Whiston Lock - Woodford Lock
18 miles, 12 locks
I really, really feel like the name of the boat is the complete opposite of what's happenned to us on our journey so far.
Today we had a further dose of bad luck.
The tiller has been snapped off.
Yes, the great big strong metal thing. It's extremely hard to believe that something so seemingly solid could break; but break it did, and now the Duck is unable to move under its own control.
The day started well enough; we got moving at the sensible hour of eight thirty, and the sun obligingly came out. It was extremely pleasant, motoring along through nice countryside to the sound of birdsong.
And then disaster struck. Just past White Mills lock, the river narrows and the speed of the flow increases to about 4 or 5 mph at the moment. Travelling breasted up, the Duck ploughed into a tree branch; nothing wrong with that, they normally bend and move out of the way.
Except this one didn't; it was far, far more solid than we anticipated and, because of the stream, there was nothing we could do. It dented the chimney for the Morco heater, knocked off the fender we acquired in Reading, and swept a windlass into the river.
But, worst of all, a branch got stuck under the bend at the top of the tiller, and there was a sharp "crack".
We were all dumbstruck; carried away by the stream, we could only gaze back in amazement at the sight of our tiller, hooked over a treebranch some eight or nine feet from the bank.
It was astounding; a solid lump of metal. None of us had ever heard of a tiller breaking in that fashion before. We couldn't reverse against the flow, so pulled in as soon as possible alongside a fishing platform. I took our cabin shaft, which usefully had a sickle gaffertaped to the end which made it into a useful hook, and walked back towards the tree.
The stump- at the bottom of the picture. The rope is to stop the rudder swinging about.
At first it seemed impossible; the entire way was barred by nettles and brambles. I reached the tree itself; a collection of branches sticking some nine or ten feet out over the water, with brambles and small branches everywhere- and covered in mud and slime from where the river had previously been flooded. A very daunting prospect, but I determined not to give up, and foolhardily inched my way, slowly and carefully, anong the tree branches, sometimes balancing, sometimes holding onto the cabin shaft, all the while over the water; I certainly didn't want to go in. I could see the tiller hooked over the branch, and finally managed to reach it; I didn't tell Amy at the time, but the branch I was standing on was bending and I got wet feet. I managed to reach the tiller though, and inch by inch dragged it back along the precarious branches, through the brambles, and back to the boat, covered in burrs, scratches, and mud; a proud moment. I'm very glad to have got it back; it means we can fix it up again.
In the meantime, we were on the move again. There's no way to fix the tiller right now, so we just decided to enjoy the sunshine and press on.
It should be easy enough to fix. Having inspected the metal where it snapped, Jim showed us how the 1-inch diameter metal bar that connected down to the rudder had snapped in the past, and been shoddily welded up as a repair; there was only one weld of three holding the tiller on. In many ways, it's a blessing that it happenned when it did- it means that- like so many of the systems on the boat- we can fix it properly and know it's reliable. At least it broke when we didn't really need it. To fix it, it's just a simple matter of disassembling the parts, angle grinding off the old welds and dressing the two bits ready to be welded together again.
The miles were covered quickly, and many locks; some of which have a big, three foot diameter metal wheel which must be turned 150 times to lower the guillotine gate, and another 150 to raise it... as Sarah had promised, it was hard work!
Winding the lock
The challenge, later in the day, was Irthlingborough bridge.
This medieval packhorse bridge has the navigation arch at only 12' wide; and, breasted up, the boats are 14'. Clearly, we were going to have to tow the Duck through, but with no steering it would be very, very tricky.
I rigged up a system with a rope through the eye on the top of the rudder; by hauling on one side, the rudder could be turned and the boat steered. We put the Duck on tight cross straps behind Warrior, and took the cratch down; if it went wrong, we didn't want to break it at all.The Duck looks extremely strange without it!
We approached the bridge at a worryingly high speed, but couldn't slow down because of the flow; if you slow down, you can't steer and lose control! You just have to go for it! I was at the reins at the stern of the Duck, and Jim steered Warrior; we just HAD to get it right first time.
We approached at high speed, 35 tons travelling at about ; Jim turned Warrior into the corner, I hauled on ropes for all I was worth, and we shot through the bridge without even touching the sides. Fantastic! It really was a great moment, with some brilliant steering from Jim. This is, perhaps, the closest Narrowboating comes to an extreme sport!
The VERY high speed run through the bridgehole
The lessercratched Duck
We carried on after a well-deserved cup of tea into the evening, heading for Woodford visitor moorings. Strangely, although marked on the map they don't exist, so we have been forced to tie up to a floating pontoon next to Woodford Lock. We'll have to be off first thing tomorrow; it looks like we'll be in Peterborough the day after tomorrow, hopefully.