Post by Tony C on Sept 8, 2020 20:46:04 GMT
I have to confess up front, this is a much longer account than I intended or expected to write, but here it is as the thoughts emerged, and you have been warned...
Much has transpired since I arrived safe and sound at the lovely Northampton marina yesterday afternoon.
My boating buddy Alex had previously pressed on into the early hours and reached the Northampton arm whilst I was moored up for the night outside White Mills marina, but as luck would have it, he was now grounded near lock 13, close to where the canal goes under the M1. And it seems he was grounded by an act of sabotage, no less.
The first blow had come at the entrance to the Arm in Northampton, which they reached around midnight. The grand GRP cavalcade was tragically torn asunder when it was discovered that the GRP boat Alex was towing would not in fact fit into the narrow lock. The craft was too wide, by a matter of perhaps two inches.
This meant that the engine-less GRP cruiser and its valiant but thoroughly inebriated captain had to be abandoned in Northampton on the Nene, tied up opposite the lock landing. Which is where I came across them (and inevitably bumped into them- as in literally bumped) earlier today.
I thought they would all be long gone by the time I reached the arm, but the cruiser had fallen at the first hurdle. Alex had abandoned his wounded and pressed on up the Arm into the wee hours, but in fact they were so exhausted from the non-stop cruise that they had to rest for 24 hours near lock 13 on the Arm, where things got a bit lairy.
This was beginning to feel a bit like the tortoise and hare story, except I don't recall a mention of the tortoise ever being sweaty, grimy, hot, and generally knackered as he followed the crashed-out and hungover hare.
It was a late start, for me- I had intended to zip out of the marina, cover the last 500 yards of Nene and be onto CRT territory before 8.30am, but as I was summoning the courage to put on my supremely unwearable work shirt, I had a text from Alex warning of dire peril at lock 13.
He never answers the phone so I couldn't glean any real detail, but it seemed that the surviving two vessels of the convoy- which was himself and the second GRP cruiser, captained by a chap whose personality was notable chiefly because of its complete absence (plus the ever present dinghy, of course) - had all been grounded by foul play.
After going through lock 13 they noticed the water level was suddenly very low, and Alex was grounding hard and really struggling. It was well after 2am, so they gave up for the night and pulled over (moored, to us nautical coves). A little further on there was a very dodgy-looking pair of guys on a particularly scruffy GRP boat, who wandered over and offered to help them get moving for 20 quid. Another person was visible some way ahead, and someone else was heard in the bushes nearby but never revealed themselves.
Alex suspected they had deliberately emptied the pound area to ground boats so that they could work a scam of helping them, but I dont know how likely that is.
His boat has something like a 16mm bottom plate (he says), and is of very heavy construction, and deep draught- so who knows.
They spent a somewhat concerned remainder of the night in occasional conversation with one or more of the gang who were hanging around the scruffy boat, but in fairness no direct threats were made. The following day Alex still was unable to make progress, plus they were both worn out, so they rested, still ever-vigilant against potential thefts or problems from the ever-present gang around them.
Around this time I believe I was in Morrisons, trying to decide whether a large pizza would fit in my oven. I recall that my biggest concern of the evening was that I had to settle for a medium pizza as I smugly waved the ID thing and the very secure gate opened, allowing me back into the secure cocoon of the marina.
Little did I know my boating buddies were still marooned a few miles ahead, in the middle of a homeless and GRP pirate encampment close to the M1.
This morning, when I got the text saying to hold off, and warning of no water in the pounds and sleepless nights guarding their boats from possible thieves, I decided to postpone my cruise up the Arm. This wasn't the sort of cruising experience I was looking for. More importantly, I needed a clear run with no delays if I was going to make it singlehanded and catastrophically unfit.
So the plan changed- it was time to go fetch my car from Stretham, nearl Ely.
This would mean getting onto a bus, which is something I haven't willingly done in two decades. It also meant I had to find clothes that could be worn in the company of normal people.
The working shirt was not remotely an option for bus travel after a day and a half of front line duty, and I would have quite rightly been arrested if I wore that in a public place. I eventually settled on a combo which probably made me look homeless, but at least didnt smell as if I was homeless. I hoped.
The bus journey would be 3 hours, plus a train ride and a cab, and a decent drive back- so I packed a bag of crips and some water, my coat, and of course my car keys, and finally sallied forth on my temporary mission to become part of society again.
As I passed the marina office, I mentioned the low water level problems to the marina manager, who rubbished my fears instantly.
"There's never much water up there, you get them calling CRT all the time, but you just have to get on with it" he said- and much more along the same lines.
My morale boosted by this very experienced boater, I chided myself for worrying, and changed plans again.
Off came the relatively clean civilian clothes, to be preserved for another day- and on went the dreaded working shirt. I almost shuddered in fear as I buttoned it up- I can't smell it of course- but my imagination told me how awful it was bound to be.
With all the faffing, I think it was nearly 11am before I sailed out of the marina, but that was ok. I had heard many confident tales of how the Arm is an easy afternoon's work- a doddle...
I did not find this to be the case.
The lock ladders were all in the mid-point of the locks, which meant I couldn't step onto them from the stern, as I had on the Nene.
So every lock meant clambering onto the roof first, then to the ladder. And I don't like climbing on the roof- or rather, my knees don't like it.
I'm hoping I will get more limber and stronger as time goes on, but its not a dignified business at the moment.
I think I'd only reached the 7th lock by about 2.30pm, and I was already knackered.
Whilst I was stood on a drawbridge pondering how it was to be lifted, a man shouted over from a bench nearby.
He might have said the word key or chain, but I couldnt be sure. A few moments later he come over and made me an offer.
"I'll work the rest of the locks for you if you want, for 20 quid. Everyone round here knows me" (which turned out to be sort of true)
That's a lot, I thought.
Then I looked up at the sun, which was beating down at the time. My knees felt as if they probably had about half a dozen bends left in them for the day, which might get me through another lock and a half. I was a bit knackered.
I thought, what the hell.
I said yes.
This chap apparently earns a few quid by working paddles for lazy buggers like me. My guess is that he waits till the seventh lock so that his customers have had a good taste of the flight, and in the hot weather they might be in the mood to get a bit lazy.
Either way, he did a sterling job of it, and we were finally through lock 1 by about 5.15.
So I have finally made it (almost) to the GU. I actually stopped near Gayton Marina, where I will have to leave her tomorrow to go and fetch my car, and then again for the still-awaited funeral trip to Liverpool later this week.
Should I feel shame at paying a man to work the paddles and gates for me? Probably.
Do I? No.
My neck is aching a bit, and he saved it from being even worse, and me taking a lot longer.
In the fullness of time I shall shun paid assistance like a proper respectable boater- but I have to say, today it was very welcome.