August 11, 2010

Captain’s log day 10: Brentford to Alperton

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 2:27 am

The moorings at Brentford were not at all scenic, crowded by low rent flats overlooking the canal on one side, and a large office complex on the other. The most charming feature was an untidy coots’ nest floating on some detritus by a boat tied to the opposite bank.

But I have long since learned that charm is not all that this world has to offer. At Brentford moorings there were the most splendid, gloriously hot showers that we had encountered on our wanderings, and nice clean toilets too. All free and available to anyone with a British Waterways key (which comes with my license). There was also a coin operated laundry, and we were in brief, boaty heaven.

Pangolin has its own shower (and even a bath that fits little people), but the crew and I nevertheless took great pleasure in using Her Majesty’s Government’s shower, loo and laundry. We all went to bed feeling clean, and I went to bed embracing Socialism (almost, and since there was no one better).

In the morning we set off up the Grand Union Canal and met our first flight – where locks come in quick succession, one after the other, and the canal begins its rise towards the midlands. Grand Union locks are classed as “broad” with heavy double gates. Unlike on the Oxford, they will take two boats at a time, and after the first couple of locks we met another boat and worked the Hanwell flight together. I drove Pangolin and the other boat was also driven by a woman, while her husband crewed, which is a little unusual. The lock job takes weight and strength, nevertheless the men are mostly at the helm, leaving the women to manage the heavy work as best they can.

We drove in tandem, entering and leaving each lock together, and the conversation was a shouted staccato. With the gates closed behind us we set our engines to tickover, and Carol answered polite, opening questions: I’m a teacher, she said. John is a Civil Servant.

The crew raised first one paddle and then the other and the boats were thrown towards the back gates.

He’s a Physicist! She shouted as we both grabbed our throttles to counter the rush of water, filling the lock. More chat, then a nudge of reverse throttle to give the crew room to open the gates, before we set the gears to forward again; Mrs Crew was left to close the gates behind us, while the others had already set the next lock and opened the gates in front, ready for us to drive on.

With each lock we shared a little more information, our temporary intimacy rising with the canal.  Water, words, throttle, water. I had cancer, she said. I had to give up work.

Seven locks, seven conversations. It might make a good play, except the set would be very silly.

At the top lock we parted company, and at the junction with the Paddington Arm the crew and I turned eastward under the bridge and continued our journey to London.

We stopped at Alperton at an unsavoury moorings by a supermarket. When I demurred, Mr Crew pointed out that two nice boats were also moored there, so I relaxed a bit (why would the baddies rob me when they could rob them?) But I worried a lot more when, before dark, the nice boats moved on and we were settled in for the night. A notice board by the supermarket said that the area was a designated alcohol free zone. What with the beer and gin bottles strewn about, it wasn’t reassuring.

Day 10 statistics: Brentford Gauging Lock to the Sainsbury’s at Alperton, 12 canal miles and 9 broad locks

The Brentford mooring.  The coots' nest is by narrowboat Tapestry.

The Brentford mooring. The coot nest is by narrowboat Tapestry


Untidy coot nest

Untidy coot nest


This photo is a little out of focus, but shows how close together the locks are in the flight

This photo is a little out of focus, but shows how close together the locks are in the flight


Lock chat

Lock chat


Floating houses on the Grand Union

Floating houses on the Grand Union


A right turn under the bridge onto the Paddington Arm

A right turn under the bridge onto the Paddington Arm


London suburbs

London suburbs


Even very close to London, parts of the canal seemed extraordinarily rural.

Even very close to London, parts of the canal felt very rural.


Our dodgy mooring at Alperton

Our dodgy mooring at Alperton


The view out the window

The dodgy view out the window

August 3, 2010

Captain’s log day 9: Hampton Court to Brentford

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 1:00 pm

We left Hampton Court knowing that there were only a few miles and one lock before the Thames, now almost at its mouth, no longer meanders comfortably downstream, but instead ebbs and flows with the estuary it is about to join.

When in a rash moment down the pub I had first proposed doing this journey there was a good deal of head shaking and teeth sucking:  That’s tidal, you know, everyone warned.  My blog readers might suspect I wear my captain’s hat with irony.  My fellow drinkers were quite sure I was out of my mind.

