Shit it’s been a lovely day*

*Copyright Sophie, appropriated by me and much overused since.

Day five of The Big Trip, and the Fab Funky Ladies (FFL) were on board.  We had modest travel plans – the starting point was Castle Marina, and the end point was a mere mile or so away at Trent Bridge – but the route was fraught with hazards.

Not least of those hazards was food provision – a meat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free menu was needed.  How were we supposed to sustain ourselves through a hard-day’s boating without a cheese-and-ham toastie? It’s the kind of gastronomical challenge that could have easily lost me my crew, but luckily there were free-from-everything-but-mysteriously-still-delicious bakewell tarts.  Lunch was saved, and a potential mutiny averted.

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Celebrations for an epic coeliac-friendly lunch were cut short by a brutal attack.  The assailant was swift and calculating.  It’s possible he had been observing his victim all morning, learning her habits and weaknesses, planning his assault.  Like the mafia, he picked the post-lunch slump when Bryony was feeling full and content and had let her guard down.  As she clambered through the engine room he leapt onto her chest and all hell broke loose.  As his eight limbs pummelled Bryony’s collarbone, the three of us were paralysed with fear. Now I don’t like to portray myself as some kind of hero (it’s what anyone in my position would have done) but at this point my instincts took over.  I flicked that spider mercilessly into the water.  Once you have senselessly massacred dozens of arachnids, the killing reflex is always lurking in the background.

One crisis may have been averted, but danger was still around every bend in the river, behind every lock.  On top of every lock.  The first boating challenge of the day was Meadow Lane lock with its vertiginous 8’8″ drop to the River Trent.  One slip on the gates, and the FFL could have been sleeping with the fish.  Or at least splashing around with them.  But my crew were not content with just looking danger in the face – they wanted a selfie with it.  Because that is how the Double Fractureers roll.

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However, Meadow Lane was a mere warm up.  The big test was Holme Lock – a 12′ drop and large enough to irrigate a small drought-ridden country.  I don’t want to start a panic, but I suspect rumours of the Holme Lock Monster may image-02-largehave some substance to them. Sure, it could just have been general river debris moving around the boat trying to wrap itself around the propeller, but I’m pretty sure I saw scales.  And a fin.  Possibly a tentacle.  (Sadly my camera ran out of battery at this very moment, so no photographic evidence is available.  However, I think it would be pretty easy to organise a 24/7 surveillance of the lock with a few like-minded believers to get the necessary snaps for the Daily Mail to jump on the bandwagon.)

Holme Lock behind us and Sophie took up the helm.  We had survived monsters, heights and the threat of wheat-based pastry.  Would we survive her driving?  Happily Sophie was a self-certified excellent sailor, with minimal zigzagging down the river.  The moment with the river bank is barely worth mentioning.  We are ready to take on the next waterway.  It’ll either be the River Soar or the South China Sea.

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This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Little Bitty Pretty One‘ by Thurston Harris..

The demise of Stuart the Swan

“Push.”

I am pushing.

“Keep going, you’re nearly there.”

I can’t do this anymore.

“Try to push for a little bit longer next time to really keep it moving.”

I give up, it’s not coming, it’s never coming.

It is not often that conversations in my professional life and boating life are at all similar, but day four and a couple of heavy locks provided some moments reminiscent of labour suite.  It’s probably to be expected when a boat crewed by midwives comes up against a lock gate that needs a good shove.

Day 4

Gallows Inn Lock to Castle Meadow, Nottingham

7 locks, 14 miles

Crew: Emily and Stuart the Swan

Emily is the most ambitious person to crew Double Fracture so far.  She was not content with just navigating my beautiful boat through the stormy waters and low bridges of the Erewash canal.  She did not find outrunning the potential pirates of the Trent challenge enough.  She wanted to to add white-knuckle thrills to the adventure, and had enlisted the help of Stuart the Swan for the escapade.

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The idea was to tether Stuart to the back of the boat and go full speed ahead.  Maybe reaching four, possibly four-and-a-half miles an hour.  The danger was probably not going to be whiplash, the danger was more likely going to be hypothermia or sepsis.  But before Em could run any of those risks, we needed to get out of the Erewash and leave the bridges behind.

The bridges were not going to let us go easily though.  It didn’t help that I hadn’t learnt my lesson from the day before, and still tried to exit a lock with just one gate open, making it nigh on impossible to get to the centre of the canal (and the highest point of the bridge) in time.  What was left of the solar panel box was soon demolished  – a parting gift from the Erewash.  (The solar panel is still alive and well and charging the batteries.  It is not to be intimidated by industrial revolution bridges.)

By the time we took to the open river, the weather wasn’t looking too friendly.  Grey skies ahead, and things were getting breezy.  Em and Stuart decided to hold off on their dip and await more clement conditions, and instead opted to relax on the roof. It’s what boat trips should be all about.

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It was only later we realised the consequences of the sunbathing.  In clambering over the splintered solar panel box, Stuart had sustained a mortal wound.  He kept his head held high as his body failed him.  There was nothing any of us could do at the end – no amount of gaffer tape could hold him together, and so we just tried to make him comfortable as the air slowly left his body.

Reaching our destination was bittersweet.  On the one hand, reaching Sainsbury’s is always a joyful moment for me and a chance to leisurely stock up on baking supplies.  On the other hand, it marked the end of Stuart’s first, and last journey.  He was a good swan. And I think that is how any inflatable waterfowl would like to be remembered.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘One way or another‘ by Blondie.