Getting my Yarmouth-23 safely through 200 locks!

Gianluca - Trusty crew

Gianluca - crew

Technique, Tips and Tricks

  • You can never have enough fenders (and I’m not taking about guitars Gianluca!) I used five a side and one bent around the bowsprit. I would have liked to have more.
  • I carried four good warps at least 15m long (one for each quarter), plus two boat hooks.
  • I always secured both bow and stern within locks and kept the engine on idle, tiller lashed.
  • For locks without floating bollards, I’d motor up to the access ladder and my crew would use a warp off the Samson-post to hold fast. Moving quickly I’d carry the stern line up the ladder with me and loop it around whatever passed for an attachment point before making a better arrangement for the bow, activating the lock, and returning to help haul on the ends.
French Lock-keeper!

French Lock-keeper!

  • Managing locks is rarely a one-man job, especially when ascending. Descending was easier, and if necessary I’m sure I could handle it alone, but for insurance purposes and relief from boredom, I always invited additional crew.
  • The real danger for descents is if a rope gets caught. This happened once but in a desperate rush I managed to work the line free without resorting to my trusty bread knife.
  • There are still numerous manually operated locks and inexperienced students often man them (woman them in many cases, much to the delight of my male crew) during the summer months. At these locks I found it was always best to follow your own routine despite offers of assistance.
  • For planning purposes, if all goes well, consider that it takes on average 15 minutes to cycle through a lock.

French Lock

French Lock


I did most of my travel through the Belgian and French canals on weekends. As the commuting distances grew I used my holidays to have three-day weekends. On a Friday night after work I would drive to my boat, sleep on board, and spend the rest of the weekend cruising. Passage times of 12 hours a day were not uncommon but I probably risked mutiny on more than one occasion. 🙂  On the last day I’d search for an appropriate location to leave the boat and train, bus, taxi, or hitchhike back to my car to drive home.

Overall, this method worked, but it wasn’t always easy. Some stops were poorly serviced by public transport and the cost of driving back and forth could easily be prohibitive.  Mind you  it was amusing, especially when sitting on a train watching all I had passed with the boat (over a period of three days) go by in reverse order in a matter of hours.