June 27, 2010

Captain’s log Day 4 Wallingford to Henley-on-Thames

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 2:38 pm

The crew were up so early that over breakfast I had to make a unilateral declaration that there was to be no talking or any activity of any sort aboard Pangolin before 6 am, except for essential trips to the loo (or, if like my crew, you insist on boaty talk, the “head”). 

Mr Crew said that Mrs Crew had told him he should apologise for the lock incident the day before, and he promised to follow the rules from now on, so we were more or less friendly again. 

Nevertheless, I thought everyone would be happier if I let Mr Crew drive for most of the day.  He and Mrs Crew stood at the stern, while I took my binoculars up front, in pursuit of  ducks. 

It quickly became clear that bird watching was an irritant to Mr Crew.  The binoculars belonged at the helm, and to add insult to injury I took pictures when I ought to have been concentrating on throwing ropes.  My ropes were never tidily coiled as we approached the locks.  Instead I busily photographed dozens of ducks, hundreds of pesky Canada geese, and the occasional, endlessly patient heron.

I admit that Mr Crew had a point about the binoculars, at least, but I didn’t care.  I was being petty: they are my binoculars, and if Mr Crew wanted to see where he was going he should have brought his own.

I don’t think our morning’s truce lasted until lunch time.

Bit by bit the river widened and for much of the day Pangolin seemed to be the only boat on the river, now and again followed by a single narrowboat or cruiser.  Just before five o’clock we slipped into a mooring at Henley on Thames, where the river was suddenly crowded, and we had to dodge crews practising for next month’s Royal Regatta.

The river Thames

The river Thames

Geese and swans

Geese and swans

A heron by the bank

A heron by the bank

A cormorant in the trees

A cormorant in the trees

Okay, I admit it: I took pictures of cows too.

Okay, I admit it: I took pictures of cows too.

I've been to Henley before, but never like this.


Day 4 statistics: 24 large river miles and 7 wide locks.

June 16, 2010

Captain’s log: Day 3 Sandford Lock to Wallingford Bridge

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 2:19 pm

The day began badly and got worse.  My crew has been mutinous and I have had some difficulty reasserting my authority as Captain. 

It seems that proper captains do not ground the boat because they are too busy exclaiming over sweet little new born baby cygnets to notice a sand bar.

Mr Crew had been standing by my side at the helm in stony silence, except when he was barking orders at me.  He had a sore head all day because we had had a disagreement first thing in the morning: without a word to me, he and Mrs Crew had slipped up to the lock and filled it, setting it in our favour before our boat was up by the lock and ready. 

That’s against the rules.  Especially in the summer months when the rivers and canals are busy, if the water is against you, you must not change the water (empty or fill the lock) until your boat is waiting beside the lock, ready to go in, and then only if no boat is in sight who might be able to use the water first.  To do otherwise is to “steal the other boat’s water” and it is discourteous as well as environmentally unfriendly (because it is wastes water). 

Of course you don’t often get the opportunity on the Thames to misbehave in this way, because the locks are manned most of the day, but my crew get up early, and the lock keeper had not yet arrived. 

I was still in my pajamas and I thought the crew were just going up to the lock for a look.  As soon as I realised what they were doing I threw on my clothes and ran up.  I met Mr Crew coming back along the path.

“Bring the boat up”, he demanded.

I stopped and opened my mouth to speak.

“Bring the boat up”, he repeated, speaking to me slowly and very loudly, as if I were a particularly stupid child.

He scornfully dismissed my explanation of the lock rules.  I brought the boat up, drove into the lock, and we emptied it.  As the water was running out we saw the lock keeper arriving, but he wasn’t yet manning the gates when we opened them and slid out.

On the other side four boats were waiting to enter the lock.  Mr Crew was triumphant. 

“I won’t say I told you so,” he said.  “But if we hadn’t done it my way, we would have had to wait for those boats.”

That, I replied, was precisely my point.

In the end I simply said that as we were driving on my license I would have to insist he obeyed the rules.  Then I spent the rest of the day trying to be extra friendly and solicitous, but it was no good.  I knew he was sulking angrily.  When he spoke at all he made nasty remarks about my driving and about the way I kept my boat.

