Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Retford to Forest Locks and Back

On Thursday evening I was joined aboard by my friend Janis, who you may remember crewed recently for me from Saxilby to Lincoln and back.
In August she has some time off from work and plans to bring her boat ‘Roots and Wings’ from the River Trent onto the Chesterfield. So she had asked me if she could join me for this couple of days to see what it was all about down here.
Of course how could I refuse? She was marvellous company last time she visited as well as being a very handy crew member and was always most welcome again. She had to return home on Saturday so the idea was to explore as much of the Chesterfield Canal in that short time as possible, but we had to return here for her car early in the afternoon.
Since being here in Retford, I have met two fine people Peter and Jeanne, who are in the process of selling their home locally to live out their retirement on a narrowboat that is currently being built by S M Hudson of Glascote. When they heard that Janis was joining me they volunteered to look after her car outside their house while we were away, which I thought was most kind of them. As all parking around here seems to be very restricted it was nice to know the car was safe while we were away.
As always when I have a visitor I had prepared the double bed in the Cabin for Janis, while I would bunk down very comfortably in the Boatman’s Cabin. I’ve enjoyed the privilege many times before. But she insisted that she had been looking so forward to sleeping in there that she would be disappointed if I made her sleep anywhere else. Afterwards she let on that  she had slept very well in her sleeping bag on that settee bunk and without any pillow too! Talk about the pioneer spirit!

‘A pile of sodden green woollen sweaters’

We set off on Friday towards the west but the going was slow due to the canal being filled with a fine silky green weed. Within the first hundred yards we were making no progress at all as the propeller and rudder were so thickly wrapped up in the green clogging stuff. We stopped and I dived into the weed box to find masses of the heavy stuff jammed up tight in between the screw and the rudder. It took a long time to clear as well and as I heaped the sodden mass up onto the deck to dispose of ashore it reminded me of a pile of sodden green woollen sweaters.
For a little while afterwards progress was brilliant again but in total during the day I lost count of the number of times we had to remove the weed hatch lid to repeat the function. However the weather was beautiful and the Sun shone brilliantly for most of the time through a white cumulus speckled sky.

Lunchtime aboard ‘Futurest’

We managed to pass through three locks altogether, having to bow haul sometimes to avoid the threat of the weed which was actually in the chamber.
By 2pm we had covered about two and a half miles but we had arrived at the visitor moorings below the Forest Top Lock. It wasn’t a distance to boast about for a day’s run but we were very happy with it and decided to remain at these superb moorings overnight. It had been a very adventurous morning but we were tired and spent the rest of the afternoon dozing, walking and exploring along the canal as far as the next winding point about half a mile above Forest Top Lock. Up to here the waterway was thick with weed so we decided that at this point we would have to turn around to return to Retford the following day.
Later Janis prepared a lovely pasta meal which contained many vegetables and spices. It was appetizingly delicious and as twilight quietly descended we enjoyed it in the soft glow of candlelight with a bottle of red wine to the eloquently sonorous moving strains of Celine Dion.
The following morning we struggled up to the lock, passing through it to fill up at the water point. With the tank full we then continued the struggle for a further half a mile through thick weed; the surface was coated with it.

Luckily the winding point was clear and we were able to perform our manoeuvres there without having to stop in the middle (thus being at the mercy of the wind!) to clear the prop. All was quickly accomplished and we were on our way back.
The return to Retford seemed to be quicker and quite definitely we didn’t need to stop as many times to clear the propeller.  But again the Sun was at its best and we had enjoyed such a grand two days adventure that it might have appeared to be quicker because it was sadly all coming to an end.
Janis is a great crew member, pulls her weight completely at everything she does. She is happy to try anything that needs to be done to run the ship and always succeeds admirably. Where most ladies, understandably stop doing a job because it becomes too much for their strength and are happy to leave it to their man, Janis stays in there and finds her own way of doing it. She never gives up. She isn’t very tall but she still wanted to do her share of bow hauling for example through the locks and of course didn’t mind at all diving into the weed hatch. Yet she was quite happy for me as the skipper to tell her what to do without question.
Soon we were tied up just above Retford Town Lock and straightaway we walked the half mile to collect Janis’ car, which was still safe and exactly where she had left it.
And then she was gone, leaving behind her a poignant loneliness.
I shall miss her.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Still at Retford

