Learn a niche skill that looks ever so impressive
It’s always a joy to be able to step up at moments of group panic and confidently and smugly say ‘I’ll take care of that’. Should you find yourself navigating a narrow boat unexpectedly (it could happen) you’ll need to be able to work the canal’s locks in order to pilot the boat up or down the water. While all about you spill their Pimms and flap their hands in despair at the paddles, here’s how to calmly and collectedly navigate a lock. Ahoy!
Put down your beer, like a hero.
For the purposes of these instructions we’re going to assume you are travelling upstream. You need one person at the tiller (the steering pole) and one person operating the lock (that’s you). Check the lock. It should be clear with no boat approaching the other way. The water in the lock has to be at the same level as you are before you can open the gates and enter it. As we’re assuming you’re travelling up the canal, if the lock is not empty when you arrive, empty it by opening the paddles on the bottom gate. Once the water is at the same level as you, you can open the gates.
Open the gate nearest the boat and ask the person at the tiller to take the boat (carefully) into the lock. It is traditional to shout ‘left a bit, left a bit, NO! YOU PUSH IT RIGHT TO GO TO THE LEFT!. That’s right… No TOO FAR NOW. Lawks! You nearly had the front off it then!’ as they steadily pilot the boat into the lock. Close the bottom gate behind the boat.
Open the paddles in the top gate and let the water into the lock. The paddles are the big Victorian iron cog shenanigans either side of the lock. Take your special key (called a windlass), place the hole in your windlass over the sticky-outy bit on the paddle and turn it to open. Stand to the side and keep your knees out of the way. If you accidentally let go of a windlass while the paddle is raised it can drop fast and the windlass can fly off and the paddles drop suddenly, causing horrible damage to the lock or you. It is permissible to swear colourfully if this happens. As the paddles open, the boat will rise slowly in the lock like well-proved loaf.
When the lock is full and the levels inside the lock and in front of you are level you will be able to open the top gate. Do so by putting your back against it and slowly leaning back to push it open, rather than bending over and pushing with your hands. This ‘pushing with your back’ manoeuvre prevents injury but more importantly will help mark you out as a canal know-it-all and impress any passers-by.
Let your tiller person know to bring the boat out of the gate. If you want to sound smug and irritate the person at the tiller, shout casual and unhelpful commands like ‘take it to starboard a little’. No-one mortal can remember which way starboard is when under stress and in charge of a 60ft boat. Call them over to the bank with a louche wave of the hand, then step casually back on board and resume your position at your beer.
Graciously bask in the admiration of your crew and never tell them that it’s actually much easier to work a lock than it is to pilot the boat through one. Ahem.
In our July ‘Embrace’ issue, which is out now, we tried out a canal boating weekend courtesy of ABC Boat Hire. They are currently offering discounts for 202 and have a few last minute deals on breaks this year, too. Pick up a copy of the July issue in shops now for more details.