The Big Weekend: Day Two

A new day, a new crew and a new stretch of the river to navigate.  For the final stretch of the race to Newark I had recruited some big names to steer Double Fracture to the finish line. SuperSusie has been a fountain of useful boat knowledge over the last few months; this is because she is a boating world champion.  Added to this, I had trans-continental adventurer Chris, the woman-who-is-teaching-me-to-live Lizzie and prodigal skipper Poppy.

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The day got off to the best possible start by listening to a podcast.  Underwhelming, you might think, but this was not any podcast.  It was the BBC’s flagship film programme, Wittertainment, and they were reading out my review of Pitch Perfect 2 (about 31 minutes in if you’re interested).  Excited does not cover it (Mark Kermode even chuckled at my attempt at humour).  I did miss the chance to say hello to Jason Isaacs (may I rectify that here Jason – apologies for forgetting you in my rush to review the film), but who gets everything right first time?

My radio debut celebrated with a cup of tea, we set sail, and straight away arrived at the first challenging moment.  Gunthorpe lock was in use and I was surrounded by big, shiny yachts.  The kind made out of plastic that do not take kindly to a nudge from a 12-ton lump of steel.  With no obvious place to tie up and wait for the green light, I resorted to turning circles in the river, getting palpitations as the weir appeared ever closer.  After what can only have been a couple of minutes, but at least a dozen grey hairs and a semi-permanent furrow in the forehead later, the lock gates opened, and two more shiny yachts came out.  We had another near-miss with the second (cue angry glares), but made it into the relative safety of the lock.   The lock keeper, having witnessed my ineptitude, decided that he really needed to go back to basics with his advice, covering topics such as what a red light signifies, and the worst place for a person to get stuck in a lock (between the boat and the wall apparently).  But also gave us a pub tip for lunch, so I can overlook the patronizing preface.

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On we went to Fiskerton, and the pub gods were smiling on us – just as we arrived two boats left the visitor moornings outside The Bromley at Fiskerton, allowing us to enjoy a leisurely lunch overlooking the boat (like an overprotective parent, I get very nervous when Double Fracture is out of sight).  I can recommend the burgers.

Poppy decided to show us how it was done, and took the tiller for a while.  I’m expecting big boating things of this child (I’ve heard Ben Ainslie has made tentative enquiries about America’s Cup availability for 2025).  And before we knew, Newark Castle was on the right, and a very tight turn into the marina was on the left.  A bit of a thud on the way in seemed like the appropriate way to announce our arrival.  I made a quick phone call to the family to let them know of our success was greeted with much relief, and it was time to get onto the serious business of picking out my wedding outfit.

There were four options for SuperSusie to pass judgement on – the blue dress (too short), the purple (too un-wedding-y), the green (too tight; the zip did well to hold it together for those few seconds) and the black (it’s black).  The solution: a last minute trip to Monsoon on the morning of the wedding to get a cardigan to add a splash of colour to my otherwise ebony outfit.  The outcome: a whole new outfit, and a gasp of horror as I told the saleswoman that the wedding was four hours away.  Who said disorganisation doesn’t have its benefits?

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘I’m outta love‘ by Anastacia.

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The Big Weekend: Day One

The challenge: getting me and my boat 35 miles down the River Trent to Newark in time for my sister’s wedding. I had two days to get there and two days to get back. In the run up to the wedding, I had been outwardly calm and confident of my chances of success, though as the weekend grew closer and more people expressed concerns over the sensibility of the plan (“Why not just get a room at the hotel Katherine?”), I became more nervous. Fortunately, I am a stubborn being, and so the more family and friends gently suggested I consider making alternative travel plans, the more my resolve strengthened. Crews for each day were recruited, supplies were bought and toilets were emptied. The race to Newark was on.

The first day brought my Dad and a friend, let’s call her Bekky, and her children to Double Fracture, along with glorious sunshine (and subsequently distinctive sunburn lines, that were in no way covered up by any of my wedding outfit options). We were closely observed leaving the marina by my neighbour-to-the-left (whose boat I had vigorously bumped into on my last outing, flinging many of her possessions onto the floor, and breaking one of her ornaments. Because she’s lovely, she told me to forget it happened; because she’s sensible I imagine she is going to be very aware of my comings and goings for the foreseeable future.) Happily, Dad manouevered us out of the mooring without so much as a glancing blow to any of the surrounding boats. I displayed a somewhat heavier hand when trying to enter Beeston lock, and there was another vigorous bump which broke one of my pint glasses (I blame the weir). But generally all went pretty well. “It would be a bit of a shame if I’d paid all that money for breakdown cover,” I found myself thinking mid-afternoon, “to never use it once.” Oh, Katherine.

