By Paul Jamison
Chapter – 28
The next week at school and our work passed thankfully pretty uneventfully and the Saturday morning dawned with a fine English drizzle dampening all except for two teens who were raring to go and who’d actually prepared a full breakfast for Rick and me, all before nine am and on a Saturday too!
“To what do we owe this wonderful consideration?” I asked Will and Liam who were busy at the worktop making tea and toast to go with the perfectly boiled eggs, for us all.
“Oh well, just thought it’d help and we’d not get delayed or anything,” Will replied.
“Don’t worry. We did all the packing last night, the bags are ready in the hallway, we’ve only to eat breakfast, load the car wait for two more crew to arrive and then we can go. But, it’s no good getting there too soon. The boat won’t be ready until two pm at the earliest. So we’re going to have lunch at a pub in Great Hayward and then go onto the boatyard from there, okay?” I explained for the umteenth time.
Rick just looked at me and then burst out laughing. After a few moments he managed to say “Just let’em enjoy it. We’re on holiday; it doesn’t matter if we’re a bit late, or a bit early, okay.”
I relaxed and grinned back and we all enjoyed a good breakfast. After clearing away and getting the dishwasher going, I went to the garage and with Liam’s help we fixed the roof luggage box onto the car. Then with a small pair of steps we opened up and started loading the bags. I was pleased that we’d got all four of ours in so that left the space in the car for food supplies and Justin and Craig’s luggage. At exactly five to ten Mrs Naylor arrived with Justin, who was so anxious to get going. He’d the car door open as his mother was stopping and in his rush to get out, caught his knee in the seat belt and took a tumble out and onto the brick paving landing hard on his bottom. An ever so slightly chagrined and red faced Jus got up rubbing his bum grinning away at us grinning at him.
“Well done, Jus!” Will greeted him. “Don’t do that off the boat, will you? Or you’ll get a well wet bum!” Will giggled.
Justin dusted himself down and took his bag from the back of their car. Mary came up to Rick and me and after greeting us said
“Well, here he is. He’s been up since dawn almost, saying ‘Is it time to leave yet?’ when it was at least a couple of hours still to go. I’ve never known him this excited before,” she remarked, amused at his current antics.
“Oh, they’ll all be fine as soon as they’ve done a few locks and burnt some surplus energy,” I laughed.
“Oh, I do hope so for both
your sakes,” she replied. “Right, I’ll be off. We’ll collect him on Sunday
next, after we’re back from
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “Have a great trip. We will I’m sure.”
Mary closed down the hatchback on their car and after saying goodbye to Justin and have a good time to us all, she drove off with a wave.
A few moments later Craig arrived from down the road humping his bag along with him. We opened the hatchback and loaded both bags in and then carried out the rest of the food and supplies, packing it into the space. Once all done I looked at the time and seeing it was almost half past ten, went and checked that we’d not forgotten anything, turned on the phone answer machine, set the alarm and locked up the house. I turned away from the front door and said
“We’re ready, everyone in the car, let’s go!”
With some excitement the boys all got into the car and with Rick alongside and me driving, set off for Great Hayward, a journey of ninety or so miles and one I expected would take us a couple of hours. We made good progress and apart from one small delay for some roadworks, it took just over the two hours. At a quarter to one we pulled off the road and into the pub car park at Great Hayward, a large half-timbered mock Tudor building advertising the delights of its beer garden, real ales and home made food. We got out of the car and hurried into the pub entrance as it was by then raining steadily, a slightly ominous beginning to our holiday, but seemingly not especially noticed by the boys, as yet.
Once inside they found a large table and started to study the menus while Rick and I went to the bar.
“You have a drink now,” Rick offered. “I’ll drive the last half mile to the yard and then have a nice drink later with dinner.” he continued, “We’d better see what the boys want.”
“Yes, okay, thanks, that’ll be good; I’ll go and ask them what they want. Get me a pint of bitter, please,” I said, as I turned to go back to where the boys had taken over a large corner table.
“Chosen your food and drink yet?” I asked as I reached the table.
