Look lively there lad, splice the funnel bunting and run up the rudder snodgrobbets!
Swab those thingummies and sing me something by Rod Stewart.
[And other nautical cat-calls oft heard these days in the vicinity of Cardinal Wolsey.]
There I was, moored gently alongside The Olde Barbridge Inn, still full of ale and warm calories, with servicing work completed on the gas cooker and the diesel water/space heater by the nice chap from Mobile Marine Engineering. I woke, stretched, scratch an armpit or two, prepared my customary breakfast of rum-on-toast – and then it hit me. The cupboard door, that is. Worse yet, while sat sitting on the galley floor with an imprint of a cupboard door handle on my forehead, I suddenly realised that I was almost two miles and a whole lock and a mooring exercise away from my safe haven in the marina – and I’d have to get the Cardinal back there without, this day, the benefit of the nice lady Linda of Cheshire Cat Training. A space-walk without a tether, a dive without a dive-buddy, a leap on the high trapese without a safe-er-tee net.
Eek! I said. Eek and gadzooks.
This was a very adventurous thing to say indeed, since I had just fallen on my ample eek and I, as yet, don’t know my gadzooks from my bilge-rat. A telephone call was made to the brother, during which I threatened to tell the authorities about the missing goats and he coincidentally agreed to meet me at Barbridge with all haste and a modicum of moral support.
Those nice aliens from planet CanalPlan.org.uk – and a little bit of looking with my own eye-stalks – told me that, since the Cardinal was pointing in what we in nautical circles term “die falsche richtung”, we’d need to go somewhere else first in order to turn around.
Turning around on a canal is a spot of a problem when the boat is twice as long as the canal is wide. The Bro settled in for a spot of guffawing and the occasional terrified scream, while I prepared the Cardinal as best I could. I put the extension stick on the tiller thingy, moved the gin decanter and a flask of carbonated quinine water to the aft deck, sliced through the mooring ropes with my cutlass and rang on the engine-room repeater for “full steam ahead”. Fenders and stovepipes and some other little obvious signs that I was a complete numptie newbie I forgot about althogether of course. Off we went, scattering kayakers, row-boatists and the occasional cyclist before us.
Hornblower lives and breathes, I told myself, one hand tucked behind my back and the other tickling the steering stick. At pipe bridge I found the necessary “winding hole” (a ruddy great widening of the canal, for the purpose of performing a 180° change of vector) and, even with towpath observers (a bloke, two kids and a very sarcastic dog), I managed the necessary. Back the way we’d come we went, homeward bound.
Barbridge Junction, thus far the site of all of my most infamous moments including one shameful “Timothy West” (oops – contact sport) incident, offered me some small confustication. We arrived at the same time as an inferior boat from the opposite direction and, being English, I naturally gave way, thus losing all hope of steery-steery control, dignity and panache. We eventually and in due order got through the ninety-degree turn under the bridge and pootled through the narrow gap around the long curve lined with moored wotsits, watchermacallums – various boats. All seemed well enough… even surviving passing someone performing a “grounding” as he rammed his boat into the bank and bushes in his own efforts to “turn around”. I was doing magnificently, all things considered.
Until some chap on the boat ahead pulled in to something we old canal hands call “the side” – and gesticulated at me wildly. I read his signals as “we’ve hit an iceberg and require assistance” when in fact he was simply saying “the lady wife has stopped to pick some Periwinkle Bullpluckers from the hedgerow, please pass”.
Well, my body was still present at that stage, but my mind had long since retired to pastures new and unknown. I forgot how to bring a narrowboat gently alongside the towpath, and I make a complete pig’s ar… ear of it all. Words and phrases such as “chin-chin” and “no trouble at all” and “thank you for enquiring, but we have the lifeboat procedure in hand” were exchanged and on we went. On we went towards my greatest triumph and my greatest downfall to date.
Venetian Marina is reached, from Barbridge, by a seriously-proportioned lock of the going down variety (I had been up it the previous day), and the Bro leapt off (with not a little relief at feeling dry land under his sandals again), the “windy-windy stick” in his hairy little hand for the paddly-paddly lock gate thingies. Back in Hornblower mode, I slipped the Cardinal into the narrow gap and a couple of helpful itinerants assisted by opening the paddles full-tilt, thus making us bounce around like a Tory cork in a Labour bucket of champagne at a Liberal fund-raiser. My underwear suffered dreadfully as we bobbed on the froth, but we avoided the cill as we descended, and that’s all that really matters isn’t it?
The lower gate was opened and we pootled out – and that was where I not only lost it but forgot almost entirely what “it” looked like. A cross-wind had been developing all morning and, Greek and Roman gods being the sods that they are, it was gusting horribly at a very inebriated angle across the marina and my (temporary) home mooring. My brow furrowed, my buttocks tautened (even after all of these years of gym-work) and I somehow sensed that this wasn’t going to end well… These photographs, I hasten to add, were all taken the following day, when springtime had returned, and this is why the water looks flat calm and dandy.
The Bro quite wisely remained at the lock, tidying up the paperwork for Lloyds of London, and preparing the lock for the next boatload of victims. He wasn’t born yesterday.
The following series of photographs and diagrammatical representations indicates just what an old sea-dog’s dinner I made of the manoeuvre.
This was the plan:
A plan full of straight lines and certainties and neat things in red and blue.
Unfortunately, the plan also included masses of moored narrowboats, unbelievably tight gaps, tight turns and, as it turned out, no chance, Squire, none at all.
This is more like what happened:
I tried, I really tried. I kept such speed on as I dared, I cut the corner by the pontoon end as closely as was humanly possible and I launched into the necessary one-eighty turn the moment our arse-end wouldn’t smack the boat moored right on the turn…
and none of it worked. The blustery winds took one look at the rather tall slab sides of the fifty-seven foot long Cardinal and they laughed at the best-laid plans of a man-mouse. About twelve rotten attempts later they relented, the bow accidentally swung in the direction of my narrow berth twixt live-aboard neighbours, the Bro – having had plenty of time to stroll down from the lock while I faffed and farted about – stuck an encouraging thumbs-up in the air, and I set the Cardinal’s prop spinning wildly.
I didn’t so much re-berth as re-enact the beach landings at Normandy.
But we were back, back where for the moment, we should be.
While I fainted (landing gently into the remains of the gin decanter) the Bro took pity and tied up the mooring lines and things.
Boy, was I done.
I have been advised though that, in narrowboat on canal terms, what I’d just done was about the most difficult manoeuvre I’d be called upon to do – turning the bows in a tight space against the wind, while tight myself.
I do hope so.
Now it’s onwards and upwards with the rest of the nautical DIY to-do list, now that gas and water are working (callee calloo callay oh frabjous day). Gas cookery and diesel-powered showery, civilisation returns and the spectres of rickets and terminal body-odour recede.
My nerves can regroup. For a while. Until the next time the Cardinal and I move (which will be after some engine-bay work in order to go and have our respective hulls blacked).
I now have about five hours and three locks of experience under my belt – plus a mooring manoeuvre best not further mentioned. Shiver me timbers, and suchlike.