Start 7:30am, finish 7:30pm
Erewash Canal, River Trent, River Soar/Leicester Line GU canal
20 miles, 22 wide locks.
It was particularly cold this morning, but we were excited enough to be going that it didn’t matter. The weather forecast for the day was good, and so at least we knew it would warm up later.
After having a last cup of tea from the 240v kettle, and filling a large Thermos with boiling water for easy tea on the move, we started the engine and set off.
Once out of the shade of the trees and into the countryside, the sun warmed things up nicely and the frost melted off the boat. We were able to remove our coats and keep warm from the lock working. The locks on the Erewash, although 14′ wide, are slightly longer than normal Grand Union locks, and Simon had already warned us about getting lulled into a false sense of security! It makes a very big change, with a full length boat, to have to be aware of both ends of the boat and whether they are catching on the cill or under gate beams; with Lucky Duck, you can put it in the middle of the lock and not have to worry about any of that!
We were soon moving along nicely, as I steered and familiarised myself with the boat and the quirks and art of steering a deep, long boat on a (shallow-ish) canal. The practice of steering Victoria, Ling, Ibex and Ilford, and any other historic working boat stood me in good stead, but even so, I’ve a lot to learn yet. There is a very fine art to it, that is completely different to steering a shallower boat. The main thing is having to be aware of the depth of the canal, and where the water is deepest, as this will really affect the steering. Move too far either way towards the shallower water, and the stern will be sucked towards it, and you end up zigzagging and crabbing along the canal. Ideally you position the boat such that it practically steers itself, and there were a few periods of time when I managed to achieve that; with practice, those periods should hopefully become longer and longer. The length is another issue; you have to aim for the outside of a bend, and then swing the fore end around at the last moment, so that the stern swings smoothly round. The depth of the channel here plays a massive part; start to turn too soon, or too late, and the stern gets sucked towards the bank and you can’t get around without a lot of stress and effort. The ideal is to position the boat such that you start the turn, and then the draw towards the shallower water around the outside of the bend pulls the stern around, so that you barely have to steer. I managed it once round a whole turn, and got it partially on others.
However, the Erewash is a very pretty canal, with bucolic countryside and locks interspersed with towns and some wonderful Victorian factories. Sarah on Chertsey may be pleased to note that the graffito she spotted, from someone with the same nickname as one of her sons, is still there.
At Pastures Lock, at 11am, we had a forced halt for tea. Some CRT workers were fixing grilles onto the gate paddle appertures, and promised that we could come through in a bit. Half an hour later, though they hadn’t finished, we were able to lock through, and had a pleasant time chatting with the workers. A nice job to have when it’s sunny, but awful when it’s snowing! Dan’s record of just under 5 hours to cover the Erewash would be very safe for a while yet…..
Once towards the bottom of the Erewash, a few challenges for steering came up. First was the S bend at Long Eaton, a tight 100 or so degree left hand turn, under a bridge, followed by an equally tight right. I’ll have to admit that I got it wrong, having turned too late and so not being able to swing the fore end around enough, after a dodgy moment part way round – “it’s turning, but is it going to turn enough…. is it…. nope, right, full reverse!” managed to avoid clouting anything and had another go.
Once through Long Eaton and towards Trent Lock and the end of the canal, the wind really picked up in the more exposed countryside, and steering past the lines of moored boats meant going slightly above tickover; but better that than a clout. Willow’s 65 or so feet of cabin, at times, really caught the wind at times. But then again, we wanted the challenge of a longer, older boat, so brought it on ourselves!
The wind also picked up throughout the day, and being too deep to get satisfactorily into the lock landing stages, it was a case of picking the downwind side of the lock mouth, and putting the fore end in there, keeping the back out with the engine as required. Most of the locks were against us, but Amy gamely leapt off the boat at bridgeholes and walked ahead to try and get most ready to come into straight away.
Moored by Trent Lock was the gorgeous Worcester and Birmingham tunnel tug Sharpness. Willow would probably have passed it often in working days, as they both worked the same waterways.
By this point we had met up with Paul, avid blog follower and supplier of honey. He accompanied us to Trent Lock, where we saw Ian and Irene on Free Spirit, and where we moored up on the facilities point to empty the cassettes (the disposal point at Langley Mill being out of order) and to don lifejackets.
At this point, when mooring up, I somehow managed to misstep and fell in. But only a bit, up to my knees, as I was able to grab the rope that I was tying at the time. And because it was less than half, I can round it down to zero. So the least said about that the better.
Once locked through Trent Lock, Paul was able to take some wonderful photographs of us on the Trent.
It was a bit choppy, but nothing the very bluff fore end couldn’t handle, as it shoved aside a few waves with impressive clouds of spray. I managed to slightly muck up steering the entrance to the Soar, as well, and had to stop the boat and then turn to come in rather than the one smooth movement I planned.
Once onto the Soar, the flow and strong wind, combined with many sharp corners, lowered morale somewhat; but tea and biscuits soon sorted that. After encountering our first rowers, from Loughborough University in a single and a double scull, we met up with another boat travelling in the same direction at Zouch lock, and they generously agreed to wait at the next lock.
We arrived and put Willow in alongside their 68′ boat – but couldn’t close the gate on our side. Willow was about 6 inches too long for the gate to close. The remedy was for the other boat to reverse, I pushed Willow across the lock diagonally, and then Amy was able to close the gate on our side. I was then able to push Willow back across behind the now-closed gate. A handy trick to bear in mind in future – but also it made us realise just how extremely long Willow is.
Soon afterwards we came to Loughborough lock, and straight afterwards decided to moor up in Loughborough and call it a day. 12 hours of steep learning curve boating, in high winds- that’ll do for now.