Thursday, 24 July 2014

Very Slow Final Few Miles To Audlem

(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Thursday 24th July.

"Aquarius" towing "Ilford" on a long line approaching Adderley locks.
This was always going to be an "interesting" day!  Although now already close to our destination at Audlem, we were still two flights of locks away, and still needed to work both boats through both the Adderley flight, (five locks twice), and most of the Audlem flight, (we were not sure exactly where either boat would end up, but it would be at least 11 or 12 locks for each).

Long before we got up at Adderley boats were already heading towards Audlem, and by the time I was up dog walking at soon after 07:00 am, people were telling me they had got moving early, aware that the pair of boats "Aquarius" and "Ilford" loaded with coal were about to get underway, with the inevitable delays expected as such a pair attempt to work through flights using a technique known as "long lining".

If you are going to have long delays in a lock flight, at least these are scenic.
It was far too late then for us to also set off in a hurry, and almost immediately after I had been told "Aquarius" and "Ilford" appeared round the corner, and passed our moored up boats, ready for the Adderley lock flight.  Several boats were already queued up behind them, even before the locks, so it was obvious as we "set off", (in practice only moved forward a few feet to join a queue!), that our journey to Audlem was going to be a slow one.

The short version of the story was that after that we queued heavily the whole way, and neither boat ever really got a straight run from any lock into another - there was almost invariably still a boat ahead of us waiting to go into the next lock, as our leading boat "Sickle" left its own lock.

"Birmingham" arriving - one of my absolute favourites.
David, being David, beavered up and down relentlessly on the bike, trying to both set up locks ahead, and to assist those following, but at the end of the day, the congestion was so intense it was just a case of sitting it out.  Several times I turned off "Sickle's" engine, instead of leaving it idling, in a bid to save some diesel.

We heard anecdotally from those coming up, that the coal boats were struggling to cope with the congestion, and apparently one, (im not sure which, but guess the butty was more likely), got stuck across a weir. I'll not pass any comment, because I have in the past managed this myself with "Sickle" - the weirs can be quite benign one minute, but then have very severe flows only moments later, and if you don't have a boat either moving under power, or roped off to something, it can very rapidly get dragged to a position from where it is then remarkably difficult to extract it.

"Aquarius" "long-lining" "Ilford" through a lock at Audlem
It is lovely to see the coal boats being worked in a traditional way through narrow lock flights, but however you get the un-powered butty through, it is inevitably going to take longer than where motorised boats are operating singly.  Quite sensibly half way down they clearly took a decision to tie up the butty, and to bring it down later once some pretense of normal traffic flows had returned.

Things moved faster after this, but were still very slow.  We spotted an opportunity to moor "Chalice" in the long pound at Audlem, 11 locks down, and before where the historic boat event was reserving space, and probably as close to it as we could get.  WE tied "Sickle" alongside, and decided to find out where the organisers wanted her, before carrying on with just one boat.

The answer proved to be the very bottom pound of the flight, so after a bit of a rest, we took "Sickle" on her own down three more locks, and found a suitable space.

I am genuinely not convinced we have ever before spent so long going such a short distance.  However lots of locks were involved, there were loads of boats, and really nobody was doing anything wrong - it really was what they describe in road reports as "sheer weight of traffic".  I don't think I have sunk a pint much quicker in a long while though, and Cath very nearly beat me!

Top of Adderley Locks to various locations in Audlem Locks
Miles: 6.6 (Chalice), 6.8 (Sickle), Locks:35

Total Miles: 271.1, Locks: 138

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