“Yeah, home-made burger and chips with a large Coke please,” Justin piped up.
“Same for me, please,” Will added.
“Um… the home made lasagne and a glass of medium white wine, please,” Liam said.
“Could I have the home made
“Yes, sure. So let’s see if I
have it all now, two Cokes, two white wines, two burgers, a lasagne and a
“Yeah,” they chorused back.
I went back to the bar and relayed all the orders to Rick; we added our own orders of bacon and brie on a baguette and one mineral water and one pint and taking our order number returned to our table carrying the drinks between us.
“I hope this rain stops sometime soon,” Will announced to everyone. He was looking anxiously out of the window at what had now become a proper downpour.
“The forecast is for a sunny afternoon and cool but sunny for most of the week,” I said hopefully.
We sat and enjoyed our drinks while waiting for our food order to arrive. In a short time a couple of servers brought the food to the table and we enjoyed our meal. After we had all done, I gently reminded everyone that it might be a good idea to use the facilities as it would be easier than all queuing for the two small loos on the boat later. They took the point and went to use the rest-room while Rick and I settled the bill. Once everyone had finished we made our way back to the car and Rick took the driving seat for the last half-mile to the boat-yard.
A few minutes later we pulled in through the entrance to the yard and parked up in the parking area. The rain had eased off and there was a welcome gap in the dark clouds that the sun was vainly trying to appear through. The boys all got out and made their way to the canal edge and looked at the row of moored boats. I got out my paperwork and went over to the small yard office to deal with the formalities.
The lady in the office was expecting us and she had her file open ready. I signed her paperwork and made a comment about the weather
“Oh, that’ll soon clear up,” she smiled at me. “The forecast is good for most of next week,” she added.
“Yes, I looked it up online,” I said. “I just hope it was right.”
“Do you know what route you want to do?” she asked.
“Yes, the Four Counties Ring down to Autherley and round that way,” I told her. We hope to make Penkridge tonight,” I added.
“Oh, it’s pretty quiet, so no reason why you shouldn’t,” she replied smiling at me as she came out from behind her desk to show me the location of the boat. “It’s about ten miles and just the five locks to Penkridge, so a good first afternoon to get them in the swing of it,” she said.
We walked down the yard to the canal bank where the boys and Rick were waiting. The lady pointed to a boat that had its engine running and the rear hatch open.
“That’s it. Joe’s onboard getting it all warmed up for you,” she said as she turned away to go back to the office.
“Many thanks, we’ll see you in a week then,” I replied.
Thankfully the rain had abated and I made my way over to the boat. I stepped aboard and found Joe just inside adjusting the central heating controls.
“Afternoon, sir” he began. “I’ve got ’er all warmed up, the heating’s on too. She’s fully watered; you’ve two full gas bottles and a full tank of diesel,” he explained. “I’ll show you over her as soon as you’re ready to go, okay?” he said, as he stepped away and up off the boat to leave us to embark.
The boys immediately jumped aboard and started to explore the boat. I called a halt in the main cabin and said
“Plenty of time to explore later, when we’re under way. Let’s get all our luggage and supplies onboard, choose cabins and then we can look around, okay? Rick and I are in the middle double cabin, so Liam and Craig and Will and Jus you choose between you the fore or the aft cabins. The fore has the double bed that you make up in the dining area and the aft one has the two singles,” I reminded them.
“Oh, can we have the aft one?” Liam said immediately, looking at Craig for support.
“How about you two?” I asked Will and Jus. “Are you happy with the front cabin?”
“Yeah, its good, it’s bigger and near the food and TV too,” they laughed.
“Right, guys, lets get everything onboard as quickly as we can so we can get away,” I said.
