The jetstream shifted north, the rain stopped, and the red, no navigation signs on the upper Thames gave way to yellow, caution boards.
I drove the car up to the boat yard, admired Pangolin’s splendid, new, black hull and paid the bill without fainting. As I was wondering whether she would start without a jump (a real issue if the engine hasn’t been fired up for more than a week), I spotted a stack of lovely new batteries.
In a few minutes I’d bought a new starter battery and sweet-talked the yard into hooking it up at no extra charge. (They got the scrap value of the old battery, and I didn’t have to do the heavy lifting.)
At the same time we agreed that I would head home on their Trade Plates, meaning I did not have to spend an extra almost £40 buying a full day’s license for the Thames, just to go through the one lock that separates me from my usual canal home. The deal involved air quotes (an international symbol, though as it still unknown to the QWERTY keyboard, I must simply say that the lock keeper was informed that I had the plates “on board”).
As the new starter battery also needed — without irony — to get on board, I agreed to come back the next day to pick up the boat.
The engine fired first time. Pangolin was tied to another boat out of the yard, on the river and pointing upstream, so my first job was to turn around, not so easy in the still strong current, but finally I was off.
I got around the bends, under toll the bridge, past the moored boats, and into the lock with no real trouble. The lock keeper knew I was on my way, and working the boat solo, and he was very nice and helpful — checking that I was okay holding only the centre line as the water level dropped. (I shared the lock with a big, wide, fibre glass cruiser whose crew eyed my nineteen tons of steel with anxiety. I tossed them a look of consumate confidence, and held the line tight.)
As I pulled out of the lock the keeper advised me to give the engine some revs past the weir stream. After a hundred yards or so, he said I would be fine.
The journey back, downstream, was much faster than going against the strong current two weeks earlier, and I soon saw those pesky DANGER signs at King’s lock weir.
(Here I meant to supply a photo, but decided I had probably better pay attention to driving the boat instead…)
In another few moments I was in Duke’s Cut, leaving the danger behind.
The Thames locks are manned, but on the canal it is do-it-yourself, so I was glad to see a group of kayakers at the lock at the end of Duke’s Cut. The kids were very keen to close the lock gate behind me. I slipped out of the cut, and turned a sharp right towards Oxford.
Three dry days meant the lift bridge had lost some of its water weight, and I just managed to close it behind me, passing my last obstacle. In a few minutes I was manoevering the boat back into her mooring.
I had been gone almost two weeks. The nettles and brambles were out of control and the birds were starving.
I was home.