Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ladies give Lock Etiquette Lessons

September 8, 2011

We are now travelling on the Llangollen Canal, reportedly the most popular canal in Great Britain, known colloquially as the Llongie  but would be more aptly named as the Banger! It is probably the most popular canal because it is full of rental boat traffic, who have little clue as to what they are doing!!

We had made an early morning start, on September 3rd, entering the “Banger” Canal from the “Shroppie” Canal and were presented with a flight of 4 locks. The 6:45 am start meant we had the locks to ourselves. The locks are really narrow and all side fenders must be lifted to facilitate access. The first 2 locks were  ready for action. The locks were so narrow it was possible to step across the 2 ‘back’ gates when one gate was open. Of course safety is important and I was able to hold the rail on the far gate and step across. Another advantage is having longer legs and no beer belly! As AM left the 2nd lock she got grounded halfway into the ‘pound’. So I had to go up to the next lock and open the ladders to try and feed more water into the pound below. Eventually AM was freed and floating and went into Lock 3. The pound above was now shallow so I had to go and repeat the water flow process from Lock 4. I had visions of emptying the canal! All was well, in time, and were underway as were the boats that had moored at the top of  the locks! Now we had more boat traffic. As this canal is fed by the River Dee we are, in effect, heading upstream, the current is quite strong, our ‘revs’ are the same as when we were on the R. Severn and we are not moving at any great speed.

The next Lock appears. Now we are in a queue, we are boat No. 3 (in-waiting) then 2 more boats arrive and queue behind us. In the case of a boat using the lock prior to your one, the unwritten Lock etiquette is that the ‘Lock Labourer’ presents themself at the lock and offers assistance to work the lock. Not everyone, mostly newbies and renties-day-1 know this. It is annoying when they cluster around their temporary moored boats and watch, from a distance, one person working hard (winding up the paddles to empty the lock and open the gates to let the boat in). This involves walking the perimeter of the lock to cross to the other side (except for the narrow locks on this canal where I step over the gates). Anyway today’s newbies in the boat behind were showing no sign of offering assistance. So I shouted out to Chris “Are they going to help me?” to which Chris said to them “Are you going to help?” And one of them walked up with his windlass. Rather than cut to the throat, I was tactful as I questioned him and he gave a brief history – his friend had just purchased the boat, that morning, from a nearby marina, and they were taking the boat to Whitchurch. So I asked if he would like to know the unwritten Lock etiquette and he was delighted to receive information. (It is a challenge being an Occupational Therapist and not to be over helpful!). 5 locks later they were now learned lock labourers and great students!

The previous day we had experienced old timers, father and son, in 2 narrowboats with no other sign of life aboard. The ‘old’ son had priority to go into the lock due to the lock level being in his favour. So as we were waiting, above, I shut the gates for him and wound up the ladders. This helpfulness speeds up the waiting time. I think he thanked me as he left the lock to moor his boat and AM could go in. He managed to light a ciggy and smoke that before he came back to open one of the lock gates for AM to exit. I did have time to ask him why his father couldn’t help with the locks (“too old and boating has been his life”) and where they were headed. I enquired if his Dad had thought about retiring from boating? Later, I looked up how many locks they would have to pass through – 58 unmanned locks!!

Today, as I write this, I have just worked the Lock and as the Lock was empty and there were 2 small boats arriving below, I opened the gates for them, shut the gates for them, wound the ladders for them and opened the top gate! The second boat was like wondering if it was the invisible man driving it because I couldn’t see anyone. Still they did THANK me! It was there lucky day.

The countryside on the Llangie Bangy is gorgeous, the weather is awful, the wind has been horrible, and the Aqueducts were amazing to cross (birds- eye view we had). The canal current is strong heading ‘up’ canal especially as we headed past Chirk. There were 2 one way  tunnels to pass through  after the Chirk Aqueduct, the longest being 459 yards and the other 191 yards, and I decided I needed to assist AM moving through the tunnels by using both my hands to push along the tunnel walls (hand power not horse power).

The Chirk Aqueduct opened in 1801 and carries the canal from England into Wales. A river flows 70ft below and the railway viaduct is beside the aqueduct and a bit higher in position. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (built by Thomas Telford and opened in 1805) which is 1007ft long and the offside is completely unprotected. It is amazing to go over the aqueducts and I was able to sit on AM’s roof to get a feeling of hovering on the Chirk Aqueduct! The wind was even stronger when we went over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and I was keen to get a place to moor as it had been a long day of travel.

But moorings were difficult to find, and we needed to push on a further 2 ½ miles before we found the last mooring at Sun Trevor Bridge. We were now at the start of the “narrows” for the final 2 mile trip into Llangollen. There are a lot of holiday rental narrowboats on the Bangie canal and if I ever, in my wildest dreams, did this trip again, I would rent a boat. I have found this canal a stressful journey. The “narrows” means that the Canal is very narrow and I needed to walk on to stop canal traffic going the other direction in the really narrow parts, one was 500 metres!

So we got to Llangollen on a day of high wind and rain and decided to turn around and get out of there. Now we are getting close to Ellesmere and Tesco’s and back to a journey of lift bridges and locks. We’ve just gone under the Wrenbury (traffic stopping’) Lift Bridge and luck was on our side as someone else coming the other way was controlling it and we went through first!! The next lift bridge needed me to raise it but a boat was coming in the opposite diresction and they will close it! Well you readers are getting canal action as it happens! The next lock is 15 minutes away and so we move on.

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A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.