Friday, 19 March 2010

Paddy's Virgin Boat Trip

Last weekend we went out with Paddy on his boat, for a morning jaunt up the canal so that he could get used to steering it ready for the Easter weekend when he plans on taking a party down the canal for fun and giggles.  It was going to be a busy weekend and whilst we waited for the lovely Karma, his landlady to join us, we got on with clearing up the mooring.  It's amazing how quickly it can start to look shabby and it's not nice for passersby to look across ready to admire our little mooring only to be struck by tarpaulings and old broken prams ~ Jam had a season of sourcing broken pushchairs and making bike trailers out of them.  We were cycling to Normandy to play music at our friend's Summer party and wanted something to attach the luggage to our bikes with - but that's another story, and it was his bike that broke in half in the end.  He did make a very successful trailer though which he used to carry a heavy piece of machinery he'd been given back from a workshop, but it wasn't really sturdy enough to last forever. 

I remember when we were courting, I'd left him on the mooring attempting to make one bike out of two broken bikes, whilst I went home to get ready, telling him that he had to be at mine by noon if he wanted to come with me.  I forget now where we were going, and it was looking doubtful as to whether or not he would make it but sure enough at noon, just as I was stepping out onto my balcony I looked down and there was a triumphant looking face beaming up at me as he skidded round the corner and wheelied proudly round on his new bike...

Some things do last forever ~ moments like that, and the experience of taking a boat out for the first time!  Paddy's friend Jackson joined us so there were five of us and no dog.  I took a back seat, and was hungrily reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so was quite happy to sit back and relax and enjoy the journey.  There's nothing quite like it!  Beautiful weather blessed us and we were happily boating away.  We went West, manouvering the narrow bridges, waving at the folk walking by.  That's something I love about the canal, it is so friendly, everyone says hello and smiles ~ probably wondering what IS it like to live on a narrowboat, how DO you go to the toilet!?
The first test is the lock.  When you arrive at the lock and the gates are shut and the water level is too high or low you have to drop people off to go and prepare the lock and pull over and wait.  It's not a rush hour journey and you may take about half an hour to get through a lock if you're unfortunate to arrive after the person before you has already been through, so everything is the otherway round. I love the way that the canal can be quite quiet, then as soon as you get in the lock there are a few eager onlookers lining up to see how you fair.  Locks can be quite dangerous if you don't observe the rules, not closing the floodgates can lead to draining of the basin and disaster all round, or being too far back in the lock, past the cill marker lines can mean you get caught up in the back of the lock and end up tipping or even worse becoming jammed in the gates.

(Jam demonstrating this, not really, just pulling faces...)

Steering a boat is a gentle skill, where once you know what you're doing it's like riding a bicycle.  Coming out of the lock, on your first trip, in a tight space, with another boat moored up alongside the lock, complete with anxious owner watching and a wide-beam boat waiting to get into the lock is another story.  The trouble is, when you're at the stern end of a boat, with the engine running, you can't hear the people in the bow shouting 'starboard down' or even 'the other way mate' until it's too late ~ but that's what fenders are for, and feet.  It doesn't help that the other boat is a little too close for comfort and they seem to be novices too with a new boat, unable to move back further because they've come too far and at an angle so moving back bashes them into the boats moored on the other side, all making for highly amusing banter from the now healthy number of passerbys gleefully watching.  Tally ho, nothing broken, close shave, everyone happy, nicely manouvered, easy does it, onwards bound.

Steering a boat is also quite hard work on the arms, Jam had fixed their tiller after it was smashed from a spot of wrong steering in the tunnel.  He'd used a chair leg and it looked beautiful.  It often takes a moment of wrong steering to actually 'get it'.  Paddy had prepared a feast of food, so took a well earned rest from the tiller and grabbed some sustinence and went up front to feel the wind and enjoy the ride.  He was ecstatic and grinning from ear to ear.  What a treat! I'm so lucky he sighed...

Returning was fun, turning even more fun, trying not to hit the moorhens nests or get caught up in the sludge bankside, food had been shared and enjoyed, the lesson had been given and duly adhered to, Paddy was feeling confident that he would be able to impress his friends and that was important.  Jam steered the boat back to the mooring for the last bit, for we have to turn around in the basin then reverse down the last part of the canal because it's too narrow to turn where we are moored and you need to be a certain way round to be able to plug in to the shoreline.  He did it with such expertise he even surprised himself and bounced off the boat whooping with joy.  We had to rush off to visit Polly our landlady who was recovering from surgery and expecting us for tea, so we left Paddy and Jackson sorting out the boat, with a 'whoop whoop, don't forget to take the tiller out' and scooted off on our next journey.  Jam and Paddy will get another lesson in before his trip, just to refresh and build his confidence, but we thought he did a grand job, even when he bashed into the side at one point early on and the only thing that fell down inside was his captain's hat, which he then dutifully wore!

Ah, there's nothing quite like messing around on boats ~  bring on the glorious weather and lazy boating days ~ with a baby this time though and a wide-beam!

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