Joan's Story

Joan Payzant
Tue, 19 Sep 1995 10:37:57 -0300


Mr. Jenkins, owner of the little cabin cruiser WHIPWAVES was a cheery
man, and an expert in teaching greenhorns like us how to get along on the
canals. He warned us about going too fast, thus causing erosion to the
banks, and added, "Anyway, the whole point of a canal cruise is to relax
and enjoy the scenery."

"The feel of the boat will take a little getting used to," Pete told Mr.
Jenkins, "but I assure you we're in no hurry. We want to enjoy every
moment of this canal experience."

Passing under an old stone bridge, we saw the solid wooden bulk of a lock
gate before us. "Pull over to the tow path side," directed our tutor. He
jumped ashore, taking the bow line with him. He hammered one of the large
iron stakes from the stern compartment of WHIPWAVES into the edge of the
bank near the towpath.

"Normally you don't tie up at this stage, but I want you both to learn
the locking procedure at the same time, so if you come with me I'll show
you how it's done."

He set off up the towpath with a locking handle, or windlass, and we
followed. The lock was empty, that is its water was at the level of the
low side of the canal. We were going up hill. A lock is like a step - a
water step. It is a little room into which you lock, or shut up your
boat, closing it in with the lock gates. You can then raise or lower the
boat by adjusting the level of the water.

(I know, I know, this is elementary stuff for most of the list, but there
may be someone who's never been in a lock who is reading this!)

A great long balance beam is the lever on which you push to open the
gates. Mr. Jenkins looked at me and said, "I guess you'll be doing the
locking if your husband is the skipper. Put your back to that beam and
open the gate."

I did as I was told, and the gate swung back against the wall of the lock.

"Now, Mr. Payzant, bring WHIPWAVES into the lock." Pete returned to the
boat, untied her and did as instructed.

"Close the gate, Mrs. Payzant, and you throw me the bow rope, please," he
shouted down to Pete. "Now we have to fill the lock to raise the boat to
the upper level. I'll show you what to do."

At either end of every lock are mechanisms called "paddles" - confusing
to us, since they bear no resemblance to our familiar canoe paddles. At
the high end they are called "ground paddles", and are valves which open
at the bottom the the lock to let the water in from the upper level. Each
paddle is opened by a rack and pinion mechanism, turned by the windlass
like the one Mr. Jenkins carried. He showed me how to use it.

"Fit your windlass socket over the paddle spindle and turn it." I tried,
but it wouldn't budge.

"You'll have muscles when you're through this trip," Mr. J. laughed.
"Back your body away a bit and heave." I felt rather foolish, because I
am a strong, healthy female, but at last I did it, and was rewarded by
seeing the water gush in on one side of the lock. I put the attached
ratchet in the tooth of the pinion and removed my windlass.

"Across to the other side now," Mr. Jenkins casually ordered, "and do the
same thing with the paddle over there."

I gulped. To get to the other side I had to cross a narrow plank over the
deep lock, with the water rushing in below me. Trying to look as though I
was used to this sort of thing, but holding tight to the iron handrail
(thank goodness for small mercies!) I reached the other side safely and
repeated the procedure.

WHIPWAVES was rising gradually to the height of the upper level, Mr.
Jenkins holding firmly to the bowline all the while, to hold her back
from the turbulence of the inrushing water. I tried to push on the
balance beam to open the upper gate.

"Not yet!" shouted Mr. J. "The water level has to be EXACTLY equal
before you can open the gate. Otherwise you are fighting against too much

At last the lock was full, I opened the gate and Pete drove WHIPWAVES out
of the lock, pulling in to the bank so we could come aboard. Thankfully I
headed for her, glad that the ordeal was over. But I was stopped in my
tracks by our long suffering teacher.

"Not yet!" he shouted. "NEVER leave a gate open, and ALWAYS drop the
paddles. AND drop them gently. Some people take the ratchet out of the
pinion and let them unwind themselves. Don't EVER do that. It breaks the
paddles. Unwind it with your windlass - you'll find it a lot easier than
winding it up," he comforted me.

When the entire locking procedure had been properly completed we got back
into WHIPWAVES and went on to the next lock at Marston Doles. Pete and I
worked this one entirely on our own, and Mr. Jenkins was satisfied that
we finally knew what we were doing. He left us there, saying that this
would be a quiet place to spend the night. Although we were unaware of it
at the time, we had reached the Napton summit, or top lock, and for the
remainder of the trip to Oxford, we would be locking downhill.

To tie up for the night on the canal is a simple task. Just hammer two
iron stakes into the bank by the towpath - not across it, or you will
annoy walking enthusiasts. Tie the bow line to the forward stake, and the
stern line to the other. The only restriction is that you must not tie up
too close to a lock or bridge, impeding traffic.

By now it was nine o'clock and we hadn't eaten a bite since noon. I
rushed up a supper of grilled fish sticks ("fish fingers" in England) and
a can of baked beans, with crackers, cheese and coffee for dessert. No
meal anywhere could have been more welcome than this plebian one. We
cleaned up, made our berths, and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched
the pillows.