Torksey to Keadby
4th August 2011
34 miles - 1 lock - 7 hours
After last nights roller coaster in Torksey Cut it was a slow start to the day, waiting for the tide to turn.
A mid morning visit to the Torksey lock keeper between the showers elicited a revised departure time, 11.45 rather than the 12.15 previously advised.
The plan was to punch the incoming tide for a couple of hours to shorten the time it would take us to get down to Keadby, so we watched and waited, eventually seeing the first of the incoming tide swirl round the entrance to the inlet at 11.15am.
Easedale on the tideway
Now, I had read all I could about the tideway between Toksey and Keadby. This is one of the "big" tidal trips of the inland waterways and one which has scared the pants off many boaters before us. Its not to be taken lightly and plenty of boaters have concluded that they would never do it again. In spite of all this research I still failed to grasp the dynamics of this passage on a big spring tide. I realised that we were looking at one of the highest tides of the year which rose to cover the lower branches of the riverside trees and that what comes in has to run out - fast. But what hadn't struck me was that just as the high tide is very high, the low tide is particularly low. This dynamic has an important impact on navigating the lower reaches of the Trent because if you arrive at Keadby too late there isn't enough water in the lock to let a boat in. Not a good situation to be in.
We departed with the two Sea Otters and pressed into the flood tide, making barely two miles in those first two hours. At times we virtually stood still as the water surged round the tight corners at Marton Mill, four narrowboats fanned out abreast inching their way downstream. Then suddenly, the inflow stopped and reversed into the ebb lifting out speed to over 8 mph and stilling the restless waves.
Whilst our progress improved the navigational demands increased. The river is full of sandbanks and mudflats on which the unwary can find themselves trapped till the waters return 12 hours later. That said, the run to Gainsborough was a bit boring where a pontoon mooring exists, but is only attractive in an emergency.
On we went, maintaining close contact with the Sea Otters as we swept past West Stockwith Lock with its lock keeper waiting anxiously for a boat planning to enter the Chesterfield Canal.
We hailed Keadby Lock as we passed under the M180 and discovered that the water in the lock was perilously low and there was every possibility of us not getting in. After a brief discussion we concluded that Wand'ring Bark draws 10" more than the Otters, so we cranked up the engine and flew down the last few miles in torrential rain and the temperature warning siren wailing in protest. With water getting very low we called Keadby again only to see the lights change to red as the earlier boats were locked up. We had no option but to assume a holding position just outside the lock entrance, balancing the boat against the flow of the river for 10 minutes or so as the engine cooled.
After what seemed an age the lock emptied again and I needed no encouragement to turn the bows into its half open gates. It wasn't a moment too soon because as we entered we caught the silted bottom and were slowed to a crawl as we gouged a channel into the safety of the lock chamber. The Sea Otters with their shallow draft has no such problems and bobbed in alongside me. It was only a few days later that a river cruiser held in the same spot and found one prop completely fouled with metal waste from the adjacent quay. It's a good job it didn't happen to our solitary prop or we would have been really stuck.
Convoy waiting for the railway bridge
We emerged from the lock and waited for the bridge to retract in the company of the cruisers we had seen at Torksey. Out on the river they had been the kings with their big engines and twin props but here on the canals we had the upper hand. The Stainforth and Keadby is a heavily weeded canal, smothered in a layer of floating weed. Its not the sort of weed which stops a narrowboat but it does a proper job on the raw water cooling systems of river cruisers. They fell like flies, engines overheating and filter needing constant cleaning.
Stainforth and Keadby Canal with Andromeder coming to rescue a friend's boat
We pressed on up the canal for a few miles, through a few swing bridges and stopping in one of the points where the adjacent railway line swings away ready to accommodate one of the few turns. At last the rain clouds parted and we were treated to a glorious sunset and a good evenings fishing through the gaps in the weed like two agricultural Eskino's.
Calm after the storm