Saturday, June 08, 2019

One small step for a man

Are you a jumper or a walker?

The latest Boaters News from CRT contains an article warning of the perils of  stepping across the opened gate at the bottom end of double gated narrow locks.  Your feet might slip, the grab rail might be slippery etc.  so don't do it they say.  Of course they're right, but I'll go on doing it.

I would certainly never advise or encourage anyone to do it.  It's a long drop  into the water and you could easily bang your head.  I mean why would you do it?  Or should I say why do I still do it?  Well, to save a walk of 150 feet I suppose.  One pace or 50 paces.

The gap you have to step (not really jump) across is about 3ft 6in I suppose.  Sometimes I stand on the edge and look down and think "not this one" and walk round instead, but more often than not I check that my feet have grip, that my clothing won't snag the paddle gear, that my windlass is safely in the hand away from the gate and make an exaggerated step across, ensuring that I am well onto the opposite footplank and grabbing firmly on the opposite rail. It's not a huge step but I do think and take care each time.  Well like I said, I won't encourage anyone to do it but lots of us still do.  It's funny how at some locks it doesn't feel or look right and I walk round whilst at others e.g. at Broadmoor lock (The one above Cropredy where they sell fenders and windlasses) the other day the step seemed like nothing at all.  I suppose they must all be the same distance.  I must admit, if it doesn't feel safe somehow, I don't do it.  I'm not that cavalier.

Kath, I ought to add, walks round and I'm fine with that.

Are you a stepper or a jumper? It'd be interesting to take a straw poll.  Also has anyone knowledge of someone falling in in the process?

We're back out to Herbie today for a little bit of sanding and painting up at the pointy end.  I noticed the other day how scruffy the bow cants and the gas locker lid have got.  It's really noticeable how horizontal surfaces suffer paint degradation more than vertical ones.  The area I have to deal with is so small that the sanding should't take more than ten minutes and the masking and painting no more than half an hour, but we still need two or three days to get it done because of drying times.  So I have to work a few minutes and then take the rest of the day off.  That's my kind of hard labour.

We had a lot of rain last night but I'm not complaining.  I spoke the other day to one of the CRT chaps walking down Claydon locks and asked him about reservoir levels at the summit.  He said they were pretty grim.  Now I read that they're putting restrictions on the Leicester line and on Buckby locks. I hate to say it folks but we need a wet month.


Nick said...

I'm like you (including the checking, the exaggerated stride and the sometimes changing my mind). I only do it when both gates are open, so I'm stepping onto a long ledge with a handrail above it. The other way feels to small a target for me, and often the grab rail isn't as gettable at.

I'm sure it's not entirely safe, but it is vastly safer than the Stourbridge flight, where crossing the single top gates gives me the willies.

nb Bonjour said...

I agree with you and Nick! But I don't do it if it's wet, or if impressionable children are watching. And sometimes, you're right, it just feels wrong so I walk round. I'm quite short,so some locks (like Hanbury on the Droitwich) seem just an inch or two too wide.

Adam said...

Like you, I step where I can. Some locks, and the Aylesbury Arm comes to mind, where the handrail isn’t long enough so there’s nothing to grab on to — so I won’t step across then. I like to maintain three points of contact!

Giles said...

I do it. But I tuck my windlass in my belt holster so i can be sure to grab the handrail as I exaggeratedly step across. At Atherstone or Audlem, it just saves puff.

Chertsey Sarah said...

I've managed it a grand total of once (and I can't remember where that was!). But basically, my legs are just too short. I suppose the one thing that varies the distance is the width of the walkway that you're stepping across to. Where I achieved it, it was quite a wide one, so the gap was a bit narrower. Jim does it all the time, but I can't look.

Pip and Mick said...

I don't do this and neither does Pip. I sometimes look at the gap and think "It's not a huge step, let's give it a go", but then a sort of built in risk assesment happens and I chicken out. Pip doesn't consider it at all.
NB Oleanna

Davidss said...

When I was delivering or collecting boats I used to step across, but the detailed memory of circumstances when I might have walked instead have faded. What hasn't faded was the time it nearly went wrong.
I was single handed and had taken the boat out of the lock, leaving it backed up in the short lock exit, as I was going downhill. Backed up like that, with no wind in a sheltered situation, I had neglected to keep the stern rope with me. I had closed the offside gate, stepped across to the walkway on the open gate (so a 'short' step), then had to negotiate past the handrail and over the balance beam.
The boat was drifting very slightly, as they do, away from the gates and nearside bank, as they do. Probably subconciously aware that I needed to get back on board without wasting time made me a little careless and I slipped leaving the walkway. I fell forwards onto the spindle of the paddle gear. The point of impact was the front of my left shoulder, the boney bit where even on me there isn't much natural padding.

The shock and impact caused a severe pain. By now I was land side of the balance beam and really I just wanted hang there, catch my breath, and feel sorry for myself.
However, the final indignity would have been having to go swimming to collect the boat from the offside reeds. I forced myself to move, close the nearside gate, and step across the gap from bankside to the traditional stern (so not a big deck area).

