... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

On the bottom

The pictures of a dewatered Grand Union at Braunston in this post of Neil's give me the excuse to recycle another little snippet...

The next morning we awoke at an angle. When you’re on a boat, and wake up to find that you either can’t get out of, or can’t stay in, bed, that your breakfast orange won’t stay on the table, and you’re sure you’re not drunk enough for the floor to be at that angle, it can mean different things – none particularly good, but some distinctly worse than others. For example, it can mean that your bilges are filling up with water, or, if you are on a tidal river, that the tide’s gone out and you’re hanging by the ropes you tied too tight. But if you’re on a canal, it’s most likely the least worst – but nonetheless ‘oh my god what a way to start the day’ eventuality: somehow or other, the water in the canal has disappeared overnight and your boat has nestled gently on the bottom. Most canals are saucer-like in profile, rather than being square troughs, and next to the bank will slope inwards, at an angle which is really quite gentle, but nonetheless inconvenient for a floor.

This tends to happen when you are tied up in a short pound. A pound is the stretch of canal between locks; it can be as short as two boats, or miles long; it’s still a pound (the same thing on a river is a reach, although river locks serve an almost entirely different function). On later canals, like the Grand Union, locks tend to be built in flights: many in quick succession with short pound in between, sometimes just long enough for two boats to pass. The biggest flight on the Grand Union is Hatton, near Warwick, with 21 locks stretching visibly and intimidatingly to the heavens, raising the canal there by 148 feet. There are also smaller flights either side of the Braunston Tunnel – why keep going up over the hill if you get to a point where you can go through it – seven locks at Buckby on the south side, and six at Braunston on the other.

We were tied up in the Braunston flight, below (if I've got myself correctly orientated, which unfortunately Wikipedia can't tell me) Nelson lock. The pounds here are relatively long – there are flights where you can’t stop in a pound at all – and another couple of boats were in the same predicament. There is a sliding scale of preferred explanations when something like this happens, and of preferred putative culprits. The first is vandals. Every boater loves to be able to attribute their inconvenience to deliberate malevolence, because it provides the best opportunities for feeling superior and for embarking upon a disquisition on the inadequacies of the education and/or criminal justice system. It’s pretty easy to deliberately empty a pound, if that is really the best entertainment you can think of. You do however need a windlass for opening the paddles at both ends of the lock, which makes it a less likely option for impulsive fun. The next best target for blame is the hire boater. Granted they have acted not out of evil, but stupidity, but that’s nearly as good. Novice boaters do sometimes do daft things – although experienced boaters are not immune from daft moments – and all it would have taken to drain this pound was to have left the paddles up or the gates open at one end of the lock, as the gates at the other leaked so much. Which leads us to the third recipient of boaters’ ire: Waterways; British Waterways, now the Canal and River Trust. If all else fails, it’s their fault for not maintaining the infrastructure properly and letting the gates leak.

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