(Here’s Ronan coiling rope)
So, yesterday we had just arrived at the first lock. Locks are like steps for getting up-stream or down-stream on a canal. Or maybe they’re more like a lift because you have to wait until the gate opens, get in, close the gate and then wait while the lift (water) rises or lowers at your floor. (With locks there’s only one floor.) Then you wait for the gate to open on the other side and you move forward on your journey. I might be making this more complicate than it needs to be but I like it.
I’ll use pictures to explain the steps we took, but all the rope coiling was in preparation for this moment of reaching the lock. Here goes…
1. So here was are approaching the first lock. Valerie is out front ready with a rope. Can you see the white car on the left hand side? That’s the lock-keeper’s transport, sometimes they have mopeds or even bicycles. They are employed by the canal system to drive up and down opening and closing the locks (like a lift attendant.) The locks are open from 7am to 7pm. This lock-keeper is probably working for the summer on the canal, can you see her standing between her car and the water? She has already opened the gate for us to sail in. By the way, the house on the left is no longer in use but in the past when canals were used for the transport of logs and other goods to Paris there was a lock-keeper and his family living in these houses beside each lock.
2. Here we are inside the lock and there’s Laura closing one side of the gate behind us. The lock-keeper has closed the other. Notice the level of the water. Notice how much higher we are than the bank.
3. In this one Laura has jumped back on the boat. This is important, if you ever find yourself going downstream on a boat in a lock and you’ve got off to help with the gates, jump back on the boat quickly. Because the boat is about to be well below the level of the bank and you might have a long jump! Notice the level of the water in this picture and the position of the bank. Also notice the gate in front of us is still closed.
4. This is the gate behind us again, notice the level of the water now. Lift going down.
5. Sorry about the quality of this photo but it tells a story so I’m ignoring it’s imperfections… That’s the gate we will be going through. You can see the level of the water in the lock has dropped, that brown mark on the gates and on both walls shows the level when we arrived. There’s the lock-keeper on the left and Stuart on the right. They are waiting for the level of the water inside the lock to go down to the level of the water on the far side of the gate. Valerie and Laura are chatting. Everyone (including Ronan who’s not in the picture) looks relaxed but they are actually wide awake and ready for what needs to be done next.
6. Here’s what’s happening with the ropes from earlier. Ronan is holding one end of this rope at the back of the boat. You saw Valerie at the front chatting with Laura – she’s holding another rope. Both ropes are attached to mooring bollards on the bank. When we got into the lock their job was to lasso a mooring bollard with the rope. Then as the water level slowly went down to stay awake and ease out the tension on the rope.
7. And the gate is open. The ropes are rolled up into coils again. Stuart is signalling back to Ronan who is manoeuvring the boat through the lock and the gate. Notice the height of the bank now.
8. Here’s the lock-keeper going back to her car. She then drove on to the next lock…
9. And there she is on the right this time with Stuart on the left. By the way, we were going downstream. The boat in the distance under the bridge in this picture was going upstream, so they will enter this lock as we exit and the lock keeper will close those gates that she and Stuart have just opened. Then she will slowly open the opposite gates to let the water fill the lock. Lift going up. Their boat will rise up until the level of the water in the lock is at the same level as the canal on the upstream side and the lock-keeper will open the gates and the boat will sail on upstream.
It was time for me to get off with my bicycle. In an hour we had travelled nearly 5Km and now I was going to cycle back to the motorhome along the tow-path. It was a glorious day, not too hot and the tow-path is level all the way. Laura came back with me, to make sure I didn’t get lost! On the boat every moment counts, the world slows down, 5km takes ages. No wonder there’s time to chat and to spot birds and to notice how life works in a different country and to stay awake to what needs to be done. Ronan says, there’s a surprise around every corner and there is. The difference is when you’re travelling like this you see all the surprises. Don’t miss the surprises…
Thank you to Valerie and Stuart and to Laura and Ronan, for the experience, the kindness, the insights and the surprises, Mairead.