The canal was straight for about half a mile, so I would have notice of oncoming traffic. I backed the boat more fully into the lock exit, went below and put the kettle on for a much needed mug of tea. No-one came past, boat or towpath user, during this 15 minutes.
Ritual over, I carried on with the trip, successfully terminating at Sawley Bridge Marina.

I did more single handed collection / delivery trips, and still stepped over. I had analysed what went wrong and made sure I never made the same mistake again (Always have a rope ashore; the boat can drift where it likes but it's always recoverable without having to walk on water), so there is no need to save that odd second.

It's some years since I was on a narrow boat, if I was to return I think I'd still want to step across, but perhaps not at the first lock on the first day :-)


Jim said...

I usually step (definitely "step" and not "jump"). I make sure I know in advance whereabouts on the opposing gate I'm going to catch hold and I keep my eyes trained on that spot. Like most people, there are occasions when it just doesn't seem right, and then I walk. The only time I've ever come close to falling in was when walking across the footboards of a closed pair of bottom gates which were wet and slippy. Fortunately my knee caught on the board and I had the presence of mind to grab part of the handrail and haul myself up without even dropping the windlass! But I was a lot younger and fitter in those days.

Steve Parkin said...

Like Sarah from NB Chertsey, I haven't ever been able to do it. With short legs that require even 29 inch M & S trousers to be shortened, their wasn't ever a possibility. I look in awe at boaters who can but wonder what happens when they miss their "step" across.
Now in my seventh decade I definitely have to walk around and console myself that its good exercise. Steve (NB Albert)

Mike Todd said...

When we first hired (1967) stepping across was how I was shown how to do a lock! Nowadays, it is rather rare as less agile but another problem has come along: balance. Last year I had a rather alarming experience on the BCN where I needed to cross the bottom single gate up a step and across the top of the gate, with the handrail. It was a rather large step and I hauled myself up using the handrail. At this point, I was facing towards the top of the lock and parallel to the lockside. However I pulled myself too quickly and the balance fluid in my ears (part of the aging process!) told my body to keep going and I ended up going right over the balance beam and fell close to the edge of the lock, luckily not falling in as the lock was empty at that point! I now try to remember to build in a pause at the crucial moment, just in case!

Vallypee said...

I hate gaps, so if there is one, I walk. simple. But then I'm a wuss about climbing down lock ladders too. I'll go up (although not the very deep locks), but I won't climb down.

Jennie said...

Up to this year I have been a 'stepper', but as others have said I am choosy where I do this and never if it is wet. Some do just look wrong and like Debby from nb Chuffed I would never step at Hanbury - for me it is the depth of the lock that is most off putting. Tardebigge has always been easy. Now, however, I have an arthritic knee so cannot guarantee it will hold, so no more stepping. The walk round isn't great either - the knee does not like lumpy ground. That was the main reason we headed north up the Staffs and Worcs this summer - most locks have bridges by the double gates.

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

David has always stepped across until last year and this year. I could never watch him do it, made my stomach go funny.

I have never stepped across - too short, too wussy, don't like heights. I don't even really like walking across the closed lock gates at the high end and can only do it holding the rail.

Our older grandson (now 14) started stepping across last year and I am fine with that - good eyesight, surefooted, young ...

One time, several years ago, our son jumped right across the lock over top of the boat - now that gave me the willies!

Over the weekend, we did the Lapworth flight with Mick and Julia from Unknown No 3, Julia always steps. However Julia has legs that are extremely long, dammit!

Cheers, Marilyn

Herbie Neil said...

Thanks everyone, very interesting.So whatd all this say to CRT? I suppose they are bound to say it's unsafe yet from your comments it seems like a lot of us do it and even those who don't might like to. I expected at least one person would wag a finger and day we were all stupid and irresponsible but so far no one has. I'll step over some more tomorrow as we descend back to Cropredy. See you soon, if I'm spared. Whatever you do - take care.


Lesley K said...

I step across, well it’s more like a hop really but I often find, like you, that the first lock I get a refusal, if it doesn’t feel safe I don’t do it.

Oakie said...

I am a stepper, but always size up distance, grab rail and conditions, but rarely walk around. No one has mentioned opening the two bottom gates by standing on the footboard and pushing the offside gate open with one leg whilst hanging on to the handrail of course on the nearside gate. This also works on GU double locks, if you need both open and was taught to me by Mike Askin some years ago.
A method of closing the gates going downhill is to stop the boat in the tail of the lock and use a shaft with boathook in the end beneath the beam and push. The boathoook fork fits against the bottom corner of the beam like a Y. I believe some bottom gate beams on the Shroppie have softwood boards there to stick the spike in.

Herbie Neil said...

Yes, as Oakie says, we both (even Kath) push one bottom gate open with a foot, saving at least one walk round. It sounds to me as if we're all of a similar mind, barring those who have to refrain for reason of injury or whatever. Has anyone seen CRT chaps doing it?

nb Bonjour said...

We were passing through a lock where they were doing some work, and yes, one stepped across to give us a hand. But never a volunteer lockie.
We do the pushing a gate open with a foot but I find not all gates want to open that way!