We all got off and I brought the car down as close to the canal as possible and we transferred the luggage into the cabins and the food to the kitchen area. As soon as we were done and I’d re-parked the car in the customer car park, Joe came back to the boat and starting at the bow explained the features and operation. He began with taking on water each day and gas safety procedures. We worked through the boat and its fittings including the pump action toilets that none of the boys had seen before, and through to the shower and then to the central heating and hot water system. Finally he lifted the rear decking to reveal the water cooled marine diesel engine that would provide power and electricity for the boat. He showed us the ‘weed hatch’, a cover over the propeller that would have to be lifted and any obstructions to the prop cleared out if we were unlucky enough to strike heavy weed or awful plastic carrier bags that’d blown or been dumped into the canal and become disasters waiting to happen for unsuspecting boats passing over them partly submerged. He next pointed out something he described as the stern tube greaser which, someone must make a point of turning down a quarter turn every morning, before starting the engine, so as to prevent the stern tube seizing up through lack of lubrication. At this point Justin looked towards Will and gave a sly smile.
I said “I’m okay with this. I’ve had a few experiences with this type of boat. So we shouldn’t have any problems, thanks.” I attempted to move on. “Can you go through the engine controls?” I asked.
Joe explained the controls and we put the engine cover back and he handed over the boat keys to us after pointing out not to take any keys off the large float they were attached to. He bid us a good trip and stepped off the boat.
“Give a shout when you’re ready to go and I’ll give you a push out,” he said and returned to the yard office.
We’d all just stepped down into the cabin and were going through to the galley when Jus quipped
“Liam and Craig better be in charge of that greaser thing as they’re down that end and need lots of practice at lubricating the stern tube!” He then slipped into the galley and could be heard giggling away as both Liam and Craig didn’t know where to look.
“Good one, Jus!” I heard from Will coming over the fits of giggles.
Rick turned round and held on to the cabin side and I could see he was about to crack up. I looked back at two red faced teens in the stern cabin and quietly went through to have a word.
“Okay?” I asked smiling at them both, and then to Liam “I did suggest that you stop the teasing and now you’ve got some back, I’m afraid.”
“Yeah, and don’t I know it. He’s so sharp, isn’t he?” Liam said ruefully. And then turning to Craig said “I’m sorry, I’ve teased those two a little and now they got me back for real. I’m sorry, they got you too.”
Craig turned to Liam and said “Yeah, they have, but it was bloody funny, wasn’t it!”
Then in an instant both of them burst out laughing and the moment was past. We got on with storing away the supplies and generally getting to know the boat. A few minutes later we were ready to go. With Will and Jus up in the bow we were aided by a shove with a boat pole from Joe and nosed out of the mooring, turned to the right across the canal and with a little manoeuvring, turned up the Staffordshire and Worcester canal and onwards through our first bridge No 109 towards the Tixall wide, a piece of open water, a haven for kingfishers among many other water birds. The pace of around three miles an hour was indeed more pleasant than that experienced over the last few weeks and I for one looked forward to some relaxation.
We’d just gone through the bridge when Will appeared from the cabin and came and sat in the steerage seats.
“The bridges only have a few inches to spare either side,” he remarked. “How do you steer it through without hitting it? You can’t see the front end from here.”
“Well, if you keep your right hand on the tiller and look down the side of the boat you can see the whole edge easily and line yourself up to the bridge hole easily enough and then glide through,” I explained.
Will came and stood alongside me and looked down the side of the boat while resting his right hand on the tiller just above mine.
“Yes, I see and it’s easy to adjust. If you concentrate on getting one side right the other is going to be okay as well,” he remarked smiling back at me.
“Got it in one,” I said, “but don’t line up to the centre of the bridge hole because the tow path goes through on one side or the other and if you just lined up with the bridge centre you’d hit the edge stones of the tow path under the bridge quite hard and that could well throw you over to hit the other side of the bridge with the cabin top and that’s when real damage happens.”
“Do we get to steer as well?” he asked.
“Of course. I’m not doing all one hundred and ten miles of it, believe me!” I laughed.
Will watched for a few minutes as we headed onwards and then came again and stood next to me watching the way the bow moved slowly with a bit of a time gap as I adjusted the steering to keep the boat in the centre of the canal.
“It takes ages for the front end to move when you steer, doesn’t it?” he remarked.
