A trip down the canal

After spending several days in Durham, I ventured south to see at least a bit more of the country. As a base of operations, we used Braunston, a tiny town on a canal where my friend Rob’s father lives on a canal boat. After a few days of sightseeing nearby, it was time to take the boat out for a quick jaunt down the canal.

Since the Erie Canal features heavily in all the local history that was taught in Rochester, I felt like I knew at least a bit about canals. With the Erie Canal song running through my head (“From Albany to Buffalo-o-o!”) I reviewed my mediocre knowledge of locks and while I didn’t come up with much I did at least know that they existed. However, when faced with my first lock it quickly became clear that I had no idea how a person actually operates one. Nevertheless, I gamely took a wrench for spinning the paddle and stepped off the boat and back onto land in order to at least help with the lock.

When I got there, it turned out that there were another two boats already in the lock so we had to wait our turn. I stood by the lock with two women from the other boats and offered them a smile. While we waited for the lock to fill, one of the women walked further off down the canal while the other turned to me and started making conversation. She quickly discovered my foreignness with a well-placed, “Are you from around here?” and then began to tell me about her own adventures on canal boats (she’d only been living on one for about a year).

We waited for the boats to make their way out of the lock and then she asked if I could handle it on my own. “I don’t know,” I said eloquently. At that, she took care of the paddle herself before instructing me to push the arm of the lock’s gate that was on our side closed again. Dutifully, I did so, with little trouble.

Opening the gate again proved to be much more difficult. I’m either very weak or very lacking in body weight (or maybe both), since try as I might I couldn’t get the gate to move at all. On top of that, I wasn’t very good at opening and closing the paddles either. Using the longer of the two wrenches helped a little, but I mainly ended up looking on in envy as Rob ratcheted a paddle up with ease while I painstakingly moved it up one tooth at a time.

Finally, though, it was time for me to try my hand at steering. Since this did not rely on upper body strength, I was actually did reasonably well. I even managed to navigate a slight curve in the canal without running into any other boats. Of course, all the fancy maneuvering and backing up is still very beyond me—when we needed to turn into the marina I gratefully stepped away from the tiller.

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