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Kirkintilloch 24th August

Yacht Quintet
Town Mooring

24th August, 2005

<-Bowling 23rd August Falkirk 25th August->

We woke bright and early to a warm(ish) sunny day and after a fairly rushed breakfast, we cast off and headed for the fuel dock. We nearly wiped out the security fence as we came in because there was a fairly strong breeze pushing us. Having moored, unscathed but frazzled, Clive went off to pay money and complete paperwork. I went to the loo.

On my return, Clive was grinning like a Cheshire cat. The transit licence was only 50.00 including VAT and the fuel was just 41.5 pence per litre, the lowest price we've seen since we left Fosdyke. I keep thinking that I should have filled up the narrowboat in the summer. I was seeing prices below 40 pence then.

So at last we were off on our cross country.

Click for a larger imageBilly locked us through lock 38 and said that 'the boys' would be waiting at the swing bridge 'just up the way a bit' and there they were. As we approached, the bridge was swung clear and we passed without problem. We planned to see them next just after passing underneath the towering Erskine Bridge but this plan was to be thwarted.

The boys drove off in the truck to prepare the lock and we dawdled along the canal, admiring the greenery and bewailing the vandalism and damage to waterside buildings when the whole boat started to shake. Clive threw the gear lever into reverse and the vibration continued. We had something round the propellor. Now, on a narrowboat one would just lift the weed hatch and grope the obstruction off. But on a yacht..

We phoned Billy to say that we would be delayed. He must have phoned 'the boys' because a little later one of them appeared coming along the towpath. He asked whether we could make it to the lock, but we were going to do damage with whatever we had clinging to the prop. And the boat wouldn't even steer.

So the first thing we tried was to launch the dinghy and attempt to see the obstruction. Then we would try to wrestle whatever it was off with the end of the boathook. That approach was doomed to failure. The water was too dark to see under the boat and even when Clive had got a purchase with the boathook, pulling the boathook just pulled him and the dinghy towards the boat and pushing meant he went the other way. There was nothing for it. Into the water one of us would need to go. And I don't do cold water or deep water and certainly not both.

The 'boy', I never did discover any of their names, offered to haul us to the pontoon at the next lock where it would be safer and easier to get in and out of the water and we could secure the boat in one position. I threw him a line and he manfully set off dragging Quintet's nine tonnes.

Click for a larger imageWhen we finally got there, the hauling having been taken over by the other 'boy' we tied Quintet alongside and Clive stripped to his undies. He tied a sharp knife to one wrist and, like some hirsute Hans Hass, some middle-aged merman, some prehistoric Poseidon, he slipped into the water, took a breath and dived beneath the hull.

He seemed to be down there for ages but eventually he surfaced saying that it was too dark to see. It felt like a plastic sack. He was trying to cut it off.

Click for a larger imageAfter five or six more dives, each ending with him coming to the surface coughing and spluttering, I'm sure that this is not the sort of thing one does with a bad cough, he emerged triumphant, hauling a piece of very nasty looking plastic sheet (he insists it is 1000 gauge, whatever that is) and declared that the problem was solved. Well done Clive. If it had been me, I'd still be there. (Don't you think the swans are beautiful?)

So once more we were on our way, an hour or more behind schedule which didn't really bother us, but I bet 'the boys' were livid. This was not going to get them home early.

The rest of the day really seems a little tame after this exciting start. I was terrified in case it happened again. Clive might decide it was my turn to go under the water. I'd cry.

The next exciting encounter was the first lift bridge. As we approached 'the boys' were inactive, inert, unmoving. Clive asked 'Can we get under that bridge?'

I almost shouted 'No!'.

Click for a larger imageAt the last moment the bridge lifted and we slid under its raised arms. These boys are good. As we cleared the bridge hole, the bridge was already returning to normal. One more lock and the next excitement was the drop lock at Dalmuir.

When the canal was closed, some of the opening bridges were replaced with fixed constructions. These obstructions to navigation have been subsequently resolved by three methods: reinstalling lifting or movable bridges, relocating locks so that the water level is lowered to pass under the obstruction and the Dalmuir 'drop lock'.

Click for a larger imageThe drop lock is a long trench, deeper than the canal, three times as long as the longest boat to use it and with lock gates at each end. But unlike a conventional lock the water level is the same each side of the lock.

The vessel drives into the lock and the gates are closed. Water is then pumped from the lock, lowering the level so that the vessel can travel under the road. Once clear of the road on the other side, the lock is refilled and the vessel is allowed back onto the canal by opening the gates at the other end. Simple eh?

It does take a long time to pump the water out so it was gone midday before we cleared Dalmuir. Then we had an afternoon of fairly intensive locking uphill. We had three different teams of canal men during the day. At one stage we had a team of six men working the locks for us. It was just after 4.00o'clock when we left the last uphill lock, number 21, that's eighteen locks we've done today.

The log records that at 5.20 we were at 55°55.9N 4°11.9W with the comment 'I don't know where we are!' We were not perhaps at our most northerly point but certainly at the highest.

At 6.00o'clock we finally reached Kirkintilloch. We tied up at the waterways pontoon and went to the pub, the Kirky Puffer, a Wetherspoons pub with the usual cheap beer and passable food. It wasn't a late night.

Les Sutcliffe

<-Bowling 23rd August Falkirk 25th August->