“Yes. There’s a small delay; it’s not like steering a car. The front end, or the bow, is sixty four feet away from where we are and takes time to respond to instructions from the tiller here at the back or stern. And you’ve noticed that you move the tiller in the opposite direction to the way you want the bow to go,” I explained.
“Yeah,” Will grinned at me.
Justin appeared from the aft cabin and cheerily said
“Rick wants to know if you’re ready for a mug of tea. We’ve got the kettle on and found some biscuits,” he grinned.
“You don’t have to ask really,” I laughed. “The steerer always wants a mug of tea. So if anyone’s making one, don’t forget the poor steerer, okay? Especially if it’s wet and he’s out here on his own, while you’re all warm and dry in the cabin!”
Justin grinned back, put his thumbs up and went back into the cabin to relay the message to the galley.
A few minutes later Liam appeared from the hatchway with a trayful of drinks which he carefully put down on the stern lockers and passed one to Will and placed mine on the cabin roof within reach.
“Having fun?” I asked him.
He smiled back and said
“The boat’s huge, isn’t it? I’d imagined a sorta cabin cruiser like on rivers and stuff,” he said. “How long is it?”
“Sixty-four foot,” Will chirped up from the other side locker top. “But only seven foot wide though, or they won’t fit into the locks. When do we do the first one?” he asked, turning to me.
“Immediately after the next bridge,” I replied. “Tixall Lock’s an uphill lock just over four foot rise. We’ll pull in just before the lock so we can show you all how to operate the locks safely, okay.”
“There’s the bridge,” Will called out as we rounded a bend. “And I’ve already done locks on that Sunday. So Jus and I already know how to do them,”
“Yes, but Liam and Craig don’t and another run through wont hurt. It’s a few weeks since we did that. Right, open those lockers that you’re sat on and take out four of the windlasses that are there as you’ll need those to operate the paddle gear,” I said as I slowed down to approach the bridge.
Will and Liam opened the lockers and took out the four windlasses.
“Okay, Ask Rick to come back here and then I’ll come off the boat with you and we’ll work through this first lock so you all get to know what to do.”
“Okay, will do,” they replied together.
Liam and Will took the four windlasses between them and disappeared down the hatch and through the cabin to re-emerge in the bow with Justin and Craig, who by then had a windlass apiece, and waited as the boat gently came under the bridge and they were able to hop off onto the towpath and make their way up to the lockside. Rick appeared at the stern hatch, came up onto the stern and took over the tiller from me.
“I’ll go through this one slowly so they get the routine, okay?,” I said as I went down through the cabin to collect my own windlass and join the boys on the lockside.
Once there I saw that the lock was almost full and we needed it empty. So I had Will and Justin wind the paddles up slowly to allow the lock to empty. Craig and Liam watched as they did that and as soon as the lock had emptied and the gates were free two boys pushed on each gate beam and it slowly swung back to the wall allowing Rick to nudge into the lock. Will and Justin closed the gates, released the gate gear ratchet and wound down the paddles. I took Liam and Craig to the top gates and showed them which gear to be ready to open as soon as the bottom gates were shut and paddles closed.
As soon as the boat was safely in the lock I signalled to Liam and Craig to begin winding up the front paddles to let water back into the lock to raise the boat to the new level. The boys began to push down on the windlass handle they had fitted to the lock paddle spindle and tried to wind away, only to realise suddenly there was a little more to it than just winding. Some oooomphf was needed and some solid effort on their part to get the older machinery to move. They succeeded and eventually the water levels were equal and they were able to open the gates. After releasing the ratchet, they wound down the paddles. Rick moved the boat forward out of the lock, until just clear of the gates, after which Craig and Liam helped by Will and Jus closed them behind our boat and hopped back onboard, dropping the windlasses back into the locker, before making their way through to the bow seating again.
“They’re very quiet,” Rick said.
“I told them, “well done… there’re just ninety-six more locks to go,” I grinned.
“Oh, I see,” Rick laughed back. “How far’s the next one?”
I looked at our cruising guide open on the cabin top by the steering position and replied “It’s a good hour away, about four and a half miles.”
