Sunday, 24 April 2011

Change of plan, (and a very long day!)

(posted by Alan)

Today saw us leave the grandeur of the Thames, and back to our more usual canal environment.

We had opted to go out of Teddington on the morning tide, and had already found out that meant locking through by about 07:30 am, so we set off down to the lock a bit before this.  Despite several boats apparently waiting, none seemed to be going through around that time, and in fact we saw little else moving for the 5 miles we were on the Thames, other than a variety of rowed craft.

Another burnt out boat.
We did see the burnt out narrow boat "Centaur" that made the news quite recently, and eventually one lone narrow boat going the other way, that seemed to be making slow progress against the now outgoing tide - we were surprised it had not come through earlier on a still incoming tide.

Richmond half-tide barrier and lock.
Choosing the timing right means that the "half tide" barrier at Richmond, (a kind of "mini Thames barrier"), is open, so you don't work the lock that only comes into play when the barriers are down.

The lock, and the "don't use" arch.
I find this barrier confusing, as it has an arch near the lock that both has illuminated orange lights, (theore- tically "OK to use"), but also a board with three reds, (which definitely means don't use).

In fact the tidal effects are considerable.  On it's own Chalice probably can make about 5 mph in open water, and we were getting little more than this on leaving Teddington.  But before we got to Brentford we were at between 7 and 8 mph over land, something that becomes very apparent as you turn across the river, and almost double back 180 degrees up the channel to Thames lock.

Brentford has two sets of locks, the first being keeper operated, and the true tidal locks.  The next stretch is partially tidal, and you get to the "gauging locks", which are self operated.  Or they would have been other than we caught up another boat which must have left Teddington earlier than we did.  The crew of this decided to fill the lock before we were fully ready, then be very patronising when this caused our boat to rub against theirs......  (Deep breath, and carry on!.....).

After this bank holiday weekend mayhem commenced, as we quickly caught two very slow moving narrow boats.  We eventually realised that a third boat with them had not left Brentford until we passed it, and they were stalling us to the first of the locks, in the hope it would catch up.  (Another deep breath, and carry on!....).

Alan, David and another drag the stuck boats back out.
By Hanwell lock flight, our progress was already being heavily slowed by these boats, when the two metal ones attempted to enter a lock side by side, with debris stopping either gate from fully opening, and with fenders between the boats to further restrict their chances of getting through.  They were well stuck, and didn't seem to grasp how to get unstuck.  We eventually persuaded them to let us try and hand tow them out backwards, whilst people jiggled the gates.  This worked quite quickly.  We thought we were on our way, then, but apparently the chap on the small accompanying cruiser then refused to go through the gates, (on his own, not with another boat!), because he feared he would get stuck too!  (We are talking of a 7 foot of boat in a near 14 foot gap). (We were getting quite good at taking long deep breaths by now!....).

We have never seen Hanwell locks so busy, but were at least lucky enough to be ahead of apparently experienced  crews on the boats behind that then jammed themselves between another pair of gates.  (Normally two narrow boats can enter a broad Grand Union lock easily, side by side, but not if there is large amounts of junk stopping the gates opening - a wise crew knows this, and doesn't try!.)

Meanwhile a debate was going on about whether we were after all going to turn on to the Paddington Arm, and head for London, which had been our original plan.  For various reasons we felt we might be better heading for home, and getting as far as we could before Cath had to be back at work.  I was still getting visual disturbaces for a start, and didn't fancy trying to involve further hospitals in this, thinking it might be better to get back to where I had had the surgery.

Waiting for Cowley lock.
The decision was "Head for home", but being a gorgeously sunny bank holiday weekend, the canal was incredibly busy, and we were spending large amounts of time waiting, sometimes when locks were reversed as we approached them, which is rather poor etiquette. (Yep, lots, and lots of deep breathing, overall!).

Bikes carried precariously over the deepest lock on the Grand Union.
We thought we would stop before Rickmans- worth, but as people started tying up, we found ourselves making far better progress, so pushed on to Lot Mead, which we rather like, as there are good options for walking Charlie the dog.

We don't normally do non-stop boating days of over 12 hours, but today we did.  It was hard to believe we had still been on the non-tidal Thames just that morning.

Teddington to Lot Mead (Rickmansworth)
Miles: 25.1, Locks:22

Total Miles: 288.2, Total Locks: 148

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