So today, what with the boaty adventures ahead and making phone calls every half hour to get any updates on my younger daughter (safe but not talking to either of her parents; suddenly her boyfriend was my new best friend),  I was a little tense.

We pulled into the lock moorings at Teddington, and Mr Crew and I strolled up to the lock keeper’s office.  I said, I’m on a narrow boat, and we are heading downstream to London.

The lock keeper rolled his eyes.

But only as far as Brentford today, I said, and he cheered up, just a little, before delivering a physics lesson, pretty much repeating what I had already been told: since the tide on the Thames comes in faster than the comfortable speed of most narrow boats, we wouldn’t get very far unless we waited until just before high water.  By the time we locked through, the tide would almost be slack, and then, as we travelled down river it would turn, and we could ride the flow as the Thames rushed past the outer suburbs and hurried towards London.

We had a couple of hours to wait, and then the crew and I donned life jackets for the first time. Mr Crew was eager for us to set off, but because I was just as eager not to commit the faux pas of passing boats moored ahead of us in the lock queue, I got lots of good driving practice, hovering mid river while other captains mustered their crew and pushed off.   There was a general air of excitement as finally the lock keeper signalled it was time.

When the downstream gates of Teddington Lock opened and we spilled out, I felt as if we had crossed into some new, dangerous territory.  As I had got closer and closer to this five mile journey, everyone had confirmed my unease by being impressed with the very idea:  That’s tidal, you know.

But all was well.  We flowed the four and a half miles with the ebbing river, past Twickenham on the left, and Richmond on the right and on by Kew Observatory.  Just beyond the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, I turned the boat sharply to the left.   In the late afternoon sunshine we went through Thames Locks and left the river.  The crew, Pangolin and I were on new water:  the Grand Union Canal.

Day 9 statistics: 5 miles of large rivers, 5 miles of tidal rivers, 2 large locks and 1 broad lock.

Waiting for Teddington Lock

Waiting for Teddington Lock

The tidal Thames looked a lot like the non-tidal Thames, really.

The tidal Thames looked a lot like the non-tidal Thames, really.

Ham House (17th century)

Ham House (17th century)

Richmond on Thames

Richmond on Thames

Richmond Lock is only needed at low tide.

Richmond Lock is only needed at low tide.

Leaving the Thames

Leaving the Thames

I worked Brentford Gauging Locks (hard work pushing those buttons) while Mr Crew drove.  It was the last lock of the day, and the first on the Grand Union.

I worked Brentford Gauging Locks (hard work pushing those buttons) while Mr Crew drove. It was the last lock of the day, and the first on the Grand Union.

And here’s a map, so you can see where we are.  The yellow highlight is the route we have already taken.  The orange highlight is what is coming next.  (As with the other pictures you can click for a better view; I’ve made the map one quite big…)

The trip so far: Baker’s Lock to Brentford Gauging Lock, via Oxford: 108 miles and 41 locks

July 26, 2010

Captain’s Log day 8: Lost and found

Filed under: Canal,family,misc,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 12:28 pm

The crew and I meant to spend the day at Hampton Court Palace, but as we were waiting for the ticket office to open I took a phone call that changed my plans.

My younger daughter, ever the Baby of the family, though she is 18, has given me some of the worst moments of my life (lovely creature though she is), and she started very early.  When she was less than a year old she took up that toddler trick I had heard about but never before seen – holding her breath until she went rigid, turned blue and shook as if convulsing, and then holding her breath some more, until her eyes rolled back in her head, and she passed out.

By the time she was two or three I was in danger of being reported to the Social Services for gross neglect.  Onlookers who witnessed this performance (I am telling you, it is scary) shouted Do something!  Call an ambulance!  How can you just sit there?  And I would answer casually, Oh don’t worry, she’ll come round in a minute or two.

The first time she did it, however, I thought she was dead.   I thought something like that today.

I spent much of the day on the telephone.  Everyone agreed there was nothing I could do by returning immediately to Oxford, and in any case the boat would have to be got back to its home mooring somehow.  The crew were very sympathetic, and when they came back from their day at the palace, they urged me to do whatever I thought best, and they would help in any way they could.

