Miss Inexperience plays on the Big River[1]

(May Bank Holiday Weekend 2007)

Miss Inexperience somehow made it through that first awful winter when she couldn’t get the stove to work properly, the water temperature was more changeable than a British Summer Day, it snowed, it flooded, trees fell down blocking the navigation and the towpath, she couldn’t afford to renew her mooring as she had been out of work for much of the time and she wanted to move closer to civilisation anyway, so she ends up ‘continuous mooring’[2] in a field because she can’t get any further in the direction she’s trying to go, by the skin of her teeth. She wasn’t entirely alone; her neighbours took pity on her, and in the depths of winter took her by car to get coal, picked up firelighters when she ran out and occasionally took her and her skinny lurcher into their boats to warm up with a mug of sugary tea.

With spring comes the possibility of seasonal work in London so Miss Inexperience identifies five days in which she can move her boat and crosses her fingers that the damaged weir will be fixed by then otherwise she’s going to have a VERY long commute. She also secures SBT to help with the move as he’s done “The Big River” before.

The Kayak Race

The cruise starts with turning the boat, this shouldn’t be difficult but there’s a wicked current running and Miss Inexperience is fighting the boat round just as some people on the bank start putting kayaks containing children into the water, directly in line with where Miss Inexperience’s 15 tonne lump of uncontrolled steel is going to land… Eventually the adults realised the danger, stopped putting children into the water and assisted her to turn the boat. (But not sadly before they shouted abuse at her for messing up their race – as there were no signs and Miss Inexperience doesn’t have access to the internet she really had no way of knowing that there was going to be a race.) At some point in the middle of avoiding the children an alarm started going off on the control panel. There was nothing that anyone could do about this. Other than put a spare hand over the speaker; neither Miss Inexperience nor SBT had a spare hand.

The cooling conundrum

Once Miss Inexperience and SBT had managed to get clear of the kayaks, find somewhere safe to pull in they turned the engine off and discovered that the water-cooled engine had run out of cooling water. They waited. They let the engine cool down. They put some more water in and cruised for a bit. They checked the water level. They put some more water in. They cruised a bit more. They repeated the procedure every couple of hours for the whole trip. But at least the alarm stayed off.

The handlebars/pub/bridge concatenation

The last stretch of the Kennet through Reading is extremely fast flowing and, as it passes through the city centre, narrows to approximately half the width above and below. There is also a low arched bridge, with a pub garden next to it and it is a sunny day. Miss Inexperience misjudges the flow, in full view of an almost overflowing beer garden, hits the bridge; losing in the process the handlebars to her bike (if it hadn’t been locked to the roof the chances are she’d have lost the whole thing) and the gas ventilator. Those in the pub garden cheered. If you are ever in a position to cheer at this kind of accident, please don’t. Miss Inexperience lost her ability to have a shower that day. Not to mention the cost of repairing the bike.

The supermarket/licensing miscalculation

So, they’re on the Kennet, heading for the Thames and looking for a supermarket because Miss Inexperience didn’t think it was worth stopping for food in the morning since they were already running late. Now if you turn left out of Reading (upstream/north) you come to a good mooring directly outside a Tesco Extra. If, however, as Miss Inexperience and SBT did, you turn right, you end up having to go through at least one lock (where you have to buy a licence[3]) before you can get to somewhere that might stand a chance of having a shop. The boat has an anchor but no navigation lights (just a ‘tunnel lamp’) which means they cannot move at night on the Thames; this wouldn’t have been a problem had they turned upstream. As it was they were just pulling into a mooring as the light started to fail. Cutting it a bit fine there hey Miss Inexperience?

Boats, boats everywhere

As Miss Inexperience and SBT head further down the Big River they encounter a lot of other boats. Miss Inexperience starts to enjoy herself somewhere in the middle of day two; there’s no need to slow down on the Big River, it’s wide and fast and really quite fun after the Muddy Little Ditch she’s been moored on until now. This is all quite relaxing until they start meeting canoes, kayaks, rowing boats, skiffs, toppers and various other small squashy boats containing small squashy people, who don’t seem to be aware that there’s a 15 tonne lump of steel heading for them, and that even if Miss Inexperience throws the boat violently into reverse it’s unlikely (given the current) that she will be able to stop it before she hits them. Particularly if they will insist on hanging around in front of her. There were several tense moments where Miss Inexperience moved to go round such obstacles only to have them turn around and head back towards her (no, not tacking, just erratic).

Tide-tables exist for a reason

Having managed not to kill anyone, sink the boat or any of the other terrible things Miss Inexperience has imagined happening throughout the whole journey, they arrive at Teddington Lock at completely the wrong time to hit the tide. They pull onto the lock mornings, go to talk to the lock-keeper, realise their mistake, scurry back to frantically ring a different lock-keeper (the one at Brentford) and beg him to let them off the Thames when they arrive at about 21h… He agrees. They secure the boat on the lay-by with the lock-keeper’s permission, before sauntering off to acquire some food/emergency battery operated ‘nav’ lights and, for reasons known only to Miss Inexperience, a mop.

They get through the tidal section without incident and turn onto the Grand Union Canal just as the light is failing (at some point the nav lights fail as well, good job there wasn’t anything coming the other way). They moor up and somehow find their way to a restaurant for a well deserved celebratory meal.

The power of suction

After three days on the Big River without slowing down for anything, the Muddy Little Ditch into London seems very slow and boring. It takes Miss Inexperience most of the day to crawl past the rows and rows of moored boats (going considerably slower than she really needs to as she hasn’t quite figured out that it’s the water movement that matters rather than the actual speed). However in spite of this she manages to arrive in Little Venice just before a trip boat is about to leave. This isn’t a problem except that she’s never taken this boat through a tunnel before and she’s tired and can’t seem to keep the boat moving in a straight line. The worst happens, she gets stuck on the side of the tunnel, and completes her traverse with much cringing and scraping before pulling over as quickly as possible so she can embarrass herself in private.

She moors up at Camden and relaxes.

[1] The Thames
[2] Miss Inexperience rings BW when she realises that she won’t be able to move away from her current location and arranges to overstay with permission. By the time the flow has abated enough for the weir to be fixed and normal service resumed, there are about 10 boats on this section all in a similar position.
[3] Had Miss Inexperience thought to check the tide tables and locations of supermarkets before setting off she would have realised it was safer and cheaper to remain on BW waters overnight and only venture onto The Big River (which is EA territory and therefore requires a separate licence) in the morning, thus saving them the cost of a day’s licence and quite a lot of stress. Ho hum.

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