Sunday, 25 December 2011

Single-handed cruising

As my profile says, I have 3 conditions that need to be met to go on a narrowboat holiday on the UK canals. The first is having a minder for my house and cat, which is resolvable with a trusted friend or paying for a service, or both. So if all else fails, mere money can resolve it.

The second item is affording it, which is also a mere money resolution and not my biggest concern. Thank goodness for mere money.

The third is having someone to travel with, which is more a matter of the heart. And I must say that recent times have not been sympathetic to this condition. There is an alternative which I hadn't considered before.

I had discounted single-handed cruising as too difficult. Especially since, at this time, I have zero experience on the canals. I do have plenty of experience cruising single-handed in sail and powered craft on inland Australian waters and at sea.

True, it would be more physically demanding and would not be as much fun, but it would be a significant challenge and much more fun than staying at home and not doing a canal trip at all. I'd say boat hire and boat share would be out of the question.

And, I could play out my Lomax from “Travelling Man” fantasy of a single bloke going from adventure to adventure while roaming the UK canal system on a boat about the same size as “Harmony” or around 30ft – 36ft. (NOTE: I reviewed 3 suitable boats in October.)

Harmony from the Travelling Man series, residing on the Bridgewater canal. In the series it was red.
And who knows, being out and about I may even meet someone. Though I have read, in respect of the Lomax character, the series departs from reality and firmly becomes fiction in respect of his reoccurring ability to meet women. Apparently, single guys living on narrowboats (in reality) have an almost certain prospect of remaining single. Kudos to those that have partners that share this interest.

I digress …...

Trolling through the FAQ's on the website I came across the following information on single-handed cruising.

Question: I would like to go boating single handed in a narrowboat on the inland waterways. Is this a practical proposition please?


Yes it is. Most things are likely to take longer - you need to take your time and plan what you are about to do. One contributor even suggested that women might be better at it than men because " have a general tendency to rely on brawn because they can but women are more used to not being strong enough to do things that way so look at problems with more of an eye to doing something the simple way."

Most boaters recommend a centre line which should be attached to the centre of the roof of the boat, long enough to reach back to the steering position. When mooring, bring the boat in at an angle to the bank with the bows up to the back, then gently drive the stern in. Put the gearbox into neutral, and step ashore with the centre line and, if there is nothing to tie to, a mooring pin and hammer.

Secure the centre line, then get the bow and stern lines properly set, and then think about putting some springs out. (a second set of lines at a different angle such that one bow rope (and one stern rope) prevents the boat moving forward and the second prevents it moving aft). Consider carefully where you are going to moor. Things to take into account include the direction and strength of the wind (it may tend to blow the boat away from the bank) and the depth of water. Here is one contributor's method of single handed lock working:

Locking up -
Tie the boat up with the nose in against the lower gate, and a tight line off the roof to the bollard below the gate, if any. If no bollard, tie the line to the gate itself. (roof lines are handy when solo boating. My roof line is long enough to extend from the middle of the boat roof to the floor of the stern deck. I keep it neatly coiled next to the back hatch for easy access)

If you need to let water out of the lock, the flow of the water will cause your boat to go down and forward against the gate. When this happens, be sure the nose of the boat doesn't catch on a plank of the gate. A good bow fender is recommended.

When the lock is empty, open the gate, untie the boat, and navigate it in. Climb up the ladder. In a double lock, like on the grand Union canal, one ladder is near the rear of the lock, the other is usually toward the front. Keep your boat to the REAR of the lock when locking up. Less turbulence. Keep the engine in neutral.

Take the line with you when you climb up the ladder, even in a single lock. You never know when you may need to pull your boat back from the front gate if the fender or nose gets caught under it. Always have control of the boat at hand.

Close the bottom gate and paddles, and open the top paddles. In a double lock, open the ground paddle on the side your boat is on first, then the gate paddle when the gate paddle is covered with water, then cross the gate and do the other side in the same order. The pressure of the water will keep your boat tight to your side in a double lock. It doesn't matter in a single lock, but I follow the same procedure just to keep the discipline of it anyway.
When the lock is full, open the gate and exit by navigating. Moor up just above the lock at the BW bollard or ring. (if any....;( not always there) Close the gates and paddles and go on your way.

Locking down -
Tie up to the ring or bollard with your topline. If its a double wide lock, nose the front of the boat into the opposite angle of the far lock gate, and use your stern line to secure the boat across the canal to the bollard on your side.
Fill the lock.

Untie the boat, and pull back to allow for opening the gate. Open gate.
Enter the lock, and take a turn with the topline around a bollard. ALWAYS keep the boat well to the front gate when locking down, because you are unable to control it due to the turbulence and the sill can break your rudder, or even sink the boat. Some people keep the boat in forward gear tickover.

Never go down without control of the line. I take a turn round the bollard, open one paddle, and then let the boat go slowly down, holding the line against the bollard to keep it in place I use cotton lines for my top line, NOT nylon. A cotton line will break under the weight of the boat if things go wrong, a nylon line will break the boat attachment weld. Also, cotton, though more expensive is kinder to the hands, doesn't shred your skin, and can be washed and bleached nice and clean at the laundry. (Put them in a nylon net bag or they will tangle and harm the washer during the spin cycle)

Open the bottom paddle on your side first, then the opposite. Keep your eye on the boat, making sure it is forward to the gate and not getting caught in the gate, and not drifting back towards the sill. Again, keeping the boat in forward gear at tickover will assist here, but some people dislike the boat being in gear when they are not aboard.
When the lock is empty, open the gate and bowhaul the boat slightly forward to secure the gate open.

With the line on your arm, climb down the ladder carefully. It will be wet and slimy. I wear rubber soled shoes with a heel and deep tread to get good purchase on the ladder. I try to climb down to the gunwale rather than the roof, it's safer, though muddier. Walk back to the counter, and navigate out.
Tie up below the lock, and walk back up to close the paddles and gates

Special Situations -

Stuck gate...not broken, just too hard to move.

Be sure the level is correct. Open or close the paddles as appropriate
Tie the bow line to the front of gate when going down, and gently reverse the boat to pull the gate open. GENTLY, or you may pull the gate off its pins. BW would probably hate that.
Going up, untie the boat, GENTLY nose up to the gate until you are touching it, and slowly and carefully push the gate open with the boat. A gentle nudge is sufficient, or else the gates will slam against the walls and bang back onto your boat.

Please note that this is one person's locking method - there are others. Also the technique may need to be modified depending on the locks. In time, you will develop a technique which suits you. Be particularly careful when tying up at the bottom of wide locks - the turbulence as the lock empties can be considerable. Keep an eye out for what other people are doing - if they are opening paddles too quickly for your liking then ask them to stop. Remember, take your time and think out what you are going to do. It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Swing or lift bridges can be a real problem. With some it may be possible to open them manually from the tow path side and then wedge them up with a boat shaft. Where this is not possible you should nose gently up to bridge, climb off the bow onto the bridge, fasten the end of the front line to the bridge and then open the bridge. In an ideal world, the boat will stay where it is whilst the bridge swings, taking up slack in the line haul the boat through the bridge gap, putting the front line back aboard and refastening to the other side of the bridge using the stern line. Close the bridge, haul back boat, board and set off.

There are two problems with all this. Firstly the wind. If the boat is being blown on to the bridge at any time it makes it near to impossible to continue safely. In these circumstances you could request that a passer by operate the bridge. Secondly, like all single handed stuff, slow, thoughtful, careful and efficient are the watchwords. You may find this *very* difficult to maintain in front of numerous irate motorists.“