There is, so they say, a Chinese curse that translates as ‘May you live in interesting times’…..
All of the following happened on the same day, on the same trip. Not all of our trips are this incident filled by a long way.
It was the first of a 3-day booking, with different people joining the trip for different stages.
First on board were a group from some residential homes. They were late arriving (nothing unusual), but there were 13 of them. This is a definite no-no on Close Shave as the boat is licensed to take only 12 passengers. The usual solution is for people to take it in turns to walk beside the boat on the towpath, but this wasn’t possible this time, so one of the carers had to go back with the transport. Departure delayed by about an hour, but with someone lock-wheeling on a bike to set the locks ahead of us, we could make up time. The group wanted fish and chips for lunch on the way; not a problem, we’re used to phoning Kings Langley Fish Bar and getting them to send out what we want to the boat, and they do this at a reduced rate and to much praise for the quality and quantity of their food. What we’re not used to is each of the people ordering food wanting a separate receipt, and each of them needing change of a £20 note! However, we worked out a way between us, and all was arranged for us to be as well fed as ever.
At this stage, one of the carers found that they’d forgotten some medication for one of the people they support. Trying to explain where we would be at lunchtime and how to get there by road would have been difficult enough, but it was made a bit more complicated by English not being the first language of the carer or the driver, and my Polish not being any good at all. An anxious wait, with a number of phone calls, but eventually the minibus was sighted at the lights – indicating left when we were straight over! Shouting and waving didn’t seem to work, but the carer sprinted to the lights and caught the driver’s attention. Carer, medication and the person needing it were re-united, to much relief. More delay, but we’ve got a lock-wheeler and a fairly generous time schedule, so all is not lost.
Then – approaching the sharp bend at Grove Mill, there was a boat adrift across the canal. I also noticed our volunteer lock-wheeler gingerly inching his way along the gunnels of the said boat. I’m not sure if he knew what he was going to do once he got along to the bow, but he was determined to do something to help. Another boater who had just moored up also helped out, getting the centre line from the boat in order to try and pull it back to the bank. The position of the boat made it necessary to get a rope from Close Shave to the volunteer on the front of the loose boat, and for me to tow it back in to place. Reversing a canal boat isn’t easy at the best of times, and with a boat attached at the front and moored boats to miss it made for a neat exercise, but we did it in the end.
All back on board, and making progress again – until a lump of wood got jammed in the propeller and stopped the engine dead; just on a right-angled bend, with us heading towards a moored wide-beam and two boats heading towards us. ‘You’re heading for a moored boat!’ ‘I know, but I haven’t got an engine!’ Nothing ever travels very fast on the canal, though, and so the gentle glancing blow did no damage, and a quick trip down the weed hatch soon solved the problem. On again.
Despite the delays, we were getting close to being back on schedule as we approached Cassiobury Bridge lock. Seeing two boats heading the other way made us hopeful that the lock would be in our favour , and we’d arrive at our destination on time. As we approached the lock, however, we saw another boat just going in the lock to go down, ahead of us; never mind. They were going to turn straight round and come back up; another bit of delay. This turn is really awkward, and they tried several times to turn the boat, before I got them to get the back end up the side stream and pulled the front of their boat round; not a usual way to turn, but the only one that works here.
On to the marina, and time to get the passengers off. We needed to improvise a ramp that bridged the step so that the wheelchair users could disembark, but some large blocks of wood and our extra wheelchair ramp soon solved the problem safely and securely, as we’d worked out on a previous recce visit, and all got off happily.
Some new passengers were joining us here for the trip on to Rickmansworth Aquadrome, but some had got delayed even more than we had, and had yet to arrive. But the Marina manager needed to lock up for the night…… Several phone calls later, we’d re-arranged a rendezvous and left the marina, with our thanks for allowing us to improvise a landing and apologies for the delay. Sadly, the two people and their carers we’d been waiting for were not able to join us in the end and we had to go on without them. The rest of the way was uneventful, and we moored up to head for the White Bear for a pint and a meal. After this, the couple of people who were staying on the boat got their stuff from their car, and I went to Tesco’s to pick up some stores. On my return, at about 9.00, I found that they were already in bed and asleep. Had the day been that tiring?!
The only other incident was one of the lock-wheeling volunteers falling off the bike; can’t remember where this happened (trauma does terrible things to memory), but not much damage was done to the person, and none to the bike, so all was OK.
The feedback from the group waxed lyrical about the peaceful and relaxing trip. Were we on the same one? They were also very complimentary about the helpful, knowledgeable and friendly crew; now that bit I do recognise ……
Day 1 over. What will days 2 and 3 bring?