The lack of the ability to side tow into the locks slowed us down yesterday for more than one reason. As we approached each lock, we needed to unrope Aegir from our port side and transfer the towing ropes to our back cants. I mentioned earlier that Heidi was not much use for this, so I would go forward and untie the rope on our bows and hand it to Peter who untied it from his front cant. I'd then make my way down our gunwales and do the same with the centre rope. Then I'd head for our stern where MWNN handed me the tiller while he attached two tow ropes to our stern cants. MWNN are interchangeable when it comes to handling the boat or ropes, poor Peter had to do everything himself. The only time he asked Heidi to do anything was when he climbed the lock ladder and expected her to pass him a rope with which to stop the boat from hitting our stern as we entered each lock. She was not always successful first time so it was imperative that we did not engage reverse at any time until Peter had their boat under control.
Entering the locks was tricky. Once we were roped up to front tow them in, I needed to keep our boat engine on tickover, with no forward propulsion, to give us just enough momentum to pull them into the lock without fear that Peter wouldn't be able to grab the ladder to climb it. Too slow and Aegir wouldn't reach the ladder, too fast and we'd have to go into reverse to prevent us hitting the front gates. Bringing a narrowboat to a stop without using reverse because the boat behind has no engine to get her out of the way, is a tricky manoeuvre. Add to that the fact that The Swine wasn't going to help either of us because I'd had the cheek to argue with him the previous day and we had a hard time just getting roped off in the locks. The Swine had even pulled the (automatic) lock mechanism in the first lock of the day and set it in motion before MWNN had time to rope off on the stern, causing us to swing violently across the lock and bounce off the opposite side. Peter did his best but, after crossing my front line on the lock bollard in two locks (lethal to a narrowboat, it causes a compression knot on the rope at the bollard which, when the boat's cant is higher than the lock's bollard, causes the boat to heel sideways. In the case of the bowline becoming compressed, the bows take in water through the scuppers (front deck's draining holes). For the last 5 locks, I decided to climb the ladder at the front of the lock with my bow line and do my own rope from the lockside. Peter had enough to do with his own boat and, unbeknown to us, at lock no. 3, the bandaid to Aegir's seals started to fail and she began taking in water. Peter had to man the pumps and manage his boat with Heidi's (inept) aid.
Having brought the boat into each lock on tickover, with MWNN holding the tow ropes to keep them out of our prop as the boats got closer and the lines slackened, I made my way through the boat to the bows (unwritten rule for narrowboaters - never use the gunwales in locks). I'd climb the ladder holding the bow line, aware all the time that 13 tons of steel were still moving towards the front gates and I needed to be at the top of the ill-maintained ladder and braced round a bollard to stop the boat. Then a quick couple of turns of rope to hold steady while MWNN threw his stern rope for me to pass round a bollard as far back in the lock as possible and back to him. Poor MWNN had too many jobs to do - handling our stern rope, the tiller and Aegir's towropes, because Heidi couldn't cope with her own rope and receive the towropes in time. However, after the violence of the first lock of the day, at least we were prepared and, having given The Swine a venomous glare and a blast of Anglo Saxon profanity for hitting the start button before we were all safely roped off in the first lock, he waited until I gave him the nod before setting the remaining locks in motion.
The final lock was the most violent of the lot and The Swine warned me to tie my rope off good and tight. I wasn't going to explain the problems of compression knots to him, so I just nodded. He burbled on, as I hauled and struggled against the force of water crashing over the bows, to ask if we were going into the boatyard (he's dense as well as a Swine?). Again I nodded. Next question - 'How long would we be there?' (This is an obsession with French lock-keepers. They've no sooner finished with you for the day than they want to know where you'll be going next, and when, and at what time.) I was going to tirade but decided against it, I'm too tired, so I just said I didn't understand. The Swine didn't notice anything strange about someone with whom he'd had a lengthy argument, in French, the day before, suddenly not understanding the simple question 'How long?'
Three hours, 6 locks and 8km from our take-off at 9am and we drove into the boatyard at Montchanin in the downpour that had struck just as we entered the final lock. We were waved to moor alongside a fellow Nene narrowboat, Hermes. Once the Aegir had been roped off us and was safely in the hands of Jeff, we lunched on soup and bake yer own bread and fell asleep until almost 3pm.
MWNN was gobsmacked to hear, later, that no-one in the yard knew that it was us who had affected the rescue. The other boaters had heard about the near-sinking and the big tow that had been going on during the past two days but were surprised to hear that we had been the rescuers. I'm feeling a tad miffed about that. Liam, from Vrijheid had only been half-joking while helping rope us together at Montceau. He handed me the bow line with the words 'I should think that Jeff owes you about 10 years free mooring and repairs for this'. My response was a very Gallic 'Humph' + *shrug*.
Poor Heidi arrived later this afternoon clutching a half-used box of vanilla tea bags in thanks for our efforts. She knows I can't drink wine and this is her favourite tea - all she had aboard with which to express her thanks. I didn't have the heart to tell her I hate herbal teas.
Final Part of the Saga tomorrow and the preparations for heading home.