Thursday, 17 March 2011

Watford Locks

It took a little longer to begin travelling this morning. I slept in for a while and even then disliked the thought of getting up.
I had a cup of tea while I shaved and went through my usual morning routine of writing the Deck Log, breakfast and then washing out yesterday’s ‘smalls’ in the washing up bowl (after the washing up!) Then I hung them over the grate and whether the fire is in or out, they are normally well dried and aired after twenty four hours hanging there. Then they are folded and placed at the bottom of the pile in the wardrobe and by the time they get to the top they always look well ironed as well.
But I diverge....
After the normal morning routine, albeit later than usual, I walked over the footbridge to the marina office to buy two bags of coal, bringing them back to the ship in a borrowed wheel barrow. When I left Warwick I hoped I had seen the last of making fires for the season, but it hasn’t been the case. At the moment the ‘Squirrel’ in the Saloon is being kept in both day and night as it is still so chilly, while the Sun remains hidden and the cold easterly wind holds sway.
It was eleven o’clock before I let go the moorings and then it took me a further two hours to climb the six locks out of Braunston. Though there was somebody ahead of me, going the same way, I was working completely on my own and of course by the time I reached each lock in turn, which had recently been vacated, it was full of water and I had to empty it. So each time I had a ‘full house’ to perform; i.e. moor Futurest at the landing, empty the lock, open one of the gates to let me in, steer the ship in, close the gate, open the paddles at the top end of the lock to let the water in, open the gate to let me out, then close the gate behind me and proceed to the next.... Phew! I felt fit by the time I reached the top.
But then of course there were no more for the rest of the day till we arrived at the foot of Watford Locks, where we are moored tonight. There are seven locks to climb first thing in the morning, but these are narrow ones, which are much lighter and easier to use than the big double ones we’ve experienced up to now. They should be a doddle!
I found the breeze biting today but while working the locks I was very warm. But as soon as I became stationary on the steering platform I began to feel the cold and my fingers in spite of being well gloved, began to die and go white at the end.
It was slightly warmer inside the Braunston Tunnel, being sheltered from the wind but this had its own excitement in the way of two boats coming from the other direction.
At the best of times this tunnel is difficult as it has at least one kink in it so that you cannot see the pinprick of light denoting the end of the tunnel until you are well over halfway.
I met the first of the two boats at one of these kinks and the helmsman was singing his heart out and not paying attention to the job in hand at all. While I was nearly stationary and not quite touching the right hand side wall to let the other man pass, I could see him coming down the centre of the channel without seemingly a care in the world and he hadn’t reduced his speed at all either.
At the last minute he stopped singing his aria from Tosca, realising that perhaps I wasn’t the ghost of the tunnel that people whisper about and that he couldn’t go through me after all.
But too late.... Wham!
Poor old ‘Futurest’ caught the full, though luckily glancing impact on the port bow, which sent her and the other boat both into their respective side walls. ‘Futurest’, not making any way, just bounced off the wall and we were able to continue very easily but our adversary bounced from one wall to the other consecutively as the helmsman fought to control his boat. I didn’t hear him singing again after the collision.
The second boat was navigated with much more caution and we passed untouched with a cheery hello, even though we couldn’t see each other.
At Norton Junction the Grand Union Canal proper goes south eventually meeting the River Thames at Brentford but we turned sharp left and entered a narrow canal that is called the Grand Union Leicester Section.  I have never been along this waterway before so it is all a new adventure for me.
Tonight we are moored in the notorious Watford Gap area of the country, where the M1 motorway, the busy A5, the railway line and the canal all pass within a few hundred yards of each other. So..... Other than the continuous loud hum of road traffic and the regular zing of a Virgin Train rushing through, it is very quiet here. In fact I can hear little of the traffic noise anyway, battened down as I am inside the ship.

'The Crooked Cottage' at Lock 2 on the Braunston Flight

One more lock to go

The end of the tunnel is in sight

The quaint caravan at Norton Junction

At the bottom of Watford Locks

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