Wheelock to Etruria (Stoke)

Wednesday 16th September 2010

Weather Mixed – Very Mixed!  Sun, Rain, Torrential Rain and close to Monsoon.


Apart from the fact that the last time I moored in Wheelock I got mowed down by a car in the car park so walked about gingerly – everyone, freshly showered in the better than average BW facilities was up on time for an early start.


I insisted on an 8am start as we had to hit the 28 locks before the 2926 yards of Harecastle Tunnel before Stoke.


Part of my promise to Justin was that I would plan an average of 12 miles per day for the kayakers but

·         always try to find an end point each day that was reasonably secure as kayaks are expensive and without them being around each morning would sort of screw up the whole objectives!

·         always try and make sure it was easy to get them out of the water as getting in and out of these things is a wobbly fine art!

·         Always make sure Jane in the support camper could get quite close as supplies were needed AND

·         There was a pub within feet of the canal bank so that at the end of each four to five hour paddling day the guys could crawl to a pint or two!


Should point out that he can’t drink pints himself but can manage the odd glass of wine even though it travels pretty swiftly down through to the exit! Its here that they wait for the support boat which has to negotiate each lock and slow down for moored boats by the time I arrived they are much happier but ready for food – so my own pub time is very limited!


Anyway, the guys were going to walk the boats around many of the first locks and just before we untied our mooring lines three other boats crawled by meaning we would be delayed and slow going up. When we got to lock 66 we then discovered that some stupid (very mild description – should have at least a word beginning with f in front) boater earlier or the night before had not closed a gate paddles properly and the pound (that’s the area of water above the lock – however long that may be (for my non boaty readers)-was pretty much empty! This meant that we had to mess about for more than an hour getting water down from higher locks and pounds. Now then, Harecastle Tunnel closes at 3pm each day and our chances of getting the boat up there were to say the least very slim in the time we had. The kayakers are not allowed to go through so needed my boat to carry and tow. If we didn’t make it then not only would all the above criteria would be blown, but also our next support boat due to be the other side would be unattainable.


So nothing for it but Mitch came out of the kayak for the day and took over the tiller and running of Elysium (I didn’t panic – much!–as he’s a seagoing yachtsman) and after a couple of locks, and despite sh*t weather and high winds, he had it sorted.

                                                    Mitch sorting things out in his first lock!


I became the fastest lock-keeper ever – setting one, charging off to the next to make it ready and charging back to see him out! So 28 locks later we got to the head of the tunnel 10 minutes late but by the miracle of mobile phones we had Justin and Stevo distracting the Tunnel Keeper with tales of “derring do” and were we all set to go through.


Kayaks on the roof but with Justin’s too tall – his had to be towed – all were aboard – sitting up the front and inside with cups of Mum’s tea – and in we went for the 45 minute trip through. I was getting very proud of myself as not once did I touch the sides and reached the middle bit where it is really quite low and narrow due to repairs.




Then disaster struck – my tiller went all sloppy – now then, when your tiller goes all sloppy it generally means it’s no longer connect to the rudder! Mine was no longer connected to the rudder which means the boat would no longer go where I wanted it to! Now for those readers that don’t know much about boats – they don’t stop like a car – no brakes! You throw the engine in reverse and slowly its forward momentum comes to a stop – while this is happening to me – the couple of feet either side of me in the tunnel is not much help and the boat banged into the side. It did stop and thankfully Mitch rushed back through the boat and after a few minutes he was able to twist and tighten, hammer and bash the holding nuts back down and we got under way. All the time watching the headlight of the boat behind us getting ever closer and knowing that Justin’s very expensive kayak would take any impact! Squeaky bum time I have to say!


N.b. the situation in this tunnel is that should you have a breakdown you sound your horn a set number of times which is acknowledged by the tunnel keepers and then you use a pole to push yourself out. If then you are not out they call the fire brigade who send a dingy in to the rescue.


Whilst being extremely nervous we did get out, the boat behind had realised that we had had a problem and held back. But, once out the end I discovered that I had what will prove to be a skilful paint filling job to do (and an expensive one I suspect!). To make matters worse the weather at the southern end had turned monsoon like – it was emptying down and stayed so until we met up with our next boat and crew Hillary and Howard at the Toby Inn at Festival Park in Stoke on Trent. Having said that the carvery in there was spot on, very reasonable and the amber nectar went down very well that night I can assure you!


I was also very pleased that Mitch, who had come up from Australia for just a week to support Justin who he hadn’t seen for years, had managed to have a good day sailing Elysium. For a man who seemed to have done pretty much all he could in terms of adventure it was nice to provide him with something new to tell about round the billabong or whatever these Aussies tell tales round!


We kept to schedule but a tough day for everyone – I aged a bit I can tell you, but was proud of the fact that I had walked about 8 miles and did 28 locks on my own pretty much – and helped people going the other way while I was doing it.  I couldn’t have done that six months ago to save my life so my new, fitter me is paying off!