The boat stopped moving. There was no clanking, or acrid-looking smoke, it just stopped moving. A cursory look at our surroundings provided the answer – we had run aground (about 20 foot from the shore). I tried to reverse. Nothing. Dad tried to push us off the sand bank with a pole. Didn’t budge. “Why don’t I jump in and try push us free?” I suggested. So in I went, to the very cold though surprisingly clean-looking river and tried pushing the boat from various different angles. Why shouldn’t I succeed where my 18 horse-power engine had failed? I did not succeed, and was now dripping wet. We were about to get a River Canal Rescue engineer out to assist us, when a boat appeared on the horizon.

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Our green saviour approached us cautiously, for fear of getting stuck themselves. (I suspect they may not have approached at all had Bek’s two sons not stuck their heads out of the window at the right moment. Three clueless adults could be told to wait for the appropriate rescue services; three innocent children lumbered with three clueless adults was an entirely different kettle of fish.) They agreed to try to tow us out, and after a lot of huffing and puffing by both boats, we were free and back on the open |river.

Onwards we sailed to Gunthorpe. I put my wet trousers out to dry on the roof, which backfired when they flew off the roof and disappeared into the river. As did my flip flop. However, we were just a tricky parking manoeuvre away from a pub dinner, so I wasn’t that bothered. During the course of said manoeuvre, Dad got perilously close to a very shiny, very breakable yacht, and the owners were less than pleased with us. As no damage was apparent, they soon forgave us,and helped us tie up Double Fracture. “Your boat didn’t seem to be handling that well,” commented one as we stepped off board. I explained the sand bank mishap, and he nodded sagely. “You may well have some damage there,” he said. My heart sank, in that familiar ‘have-I-got-another-hole-in-my-boat​?’ way, and decided to see if I could see any propeller damage through the weed hatch.

The good news was the propeller looked structurally how a propeller should look. The bad news was something had twisted itself round the propeller. It was easy enough to disentangle (I have now self-certificated myself to intermediate status at this operation), and took a closer look at the article. My trousers. No longer wearable, as the propeller had made certain adjustments that would not be becoming on a young lady such as myself. But at least I have acquired a new rag for engine cleaning, and learnt that the top of a moving vehicle is not a sensible place to hang out the washing.

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This blog post was brought to you by ‘Help!’ by the Beatles.

The first sleepover

This month, Double Fracture and I have taken another important step in our narrowboat adventuring – a night away from the marina. (My lovely boat actually spent many years as a constant cruiser in her previous life, so its mainly just new to me.) Over the bank holiday, my crew of five and I ventured as far as Colwick (a round trip of 28 miles in three days), and several learning points were identified.

  • Always make a thorough toiletting contingency plan, which takes account of the number of people on board. We all know the consequences of ignoring this area of planning.

  • Take a hose pipe. Much like a sewage tank, a water tank will only stretch so far when faced with the water needs of six people. Luckily for us, the water only ran out when we were in sight of Sawley.

  • You can’t always make a plan based on the weather forecast. We planned to have a leisurely Sunday lunch on the middle day of our trip as the Met Office suggested that it would not be a good day for travel. So we spent Saturday sailing in cold and damp conditions, only to find that Sunday was a glorious day, perfect for cruising the waterways. (But as we had made a Sunday lunch plan, booked a table and arranged to meet a prospective crew member at the restaurant, we couldn’t possibly abandon our lazy Sunday idea.)

  • People will throw all manner of things into a canal. Which will then get wrapped round my propeller. Though this did give me the opportunity to dazzle my crew by recognizing what the horrible clanking sound was, and then fix the problem by wriggling around the engine room in a very undignified manner to fish out the offending items (a can, glove and sofa cushion) from the weed hatch. The cushion needed to be cut off the propeller with a Stanley knife; I am proud to report that after several minutes slashing the knife about in murky water in a position that felt very much like contortionism, I still have all my digits. (I am less proud to report that I inadvertently became one of those people who will just throw anything into the canal – I lost a sandal en route, which may well now be interfering with someone else’s boat steering.)

There were other, non-boaty lessons learnt, including further confirmation that Thai cushions are not only great stools, footrests and roll-mat substitutes, but also make very comfortable sun loungers on the roof. It was also noted that I and my friends are creeping ever further into middle age; the time in your life when you really appreciate a good washing up brush (I have since replaced mine on the advice of my middle-aged compatriots).

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Big weekend away number one successfully navigated. Big weekend away number two presented a different challenge – a specific location and journey time. I might be ex-communicated from the Sanders clan if I failed to make it to my sister’s wedding due to a boat-related mishap.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Waves‘ by Mr Probz.