By evening the situation was more stable, no one was dead, and it was quite clear that nothing could be gained, for the time being at least, by turning the boat around and heading back.  In fact, after I had discussed the alternatives with the Baby’s father, we agreed that the best plan would be for me to get the boat to London as soon as possible.  There I would be able to catch a fast train to Oxford.

Day 8 statistics: 0 locks and 0 miles, except for the many miles I paced.

July 16, 2010

Captain’s Log Day 7: Palace to palace

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 1:18 pm

Pangolin stayed moored up by the Eton playing fields on the sixth day of our cruise; the Bursar gained an extra £6 mooring fee, the crew spent the day at Windsor Palace, and I got a much needed rest and a day alone.

The following morning the journey downstream from Windsor was uneventful.  We passed miles of parkland with signs warning us not to stop, because it was Crown property. I had brief fantasies of defying the notices just to see if the SAS would parachute in, jump out of the bushes, and leap over the barbed wire fences to arrest us, but, happily, I soon became distracted by a bird I had not seen before.  I abandoned thoughts of high treason and took photographs instead. 

A new bird

A new bird

After much puzzling I identified this as an Egyptian Goose, listed in my bird book as a rare species (though I now know it to be plentiful along a small stretch of the Thames), introduced to this country as an ornamental bird in the 18th century and escaped to the wild.  Though it is not widespread – unlike those pesky Canadian geese – it was officially declared anser non gratus in 2009.  Actually it was declared a “pest”, but I think the Latin sounds less hurtful, don’t you?  They are rather pretty creatures, and they can’t help being foreign, poor things.

By now the crew and I have become very used to Thames locks, which seemed quite daunting when we first joined the river.  These locks are much wider, longer, and often deeper than those on the Oxford Canal (which take the 6.5 feet wide narrow boats sometimes with barely an inch to spare).  One Thames lockkeeper told me his lock could theoretically hold three narrowboats across and three deep; he’s never yet had an opportunity to prove the theory, but he seemed very hopeful that one day nine might arrive all at once and give him his chance.

On the whole, the locks are filled with more usual river going craft, and every one of them, even the canoes, seemed to go faster than Pangolin.  Everywhere we encountered the “gin palaces” I had been warned about, great fibre glass tubs bobbing in the water.  Their captains always look just a wee bit nervous when my 15 tonne (give or take a tonne or two), 62 foot boat enters the lock behind them.  I know they are nervous, so by the time I pull up to the edge of the lock, my goal is to be crawling along at less than half a mile per hour, though I only have good steerage at much faster speeds.  Fast is good, if you want to make nifty turns.  Fast is not good if you don’t want to run over gin palaces.  Where it gets tricky is when you need to make a nifty turn so as not to run over a gin palace…

Approaching each lock, we come to the weir first.  There is usually a lot of discussion and consultation of guidebook and binoculars amongst the crew, but generally speaking, when I am driving, I think a good rule of thumb is to steer away from the big DANGER signs. 

Should I go to the left or to the right?

Should I go to the left or to the right?

Once in the lock the crew lassoes a bollard, front and back, and gently lets the rope go slack as the lockkeeper presses the buttons that work the paddles.  There’s a good deal of chit chat as the lock empties.  Below Oxford all the Thames locks are electric and manned, so the boaters can concentrate on their ropes and their chat.  Where are you from? Where are you headed?  Where will you stop tonight? 

Mr and Mrs Crew are in their element, but I have to unlearn 30+ years of British reserve.  Who knew that though you mustn’t talk at breakfast in an Oxford college, and never ever under any circumstances short of terrorist atrocity in a train carriage, lock chit chat is required?

It’s her boat, the crew says, pointing at me. She lives on it, near Oxford.  The crew hands everyone a business card printed with a picture of their own boat back home, and I nod and offer a mute wave and hope my driving looks almost like that of someone who might reasonably be left in charge of something that would definitely squash them if I twitched the throttle in the wrong direction.

As the boats drop to the river’s next level, the crew release the ropes, the gates open, everyone says good bye to each other, and thank you to the lockkeeper, and off we all go, often to meet again at the next lock, a couple of miles further down the river.

