Well, I'm back home after a very enjoyable 2 weeks away with many great experiences. The weather was not too kind but it was great to get away. I have written a full account of the trip which I have pasted below but I have to warn you - only begin if you want a long read! I have included 3 pictures. The top 2 are general scenes of Tixell wide and Ravenshaw Wood and the bottom one shows the very clever fishermen who had found a fantastic spot and who I managed to totally squash as you will discover if you read on!!
One man and his dog!
What makes a boater? As you cruise up and down our waterways, one of the attractions of boating itself is the diversity of the people you meet, newbies, oldies, know-it-alls, know-nothings – all brought together by the one thing they have in common – boating. What follows are the experiences of one such ‘diverse’ boater and his first single handed trip together with the obligatory boaters dog, in this case, Simba the Border Collie cross German Shepherd. I don’t profess to fall neatly into any of the categories above, having hired boats as far back as 1979 and subsequently owning my own 55 foot boat for the past 4 years, I consider myself neither a newbie or an oldie.
The journey itself wasn’t a note worthy trip; it was neither particularly adventurous nor was it long, in fact is was a ‘there and back’ affair, much of which I had covered with a crew member many times before, however the experiences gained from it together with the observations of my surroundings and those with whom I shared the waterways, made it a most fascinating trip.
The trip began on Friday 7th April 2006. An Easter ‘get-away’, an idea shared by many other people at roughly the same time. It was the evening when I began the cruise down the Ashby canal from NB Khayamanzi’s home moorings at Hinckley. Full of anticipation of the adventures ahead, I hardly noticed, nor cared about the rain lashing down in my face and the wind hitting hard on the side of the boat forcing an almost permanent crab-like position as I wound my way down this beautiful canal.
The following day, the fun really began! For the first few hours, I played a seemingly endless game of ‘dodge the debris’. Trawling my way through Nuneaton along the ‘Coventry Canal Corridor’ I found myself again adopting the familiar ‘crab’ position. Not the wind this time, although that was increasing, more to avoid steering over floating dustbins, large metal containers with dubious looking ‘Haz-Chem’ signs on them, not to mention the occasional passing door complete with frame and letterbox! On two occasions I found the boat labouring and, realizing that something had ensnared the blades, was forced to make an impromptu halt to investigate. One of these temporary pauses revealed a fertilizer bag wound tightly round the prop shaft and on the second, I managed to extricate an entire pair of trousers, fortunately the legs that once inhabited them were probably pressing down hard on the accelerator pedal of that noisy moped screeching past me along the towpath, although I did have to check myself momentarily from wishing that the said leg had still been in the trousers at the point they introduced themselves to my propeller in order to put a permanent end to the vandalism I was witnessing to both towpath surface and noise levels.
Transcending the Atherstone flight, was relatively smooth as few other boats were around. For the top three locks, I discovered that a previous boater had left all the bottom paddles half open and so had to shut these before the water levels would equalize enough to open the gates and allow me in. By the time I reached the fifth or sixth locks the wind was blowing increasingly hard and the rain was now interspersed with heavy hail stones. On the lock waiting area just below two of the closest locks, I encountered a couple of very serious fishermen. Well, I say ‘I encountered them’, truth be told, my boat had already met them long before I realized they were even there. Standard procedure on closing the double bottom gates was to bring the boat to a stand-still in the exit chamber and use the pole to push the balance beams hard enough for them to swing shut with a satisfying ‘thud’. At this particular incident, moments before I heard the satisfying ‘thud’ the air was pierced with a profusion of somewhat dissatisfied, and certainly un-repeatable, profanities! It turned out that a sudden gust of wind had blown my fore-end across and completely demolished much of their very expensive, and no doubt, carbon fibre what’s-it-called, equipment. I apologised and explained the meaning of those strange little black bollards with nicely white painted tops, together with the finer science of the affects of wind on a large boat but to be honest, I don’t think they were really in the mood for listening!
Many of the following days were somewhat un-eventful by comparison. Except for frequent and hastily moored stops to allow overhead hail storms to pass by, or indeed on one occasion a full on snow storm, (can I apologise to anyone who saw the way my boat was moored at the top of Glascote locks,) there was little of interest to note in the ‘ships log’. I managed to negotiate the little swing bridge at Fradley and make the turn with no problems, there were very few boats about and even fewer ‘gongoozlers’ which meant, inevitably, that I executed the most perfect manoeuvres ever with no-one around to see and be impressed.
I managed to get a very pleasant mooring at Tixell, right on the broad water; an early arrival guaranteeing the good position for the night and I was well on the way to my final destination of the Shropshire Union – it was also well on the way to the Easter weekend and the traffic volume was beginning to reflect that!
My constant companions – the wind and rain, remained faithfully by my side for much of the Staffs and Worcester canal and on to the Shroppie at Autherly Junction, or rather, more frequently ramming into my side; often as I tried to moor or negotiate a tricky manoeuvre. The pleasant wooded cuttings gave welcome shelter for me as well as allowing me to enjoy what I consider to be one of the most pretty and interesting canals on the system.
