So – After spending weeks being stuck at Sandford Lock, and every day looking at the weather and the flow conditions, we decided to leave it to today – and then go for it. It’s been a few days with no rain, the levels below the lock don’t seem to be dropping after the torrent that fell a few days ago – and we can’t stay here – even if we broke out the emergency toilet – there is nowhere to empty it once that ones full. The pub is costing £10 a night to moor here – that we did not budget for – and the lock landing is being ripped out on Monday – so we don’t have any options – we have to try this.
I have studied the route with the aid of google maps, and know where the tricky stretches will be. It’s going to be a trip of 3 parts.. all of which have tricky bits to deal with – The boat was prepped on Friday – the anchor is ready to deploy if needed – the water tank is nearly empty and we have removed and re-located stuff from the bow to help lift it out a bit and not have it so low in the water – so when we do encounter a side stream, the bow can ride it out a little longer before being pushed over.. which will give me time to react to it (hopefully)..
8am – were ready to go through leg #1 – the early morning mist is still around but it’s clearing.. ( and don’t expect to see any photos of the route – not in these conditions! )
The flow was not too bad, even after getting out of the “safe zone” between the weir and the lock, where there is very little water movement – it was worse coming upto Sandford Lock – but – the river does start to get narrower from here on, and that means greater flow with the same volume of water trying to get through a smaller space!
Though Kennington railway bridge – again – still not too bad – the boats handling this well so far.. and onto Iffley Lock, which of course was on self service – so no one to open the gates for us… Locks and certain other stretches will be the tricky parts of today – and the lock didn’t hold back from that fear.. the weir (one of them) exist near to the gates – but whilst I thought the water flow would push me into the lock landing (which was not below water thankfully!) – the boat was positioned far on the right – ready to be pushed over to the left towards the landing.. however – it did the opposite and kept pulling me away from it and towards the weir.. 5 minutes later, after some frantic back and forth – with the aid of Dawson on the centre line – we managed to get pulled in.
Gates open, boat in and up. Leg #1 complete without issue. A quick breather whilst were on the calm waters of the lock to check out how the water flow looks once we leave..
1 coffee later – were off again on leg #2
Due to the water heading over the weir, we need as much of a run up as possible to get safely up to speed and out into the stream and pointing in the right direction! So out the lock, close the gates, everyone back on and get as close as possible to them (if there was a lock keeper, we could have used the lock as a bit of extra room to accelerate – but no – we have to close the gates). Throttle up and into the stream, which is now noticeably stronger..
A few bends and twists of the river later, and were on the main “rowing” straight heading into Oxford – with people out on row boats – 4’s and 8’s are out – and I can really do without having to work around them that’s for sure – as if I haven’t got enough to deal with today.. bloody row boats!.. So it’s onto Folly’s bridge. This is the next main problem point. Everyone I spoke to regarding the river flow warned of this bit – and google maps highlighted why.. Not only is it narrow – so the flow will be stronger – there are moored boats to deal with on both sides – moored on the bend, which with a strong flow, I may need the boat to be sideways to navigate safely – with not a lot of room to do so..
We cant use the southern channel – no only is it only just wider than the boat, there is a low bridge there (yes, we came down that way months ago – but were not trying it today!) So its the northern channel – past the commercial boats moored at their pontoons, though the bridge and a hard right turn to stay in the main channel.
Several times I seriously thought about stopping, but – stopping here is more remote than back at the lock – at least there we had the lockies hose pipe for water, even if there was nowhere to empty the toilet (emergency or on-board loo’s) – and the boats handling this OK so far – so lets keep on..
On approach to Folly’s bridge (very aptly named it seems), the stream did increase – a lot.. the engine is now pushing at 2,500 revs, and were doing 1.5mph.. so still making progress.. Navigated past the moored boats OK, and through the bridge – no side flows, no need to avoid anything – straight through without issue – as long as we don’t need to turn back.. until.. The right turn to stay in the main stream is a bugger at the best of times – today – a nightmare!
