Tag Archives: K&A

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.

Miss Inexperience buys a boat

Sometime around August 2006, Miss Inexperience decides to finally follow her dream and move onto a narrowboat. Despite having been to innumerable National Inland Waterways Festivals, grown up next to the Llangollen Canal and spent time on a variety of narrowboats, Miss Inexperience really hadn’t done her research and didn’t really know what she wanted apart from: nice wide gunwhales (which she didn’t know how to spell) and the ‘railing type of handrails rather than the solid kind’. A friend was selling his boat and Miss Inexperience went to look at it. She loved it. It was quite a small boat, quite scruffy and had been re-painted really, really badly but that didn’t matter, this was going to be her first boat. No looking at a variety of boats and picking one for Miss Inexperience. No, this boat. A scruffy 79, or possibly 82, Springer built boat with a dodgy service history and an engine that no one has ever bloody heard of.

So she bought it, and started piece by piece to take her life apart and ‘de-clutter’ it down to the point where it might stand a chance of fitting onto a 40 foot boat. In the process she rid herself of a good three-quarters of the contents of her wardrobe, 6 bin liners full of books (that hurt) and quite a lot of other stuff that was being kept merely because it wasn’t actually in the way. The charity shops and clothing banks did well out of Miss Inexperience that year.

Car load by car load

Slowly, car-load by car-load, she moved onto her new boat. A boat that was moored five hour’s drive away from her flat, an hour’s walk from the nearest shop (despite having moved onto the boat by car Miss Inexperience doesn’t actually drive, thank you parental taxi service), 10 minutes from the nearest pub, 8 miles from any prospect of employment, but handily only about 20 seconds from the nearest combined sanitary station (release ropes and shove across the river). Yes, I said river. Rivers are prone to flooding, and strong currents and other things that first time boat owners with no bloody experience at all should probably not be dealing with on their first winter aboard. Miss Inexperience was about to learn some tough lessons in life on the water.

Lesson One: The oven has a gas safety cut off. If you can’t find it, you can’t make your oven work. Which is going to rather scupper your plans for dinner. Oh well, scrambled eggs anyone?

Lesson Two: Full elsan cassettes are heavy. Opposite Miss Inexperience’s first mooring was a combined sanitary station with a toilet (tastefully illuminated with ultraviolet strip-lights) and a quite handy motion sensor light which came on whenever anyone stepped onto Miss Inexperience’s back deck making finding the keyhole considerably easier. Since Miss Inexperience didn’t need to fill up with water, it made sense to her to walk her full cassette round to the emptying point, normally a two minute walk. It took Miss Inexperience fifteen minutes to haul her toilet round, and caused her to gain several fetching bruises on the thigh where she’d forgotten about inertia and whacked herself with the damn thing.

Lesson Three: Bugger the cars. When going through a partially automated swing bridge with an increasingly impatient queue of cars waiting for it to re-open Miss Inexperience shouted across to her AP[1] to start lifting the barrier on the far side. The first car promptly started across the bridge, despite the other barrier not having been raised yet. The bridge wasn’t quite closed, and it remained not quite closed, and slightly wobbly, until BW arrived, fixed the mess and retrieved Miss Inexperience’s only BW Key from the mechanism.

Lesson Four: Make damn sure you can make the bank before leaping off the boat, particularly in November. Funnily enough this occurred at the same swing bridge as Miss Inexperience’s previous mishap. There was a coal merchant opposite the bridge moorings which was due to close and Miss Inexperience only had half a bag of coal left and needed to go to work in the morning. In her hurry to get off, she hit the bank with the toe of one boot[2] and dropped straight into the water with the boat heading for the bridge. Much swearing ensued as Miss Inexperience hauled herself back out of the really quite cold water just about in time for her crew (SBT[3]) to stop the boat hitting the bridge. Miss Inexperience then squelched round to the coal merchant, with her two (rather drier) crew, to beg for coal even though it was nearly closing time, so that she wouldn’t freeze to death. The guy in the coal merchant took pity on her, or possibly he just wanted her to stop dripping on his floor.

Lesson Five: Solid fuel stoves take a lot of getting used to. Miss Inexperience spent a lot of time cold that first winter, and to be honest it’s a miracle she didn’t set her chimney alight since she didn’t think to sweep it before using the fire. Most of that first winter was spent sat inside, shivering, wearing her coat and hat, cradling a mug of coffee, almost in tears, wondering what the hell she’d done and why she’d wanted to do it. She could make a fire, she was very good at making a fire; it was keeping it going that was proving to be a problem. As a result she was using a LOT of firelighters.

She survived.

[1] Aged Parent.
[2] A note of caution: work boots are very heavy when full of water and the lace-up variety wont come off without a lot of effort so if you’re going to fall into water wearing them, make sure it’s shallow water. If you’re likely to fall into deep water make ’em easy offs – better to lose your boots than your life.
[3] Strange Bloke Thing: A considerably more experienced boater.