Good Friday, at last, brought sunshine and calm blue skies with fluffy clouds, but this, in turn, brought heavy traffic. Metal boats, plastic boats, fibre glass boats, wooden boats and boats of undetermined and somewhat intriguing structures all emerged from seemingly nowhere. Some pootled, others were on a mission, many had screaming children hanging on from grab rails like something you see in the monkey enclosure of the safari park with very anxious grand parents snapping instructions to them. The birds were singing, the daffodils in my roof boxes were fully open and gaining admiring comments from passing boats and walkers alike, Simba was curled up like a little fox on the back deck and the exit of many a lock or the passing under many a bridge triggered a serious of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from little children or their over-enthusiastic parents, and it appeared for one short day as if Spring had finally arrived at last. I turned just after Grub Street Cutting - I had planned a mooring there but my nerves got the better of me after reading various stories of supposed hauntings! A large imposing waterside hotel at a winding hole revealed a lively wedding in progress with the photographer busy lining up the grooms family, upon my approach one of the wedding party, a lady in a white suit and extremely large hat, ran up the photographer, said something to him who promptly turned round, looked at me and hastily re-arranged his group to include the bride and groom. The suited and hatted lady then ran to the waters edge and flapped her hand at me with the hat wobbling somewhat precariously, it was clear they wanted me to slow down and to use the boat as a back drop for a photograph. I pulled the engine hard astern to oblige but the sound of the engine racing sent the wrong message and she screamed more feverishly at me to slow down with the hat, by this time, almost off her head completely. Eventually, after much laughing and jollity, the picture was taken and I was free to continue my journey.
Back on the broad water at Tixell, ‘first mate’ Simba found some children on the boat behind to play with while I took the opportunity of buying and fitting a replacement front fender from the beautiful working pair moored up at the end of the line – a relaxing day. A few days later found me moored at a water point with hosepipe unreeled and dutifully filling my tank when a hire boat came shooting round the corner. Both the gentleman on the helm and his female companion appeared in raptured excitement at the site of a water tap and amidst much roaring of engines, clouds of exhaust smoke and heaving on ropes pulled in just in front of me. A larger than life, (in every sense of the phrase,) Israeli gentleman stepped off his boat and came to make conversation. It transpired that he had no idea how to fill his water tank up and had been cruising empty for the last day too scared to tackle this Goliath of a task. I helpfully found his hosepipe, untangled it from the gas cylinders and explained how to approach this mountain, even going so far as showing him where his water filler was by shinning down his gunwales and pointing the correct one out so that he didn’t fill his pump-out tank! He disappeared to the front of the boat to survey the situation before returning, “Umm, I think we have problem,” came his reply, “I think I am too large to walk down that narrow ledge on the side of the boat!” I should have been more aware – it was now clear why such a task had become such a problem, they could only stop at water points on the starboard side of the boat! After some juggling of boats and trying to communicate in pigeon English, I managed to open his filler using my key, (he was sure he ‘did not have one of these things on board’,) flushed his pipe through and began filling his tank. I tried to explain how he would be able to close the filler easily and continue on his journey, where his hosepipe was stored and how he would need to find the spanner to open the filler cap if he wanted any more water on his holiday, I wasn’t sure he took much in but bid him a safe ‘road ahead’ and continued on my way with him now very excited at the prospect of a full water tank. I still have flash-backs to this very day of the gentleman still their at Spode House trying to reach his water filler cap to close it!
The final interest of the trip was the return journey up the Atherstone flight. I remember complaining to myself on the way down that there were no boats around to help me, now I wish I hadn’t! There were many boats and all seemingly coming down. Now, whilst this may sound a good thing, it was not to be so. Battling my way in what I described in the log book as ‘true Atherstone weather’, (yet more rain and more howling wind,) everyone seemed in such a hurry. The boat that started re-setting the lock against me as I was approaching it from the lock below was bad enough but that was followed by the lady who swung the paddles open fully before I had any chance of settling the boat in the chamber, which, in turn was followed by her friend who told me I had better hurry up as there were another three boats behind her all waiting to come down; still no fishermen to squash today.
And so the trip concluded when the engine almost stalled at Marston junction and a roll of black plastic had to be cut from the prop shaft before allowing me to wind my weary way back up the Ashby. On being a single boater I conclude, the expressions towards me varied from vague bemusement to one of deep compassion and sympathy. Many people chatting along the way asked if I was alone and when I replied in the affirmative their response was normally something along the lines of ‘Cor! It must be hard work – I don’t envy you.’ They implied that single boating is a kind of ‘necessary chore’ much along the lines of ironing or sitting in traffic jams on the M1 but I have developed very good systems of working things and things normally work OK for me. So if you encounter one of those diverse types of boater – the ‘single handed’ variety, offer to lend a hand but ALWAYS ask and fit in with their system of doing things and please don’t patronise – they love it; I know one thing for sure, you’ll see me out on my own again in the future……
…....look out fishermen and wedding guests!!