AN EARLY start on the Bank Holiday Sunday through Fradley was a surprise.
With one exception there was a volunteer—one not turning up—at every lock and with the surprise of three of them ladies.
They sensibly telling that the the top lock gates being too heavy for them to move and swinging open, made sure a fella was always dispatched.
Needless to say many had complained.
Have to have volunteers
Which brings me to ask if all flights now have to have volunteers before boats are allowed through? As just heard from Jan's friends who are doing the Cheshire Ring being told on a Tuesday, they cannot get a booking up Bosley Flight until Saturday—that has really buggered-up their cruise. Yet thousands have obviously done it without volunteers. We many times.
Reading the many restrictions nowadays it seems all flights have to have someone—and nowadays there are only volunteers, who must be rather scarce if boaters have to book four days in advance.
But why are all these volunteers and bookings needed for flights that were always done without in the past, that must be ruining cruises for many, as it has for George Crane who tells us he booked then found when he arrived at the Leeds & Liverpool flight there was no volunteer in sight and the flight locked-up, that must be a nightmare to such boaters attempting to complete a cruise, what with the need to book so many flights, missing volunteers and the constant stoppages.
In telling of the restrictions on Tuel Lock on the Rochdale, CaRT informs it 'has very limited lock keeper resource' and so it needs to introduce a booking system for boats wishing to pass through Tuel Lane Lock.
The restriction is just two boats at 9am and 1pm, in each direction and again have to be booked in advance.
So yet another worry for boaters attempting to cruise that canal.
Anyway, Keith tells me the Rochdale is closed again anyway through lack of water!
Not so many
Asking boaters we met at locks and moorings many told of the lack of boats and plenty of mooring, with one lady telling she was surprised at the lack of boats on the Llangollen with plenty of spaces in its basin at the end.
We found there was nowhere near the number of boats moving as compared to our last Spring cruises, and never a problem to moor. At this particular time we are moored at the junction with the Trent & Mersey and the Caldon with the many rings less than half occupied.
Though I usually remark on the condition of locks, there are so many in such shocking condition that I am giving them a miss, just giving an instance of the the top lock by Etruria Museum that took exactly 27 minutes to fill, as an example.
Somewhat a large lock it takes a decent amount of water so the picture of its leakage at its bottom gates and only one paddle serving the top gates will show you why.
And so I ventured into the museum to ask about it and was blithely told that top paddle hasn't been working for months, with the wag commenting, it's down for repair on the 2025 winter maintenance. Considering the normal condition of locks, that I could very well believe!
Then Jan piped-up and told the paddle was wrapped-up the last time we past though in August 2020! So it's obviously a permanent fixture.
Told by CaRT that the paddle had now been repaired and the 2020 was a different failure.
For the timid?
But I wonder why only one? Is it being such a deep lock a single paddle is for the timid?
Over our 28 years of boating encompassing 6956 locks we have obviously sussed the way to work whatever lock is thrown at us.
Which is basically when rising, to take the boat to the front of the lock holding it against the gate in the case of ground paddles, holding it with the engine against the gates that allows you to quickly open the paddles fully, then the engine being put in neutral with the flow of the water then holding the boat firmly in position.
If gate paddles, doing the same with the boat at the rear of the lock, again being able to open the gate paddles fully whist held back against the gates with the engine then into neutral the flow of the water holding it there.
This means the boat remains safe and the lock quickly negotiated, but alas so many attempt to hold their boats in the middle of the lock and then of course have to let water in click after click of the paddles. I often wonder why make it so difficult when it is really a very easy and safe procedure? Yet they make it hard work for themselves.
Descending in a lock is most simple—just keep the boat's front fender on the gate, that allows you to open the paddles fully with the boat kept there way out of harms way of the cill.
It is descending where those messing about attempting to keep their boats in the centre of a lock come unstuck, it too often drifting back on to the cill, getting caught—and sinking!
Yet way be it for CaRT to suggest any danger so will not clearly state that such is dangerous and cause a boat to sink, it all to often just painting 'cill' and the ground.
But it is very dangerous having a boat drifting about when descending—keep it and the front and be safe.
A fella coming off the Caldon warned us that it badly needed dredging that meant progress was very slow.
And indeed it was, for there was no way you could move at anything like a normal pace, as this pulled the boat down into the silt and the only way was just over tickover to give you any movement at all.Then there was the lack of water, with the picture showing its level.
Then we turned down the three locks towards Froghall and soon wished we had not, with its water level easily a foot down, meeting a boater and asking if all was okay to which he replied 'no it isn't there is a problem with a paddle and the next pound is worse'.
So it was an unanimous decision to turn back in case we were stuck, yet the winding hole was a distance and two locks away, but Thomas espied what looked like a disused unmarked winding hole opposite the flint mill so attempted to turn our 54ft boat, and just managing it, and so it was slowly—of course—back.
Our then realising why we met only three moving boats on our first day on the Caldon and only the one in the four hours we cruised today!
Too much of a risk, especially as those three locks at the junction only allow limited use twice a day! Certainly not recommended! Which is a shame, as very pretty as Jan remarks.