When I ran the boat aground he informed me that he had seen the sandbar coming but had chosen not to tell me, because of what he called our “breakdown in communication”. 

No real harm was done.  A big boat cruised by, Mr Crew threw them a rope, and we were back in deep water in moments.  Mrs Crew came from inside the boat and was very nice to me and said she had run her boat aground once and did thousands of dollars of damage and I had probably been driving for too long and not to worry.  She didn’t understand that I wasn’t really worried about running the boat aground.  It happens a lot on the canals.  What upset me was what Mr Crew said, and the way he said it.

Later I was pretty sure Mr Crew had seen the sandbar only seconds, if at all, before me.  If he had really seen it he probably would have warned me, because if we had done serious damage to the boat, his holiday would have been ruined. 

We stopped for the night at Wallingford, a lovely little town with medieval roots.  It was too pretty not to enjoy, and anyway, the crew and I were, quite literally, all in the same boat together. I was friendly and polite and joined them for a drink at the local pub, but excused myself, and returned to the boat alone, when they ordered dinner. 

A few days earlier, when my crew first arrived I explained that I was turning over the back cabin (my usual bedroom) to them, and because the cabin had no door, I had hung a curtain.

Don’t worry, said my friend.  We really need very little privacy. 

She didn’t get it that the curtain was for me.

Day 3 statistics 18 (large river) miles and 5 (wide) locks.

June 10, 2010

Captain’s Log, Enslow to London: Day 2 – Thrupp to Sandford Lock

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 3:03 pm

The crew were up very early and eager to get started.  We were off before 8 and in Oxford by noon.  I did most of the driving, and our route took us along the narrow canal and through 4 locks before we reached the centre of Oxford. 

There isn’t a lot of clearance – often only 3 inches each side – to get into the narrow canal locks.

Or to get out of them.

As we got closer to Oxford, I was amused by the range of boat decorating styles:

It is amazing how quiet and rural the canal is, right into the centre of the city.

When we finally got to town,  I insisted on stopping for lunch: I had navigated for several hours though locks, under lift bridges and past moored boats, and I needed a rest.

Though they hadn’t at first wanted to stop, almost as soon as we were tied up, the crew declared that we required a hardware store.  My tool collection on board is a little hit and miss, and the crew have high standards (as well as Views). I warned them that it would be a bit of a walk, there being only one hardware store in the city centre, but they said our need was urgent. 

So as soon as we had eaten I took them on a fast march through Jericho, as the canal side section of Oxford, once the redlight district of the city, is called.  From there we carried on past several colleges and through the busy streets until we reached The High.  My crew was a little sceptical as we ducked down a little medieval alley and I pointed out Gills Ironmongers, purveyor of brazery, tin ware and ironmongery since at least the 18th century (the man inside claimed considerably longer). 

Gill and Co Ironmongers

Gill and Co Ironmongers

Under instruction I purchased something I am told is called “channel locks”.  Considering their provenance, they are practically historic, and anyway, I am assured that once I know what I was missing all these years, I will find them essential and well worth the £17.50 and the scrum of a city so crowded that we could barely move.

Back to the peace of the canal, I drove through the last lock on the South Oxford Canal and we joined the River Thames in late afternoon sunshine. 

Elder daughter came along for the ride on the last canal lock and first river one, before we left the city behind.  That’s me driving.

Suddenly there were boats everywhere – large powered steamers taking tourists for rides, fast boats with outboard motors, the enormous fibre glass “gin palaces” I had been warned about, and many sculling boats – eights, fours, twos and single rowers, all training hard.  Every one of them was going faster than Pangolin.

A couple of hours later the crew performed some snazzy upstream manoeuvring (they’re good that way) to slot us into our mooring for the night, and later we found the only air conditioned pub within about a hundred miles to toast our first evening on the Thames.

Day 2 statistics: Thrupp cottages to Sandford lock. 10 miles, 7 locks (5 narrow and 2 wide), and 7 moveable bridges (most, but not all, open).

June 8, 2010

Captain’s log Enslow to London – Day 1: Enslow to Thrupp

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 2:50 pm

We left my home moorings at Enslow in late afternoon.  Half my crew was hung over from partying with the squatters and ne’er do wells down the pub the night before, the other half was happy to chill writing her journal, and I was busy doing all the jobs I hadn’t managed when I suddenly realised I had to take a day out getting a radio license. 