“I’ll stay here for a bit,” Rick said. “Give you a chance to get sorted out inside and see how the boys are settling. This next bit is easy cruising by the sound of it.”
“Yeah, it is. Okay, I’ll go in and see what’s to be done.”
I went down the stern hatchway and closed the doors to keep the heat in. It was cooling down outside as the afternoon wore on and I could see us using our fleeces and cagoules a lot if the weather persisted as it had that day. The boys were gathered in the lounge/dining area in the forward cabin of the narrowboat and were chattering happily as I came through.
“So, what do you think of it so far?” I asked.
“It’s great… who’s steering?” Liam asked.
“Rick, of course,” I replied. “He’s done this before as well,” I explained.
“The boat’s bigger than I expected,” Justin said. “There’s loads of room though and it’s a bit scary through those bridges. There’s only an inch or two to spare.”
“You’ll soon get used to it though. Are you all unpacked yet? As now would be a good time. We’ve an hour till the next lock. So there’s time to sort your cabins out and get the bags stowed away under the bunks or beds,” I suggested.
Liam and Craig went down aft to their cabin to unpack and Justin and Will looked about, a bit nonplussed as to how they could unpack. I then showed them their wardrobe, cleverly built in to the end panels of their double bed. There were also several storage drawers all round the base of their bed also. Once they’d sussed it all, they got on with unpacking also. I went down to our own cabin and sorted out Rick’s and my clothes into the wardrobe and cupboard space and then stowed the bags under the bed too. I took out our fleeces, putting mine on and taking Rick’s with me, made my way through Liam and Craig’s den and up through the stern hatch to the stern deck seats. I took the tiller while Rick put his fleece on and we stood by the stern rail quietly enjoying the pace as we made good progress around Baswich. After some fifteen minutes or so Liam and Craig came up onto the stern deck, also in their fleeces, and sat on the stern lockers looking out over the canal as we passed through bridges and along past rows of gardens belonging to the houses backing onto the canal, some with their own boats moored to landing stages cut out of the banks.
“Must be fun living right on the canal,” Liam said.
“Yes, I reckon you’d become quite a water rat if you could row, canoe or had a small dinghy with an outboard as a boy growing up around here,” I replied.
Craig nodded in agreement and slid closer to Liam on the twin bench seating as they carried on looking together as we wended our way round the twists and turns of the cut. After about ten minutes I nudged Rick who was steadfastly looking ahead and said
“It looks like another boat coming down. We’ll be passing them in a minute. You always keep to the right on the water,” I explained and there are also some horn signals for turning and going into tunnels, things like that.”
A few moments later we passed the other boat each steerer nodding and giving a friendly wave as we passed. We pressed on and I thought it would be good to see if Liam and Craig could get the hang of steering the boat.
“Come and have a go on the tiller,” I suggested.
“Okay,” Liam replied. He came over to the tiller. Rick explained the basics and handing over to Liam stood beside him until he got the feel for it and the hang of pushing the tiller the opposite way to that which you want the boat to go. After a few small corrections Liam was doing just fine and took the boat neatly round a long bend in the canal and came out of it nicely as we came onto a straighter stretch again.
“We can’t be far from the next lock,” I said. “We’ve just gone under that major road bridge and it’s not too far from there. Go and get the gang ready Craig and take the windlasses with you ready to hop off when we get to a suitable point,” I suggested.
Liam handed the boat back to me and Rick went down the hatch with Liam and Craig to organise the next lock. It wasn’t long before the familiar sight of white paint on black balance beams came into view and the lads gathered in the bow ready to be dropped off onto the towpath. Deptmore Lock was a much greater rise, of over ten feet in fact. So it was quite a sight when I nosed my way into the lock chamber after the lads had got the gates open in record time. The lock already was empty from the boat we had passed a short while before. This time Will and Jus had the gates closed behind me quickly as I’d passed into the lock and Liam and Craig were winding away the instant they could see the gates closed and safe at the other end. We managed to get through the lock in about half the time despite its being more than double the depth of the previous one entirely due to their all cottoning on so quickly.
