Friday 29 June 2018

Time and Tide

Tideway to West Stockwith
June 2018

Phew, stage one done and  dusted!

Well, they do say that time and tide waits for no man, and this was very true today. 

Goodbye Keadby

Having discussed the passage from Keadby to West Stockwith carefully with the lock keeper we were told to be ready to enter Keadby at 7.45am, ready to catch the flood tide which would push us up to West Stockwith. Alarms were set but in the event this proved unnecessary as I was awake by 5.00am with, if I am absolutely honest, a knot of fear in my stomach.

Out onto the tideway

Now this short cut up the Trent is great in theory but given our lack of speed (3.0 mph max at 1500 revs) out ability to punch a flood tide is very limited to say the least. Therefore it is important that we exit Keadby at just the right time and then maintain a very steady speed along the river to ensure we reach our exit point close to high tide. Go too slow and we will fail to reach the lock before the ebb starts to drag us back. Go too fast and we will overshoot and be unable to hold position till the magic moment is reached.

We made all the usual preparations for the trip including life jackets and VHF and on the eve of our departure we decided to update our copy of the Waterways Routes on line maps on both my laptop and more crucially on my i-phone. I don't get on too well with technology beyond plug and play, so Paul Balmer himself undertook to do the upgrade. Of course, the course of true technology never runs smoothly and it took the combined efforts of Paul and Helen to get everything working again. That's my problem with technology - fantastic when it works, but so often tempremental just when you need it most! Maybe doing an upgrade at 10.00pm on the night before our departure wasn't the greatest idea.

Anyway, we were travelling with another narrowboat which, I knew from experience a few days ago, was very able to show us a clean pair or heels. I was more than a bit relieved when the skipper idly said in the lock, don't worry - I will keep you in sight. At least there was another narrowboat out on the river.

I am used to being locked up into Keadby so it was a bit strange to find myself being locked up onto the river, which the night before was so far beneath us. The gates opened and there was the chocolate brown waters of the Tidal Trent streaming past the entrance. The other boat went first and no sooner was he out than he was whisked away on the current. We gave the engine a bit of welly and pressed out hard on his heels.

As we left the lock the keeper called - take it gently. As if we had any choice. We got out into the stream, very aware that for a breasted pair we were under powered, and settled the engine to a steady 1500 revs. This takes our movement on still flat water to 3.00 mph and is a rate we can maintain without overheating the engine. The issue is that we don't often do this for hour after hour and this isn't somewhere for things to go wrong.

Our thin line of connection with the outside world

Paul Balmer was there to wave us goodbye and we were immediately monitoring progress via the GPS function on his map app. Our little red dot was scudding up the river, peaking out at 7.58 mph near the motorway bridge. This told us that the underlying current was 4.58 mph and simple maths told us there was no way back.

With about 13 miles to cover we watched for each landmark, breathing a sigh of relief as we crossed the half way point after 50 minutes. The twist is that as the flood tide reaches its peak its flow decreased, so the tidal assist declines. This tideway malarkey leaves you very dependent of the expertise of the lock keepers. Whilst the other narrowboat was probably a mile ahead, we saw it in the distance on each of the long straight racks and each time it appeared we breathed a little easier.

Reflections in a teapot

However, all was not without incident. The river is awash with debris and you spend a lot of times weaving around the larger bits of floating rubbish. What you cant account for is the submerged crap and at one point what was probably a bundle of sticks caught in the prop and we lost all power. It took two or three blasts of astern before the obstruction cleared and we were starting to visualise an emergency weed hatch visit. Not something I would wish on my worst enemy at that point in time.

His nibs out on the tideway

The miles clicked off, three, two and one and which point we tried to reach West Stockwith on the VHF to see if we were going too fast or too slow for the tide. Our calls went unanswered and we soon saw that the other boat, which had been a mile ahead, was marking time outside the lock waiting for high water. At this point the VHF burst into life and it became apparent that he wasn't expecting a breasted pair. We would have to wait for 10 to 15 minutes while the first boat locked in.

Stemming the flow outside West Stockwith Lock

We did a big 180 degree turn opposite the lock and figured we would soon find out just how fast the current was flowing. The moment spent of drifting sideways along the river was a bit worrying, but we got the boats around and powered into the flow. The flood had started to abate so we managed to punch the tide at 1400rpm and edged closer and closer to the wall outside the lock. It isn't immediately apparent but there is an eddy by the wall and the closer in we went the less throttle we had to use till suddenly we found ourselves in idle with water surging past the outside of the butty. We hooked a mid rope on and waited.

One safely gathered in

After about 20 mins the lock keeper drained the lock and we were cleared to enter. A good bit of throttle was suggested, but we knew the boats best to it was up to us. Fast is usually a bad idea with the butty so we slid out across the lock and pushed the bows against the far side. With everything stable and the flood tide almost finished and we a short blast of power and we slid into the safety of the lock with barely a rattle. Phew, the relief was plapable. 


We chatted with the seasonal lock keeper and before we had completed locking up a pot of Blackcurrant and Sloe Gig Jam was sold.

Relaxing at the Waterfront Inn

And that was that for the boating day. 10.30 saw us tied up on the visitor mooring and within an hour or so we were supping a pint in the shade at the Waterfront Inn. Regarding the wisdom of the trip, it was just announced that the quick fix to the Marple flight have not been successful (now thats a surprise) and some rebuilding will be needed with the resultant extended closure. So, had we opted for the Huddersfield Narrow option we would have found ourselves back in Manchester this weekend with a very long trek ahead of us instead of which we will be in Nottingham and a direct route to the south via the Leicester Line.

However, before I settle into a Mr Smug routine there are two more hops on the tideway and then the plod up the river. I will keep you posted.

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