On the cut at last, and the kindness of friends (and strangers)

I collected Dreams on Good Friday. Stowed the things I’d brought and discovered that although I had three casseroles and a full set of cutlery, I had no plates or bowls and only two mugs. Fortunately, my lovely friend C brought not only a picnic rucksack complete with plates; she also brought cake, hot cross buns, fruit, hummous and Prosecco to add to the croissants, bananas, and beer I’d managed to pull together.

C and her husband M lived on a boat for several years and they spent Good Friday and Easter Saturday showing me the ropes, quite literally. I’m not very good with knots and things so their experience was invaluable. They were so kind: We had a great time catching up, and without them I don’t think I would have managed to leave the marina (or even got to the pump-out station!).C looked after the children and the ropes, M showed me how to woman the tiller, including some dodgy reversing, a couple of bumps and one incident where an overhanging tree (an ash, suitably) knocked the chimney flue pipe into the canal, and M and I had to grope around in the murky water- fortunately only a couple of feet deep- to retrieve it; and they both showed me how to do locks. These are much easier with a crew; you have to open the gates, sometimes either fill or empty the lock, look after the boat inside the lock and also wind the mechanism to release the water.

“Keep boat forward of cill marker” warns the lock gate. Terrible things can happen if you forget to do this; the cill is a sort of step right at the bottom of the lock, and if your boat is above it when the water drains out, your propeller can catch on it and bend, or even worse, you can break the hull if you’re caught high up on it.

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Stockton top lock

On Easter Sunday, after we’d bid farewell to C and her family, Daughter (hereafter known as Boat Girl) and I moved on a little on our own- rather nervously on my part, it must be said. The previous day we’d gone through the locks with another boat each time, and anyway we’d had enough pairs of grown-up hands to deal easily with the locks. Today it was me on my own, as Boat Girl is still too small to play any part in operating these miraculous machines.

Initially she wanted to stay in the boat while I operated the lock, as she had before. Then I decided I would prefer her to be on the towpath, out of any possible harm’s way. We had the row about it, then we had the cwtch to make up, and clad once again in lifejacket and warm waterproof coat she stood on the bank, a small, rather forlorn figure, while I faffed about with the centre line and the stern rope and fiddled about with the winding key. If your boat is the only one in the lock, it’s a good idea to have her roped to one of the mooring pins (because if she drifts to the middle while you’re on the bank, you won’t be able to get back on). However, if the rope is tight while the water drains away, of course you can end up tipping her onto her side (another potential horror from the lock!). I was dithering while wondering if I’d considered all the risks- I was about to grab the bow rope, hold it loosely enough for it to pay out but tightly enough to keep hold of it, while I released the water-gates and let Dreams down- all while keeping Boat Girl by my side and not injuring her with the windlass- when to my delight another boat appeared. I was over the moon. Four more pairs of hands, no need to moor the boat as she would have no room to drift away. This made our lock experience far easier and less fraught!

Anyway, we went through two locks with this other boat, and then I found a mooring to leave her at while Boat Girl and I found a pub for lunch. It was near enough to a road that Boat Girl’s father could find us to come and pick her up. We set off along the tow path with high hopes that a pub would be just around the corner; but as it happened, it seemed that we had found the most pub-barren stretch of canal this side of Pontlottyn, as my dad always says. We walked and walked. We saw VERY early bluebells and violets, we found a swing on a tree, but we didn’t see a pub. Eventually we asked an older couple if we were heading in the right direction to find one. Yes, they said, but it was another mile and a half. By this time Boat Girl was hungry and so was I, and my heart sank a little. We thanked them and carried on- only for them to hail us. “We were thinking,” they said, “Come with us to our car. We’ll take you to the pub, and if they’re full up- because it’s Easter Sunday, remember- we’ll take you to a farm shop and then back to your boat. It’s on our way home anyway.” Well, how kind. They did exactly that- we walked up this (rather long) path to their car, they drove us round the corner to the pub, and waited while we found out whether the pub could feed us. I didn’t find out their names but I’ll always remember them and we hugged as we parted. It’s been a real weekend of kindness for us.

The weather is pants at the moment, so I’m off to do some nesting onboard today, rather than cruising, probably- maybe a little cruise- and try to get some photos to share!

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