Update for Week 8 - posted Apr. 30
This week Julie and Colin have been travelling on the Oxford Canal and Thames River, both of which are important transportation corridors. The water levels here are closely managed using weirs—a type of dam—and locks. In order to travel the canals boats need to travel through the locks.
Locks are built on a short section of the canal—about twice the length of a classroom—that is closed off by two sets of doors. The water level before and after the lock differs in height (due to elevation changes of the land) and the water in the lock can be raised or lowered. This allows boats to smoothly travel between areas of the canal that differ in height.
Since Julie and Colin are travelling downstream on the Thames, each lock lowers them between one to three metres. Some of the locks are opened and closed by lock keepers but many are self operated.
Before Julie and Colin can enter a lock, the water level needs to be raised to their level (if they were travelling upstream the water would need to be lowered). They do this by closing the downstream sluices, which are gates that cover an opening in the door and allow water to flow through. Then they open the upstream sluices and water flows into the lock. When the water in the lock reaches their height, they open the gates and row or pull the boats into the lock. They then close the gates and the upstream sluices. Now the water in the lock needs to be lowered. This is done by opening the downstream sluices. The water in the lock drops until reaching the level of the downstream water. Then the gates are opened and Julie and Colin continue rowing on the canal, at least until reaching the next lock several kilometres away.
After the English canals are navigated, Julie and Colin will attempt to row across the English Channel to France. For safety reasons and due to French regulations, they need to be accompanied by a support boat. Last week we asked you what would be the best way to find such a vessel, and 71% of you said contacting the harbour master in Dover would be the best approach.
Question for Week 8 - posted Apr. 30
It is extremely important to pick the best weather window for the row across the Channel. Julie and Colin want to ensure both a safe and speedy crossing.
What conditions should they strive for? 1) little breeze and placid waters, 2) moderate winds from the northeast to help push them.
54% of you voted for calm conditions and those conditions would have been best, but on the day of the row the winds were from the ENE at about 10-15 km/hr. Because of the way the current was flowing and because the winds were quite easterly they slowed down the rowing and created choppy waters.
Question for Week 7 - posted Apr. 23
Shortly Julie and Colin will reach the English Channel, a 30 km strait separating Britain from continental Europe. Because of the dangers with shipping, weather and currents, French rules stipulate that human-powered craft must be accompanied by a support vessel if they are crossing the Channel into France.
How should Julie and Colin go about finding a support vessel to hire.
A) Put a sign on the notice board in Dover Marina.
B) Walk the docks chatting with fishermen.
C) Make inquiries with the harbourmaster.
71% of you voted to find a support boat by contacting the harbour master in Dover.
Update for Week 7 - posted Apr. 23
The canals of England were created as a means of transporting heavy goods inland throughout Britain. Before the existence of these waterways supplies were transported along rough roads by horse cart, a somewhat limited process. Natural waterways such as lakes and rivers were sometimes used, and eventually someone came up with the concept of creating artificial waterways to reach towns only accessible by horse cart.
Steam engines didn’t exist in the days of the early canals, and laden barges were hauled through the waterways using teams of horses pulling from the banks. Eventually, with the advent of steam locomotion, usage of the canal systems began to diminish. It was much quicker to move goods by rail rather than the slow process of travelling through the canals and locks.
The British canal system, which would have cost billions in today’s currency to create, fell into a state of disrepair and was all but forgotten. In recent decades, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in the waterways for recreational purposes, and the British government has restored many of these beautiful canals. Now the inland waterways are alive again with brightly-painted live-aboard canal boats put-putting leisurely across the land.
It is beside the Oxford Canal where Julie and Colin are currently located. The placid waters and varied scenery are ideal for rowing, and they will follow this narrow canal down to the Thames River and on to London.
Question for Week 6 - posted Apr. 16
Julie and Colin prepare physically for the expedition by eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise. While undertaking their journey continued exercise is inevitable, but it is more difficult to maintain a balanced diet. Their food has been lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables due to weight restrictions. Should they increase their fresh produce supplies at the risk of overtaxing their equipment and muscles, or continue to pack light.
VOTE: 75% of you voted to continue travelling light with a reduced diet of fruits and vegetables.
Update for Week 6 - posted Apr. 16
England’s river estuaries are surprisingly dangerous. Some of the rivers have tidal waves, or river bores, which surge through the otherwise placid waters during spring tides. An even greater, yet less dramatic, danger is the mud lining the river.
Thousands of years of silt deposits have created thick, sucking mud capable of incapacitating animals or people and holding them vulnerable to the incoming tide. All this mud, however, makes for wonderfully rich soil, and hundreds of years ago the British significantly altered the tidal marshes to make it suitable for farming. Great dikes were built and the land drained, making it conducive to growing crops and raising livestock. Thousands of acres of land that used to be flooded twice daily with the tides is now decorated with farms, villages and towns.
Julie and Colin are currently in the town of Goole, a community situated in an area that was once tidal marsh at the mouth of the Ouse River. Disembarking from the river was an enormous challenge as Julie and Colin struggled in the muddy goo to haul their rowboats over the dikes and into Goole.
Goole is a busy port town with an economy based around agriculture, shipping and electrical generation. Soon Colin and Julie will be continuing through the canals leading into the Thames River and into London. Our student question last week presented the dilemma of rowing the Grand Union Canal (which goes through a three-km tunnel) or the Oxford Canal which is slightly longer. The final vote(83%) favoured the Oxford Canal so Julie and Colin will take this route into London.
Question for Week 5 - posted Apr. 7
As Julie and Colin approach London they have a choice of two canals to follow – the Grand Union Canal or the Oxford Canal. The Grand Union is shorter, but it goes through 3-km tunnel which will require portaging over a hill (human powered craft aren’t allowed through the tunnel). Which canal should the team travel down?
Update for Week 5 - posted Apr. 7
The group decision for our question last week was that we should brave the quicksand and row across the Solway Firth separating Scotland and England. We followed that advice and departed from the Scottish coast near the town of Dumfries. It was important to make the crossing near high slack tide to avoid tide induced currents and the broad mud flats exposed at low water. It is in these tidal flats that the shifting quick sands are situated.
Residual currents and opposing winds created turbulent waters, but we avoided any quicksand by completing the crossing before low tide. We arrived in Scotland near the start of Hadrian’s Wall, a stone barricade constructed by the Romans almost 2000 years ago to keep the inhabitants of Scotland out of England.