With electric operation it`s a case of mooring and keeping traffic waiting while you open the bridge and walk back to get the boat moor again and close the bridge.
There`s lots of little things to help a solo boater on his way but with time being no matter you just accept that it will take longer A to B but it`s not impossible.
So christmas looms and this year i am spending the festive period with another of my offspring so i will be heading back away from the London to Herts / Beds area anyone seeing me if i pass your way is welcome to a mince pie and a cuppa.
I hope to post a Christmas card for you all in the next few days.