By mid afternoon I had the parts I needed for my BBQ, my plants were watered and the birds fed, and the young archaeologists who were moving into the mooring for the month were ready to take over.  And the crew had recovered and were ready.

I drove Pangolin up to the winding hole and turned her around.  Anyone remember the country classic, Give me forty acres and I’ll turn this rig around?  That’s how I feel when I turn the boat.

In the late afternoon we cruised back along the moorings toward the lock.  My neighbours, who may have got just a wee bit tired of all my questions about how to cruise the Thames, sang a chorus of “I am sailing” as we headed into the lock and down the Cherwell.

Everyone had a go at driving on the Cherwell and we handled the next lock and lift bridge easily.

My crew are very experienced sailors and also they are American.  Therefore they have Views about All Boating Matters.  Their View was we should fill up with water whenever possible, even though I promised them that I had filled up before they came and we had plenty.

But eventually we found a spot at Thrupp, drank canalside cocktails, and cooked on my newly fitted out BBQ. 

There was some grumbling from the crew that things weren’t exactly shipshape and there would be no more dinners at 9 pm.  But it was mostly a happy start.

Day 1 total: Pangolin mooring to Thrupp, via Enslow winding hole.  3 miles, 2 locks and 1 lift bridge.

June 2, 2010

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Pangolin! Pangolin! Pangolin!

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 12:35 pm

Papa, alpha, November, golf, oscar, lima, india, November.

Pangolin is a narrowboat, 62 feet long and 6.5 feet wide.  Her normal maximum speed is four miles per hour, cruising along the chest-high water of the canals of Great Britain.  In an emergency the best plan is to step onto the towpath.

Just for fun, I thought my visiting friends and I would have a run down to London, and, because it is there, we might cruise up the Tidal Thames, past the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge.

I told the plan to my younger son, who gasped, But that’s dangerous!

Well, it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and it is a bit dodgy in a narrowboat, but I’ll have savvy boaters with me (not that they have ever before been on a boat anything like this one…).  Whatever else it will be, our journey will be an adventure.

Although I had repeatedly been assured that narrowboats were exempt from the requirement to carry a VHF radio on the Thames, last week I learned that that exemption was withdrawn 3 years ago from all boats over 45 feet.  Pangolin – papa alpha November golf oscar lima india November – is 62 feet.  I needed a radio, a license, and a certificate of competence, fast.

My friends could bring the radio, and the license is free and routine.  But the certificate of competence was another matter.  To get the certificate required that I attend a full day course in radio use, terminology and procedures, and pass an exam at the end of the day.

Since these certificates are meant for people who are wandering around the Atlantic in yachts (and, by the way, radios are merely recommended for them, not required as they are for me) the courses all take place by the seaside.  Oxford is almost as far from the sea as you can get on this small island, and the only course I could find at late notice was near Portsmouth, a hundred miles away.

I spent the day learning to make Mayday calls.  I also practiced how to call my friends on the radio to arrange to meet them later for dinner (except I have no friends with VHF radios), and I memorized the correct channel on which to call a marina to book a berth for the night. I asked why I wouldn’t rather call my friends, the marina, or even the Coastguard on my mobile telephone.  Well, yes, I must admit that is what I would recommend, said the instructor.

I had to learn a lot of acronyms.  For instance, my new license will allow me to carry one (but only one) E.P.I.R.B (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beam) in case I get lost.  It looks like a nice bit of kit, activated on contact with water, so that the search and rescue helicopters can pick up your signal and find you wherever you are.  But I think it might worry the ducks. It probably would work better to get out of the canal and wander up to the pub to ask if anyone had missed me.

There were lots and lots of spelling exercises involving the International Phonetic Alphabet.  And we all had to practice saying “Over” quite a lot, and “Out” now and again. 

I also learned that the French had cleverly hijacked the radio language (everyone was unclear on how they had pulled this off).  The keywords are all in French, but Anglophiles have retaliated in their usual fashion, by getting it all wrong: the French demanded M’aidez! Help me! And Brits responded Mayday!  Help me!