Shower of shit over Sawley*

I thought emptying a slightly-too-full chemical toilet might well be the grossest thing I do whilst living on a boat.  It was tricky to carry through the boat because of shape and weight, and there was leakage I don’t want to dwell on too much (though as an upside, the floors have never been cleaned so thoroughly).  How naive I was back then (last week).  How blind I was to the ugly realities of life (and the consequences of a ‘tank full’ light that doesn’t work) in those days of innocence.  How clean I smelled.

Over the bank holiday weekend, Double Fracture spent her first couple of nights away from the marina (the story of which will form the basis of another blogpost), and I had five people come to join me on the adventure.  Whilst I had prepared in many respects for hosting a crew (there were eight types of cereal, and extra bar stools), I had not considered the toileting logistics.  So by the end of the weekend I had an overfull Porta Potti and a pump out toilet that was not flushing, and spitting up fluid that would not indicate good digestive health.  Thank goodness for Sainsbury’s for accomodating our bathroom needs on that final day.

So before getting an engineer to look at my presumably broken toilet, I would pump out the contents of the toilet, just in case that fixed the problem (although the ‘tank full’ light had remained resolutely off the whole time).  As I unscrewed the sewage tank cap, fluid started to spurt out immediately.  I didn’t heed the warning sign.  I carried on unscrewing and was greeted with an explosion of black sewage tank contents.  A fountain of foulness.  An eruption of excrement. (Will I ever learn not to wear white tops when about to undertake potentially messy jobs?)   I imagine I resembled Swamp Thing.  I fled the scene to the shower, leaving my dad to deal with the aftermath.  (I think I am now in substantial favour debt.  How can you ever repay someone who has cleaned your shit off the side of your home?)

Three showers later (and the first time I have used detergent on my hair since I shaved it off), and I still feel unclean.  I think even a liberal dousing of aromatherapy may not gain me acceptance in polite society today.  Or this week.  I think I will need some intensive bathing before my sister’s wedding next weekend.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Rather Be‘ by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne.

P.S The toilet is now working again.

*Acknowledgments to Blaster Bates

I had a power tool and I wasn’t afraid to use it…..

I don’t have a power tool anymore.  But I’m jumping ahead.  The story starts with good intentions and a roof with small patches of rust.

Living in a largely steel structure, rust is something that is constantly lurking about in the more shadowy recesses of my mind, and sometimes unexpectedly jumps to the forefront of my thinking.  “Shall I have a cup of tea?” I might ponder of an afternoon.  “Yes, but what about the rusty roof?”  And so as I make my tea, I will mull over what action to take regarding the rusty roof.  It seemed like too large a job for a novice boater, and so I would banish the thought back to the shadowy recesses.  Until now.

After trawling the interweb for answers, picking the brains of my neighbours and finally visiting the lovely folk at Midland Chandlers for advice, I decided to take action during my week of annual leave.  The initial plan to repaint the whole roof was quickly scuppered by a glance at the weather forecast for the week, but dealing with localised spots of rust seemed eminently do-able.  And so I bought my first ever power tool.

It has since been commented by various parties that an angle grinder does not sound like a power tool for beginners.  It’s an intermediate tool, for those who have mastered the power screwdriver and the power drill and have moderate amounts of experience with an orbital sander.  But my only narrowboat book says an angle grinder is an essential piece of kit, and in the various forums I read, angle grinders seemed to be the tool of choice for repaints.  So after some dithering in my local hardware chain store, I went for the most expensive model, assuming this would be the best, and hopefully idiot-proof.  Throw in some goggles and those mouth-protector things that people wore to ward off bird flu, and I was ready to grind some angles.

I decided to start the job on a weekday rather than the weekend as there would be less people around on the marina, and I was nervous about what people might think about the new girl on the bank blasting bits off her roof.  However, things got off to a good start.  I started to feel smug about my apparent natural talent at angle grinding, and wished there were more people around to admire my handiwork (oh, Katherine.  Sigh.)  And it was fun to watch the old paint flying off the roof to reveal the rust below, and then to watch this go flying off the roof as well.

After about half an hour, the tool started to vibrate so much that I could only use it in short blasts.  I carried on regardless.  It was when a small disc of metal shot off the side, I thought maybe I had ground enough angles for that day.

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I was left with a half patchy roof, and the discovery of far more rusty spots than I had realised (though I think still relatively small scale.  I will seek a second opinion when I get the hull blacked).  The local hardware chain store gave me a refund on the slightly lighter angle grinder, and I got painting, first with magic rust converting stuff (that looks like the cream you put on chicken pox spots) and then cream paint, which I thought matched the existing roof colour.  It doesn’t.

What has this episode taught me?  To paraphrase Tennyson (in a manner I’m sure he would have approved of), it is better to have angle grinded and lost, than never to have angle grinded at all.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘I won’t back down‘ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (according to Wikipedia, Sam Smith pays Tom Petty royalties on ‘Stay with me’ given the similarities between the two tunes).