Approaching the last lock of the day

Approaching the last lock of the day

Hampton Court Palace from the river

Hampton Court Palace from the river

We reached Hampton Court late afternoon and once again were lucky in our mooring.  I stood on the roof of the boat and took this photograph of the palace gates.

The view from our mooring

The view from our mooring

And this, when I clambered over the fence.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

I don’t think we could have got a lot closer.

Day 7 statistics: Windsor to Hampton Court: 19 large river miles and 8 wide locks

July 8, 2010

Captain’s log Day 5 Henley-on-Thames to Windsor

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 10:27 am

We set off in mist and heavy rain, and the emotional boaty weather was not a lot better.  Mr Crew was at the helm (narrowboats are driven from the back) and I was up front with the binoculars – not concentrating on what was ahead, as I probably ought to have been, but on ducks instead. 

Within moments Mr Crew was shouting at me to summon his wife, and I called back to say she was in the loo. As that only produced louder shouts from the helm, I put down the binoculars and went back to see what the problem was.

I was met only with an angry, screaming insistence that Mr Crew wanted to talk to his wife, so I retreated to my lookout spot on the bow.

Moments later, Mrs Crew emerged agitated from the loo to find out what all the shouting was about, spoke to her husband, and raced forward to ask me for the binoculars (which was apparently what Mr Crew wanted all along).  Alas, by then I was so flustered by all the angry screaming that I could not remember where I had put them.

The binoculars were eventually found, consulted, and Mr Crew altered our course so that the boat didn’t run into a riverly dead end, which I quite agreed would have been very inconvenient. 

The Duchess at the bow, leaving Henley

The morning’s event had three effects:

1. I silently surrendered the binoculars to the helm, though they had always been meant for birdwatching, and never for navigation.  I hate conflict a lot more than I love ducks.

2. Mr and Mrs Crew began to treat me more gently, as if I were some semi-crazed imbecile, who mustn’t be upset, or who knows what she might do: losing the binoculars was probably only the beginning.

3. After briefly contemplating abandoning ship (but where would I go?  the boat is my home) I began to feel liberated.  I considered Mr Crew’s behaviour so rude, so unreasonable, and so improper in a guest that I felt absolved from many ordinary host rules, and especially from paying attention to anything he said.

Mrs Crew particularly encouraged me in the last.  She quietly assured me that the secret of a happy marriage was “Yes, Dear” and I might like to practice it, in case I ever got married again.

Without saying anything to me, she also banned Mr Crew from the helm when I was driving (bless her) and stood with me while I practised ignoring his instructions shouted from the front.  I got a lot of extra practise ignoring him whenever I was driving into a lock (Hurry up! hurry up! left! right! neutral! reverse! forward! right! left! neutral! reverse! hurry up! hurry up! hurry up!)

Yes, Dear, Mrs Crew whispered in my ear.

At Windsor the river was suddenly once again extraordinarily busy, with row boats and cruise boats everywhere, and whole flotillas of eager schoolboys slicing the water with their sculls.  Mr Crew was driving, and he skilfully dodged the river traffic, swung the boat around, and pulled us up alongside the playing fields of Eton, where we moored, paying the Bursar a mere trifle for the privilege.

We tied onto the bank with the boat facing upstream

We tied onto the bank with the boat facing upstream

For the first time I saw Mr Crew really happy.  I had promised they would want to stop at Windsor, and sad, crazed person that I am, I wasn’t wrong, just this once.  We had a mooring with a view of the castle overlooking the town, and Mr Crew was enchanted by the dozens of swans who flocked our boat, demanding bread. When I explained that the queen officially owns all the swans in the whole country he roared with laughter and took pictures of swan butts in the air.  What, he asked, would Her Majesty think of that?

One of Mr sCrew'<br /> s photos

One of Mr Crew's photos

The crew and I drank gin and tonics on the Eton playing field.  I don’t think our boaty war was either won or lost, but for the time being peace reigned.

Day 5 statistics: Henley Bridge to Windsor Bridge.  21 large river miles and 8 wide river locks.

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.

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