Jim from Gemini checked with the Wilson lock via phone and the word was that he was putting a barge through and then when the lock was back down we were next. We decided to leave at 0830 to travel the three miles to the lock. When we (Gemini, Sadie Too and Sea To See) arrived the lock doors were closed so we tied up to the auxiliary lock approach wall and waited. We ended up waiting about two hours before the lock was turned around and we were allowed to enter. The lock master had said to go either to the very front or take the bollard just inside the doors as the turbulence was substantial in the middle. Gemini took the front bollard on the starboard side and Sadie Too took the back bollard on that side. This meant we went to port and took the back bollard as there were only the three boats. Once inside the lock we saw what was meant by the turbulence. The water did boil in the center.
When we left the lock Sadie Too told us to take the lead as we were the slow boat and they would match their speed to ours. It was a 15 mile run to the Wheeler lock. When we arrived we could see there was a 4 x 3 tow nosed into the lock approach so knew we would have to wait for it to transit before it would be our turn. The lock had just started up with another load so we ended up waiting two and a half hours before we could go through. By then three other boats had arrived.
When it was out turn to lock Gemini again went to the forward bollard on the starboard side and Sadie Too went to the forward bollard on the port side. This left me with a decision to either go to the next bollard back on either side or to take the first bollard as we entered the lock. With the three boats behind us I didn’t feel it was right for me to take the first bollard and make the other boats go around us so we proceeded to the second bollard on the starboard side. This was still forward of the middle of the lock so I was hoping this would be out of the strong turbulence.
There is some danger in tying off to a bollard in case something should get hung up and you would be left being pulled under as the water rose. Remember, you are just a tiny thing down in these big locks. There is a question in my mind as to how carefully the lockmaster is watching the proceedings in the locks. You usually do not see any sign of humanity at the top of the lock walls and I have never seen cameras though it is possible there are some. In any case, when locking it seems you are on your own in these big locks so must deal with the needs of your own boat.
We put a fore and an aft line around the bollard that was near the center of the starboard beam. We then stood by the bollard and held both lines firmly to hold the boat in alignment with the wall but loose enough so the fenders could rise on the wall without scraping too much. The lock doors were closed and the water began to come in. It became immediately apparent that it was going to be very difficult to hold the boat against the wall as the water was coming in right beneath us and boiling up the wall and then out toward the center of the chamber. We both held on with everything we had but were not able to prevent the boat from being pushed from the wall. I held onto both lines while Vicki ran around the boat deck, into the cabin and used the bow thruster at the helm to assist in holding the boat. This worked to a degree but we still couldn’t pull the boat back against the wall. The bow moved perhaps 15 feet away from the wall while the stern was about 10 feet away. I finally lost the forward line overboard as I could not hold it any longer. A delima. Now with only the stern line on it was inevitable that the bow would continue on it’s journey away from the wall and then we would be basically free floating in a contained area with little control over where the boat went. I quickly tied the stern line off to the rear cleat, ran to the helm station and put the boat in forward gear turning the helm full starboard rudder. Then increasing the engine speed we were able to spring forward against the stern line and steer toward the wall holding us in place. Thankfully this worked. We continued doing this for the full 53 foot rise in elevation. After around 150 locking experiences this was certainly our worst. Henceforth, in locks this size, we will tie off firmly to the bollard and just keep a sharp knife handy should anything get hung up.
A short run after the lock put us in First Creek and Joe Wheeler State Park. We continued past the park marina to the south fork at the head of the bay. We anchored in about seven feet of water with a 7:1 scope and the anchor set very well. After taking 7.5 hours to travel only 22.4 miles we were ready to relax, enjoy our solitude (we were all alone in the bay) and enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening.