Friday, 12 August 2016

Of Nearaway Places - My June Adventure

Setting out on my first epic adventure
I like to see new places. Mostly that has not been possible by boat because of the years of engine problems. Back in June, and during the three months I didn't add anything to this blog, I had a little adventure and took the boat to give my books to the accountant. It's a good 6 or 7 hour run from my home mooring although only about 25 minutes in the van. I prefer the long version. 

The journey was long enough to test out the bread-making clout of the inverter

The journey also gave me the opportunity to negotiate solo my first lock. I have been through many locks over the past decades, but never one completely by myself. Unlike the great lock fiasco of April 2015, I had the proper keys with me for both entering the compound and for operating the penstocks (a Fenland term for the paddles). Everything I have read about going through locks reinforces the "slow and steady" rule. Problems are far more likely to occur when the user is in a hurry. Sadly, there have been several incidents in recent weeks of boats sinking in locks including at least a couple of fatalities.  It was good to be able to go through the whole procedure without being under pressure. There were no gongoozlers to watch me make a pig's ear of it and no one around to offer physical assistance or unhelpful advice. I have often offered help to solo boaters negotiating locks and I may have to think again about doing it. Recent discussion on a narrowboating web forum concluded that offers of help should be refused. The reasoning behind this was in response to one of the fatal incidents. One never knows the extent to which the well-meaning helper understands the dangers of, for example, filling the lock too quickly. I have seen boats take on water when the penstocks are opened too vigorously. Even at a modest depth the water is under great pressure and can flood over the bow and down inside the boat. At the very least it can make a nasty mess that takes a lot of mopping. At worst such an event can be fatal. I am concerned when I see boat hirers, out for a jolly time in one of the day boats, sit a child on the front of the boat as they go through the lock. The child may be wearing a life jacket, but should they fall or be washed into the water they are still in a limited space with an uncontrolled boat weighing many tons dancing about in the water for company. A crushing injury is but one possible horror. To me the thing to do should something so awful happen would be to lower the penstock and stop the flow of water, but we don't always manage to think logically under stress. As to what one should do if the victim actually goes under the water ... I dread to think of possible outcomes. But, thankfully, there were no horrible emergencies this time. Slow and steady won the day. I am pretty sure no one could have been slower. By lock standards this one was tiny, but it took me an hour from first mooring up below the lock to setting off again at the top end. I think the job would have been done more quickly had someone been waiting to come down, but I would have had nothing like the same sense of satisfaction. That was a good adventure. Less good was arriving at my destination and finding the visitor moorings all taken. I knew from last year that the water is very shallow close to the bank and that running aground was probable. I pulled in as close to the bank as I dared, hurled my three spikes and club hammer on to the bank and leapt into the nettles with the centre line. Once I'd secured the boat I set up a gangplank to make boarding and alighting easier. 
Dressed for the June weather

I stayed overnight and, finishing my business with the accountant, I decided I had time to go home the long way round. This is the journey with which I had planned to treat myself before my daughter called for help at Easter. I had only a couple of days to do the trip, so I would not be able to take my time over it. Naturally the wind had picked up and was blowing pretty hard. I dressed for the occasion and set off anyway. 

I had remodeled my chimney the weekend before I set off. That was when I took the boat up to a neighbouring village to attend one friend's housewarming party and watch some of my daughter's pals play their first gig at the village's annual fĂȘte which this year was going to include a music festival. The journey to the riverside festival site was pretty straightforward. Even turning in the basin was not too troublesome, specially considering my new neighbour's boat was there too. I had a grandstand view of the show and my friend's housewarming was next door. Going back home on the Sunday was a different matter though. I made the false assumption that bridge heights on Saturday stay the same on Sunday. They don't. Someone had left a sluice gate open at the pumping station further along the system and the river's height had risen sufficiently to bend my cast iron chimney as I jammed the boat under the lowest bridge. This was, of course, in full view of festival goers who were presented with hysterical manoeuvres as a bonus to the published programme of events. I wasn't entirely unaware of the possibility, but my reasoning went something like:

* that bridge looks lower today
* don't be stupid, it can't be
* I'm sure I am higher in the water and I am going to hit that bridge
* don't be ridiculous, you got through easily yesterday 
* I'm going to hit that bridge
* it's your kerataconus playing tricks on you
* I'm too close to stop in time
* oh dear, oh dear, oh dear
* better keep going forward because the chimney is now bent and reversing risks snapping the top off completely!

It was all completely rational. It wasn't the sort of accident that happens in slow motion, because I was travelling in slow motion anyway. 

On the way home an overnight stop in the dead centre of a Fenland village
Meanwhile back on the journey home from the accountant I had developed a healthier respect for bridges. By this time I was on a pretty exposed part of the river with a strong tailwind and being pushed towards another bridge at speed.  With my newly honed internal low bridge detector pinging madly in my head I decided that caution was required. Stopping just short (it was immediately just short) of the bridge I put the boat into reverse to pull it back. This was a plan to give me time to scramble up on to the roof, run most of the fifty feet length, grab the chimney and rest it down somewhere. However reversing into a wind is not particularly easy and I had to perform a number of forward bursts to correct my heading, which of course swept me very close to the bridge again. I still finished up on the wrong side of the river, but eventually I judged I had backed up far enough to make a go of it. Leaving the boat in reverse gear on tickover I climbed gingerly on to the roof. Standing on the roof of a freewheeling narrowboat wearing protective over clothing that possessed very similar properties to sails, I ran, staggered and was blown the length of the boat to remove the chimney. The chimney was hot because the day was cold (this was the beginning of June and we were in the icy and howling grip of a British summer) and beneath it was the stove I had felt the need to light the previous day. I had to find somewhere to set it down and run back to the tiller to try and correct my heading. I found a good horizontal chimney rest against the gangplank and made it back to the tiller just in time to avoid crashing into the bank. After that most things were bound to be simple, surely?

I want to explore this drain one day, but that bridge always looks too low

Cormorants sitting on a telephone wire - there's a song somewhere

This rare and spooky phenomenon is known as "The Sun" I believe

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