It was a bright Saturday morning. I had moored below lock 13, near the Shroppie Fly last night. I proceeded up lock 13 and moored to take on water. I could have done that below the lock, there was a tap not far from my bow. Maybe things would have turned out different had I done that, who knows?
Whilst filling with water I went to the Co-op for milk, I also bought a bag of doughnuts. When I returned to the boat there was another boat reversing from lock 12 back under the bridge. He moored just in front of me and waited for me to finish (about another 15 minutes). I moved off and left him to his task. He had left the bottom gates open and in I went. Between lock 12 and 11 I saw “nb Cousin Jack” and sounded my horn. He heard and waved through the window.
In Lock 11 I watched as a guy lifted a bottom paddle on lock 10 and walk down the tow path. As I was coming out of 11 he said he would close the top gate. At 10 I eased my bow onto the lock gates and pushed them open. The pound above lock 10 was low as were several of the rest of the locks.
My locking method, when locks are this close, is to ease my bow onto the lock gates and gently push them open, however many of the locks were against me and I had to walk the gunnel to the steps to let the water out before I could go into the lock, most locks were set against me. At lock 7 disaster struck!
I made my way into the lock and closed the gates. Raising the paddles at the top lock I stood and waited for the lock to fill. I spoke to some dog walkers (distraction). After they left it occurred to me the boat was very nose down, but for some reason the alarm bells didn’t really start ringing until the propeller started screaming in the air. OH SHIT!
A 1/2 inch overhang of my base plate had snagged the top cill. It took a long while to sink in that I was going to lose my boat.
I quickly dropped the top paddles and ran, I don’t do running, to the bottom gates. All the time repeating my mantra f*** f*** f***ity f***. Lifting the paddles dropped the water level in the lock the propeller settled back in the water sending a rooster tail up in the lock and the emergency situation seemed abated. Walking up to the bow I noted water flooding out of the gas locker vents.
However the nightmare continued. As the boat came free it slid up on to the cill (engine in gear) and the water level in the lock was still falling (bottom paddles still open!) A classic cilling incident, but I was going up, not down. Arrrrrghhhh!
At first I didn’t notice the bow on the cill, but the stern was falling in the water. I jumped down onto the stern deck put the engine in neutral and grabbed a rope. f*** f*** f***ity f***. By this time the rear fender was half under water (that’s the bottom of the top tunnel band. Climbing the ladder I tied the rope to a bollard. Back down the ladder to get the centre line, which I also tied to a bollard, at this point I was on automatic pilot, (anything to save my home)!
Suddenly the penny dropped and I ran to the bottom gate and dropped the paddles. This simple task checked the sinking of the stern. I couldn’t see if the side vents were under water. (I was rapidly running out of ideas. I remember shouting ‘somebody help me’, there was no one). Again running, I went hot foot to the top gates, and opened the paddles. I had no idea what would happen! Slowly, oh so slowly and much to my relief, the stern began to rise. And within a short time the boat was level in the water and floating free. My heart was pumping a million bpm.
I had averted the worst disaster a boater could have. Just a few more seconds at any point of the incident would have been disastrous. I was convinced at the start and again in the middle that my boat was lost. I checked my heart bpm at the next lock and it was still raging at 96 bpm. It didn’t settle down until much later in the afternoon.
The whole scenario probably took just a few minutes, maybe 3 or 4, maybe 10, but at the time it seemed like it would never stop. What amazes me was how long it took for me, initially, to realise what was happening. I have averted sinkings of hire boats in the past, but that didn’t prepared me for this. I was terrified. My home was sinking, everything I own was on board. All I could think was “It’s gone, f*** f*** f***ity f***, it’s gone”. But even so I had to do something. Fortunately what I was able to do was enough, but at my age it could have been so different
I learned about boating from this.
1. Don’t let your self get distracted.
2. Be aware, once a disaster had been averted watch for the next one.
3. Riding up the top cill is not necessarily a bad thing to do, I have been doing it for years, but it only takes one bad day……
4. When the chips are down you will be surprised what you can do. I was.
Not one drop of water entered the boat, but the well deck was wet all the way up to the front door!
As I pushed the top gate open my hips and knees let me know I had abused them, and for once I didn’t care, my home was safe and I don’t think I mentioned God once.