Woolly Hats and Sunglasses

Getting Sheldrake III back from Winkwell

As we gathered in the pre-dawn frost, we wondered just what we were doing there. Had we really volunteered for this?

As Sheldrake III had been taken up to dry dock to have the bow thrusters fixed, it needed to be brought back to base ready for further trips. This means getting up to Winkwell before 08.00, to get our boat out so that someone else’s could get in with time to drain down the dock and start work on it. Hence the early start. The canal was frozen, with around an inch of ice on it. To reverse the boat out of dry dock, we had to break the ice behind us with poles and shafts before we could be pulled out. Getting the boat round meant further ice-breaking, even with the engine. The lock gates wouldn’t fully open because of the ice, and progress was slow, but with an amazing sound (especially when inside the boat). Manoeuvring became more interesting; the boat steers by moving the back across the water and a layer of ice stops this happening. With our Chairman Rick’s words ringing in our ears, we dare not bump the boat, and so had to do some careful work with the engine and gears – we didn’t want to use the newly repaired bow thrusters for fear of ice chunks getting into the impeller tubes and breaking the blades. However, we managed to make good progress without bumps.

The only way that I thought that I’d be able to make the crew feel OK about the early start and freezing conditions was to bribe them with bacon butties – with mugs of tea, it seemed to work. As the sun rose higher, the sunglasses came out – we were going directly into the sun, and a low sun with glare on the water meant that we really needed them. Having been in dry dock, the boat was in need of a good clean, so we set to with a will. It wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past, so the group of us got it done between locks.

As ever when we go by, there were a number of people that stopped to watch – even more so, I think, as we pushed aside the ice, and the cracking and ‘pinging’ sound announced our progress some time before we got there. The smell of frying bacon may have helped as well. More discussions with passers-by at locks – our boats and crews really are our best advert, and a great way to spread the word about who we are and what we do.

We got back to base, cleared the boat, refilled the water tank (by running a hose from the Visitor Centre – the canalside taps were frozen) and retrieved the cars from Winkwell, all in time to get home for lunch. An interesting trip – some of the crew had not boated through ice before, and were unaware of the extra problems caused by this. Handling ropes is a bit different if the rope is frozen into an unbending rod with a solid coil on the end. Although cold, it’s great on the water in this weather if you wrap up warm – and the heating keeps the inside of the boat nice and cosy.

Thanks to Dave Lee, Peter Holliman, Brian Johnston, Mike Vickery and Andrew Murray for their hard work and good cheer.