I was looking at Les's site yesterday and there was a photo of the Northgate 3 staircase lock in Chester. Two thing came to mind when I saw that photo, the first was when I went on a weeks holiday with Sharon.
We got to that particular staircase lock and, just our luck, it was not in our favour. As we were going down, the top chamber had to be full and the bottom two had to be empty, the first two were full and the bottom was empty. So I set about emptying the locks, which wasn't an easy task, it was the last week of the season and there was no-one about so I was running up and down, opening paddles and shutting them again while Sharon stayed at the top with the boat. She was wizard at steering with only one gate opened so I left her to do the steering.
Eventually this was done, so I climbed up the bloody great slope to the top and told Sharon to take the boat in and lo and behold along comes another boat. We named this guy Rawhide, due to the hat he was wearing. Firstly, he was profoundly deaf. He was wearing 2 hearing aids and secondly he was cruising solo. He was soooo happy, he'd come along just at the right moment to share the lock and I didn't have a problem with that. So he slides into the lock besides our hire boat.
I shut the gate, opened the paddle and thats when Rawhide jumped off his boat onto the side of the lock on the pretext of helping. The thing was, he didn't do much at all, he turned the paddle a few times, and then stood there telling us how he was cruising alone as his wife didn't like the look of the weather. All the time, I am standing there thinking 'His boat is going to be about 15ft deeper in the lock in a minute, he is going to have to climb down that slippery ladder. Why didn't he just stay on the boat and let me get them through?' So I shouted over and asked him, but, of course, he couldn't hear me. Once the lock had emptied, I opened the gate my side and I must admit, he opened the gate his side and then started to bow haul his boat into the next lock, with Sharon steering ours.
Course the inevitable happened, he got to the bridge that goes over the lock and didn't know how he was going to get his rope past it and then his boat starts knocking into ours. Thats when the cheeky sod shouted over to me ' I've just had my paint work done, I might have to send you the bill to pay for any damage' I was incredulous at that stage and shouted back 'I DON'T think so mate. Maybe you should get on your boat and steer it and let me do the lock paddles. You have to expect damage if you are pulling it through' But as I said, he was profoundly deaf!
So he pulls it into the next lock, closes the gate his side and again leaves the paddles to me. He pulled his boat through the whole staircase, but I must admit, he kept a tight hold of it after the first chamber. Once we were through it and had moored at Tower Wharf, he came over to our boat with his canal guide in hand, and starts telling Sharon and I that WE were going to Chester zoo and there were 4 moorings there. So I politely explained to him, that WE were staying the night at Tower wharf as we had made arrangements to meet someone there the next day. He was most disappointed and cruised off into the sunset. Shame really, he seemed a nice enough bloke, the only problem was he couldn't hear us talking, so never shut up for a second. Still, I hope he had a nice time at the zoo.
The other time was last year. Again we were going down, so got into the first chamber with another hire boat at about 4.30pm. Someone had come up just before us and hadn't filled the lock to it's minium level. Coming up, the top two chambers need to be full, but somehow he had come up with the middle chamber empty, despite a great big instruction board at both ends of the lock. As a consequence, as we went down in the first chamber, our boats settled on the bottom! No problem, we opened the top paddles and let some more water in. Once we had enough, we closed them, opened the next lot of paddles and cruised into the middle chamber. Thats when the trouble started.
The gates behind us started to swing shut and then stopped leaving them open about 6 inches. The people on that gate pushed and heaved, rocked and rolled and they would NOT close. They were jammed by something underneath them and would not budge, neither backwards or forwards, then we noticed a fair stream of water coming in from the first chamber. which started filling up the chamber we are in. So the guy on the other hire boat sends someone to look at the top paddles and we discover that although the paddles are down, there is a problem with them and they are not completely closed. They were opened and closed a few times to no avail. So there we are in the middle chamber, the gates won't shut behind us and there is water coming in from the chamber behind as the paddles are broken.
There were some workman working on the bridge above us. One thinks he is being helpful by explaining to us that we need to close the gate and shut the top paddle as we will dewater the canal. You don't say!!! So I try and explain to him that we are unable to do either as there is a problem with both. If we could get the gate behind us shut, it would go someway towards helping us get through the staircase, could they come down and help as with a bit of brute force and ignorance we could probably get the gates closed. NO, he decided to stand overlooking us and tell his work mates what a bunch of twats we were as we obviously didn't know what we were doing.
Suddenly we started to get an audience. The local down and outs came an offered their help. Even with them the gate wouldn't close. Then the boat next to me got his front jammed on the gate and so we had to start letting water out so he wouldn't tip his boat. His wife then tells me, she hates narrowboating because she once saw a terrible accident in a lock where the boat sunk and some people got drowned!! All the time, I am standing on the back of our hire boat like the captain of the Titanic, I was not going to get off it in case it did sink. I felt responsible for it and I really like the people who hire it to us.
By this time, our audience had expanded to 4 wino's (Whom I will say, were extremely courteous, and very helpful) 3 boaters who had hired a boat from the same company as us. 2 or 3 general walkers and the crowd of workmen above us working on the bridge with Captain pugwash telling us what we should be doing!
At that point I had a brain wave, I got my mobile phone out and called British Waterways. They answered on the first ring, I explained the problem. A supervisor rung me back in 5 minutes and within 40 minutes a gang of British Waterways staff arrived to rescue us!!! If the guy on the bridge is reading this, let me explain. BRITSH WATERWAY HAD TO PUT PLANKS ACROSS THE TOP LOCK BECAUSE WE COULDN'T CLOSE THE PADDLE AND THEN IT TOOK 9 MEN TO CLOSE THE GATES BEHIND US. Got That?!! Good!!! :-)
We eventually cruised out of that lock at 7pm in the dark to great relief and applause. I have to say, if ever an organisation deserved praise in an emergency, it is British Waterways.
Luckily I am bored with the Chester route for the time being and besides I don't have a boat hired until next year, but if it is going to happen to anyone, it seems it's always me!!!