Once out of the bridge, its time to turn right, whilst keeping between the 2 wooden posts (which have chains between them and the banks!), and entering a stream that’s pushing faster than the one were on now.. Keep the boat as far over to the right as we can, twist and turn in before the wooden posts, and hopefully side slip into the flow whilst still pointing in the right direction – this worked – just about.. the engine was pushed to 3,000 revs to counter act the flow and give me more rudder control, and the stern cleared the post by 2 feet.. so yea.. that’s as close as I think I ever want to get to sinking.. if we had clipped it, there was a chance that the bow would have been pushed round, and with us facing the wrong way – no coming back as reverse only has 1/4 the power of forward gear!
Now I have never pushed this engine to 3,000 revs before (the engine and I have an agreement to stick to 2,000 unless needed) – but she held strong – gave everything that was asked – and as soon as we were clear enough to drop the revs back – and start to breath again – I did so. Even if we were moving slowly – moving is moving.. But.. this is only leg #2.. and leg #3 is even narrower than this one – so this does not bode well for the rest of the journey.
A few more railway bridges later and more boats with shocked faces at the windows and were still moving ok with the engine now down to 2,000 rpm.. and Osney Lock and then end of leg #2 approaching.
The lock landing was under a foot of water (Dawson donned his wellies ready to deal with this).. but there was a lock keeper who opened the gates for us. The look on his face was that of shear shock, amazement and anger – followed by a swift stern statement of “You are crazy being out in this”.. and I’m starting to agree..
After filling the lock, I asked if we could leave the boat there for a while whilst I have a walk up the tow path to check out leg #3 – which is only 1/2 a mile long.. but could be the worst of them all..
The east street mooring is as expected.. full – so no where to stop – other than right on the end – closest to the weir entrance – which I measured, and whilst not prefect, the gap is 64ft long – just enough for a 62ft Emmeline to fit into.. if we need to call it and stop (And finding a gap just about long enough for us burned up the last of my luck for today!).
Walked to the cut from the Thames to the Oxford canal – to see how high the water levels are, and if we will get under the railway bridge that crosses the cut between the two. The flow of the river here is extreme, and the worst yet – with a concrete channel between the mooring and the factories/houses on the other side – there is no way we can push against this. I still walked as far as the bridge just to see.. and no – walking the path I had to duck to get under the bridge at its lowest point.. if my feet were just touching the water.. the bridge is still below head height – so at these water levels – even if the flow was less – were still not getting under the bridge – even if we cleared the roof – the solar panels will still not clear. Bugger.
This is as far as we go – and to be honest – I’m thank-full we got this far without issue and I’m not going to push my luck (done enough of that already today!). Not only am I exhausted from this – Anna is too as I know she has been doing everything she can to ensure we get through unscathed..
There is a tap at the lock – which is not on the map.. (would have been good to know that before hand!) – there is also an Elsan point on the Oxford canal within walking distance (if I had a wheelbarrow that is!) – so the emergency toilet can be emptied when needed.. There is a sign on the tap that states “No Hosepipes”.. after asking the lockie if we could use a hose, just this once to get the water tank full, he agreed that we could.
So.. the water tanks full, we have accepted that were not going any further – and its just a case of getting past the weir now to the mooring spot. Thankfully – whilst the upper weir is fully open, the lower one only has 2 of the 5 gates open.. so only one weir to deal with..
Dawson walked ahead for me, to be ready to grab the bow line when chance occurs – as mooring in this stream is not going to be easy. We puled out of the lock – kept as far right as possible.. but that was still not enough – back to full power to counteract the stream. After a shout of “Were going to hit.. hold on” to all those down below.. the stream was strong enough to slam us sideways into the white buffers above the weir, re-arranging the kitchen crockery about the floor and scaring the crap out of all on board (literally in the case of Suggs!) – once all sideways movement was gone, we had to “rub the wall” to get into the mooring location.. (and if you zoom in on the GPS track, you can see where the flow started to push us sideways!)
