Annual Spring jaunt between Lea R.C. and Broxbourne R.C.
The annual trip up the Lee Navigation (spelling differentiated from the natural banks of the River Lea to its east) between the Lea Rowing Club and Broxbourne for the Recreational Squad has become a tradition over the past few years, with one club rowing in one direction on the Saturday and the visiting club rowing the boats back home for them the next day.
The Lee Navigation is 27.5 miles and 21 locks, and the row between Lea R.C. and Broxbourne RC covers 10 locks and 12 miles. It can take 5 to +7 hours depending on lock timing – being unlucky and having to give right of way to downstream traffic can add a couple of hours.
This year it was Lea R.C.’s turn to row up to Broxbourne, going upstream it’s between locks number 17 to 8 – and we took off earlier than planned as it was forecast to be a hot, sunny day. The forecast was right as it was a gorgeous 26 degrees so we were well prepared with sunscreen and water. Two coxed quads set off at 9.45am with a lock support team of 4 on bicycles, led by the glorious choral talents of Piers Johnson. It was a lovely touch to receive bon voyage messages from some of the racing squads on Yammer and the rowers prior to setting off.
For a lock debutante, rowing through them for the first time can be a little hairy. There is good reason as sometimes the inflowing water through the sluice gate can swirl you around a little, and using the blades to hold the boats central isn’t an easy task when that happens. There is also a good reason to stay away from the sill and the lock gate, not just when going downstream, but upstream too as we soon discovered when the bow of the boat got caught in a recess in the opening gate at the second lock called Alfie’s (formerly Pickett’s) Lock and could well have sheared off if we hadn’t stopped and reclosed the gates again so our bankside support team could tug on the rope and free the trapped bow. However once we went through a couple of locks everyone relaxed and we could then enjoy the break from the rowing, and a chance for the cox to practice more deft manoeuvering skills both with the rowers and the paddle.
Engine Not Firing On All Cylinders
There is a lot of river between the first three locks, and on such a hot day one of our boats lost a sculler to leg cramp, thankfully being in a sculling boat we were able to drive on three out of four ‘cylinders’ until our lunch spot without too much of a problem, where we were able to swap out for a fresh legged cyclist.
Wade to Lunch
At around noon we went through our third lock; Ponder’s End Lock, and just after that stopped at the Navigation pub in Enfield, which is a huge pub with a gorgeous garden. The problem is, it’s not the easiest place to get out of the boats and the water level was low, so we had to moor in the reeds, with the second boat double parking and captain Piers wading in to stabilize the boats whilst the second crew clambered up and over both boats. It took a while – and even longer to re-embark after lunch!
Changing Cox ‘En Bateau’
There aren’t many other places to switch coxes or cyclists into boats, so we decided to make a cox – rower switch ‘en bateau’, and after some debate felt the safest place was when in one of the narrow locks, so Chris (pos 2) and Claire (cox) went for the glamorous manoeuvre of steadily stepping along the deck and straddling two blushing crew members, much to the entertainment of onlookers.
Flora, Fauna, and Bankside Banter
We had a highly pleasurable row onward to Broxbourne, admiring the flora and fauna, fluffy chicks and cygnets, and ‘enjoying’ the ‘unique’ banter with the bankside strollers, anglers, lock helpers and drunken pleasure boat day-trippers. One particular highlight being a comedic Irish octogenarian who delighted at telling us about his heart operation and subsequent new lease of life as he jogged alongside the boat, politely declining our apparent (to him anyway) ‘advances’ because he wasn’t on the market – we had a faint recollection of an identical encounter two years previous!
Broxbourne and Beer
Aside from the perils of disembarking for lunch and changing positions on the water, we had a comparatively drama-less time… until we approached Nazeing, where it became a gauntlet run between the narrow, rowing electric boats and pedalos on day hire from the Lee Valley Boating Centre, that milled directionless around the wider waterway. Much caution and friendly but firm communication was required as we had a pub to get to!
After 6.45 hours rowing inclusive of a 45 minute lunch stop, we arrived sunkissed at Broxbourne RC, to Broxbourne RC’s chief, Chris, and a few friends and family members who had patiently waited to meet us off the water. We quickly got the boats off the water, cleaned and in the sheds then headed for a desperately needed and hard earned cold beer at the lovely riverside gardens of the Crown Pub just round the corner from the Rowing Club.
Cheers to everyone involved especially to Piers who led us brilliantly throughout the day!
Lea R.C. > 17: Tottenham Lock > 16: Stonebridge Lock > 15: Alfie’s (formerly Picketts) Lock > 14: Ponders End Lock > 13: Enfield Lock > 12: Rammey Marsh > 11: Waltham Town Lock > 10: Waltham Common Lock > 9: Cheshunt Lock > 8: Aqueduct Lock > Broxbourne R.C.
Source and further information: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-network/lee-navigation
Ashley Kelly and Ally Branley, Lea Rowing Club Recreational Squad June 2019