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Riddle Me This

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Who said 'riddle me this?' The Riddler in Batman of course. I don't have a riddle as such, it's more of a daft question. I do like a daft question because they often aren't daft at all. So, here it is, what's this?

Well of course it's the thingy that lifts paddles in locks that let's water in and out. But my daft question really is, what's it's name? No rush, take your time.

While you're thinking I've got a confession. I'm a seafarer, a sailor, there I've said it. 200 years ago that would have been something you would have kept quiet about on the canal.  There was no love loss between sailors and canal folk, indeed even today some of my sailing friends describe a powered boat without sails as the dark side. But there it is, my life has moved on and become more intrinsically linked to canals. I love it, however it does feel a bit like changing code from Rugby League to Rugby Union.

Of course lots of things are the same on the canal and lots of terminology is transferrable, but terminology does make things interesting.

Lots of boat words are the same. The front is the bow, the back is the stern, left is port and right is starboard, assuming you're looking towards the bow of course. But there in lies the first difference between sea and canal, I don't hear people saying port and starboard on the canal whereas at sea you use it all the time. For example on the canal you're told to keep to the right when passing another boat. On a yacht you'd be told to pass it port to port. Lots of other things are the same though, the thing you steer with is the tiller, the thing it attaches to is the rudder, the thing to control the engine is the morse control.

Then there are things that might be the same but I'm not sure. Words that are commonly used on a yacht but either are not used on a narrowboat or are just different. Are the steps that go down below the companionway or just the steps? In fact do they go down below or just go inside? Is the roof of the narrowboat a coachroof or just a roof or something else? Do you call the toilet the heads, the kitchen the galley, the lounge the salon and the bit at the back where the tiller is a cockpit? Then there's the foredeck which I think is a cratch but frankly I wouldn't dare mention it.

Now back to the thingy you use to lift lock paddles. Vendors seem to cover all bases often calling it a Lock Key Windlass, whatever you search for you'll find it! Using canal lock key as terminology could be problematic as some canal locks have locks that need keys (I think they're called CRT or British Waterways facility keys), easy to see how this could lead to confusion. Nonetheless in the children's TV program Jo Jo and Gran Gran, which I'd heartily recommend and you'll find on iplayer, in which CRT is listed as an advisor, the thing used to raise paddles in a lock is called a lock key.

So is it just a Windlass, which in my limited experience lots of people use? A Windlass from the old norse word 'vindas' is an apparatus used to lift heavy objects. Indeed every yacht and ship has an anchor windlass used to lift the anchor, here's two examples.

I think we can safely agree that the thingy we use to lift gate paddles is patently not a windlass, although I do wonder if it was once called a windlass handle and the handle got lost, so to speak.

So my conclusion is that despite all of this, to save confusion and ambiguity, I think I will call it a windlass. However there will always be a little sailing pedant in my head that will be screaming IT'S NOT A WINDLASS every time I say it.

I thought I'd end with a photography diversion, which as you'll see from my web site is another interest myself and my wife Ellison share. I cycle by the canal a fair bit and usually carry a camera which led me to think about what makes good picture on the canal? Clearly the subject, but what often makes pictures stand out is the right kind of light. Bright overhead summer sunshine, which is harsh and shadowless, makes pictures flat. Look for 'side light', the sun lower in the sky to create shadows and contrast which adds depth and interest. Look for a still day when there are reflections in the water. Look for what I call Simpson skies (like at the start of the TV program), with fluffy clouds in amongst the blue. And don't forget canals look great in black and white so if the colour in a picture adds nothing or distracts, get rid of it (easy to do with your phone as well as a fancy camera).

Yesterday on the bike I stopped to take a couple of piccies, they're not the best canal pictures ever but maybe give you an idea.

More soon.

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29. Aug. 2023

No one on the canals uses nautical terms because the original boatmen, mostly farmers, didn't know any.

The use of any nautical term like port or starboard is also frowned on. Words like rudder and tiller (ellum) are used because they are correct. The boats don't have a head end either.

However there are a lot of 'Eric Sykes' characters about diluting the language, which is annoying.

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