Friday, 6 April 2018

Well stuck, and then rescued.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Friday 6th April

Setting off
Well last night we decided to delay attempting to get "Flamingo" through Lock 9 of the Napton flight.  I'm very relieved we erred on the side of caution, and took that decision - we would not have wished to be trying to deal with last evening what we have ended up dealing with today!

No issues in Lock 8
We waited until early departers had left their moorings, and set of deliberately at a quiet point where nothing else was moving.  After a stop for "services" we set off up the locks.  The bottom lock (Lock 8) was passed fine, though the margins are a lot less than in many other narrow locks.

Going in?
Lock 9 was readied, and the decision was to drift in very slowly on no power, so that if we did stick we should not actually jam in, and should be able to reverse out easily.  It looked to be going well as the boat nosed in, but suddenly when the bows were only just past the open bottom gates, we stopped very abruptly indeed.  I still thought we should easily be able to reverse out, either with the engine, or by pulling on ropes.  How wrong could I have been!  After some time running the engine hard, and tugging, and trying to flush out with the upper paddles, it seemed fairly obvious we would not solve this on our own.

NOT going in!
Fortunately I had just enough phone signal to ascertain a CRT emergency number, and call it.  As expected the call taker knew little of canals or locations but took my details and promised to phone South East Waterways.  That call back, (from Milton Keynes, presumably?) came quickly.  Louise understood the problem and the location, and promised me a local team was nearby, and would be with us quickly.

The problem.
Good as their word, soon after Steve arrived.  He thought sufficient well timed flushing coupled with heavy reverse gear should get us out.  The brief version of that story is that it didn't, and very surprisingly, given how gently it had been jammed there, "Flamingo" didn't budge even a fraction of an inch.

From above
Very fortunately a CRT tug and hopper were in the same pound, and the enterprising Steve was able to make a few phone calls and seek permission to commandeer them.

More muscle required.
It was decided to use CRT's rope rather than ours - a good outcome, as after several violent attempts to "snatch" "Flamingo" out, (with two other CRT men sending down flushes of water), the rope broke in spectacular style.  I was very glad I had moved away from the stern by then, or I think it could have damaged me quite badly.

This rope didn't suvive.
The immortal line "we are going to need a stronger rope" eventually produced something much more substantial, but by now I was wondering just how well attached the "dollys" on the back of "Flamingo" actually were.  As the attempts to snatch us got progressively rougher, (with a bigger "run up" each time, I had visions of a large projectile launching itself at somebody, (by now I was not going anywhere near).

Much bigger rope.
Suddenly it occurred to me that whilst everybody had thought it best to keep the pound at maximum level, it was actually now a lot higher than when we stuck.  Observation showed the bow was being held low, and the back end therefore somewhat out of the water to compensate.  Steve and I agreed that lowering the pound a few inches might help, (though by now there was no certainty the tug could extract us at all!).

So another attempt was made with the water level in the empty lock now reduced.  Suddenly the boat was lurching up and down at the stuck point for the first time.  Not actually moving out, but at least moving, though when it jammed with one side high and the other low, it was momentarily a bit scary.  Then almost without further warning, we were suddenly pulled out.

There was a bit of further delay because the reduced level in the pound made it impossible initially for Steve to get the tug and hopper moored up sufficient out of the way.  Once clear "Flamingo" was reversed though the lock we had so hopefully gone through in the other direction more than two and a half hours earlier.

We now faced a considerable reverse back to the winding hole, round a sharp bend and past a long line of boats.  However Steve went the extra mile, (or perhaps half mile!), and worked patiently with us, until we were turned around and ready to leave.

The long reverse.
I simply can't fault the service we got once we had progressed to something we couldn't handle ourselves.  People were on site quickly, (though I can't believe the luck that a tug was available only a few hundred yards away).  Permanent staff and CRT volunteers worked courteously together to get the problem sorted, calmly and with minimum fuss.

And the turn.
However why this should be necessary in the first place is a quite different matter.  This lock has a growing history of such issues, and it is well known that many other historic boats that once could have passed it without difficulty no longer can.  This situation has existed for years, but it seems that because only a small percentage of all narrow beam craft are affected, there has never been sufficient priority to consider rebuilding the affected part of the lock.  Not only are boats such as ours excluded accessing one of the most popular and picturesque canals in the South, they are also denied through access to Oxford and the Thames, and hence can't do the popular "Thames Ring", (this had been our original objective, if we could get through).  Of course we will raise this as a formal issue with CRT, but they drag enough boats back out of this lock, it seems, that they must be well aware of it anyway!

Anyway, beaten and bruised, we decided only to go back as far as Braunston today, possibly for an unplanned for evening in the pub, possibly with friends.  We hoped nothing else could go wrong on such a short trip, and fortunately nothing did!

Long Buckby to Napton Bottom Lock to Napton Lock 9, then back to Braunston
Miles: 7.7, Locks: 2 (same one twice, once backwards!)
Total Trip Miles: 25.9, Locks: 15

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