With the engine still pushing to counter act the flow and keep the boat in the same place with Celeste at the helm following directions on where to move the tiller to – the bow line was on. One stern line on that seemed to do nothing as the flow was still dragging the boat out into the stream – secondary stern line on (the old broken centre line from last year that I kept as a backup).. that should hold us in against the wall. Centre line on – just in case the bow line snaps (yes – the flow is that strong and the lines are that tight… and I will be checking the lines 3 times a day, every day until we can get out of here! – I may even take off the centre line were not using as a second bow line – just in case – don’t know yet..)
And were moored up. Its not the best, the wall were against has a bend in it – so that doesn’t help. And no.. We are never doing this again! If were ever on this river again.. were getting off it before September in future!
The flow of water past the boat is keeping the propeller turning when out of gear – so I had to make up a “prop brake” using a piece if string.. looped over one of the prop bolts, wrapped a few times around it (away from any seals), and then tied to the weed-hatch cover – which for now, is holding the prop still so the stern gland can be tightened and made watertight (with the prop turning for days – there would no chance of getting the prop shaft water tight and keep the river out of the engine room!)
We have also had to keep the boat in “Wash day” configuration – with the living room seats on either side of the boat to keep us as level as we can be – with the flow of water over the bow (whilst not moving) the drain holes for the bow are under water if we lean to our usual “stationary” position.. so I’d rather be uncomfy with the seating than have the bow swamped and risk the water coming in through the bedroom doors!
So – looks like were going to be here a while – and yes.. I am really starting to hate this river. Looking back – would it have been better if we moved when the river went yellow just before Anna’s birthday. Hindsight tells me not. What happened was meant to be.. If we had moved – we would have run out of fuel in the middle of leg #1 (as by then the fuel boat had not arrived and there was <2ltrs in the tank!. On on Anna’s birthday, we fired up the engine to get some hot water for showers and to move over to the pub side, and it conked out within 2 minutes – so we would have only gotten 1/2 a mile before the engine died midstream! – which would have been an even worse situation than the one were in now)
And.. The worst did not come to pass thankfully – but Celeste slipped on the leaves (which have now been cleared!) getting on the boat and went 1/2 in with a scream. Anna, a passer by and myself managed to drag her out before she lost hold of the rope (the only thing stopping her going over the weir).. Thankfully, only a few grazes against the concrete, and a twisted ankle, but it could have been a lot lot worse! (As I said – I’m really starting to hate this river – and will probably be happy if we never go down it again!)
This holiday boat has been here over 3 weeks already – with those on board giving up on their holiday.. all the other boats here have also been here over 3 weeks – with some resigning themselves to spending the winter here – NO THANK YOU! As soon as we can, were going!
It’s now Monday – and the lower weir is fully open (all 5 gates) – so the flow is even more than it was on Saturday.. – with the lock keeper stating that its going to be a few weeks before the boards can come down as the river levels are STILL rising.
There is one thing – which seems to have been fortuitous.. Whilst we were at Sandford lock – a large piece of wall insulation came floating past – out of reach, but still I did think to myself – if that gets stopped at the lock – I will have that.. An hour later, I came out to find it had made its way against the flow and was stuck at the stern of the boat. Hmm.. We are obviously meant to have that – so out it came and under a panel until later.
Half of the board is now deployed at the stern of the boat (with the other half in reserve in case the hole I made in it for the rope grows and it’s pulled off the rope) – just in case a cat goes in, they will get swept by the stream past it – with luck – they should be able to get hold and pull them selves out and use it to jump back on-board before going over the weir.. lets hope we never need to test that out!
I’m going to finish with a shopping list of a Fresh water jerry can for the tap, a wheel barrow to help empty the emergency toilet ( and to bring back some more wood ) and few extra photos and videos in the blog – and being thankful that we were lucky on Saturday to get as far as we did without major incident..
Below the weir : And the exit from the hydro generator – which is doing bugger all, as hydro screws work on the water drop, and as its as high below as it is above.. there’s not a lot of gravity to turn it!
The water flow past the boat…..
And.. some information boards – as were here! ( This one shows the Watermans Arms – where we are.. and Isis Lock on the Oxford canal – where we cant to get to!)