We left that lock behind us and continued on and about half an hour later saw the beams of the next lock and as the light was beginning to fade on us I determined we would find a place to moor up after we’d completed going through the lock. It was just a little after five as we got through the lock with less than an hour of daylight to go. We made for a mooring by a bridge just before the next lock, so that would give us a good start first thing the following day.
Rick pulled alongside the towpath about a hundred metres from the bridge. The boys hopped off and took the mooring ropes while I passed the long mooring spikes and lump hammer to Craig and Liam. Between them they hammered in the spikes and I showed them how to make fast to them. Once done Rick turned off the engine and the rest of us got back onboard.
I made my way down the boat to the compact galley and turned the oven on. Then sitting down behind the dining table suggested that it might be nice to have a hot drink. Craig got the hint and filled the kettle and set it on the hob to boil.
“So are you loving it or hating it?” I asked them all.
“It’s brilliant so far. The boat’s amazing. I just hope it doesn’t rain for days though,” Will said anxiously.
“Yes, that’s something that can make it all a bit dispiriting if it doesn’t stop for days on end. But the forecast is not that. We should have bright and sunny weather, with a cool breeze, which we can cope with as we’ve plenty of warm things and central heating onboard,” I said.
“Who’s for tea?” Liam said from the galley.
“Everyone,” Justin replied. “Well I expect so anyway,” he added.
“Count me in, please, Rick said.
Will nodded, as did Craig. Liam brought mugs and a full teapot to the table and returned to the galley for the milk and sugar. We made brews and relaxed for a few minutes. I then put the cottage pie I had made earlier into the oven and told everyone it would be ready in forty minutes.
I sat down and marked up our progress so far on a big Lockmaster™ map of the Four Counties Ring with our start points and finish with times alongside.
Will and Jus sat down either side of me and asked
“So where do we end up tomorrow?”
“Hopefully, if we get a good day around here,” I pointed to a point near Wheaton Aston at bridge 19. “There’s an excellent pub there and if we do a real good day we’ll all eat out there tomorrow night. Full slap up dinner,” I said grinning.
“No cooking for Paul more like,” Rick grinned. “He’s going to work you to the bone and then he’ll fob you off with a pie and chips in the pub,” Rick carried on.
They all laughed at Rick. Then Will said
“It’s not too bad. There’re a few locks to start with tomorrow, but most of the afternoon seems to have hardly any,” he remarked after studying the chart on the table.
“What time do we need to start tomorrow?” Craig asked.
“Well, its light just around seven… ” I began.
“No earlier than half past eight, okay,” Rick firmly interjected. “And furthermore definitely not before someone’s brought me a cup of tea no sugar, at eight,” he finished to much giggling from all the boys.
“Since we’re looking after the engine compartment,” Craig said, “I’m volunteering Jus and Will as teaboys.”
“Excellent idea,” Rick said, to much amusement all round. “Well, they are sleeping right next to the kettle!”
We settled down to eating the meal and generally discussing the plan for the next day. As the evening drew on, it was obvious that fresh air and some unfamiliar use of muscles were taking it toll and Craig and Liam went off to try out the shower. Although there was not a hope of sharing it, it came under the ‘compact’ description variety. They turned in at about ten pm. I cleared away while they were showering and Will and Justin helped wash up and put away before heading for the shower themselves with much giggling as they worked out its eccentricities.
Once all had been done, Rick and I closed the partition in the centre cabin and took a shower ourselves. Then, after getting quickly ready for bed, we turned in ourselves hoping for a bright sunny morning the following day. We were soon fast asleep, lulled by the gentle lapping of the water against the boat, as the wind rippled across the canal.
* * * * * *
Another Chapter complete... again many thanks for the emails, I have very much enjoyed reading them and I think I've replied to you all. This story finishes in a couple of chapter's time and then I hope to begin a sequel. If I guess, you as readers want one. I have ideas... you tell me.
The story is also published on my Google group and can also be found on IOMFATS site. Where the fully illustated version can be found.
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