Today Francine’s itinerary called for us to stop in Windsor. We set off reasonably early again and hit the first lock before the lockkeeper had arrived and whilst it was still on self-service. Franco disembarked to operate the lock.
Panic – the lock gate controllers were of a completely different design to those encountered so far. Naturally, the lock was empty and I needed to refill it. I couldn’t really see if the bottom gate sluices were closed, neither could I find a “close sluices” button. A light gleamed on the “open gates” button. I wandered up the the top gate controller and found no gleaming light whatsoever. A bold sign said, “if no light is on, use manual operation” Bugger!
The controller had a huge wheel with two levers to set what said huge wheel operated. I set the levers to the “open sluices” configuration and began winding. Darwin was it heavy, and I had to wind and wind and wind, seemingly interminably. There was no sign of anything lifting but after what seemed an age I saw water begin flowing into the lock. I continued winding wondering how I would know the sluices were fully open, there being no visible evidence of movement. After what seemed like another age and after changing arms several times, the previous arm having seized up, the wheel finally got even stiffer. I took this to mean the operation was finished, though a clue would have been nice. With no lights on, how did I know the lock was full? Darwin knows!
Finally, water flow seemed to calm down. Capt. Virginia turned up and wanted to try the “open gates” electric button. I pointed out the bold “if no lights … “ instruction but he’s American. He pushed the button. Nothing happened. I reset the levers to the “open gates” configuration. Once again, I wound the heavy wheel interminably. After a few minutes and a couple of heart attacks one lock gate slowly started moving. A few more arm changes, more heart attacks and several more ages of furious winding had just one gate open – enough for entry into the lock by a narrow boat. A small day boat joined Juniper.
A sour-faced lockkeeper seemed to have arrived (it was now just after 9:00 AM), but just wandered around us busying himself and saying nothing. Capt. Virginia volunteered to manually wind the top gate shut so I reset the levers for him and went to the lower gate. Finally the top gate was again closed and, in the land of electricity once more, I pushed and held the “open gates” button on the lower controller. To my relief, the gates opened.
Mr. Sourface approached but continued to say nothing. I decided to force the issue and said, “that manual operation wheel is a bear, I’m exhausted”. He looked a little quizzical and may have muttered his first word along the lines of, “why?”
“There’s no power on the top controller”, I explained.
“Yes there is”, he said, “but the bulb has blown”.
Ye Gods! Shit!! Bollocks!!! Given the permanent, bold “if no lights … “ instruction, an explanatory sign would have been a considerate addition, I thought. I wanted to throw Mr. Sourface into his bloody lock. Fortunately, this bozo was an exception, all the other Thames lockkeepers have been perfectly personable.
Last night in Henley, we’d seen a marquee and an apparent finish line proclaiming Thames Path Challenge. A timing clock had been ticking on displaying a distressingly large number of hours as a runner drifted in. Leaving Henley this morning, we kept seeing almost constant bands of walkers along the Thames Path in various states of freshness/exhaustion.
Our fun and games with the unattended lock behind us, we stopped for our daily water fill-up where we were passed by yet more walkers. After what we’d seen yesterday, we asked if they’d been walking all night. “Yes”, they replied. They’d set out from Putney Bridge. “Strewth, bravo!”, was about all we could manage, or had time for given the speed with which our tank was filling up on the Thames.
After several more locks and yet more merry bands of walkers and a boat complete with guitarist for their entertainment, we arrived in Windsor and moored at about 3:00 PM. I simply wanted to sit and relax. Since Mrs. Virginia is suffering on the mobility front hip-wise, she was unable to investigate Windsor so we all stayed aboard drinking and watching aircraft making their final approach to Heathrow over Windsor Castle. If Ma’am can put up with a flight path, why can’t everybody else?
Another interesting issue is brewing in our race against the clock to get round the Thames Ring. The final Thames section, from Teddington to Brentford and back onto the Grand Union Canal through Thames Lock, is tidal and time dependent according to the state of the tides. Brentford Lock has limited working times around high tide. It’s about 90 minutes from Teddington Lock to Thames Lock, we think. Arrive at Teddington at the wrong time and you could lose a day waiting for the right time. Boaters are advised to phone Teddington Lock and Thames Lock to make arrangements.
After yesterday’s tingling throat, Franco was now beginning to cough, sniffle and splutter but gamely phoned Teddington Lock. We expect to go through on Tuesday when high tide would apparently be at 8:24 AM. If we could go through at about 8:00 AM we should be trying to avoid London on the GUC by about 10:00 AM giving a good length of day to make some progress back into relative civilization.
I also tried calling Thames Lock at Brentford but got an answering service. I left a message with my phone number. In the early evening, when I was really beginning to feel like shit and was taking a shower to try and improve my lot, the Brentford lockkeeper did call back. Francine answered and we were told to keep in touch, calling again once we were at Teddington.
We should arrive at Teddington Lock, which apparently has chargeable moorings, tomorrow afternoon.