|Sharing a big lock with the commercials|
|A péniche sized lock on the Canal de Roubaix|
Some locks are assisted and others, the large commercial ones, are not. In these, the controllers sit in high towers and all you hear of them is a voice through a loudspeaker...usually when you've done something they don't like. It can be quite unnerving to be barked at on full distortion volume, especially as you generally have no clue what they are barking at you for (did I just mention distortion?).
|A cheerful lock assistant in Ghent|
Locks also come in various heights and with different types of doors. I've been up (or down) everything from about 2,5 metres to 11 metres on this last trip. Most of the locks had two doors each end; some had one that rose up (or down) like a guillotine.
|Close to 11 metres deep|
Then there is the exciting anticipation of wondering what you will have to tie up to. After waiting sometimes more than half an hour to go in, there is plenty of time for me to worry. Every lock on this trip was an adventure and even though I got used to them, it was always with some nervousness that I peered into the yawning openings looking for what I would have to fasten my rope to. For instance, some locks have handy bollards or cleats in the walls. These are easy (relatively) as it's just a question of slipping your rope noose over the one your skipper wants you to take as you slide slowly in. Mind you, I would probably get the prize for missing the easiest bollards more often than even the newest of novices. I am chronically clumsy when it comes to these things.
|Waiting for a commercial lock|
Other locks might only have their bollards at the top on the wall. If you happen to enter an empty basin, this could mean climbing up slithery, slimy ladders to be able to fasten your ropes. Now this is okay when the climb is only a few metres, but I quail when it's more. After all, I'm not as young as I was when I started this barging lark but I'm quite proud of the fact I did it when necessary this time round too. I didn't even complain - not vocally, anyway.
The best locks tend to be the very deep ones that have floating bollards that rise up or descend with the water level. They are my favourites because you can tie up and forget about them - more or less. As long as the floaters actually float, everything works fine, but you need to watch that they do. Apparently, they occasionally get stuck, which might not be fun. In locks without floating bollards, you have to keep an eye on your ropes and either loosen or tighten them as you fall or rise, or even move them to other more convenient points. All this is fine as long as you aren't being buffeted around by the onrush of incoming water or by a commercial's propellor. They are supposed to turn their engines off, but often they don't and the power of their props can cause some very uncomfortable bashing around.
|Deep locks with floating bollards are my favourites, especially|
if we are alone!
With this system, if you are going up, you cling onto your ropes for dear life as all hell breaks loose when the water rushes in - well that's how it seems to me; Koos is much more relaxed about all the swinging around. Going down is a more gentle affair. Once the process is complete, the gates open and off you go.
|Some smaller locks are uncomfortable when the water|
|Lock on the Canal de Saint Quentin operated by remote control|
It all worked very well most of the time and we really liked these locks. I say most of the time, because on a couple of occasions, the remote didn't work and we had to wait while a waterways volunteer came and figured out what was wrong. We weren't in a hurry, though, so it didn't really matter. The lack of pressure was very nice when we were in control, and when we weren't, there was no pressure from anyone else, so we had time anyway.
|A do-it-yourself remote controlled lock on the Canal de Saint Quentin|
So there you have it. A summary of locks I have known. Now I bet that was totally fascinating, wasn't it?