5 miles, 17 locks
A very slow start to the day, as the forecast rain showers set in. We went into town, having paid for the night’s mooring at the marina office and received our fob to let us out of the marina and back in again- it was too late last night to get one.
After a quick look around town, we went back to the boat via Morrisons to replenish the store cupboards, but the rain set in properly at about midday and so, reluctant to start, we did some washing in the marina’s machines, waiting for a forecast clearer spell in the afternoon.
The rain didn’t properly stop until 4pm, but knowing that we can normally do the flight in just under 3 hours with a modern boat, or 4 with Willow- being deeper, we crawl along the shallow lower pounds at less than walking pace- we winded and went out onto the Nene to the beginning of the arm.
The arm itself is very weedy in the lower, long and shallow pounds, and just as we came up the bottom lock, a Wyvern hire boat moored at Cotton End went off in front of us, so we were faced with the prospect of a “bad road”, following them up and having to empty all the locks.
We crawled slowly through the lower pounds and the first few locks which are quite spaced out, before coming to the main flight of 12.
At this point, there was a harrowing moment. At the bottom of Willow’s near-vertical stem post is a small, jutting out piece of the baseplate. The boat was in forward gear and running up the gate board, and we had both paddles up- with a 72′ long boat, there’s not much space behind the boat. That small, triangular piece got stuck on a projecting part of a cill, and held the fore end down. It was hard to tell at first, because in a lock the fore end doesn’t rise smoothly, but in fits and starts- but looking forwards, and expecting the fore end to rise it suddenly didn’t.
I shouted to Amy to drop the paddles, and ran for the stern to put the boat into reverse and try and pry us off the obstruction that was pinning us down. Unfortunately, one of the paddles was very stiff and Amy couldn’t drop it straight away, but the boat came free and rose up rapidly- the fore end had been held down by just over a foot, sufficient for water to come in the well deck drains and flood it a bit, and for a little bit to come through the front doors.
After that, we were much more careful- opening only one paddle, and keeping the boat clear of the cill as much as possible with the engine. This really slowed us down, as usually once we’re in a lock with the paddles up, one of us stays with the boat to take it out and close the gate and paddles behind us, and the other goes to the next to set it. Nevertheless, it paid to be safe until we can deal with this snag on the baseplate.
Above lock 10, we faced a low pound, down about a foot from usual. Willow squelched through carefully, but above lock 8, all the pounds were down by more than a foot. As Willow came carefully into lock 8, some piece of debris ended up on the bottom cill, and we couldn’t fully close the bottom gates behind us- the was a 4″ gap, and to draw the paddles would have put a huge amount of stress on the gate. I had a poke with the cabin shaft for a few minutes, but couldn’t dislodge whatever it was, before dragging the keb along the cill. After 10 minutes of dragging and poking, and trying the gates, I managed to dislodge whatever it was and we got the gates closed properly.
Annoyingly, the same thing happened in lock 7, although it took only 5 minutes to clear that time, and again at Lock 6. Thoroughly frustrated, and with low pounds, Amy went up to the top lock to run water down and refill the low pounds. I waited in Lock 6 for 15 minutes, before the pound was high enough to proceed; closing up behind us, the top few pounds got closer and closer to their ideal levels, and progress became swifter. Eventually, at just gone 9:15pm, and in the gathering darkness, we got to the top lock. I spent 5 minutes clearing the blade of the accumulated weed and debris with the cabin shaft, before we set off along the arm towards the junction, and moored up for the night on the Armco just after the marina.
A tiring and stressful evening’s boating, but with it a sense of triumph, of solving the problems with the bottom gates ourselves, and not having to call out CRT- who’d have been unlikely to come out at that time of evening- and saving ourselves from a night in a partly drained small pound, which would have been uncomfortable to say the least!