Day 6 – Back on the river again – and the return of the dreaded weeds!

June 17th, 2010

After two-and-a-half weeks of lounging around in the boatyard, Innocenti has finally got out on the river again today. I paid my bill at Fox’s – which didn’t cause a sharp intake of breath, but did come towards the upper end of what I was expecting – and headed off a bit earlier than usual, at 1030, in order to avoid cluttering up their already-busy marina.

The river between March and Whittlesey is quite dull, so I’m not too worried that the webcam initially didn’t work! I stopped at Flood’s Ferry briefly to have a bite of early lunch and discovered that I’d forgotten to plug the cable back into the router. D’oh. Anyway, you didn’t miss much.

Ashline Lock in Whittlesey is a pleasant spot, and the only boater-operated lock on the main route across the Middle Level. You need a special windlass for it, which I seem to remember they charged me £7 for back in 2007… so time for it to earn its keep. I arrived with another boat close behind, crewed by an Aussie couple who were spending their summer cruising. They went first and then helped me through – then motored off towards Peterborough to try not to be too late for their booked passage through Stanground Lock. It was about 1430 by this time, and I thought it wouldn’t take too long to go the four miles to Stanground. Even without a booked passage I reckoned that the lock-keeper would let me through – there was plenty of time before they knocked off work for the evening.

I reckoned without the Dreaded Fenland Weeds. The King’s Dyke – the channel from Whittlesey to Peterborough – is narrow and weedy and I passed a number of boats that were struggling a bit coming in the opposite direction. About two miles beyond Whittlesey I got stuck. I stopped to clear the weedhatch, the wind blew me onto the bank and then I was very slightly aground. Much faffing and poling off ensued until a passing dog walker helped me by pushing off with the pole while I manoeuvred. This is why single handed takes longer!

I motored down to Stanground Lock, which marks the end of the Middle Level system. Beyond is the River Nene and the convenient town centre moorings in Peterborough. I arrived at 1640. The place was deserted – rather Marie Celeste-like. A sign on the little shed-office by the lock said “Closed”. I made a pot of tea and waited to see if the lock-keeper would reappear. After an hour, a boat appeared. When I went out, I discovered that a) he was towing another dead boat and b) the lock-keeper was locking him through. I went up to speak to her – she said “Oh, he was my 3:30 booking but he’s had trouble, so he’s the last one for today. You can go tomorrow, about 9:30 or maybe 10ish”. I thanked her and went back to the boat for more tea. Another boat approached behind me – a smartish-looking narrowboat. I shouted to the helmsman to come alongside me, but he chose instead to moor behind, against a small sheet-pile jetty built for anglers. I went inside. Shortly afterwards I heard a female voice that sounded in a bad mood. I stuck my head out. It was the lady from the boat behind, complaining that she had booked ahead, been told she could stay overnight and have first passage in the morning, and now was complaining that I was occupying the one-and-only landing stage despite having not played by the rules. Now she was concerned that the sheet-pile jetty would scratch her boat’s paint. I asked her if she would like me to move – I could easily swap places with them, and my paint is already scratched! She refused my offer, instead ranting at me about people not playing by the rules getting her goat. I asked her if there was anything else I could do. She said that really the only thing that she wanted me to do was to “piss off”, but that that wasn’t really an option. I stood there and apologised profusely. I told her about my gearbox trouble and my hefty bill. She calmed down slightly. I apologised some more and helped her tie up her bow line. Eventually she calmed down, felt that she had told me off sufficiently that I was unlikely to commit such a crime again (indeed so!) and shook my hand before going back to her boat. Oh well.

So, a note for future reference: the Middle Level navigation notes say “24 hours notice is required at Stanground Lock”. I had assumed that this was to do with the lock-keeper’s working hours, so she knew how many boats to expect. This isn’t actually the reason. The notes should probably say “Stanground Lock only permits a certain number of boats to pass through per day. You must call ahead to the lock-keeper to see if you will be permitted to use the lock”. I’m guessing that the Middle Level Commissioners restrict the use of the lock in order to restrict the volume of water entering their system from the River Nene – because every litre of water that enters the system has to be pumped out again at the St Germans Pumping Station near King’s Lynn. That station is currently being rebuilt (take a look, it’s an interesting website if you like heavy engineering) so that may be at least part of the reason for trying to keep water out of the Middle Level. I might write to the Middle Level Commissioners asking them to provide a better explanation in next year’s navigation notes.

Day 6: Fox’s Boatyard, March to Stanground Lock. 15 miles and 1 lock.
Total so far 60 miles and 6 locks. Thesis now 4521 words, 20 pages.

3 Responses to “Day 6 – Back on the river again – and the return of the dreaded weeds!”

  1. Matthew Says:

    You are a better man than I. (Gungadin) I would probably have got shirty with someone who was determined to be antagonistic even after I’d offered to swap places and generally put myself out for her convenience.

  2. Simon Says:

    Limiting the amount of water going through the lock might be reason during the winter, but this time of year the paddles are frequently open all day, letting water into the Middle Level for irrigation. I understand that the MLC have “grandfather rights” on the water and can take as much as they like, to the annoyance of the EA. But, after all, Kings Dyke is the first part of the “old course of the River Nene”. Once upon a time all the water would have gone that way!

    We’ve always found the Stanground Locky very helpful, but she does have to fit the rest of her life around boat passages, so some give-and-take is necessary.

    As for the other boat, I’d have been a lot less polite in your situation! Why does boating seem to bring out the worst in a small minority of its practitioners?

  3. Michael P-J Says:

    Simon: ah, okay…

    I did ask the locky if the lady had raised her complaint about me with her, and she said no, and said that the lady’s attitude was completely unreasonable…

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