In class we did a lot of role play with our radio practice and spelled out many disasters: Foxtrot! India! Romeo! Echo!  I would have thought I was in a B movie, except that in the movies the men are a whole lot better looking.  I was the only woman in a class of six middle aged boaters, all of whom (including me) had too much hair, but at least mine grows mainly on the top of my head.  Theirs grew everywhere else.

I passed the exam, and the trip is still on.  So that you can follow our progress, I’ll try to be a more regular blogger.

 Or, as we radio buffs like to say, Seelonce feenee.

June 1, 2010

Water, diesel, ballast, wine, and deep vein thrombosis

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 3:38 pm

There’s a proper order to things, especially on boats.

I have been getting ready for a couple of American friends coming to England for the first time. Since I thought I had better offer them an adventure, we’ll be heading down the Thames for London.

But even if I weren’t off for a trip, I would need diesel and water.  Dusty, the fuel boat that cruises up and down the South Oxford, was due any day, and I hadn’t filled up with water since Easter Sunday when I bribed kids and friends with roast lamb afloat in return for helping me cruise a quarter mile up the canal, tap into a nearby hydrant (shhhhh – that’s why we do it evenings and Sundays), and reverse back to my mooring. 

I love living on my boat, but I admit that moving it makes me so anxious that I barely sleep for days before and after the shortest journey.  Steering 62 foot long, 6.5 feet wide Pangolin is a bit like how I imagine driving a tank would feel – except tanks are a lot shorter, and I’m guessing they have brakes. 

Well, anyway, the rule is, water before diesel.  If you do it the other way, the weight of the water (in front) could make the diesel (in back) spill into the canal.

In the meantime, I also ordered half a tonne of ballast (steel bricks), on account of the promised Thames adventure.  Even good drivers have trouble working my boat and anyone who has attempted reverse gear has been muttering about ballast for years.

I negotiated (with promise of the Queen’s head) for my ballast to be delivered to the car park, right by the (dodgy) water point.  My cunning plan was to drive up for water one evening, pick up the ballast next day, and reverse back just in time for Dusty:  water, ballast, diesel, in that order, with a little coal thrown in, because it has been a long winter, and a cold spring. 

But the timing needed luck: hanging out by the water point more than just overnight, waiting for deliveries, is Not Done.  Water, ballast, diesel, was what I wanted.

Alas, Dusty beat the ballast man by two days, so by the time the bricks arrived I was watered and fuelled and back on my mooring.  I had a half a metric tonne of steel bricks to load onto my boat, and the bricks were a quarter of a mile away.  The choice was, move the boat to the bricks, or move the bricks to the boat. 

I decided that I could carry 500kg of bricks by wheelbarrow, if I didn’t care how many times I went up and down the path, and so I went on until I had about a third of the bricks piled on the grass by my boat’s stern.

By early evening the Grumpy Mechanic, watching me trudge up and down with the wheelbarrow, had had quite enough.

Sod that! he shouted, and then excused himself, because he never uses bad language in front of a woman without apologising. 

He drove his boat up to the water point and ordered me to hand him the bricks, two by two.  Piling them onto the bow deck, he reversed his boat back to mine (it’s all right for him – his boat is fitted with a bow thruster).  Together, in the late evening sunshine we tossed the bricks onto the towpath.

The next day, with my boat now full of water and fuel, I carefully placed the brick ballast in the stern of the boat.  British summer had finally arrived and the temperature was in the high 80s as I leapt on and off the boat holding 10kg with each load.

When I had finished loading the bricks I changed clothes and went to a party, a three mile walk there, and another three back.  I hadn’t had anything to drink stronger than water for a week or so, but as I felt the weight of the bottle of wine in my knapsack on the way to the party, I comforted myself that I wouldn’t be lugging it home.

In the morning I noticed, but ignored, a pain in my left calf.  The pain got worse over the next few days until I could barely walk.  My elder daughter became more and more anxious and urged me to go to the hospital.  It isn’t like you to be hobbling about, Mum!  she said.

I googled unexplained calf pain – unexplained because I really couldn’t think of anything I might have done to hurt myself – and read Deep Vein Thrombosis.  I broke my six year no doctor stint.

I don’t have DVT.  I do have water, diesel, ballast, and several empty wine bottles.  Also a badly sprained calf muscle, unexplained. 

The doctor says that something as simple as standing up too quickly can do it, at my age.

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