We arrived in Retford last Monday and have been here ever since.
The Skipper has decided that as the graze on his heel hasn’t yet healed he would seek local medical attention. He has decided, quite rightly so I think to remain here until the wound is properly repaired. But of course this means I am growing weed again through inactivity, in long strands along my sides and bottom, which I think spoils my attractiveness. You would too I’m sure!
I find these long stretches of being tied up just like an animal difficult to accept, even though the Skipper has a valid excuse for doing so this time. One sees so many ancient, neglected and decaying boats on the waterways that haven’t been moved for years and I’m so afraid I shall finish up as one of those. He doesn’t think that far of course, it wouldn’t even occur to him but I hope he doesn’t neglect me like that. It’s a dreadful thought.
And talking about neglect, guess who came aboard at 8.30pm on Thursday.
Well, having read now as far as you have in this chronicle (I hope you haven’t been too bored by the contents! ....  I think his writing is terrible, if you want my candid opinion and I hope it hasn’t sent you to sleep by now!)
But anyway, to continue .... Those of you that have read this far, will by now know the Skipper as well as I do, so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who it was who came aboard.....
Sshh! Come a bit closer to the screen in case somebody is close by listening ....
Yes you’re quite right (sorry I’ve got to whisper!) .... It was Janis, his new lady friend from New Zealand!
Yes! .... That’s the one! .... The one who came to see him in Saxilby and he had the cheek to take her all the way down to Lincoln and back with a silly smile on his face!
I don’t know why he does it the stupid old fool! Even if she fancied him, he’s far too old to do anything about it. Why doesn’t he just concentrate on the job in hand .... To navigate me and him around the beautiful waterways, which he would do very nicely if he concentrated on it properly.
Anyway as I say, she came aboard on Thursday and the skipper plonked her bag on the double bunk, which he’d taken all day to change the sheets of. He said that was her berth for the trip, while he would kip down in the Boatman’s Cabin, a thing he  enjoys doing when he has visitors. But Janis wouldn’t have anything of it and I thought for one dreadful moment that she was about to suggest they sleep together .... Phew!  Good gosh!
But no! She said that he should remain in the cabin and she would bunk up in the Boatman’s. I expect, being conscious of his age, she thought his poor old back might not cope with the hard settee mattress in the back cabin. He objected but she insisted and won the battle in the end.
And that was that. I just don’t know what to do about him!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The River Trent

The Skipper’s done well since we left the floating pontoons outside Torksey Lock and set off downstream towards West Stockwith. He’s been getting on with it!
It was a passage and a half though! .... It was wonderful!

The blustery ruins of Torksey Castle from the River Trent

For the first half an hour the Skipper really raised my heartbeat to stem the last of the flood tide which was rushing against us and I don’t think ‘JP2’ had revved so quickly for so long in the two years since the ‘Old Man’s been in charge. A fresh to strong following wind against the tide, made the river conditions very choppy and the resultant swell that was building up astern would have been a bit tiresome (even for me!) had we been beating into it.
It certainly would have splashed my nose a bit!
But very soon, after the turn of tide, we began flying along on the swift ebb, and then he took all the power off and slipped us into neutral only going gently ahead when needed, to give me decent steerage way and keep me on track. Had we managed to get some canvass up he could have turned ‘JP2’ off entirely and we could have sailed down with no trouble at all.

The following swell

Around the sharp bends, in the lee of the land where the breeze couldn’t reach us, the conditions were much calmer so that, on occasions, we could see the fish swimming in the churned up murky water around us. But the tide was still simply bowling us along so that in no time at all we were rushing past the Gainsborough Waterfront, now empty of all shipping and looking like a dead town.

Gainsborough Arches

The tidal stream around the buttress of ‘The Arches’

Half an hour later we came upon the narrow lock entrance of West Stockwith very suddenly around a sharp bend to starboard. The lady lock keeper was waiting for us with the gates wide open and ready for us to go in.
Now! Knowing the Skipper and his devious ways, I expect he’s told you that he took us into the lock perfectly .... No problem at all!
Either that or he hasn’t even mentioned it.
In fact, just between you and me, he made a right ‘pig’s ear’ of the operation and we hit the downside knuckle and then slid ignominiously into the lock!
He managed to turn about to stem the tide okay and gradually with our revs high we inched our way forward until we were abeam of the entrance. Then the lock keeper gave us the signal to shoot in and that’s when it all went wrong.
Because at this stage ‘JP2’ was revving flat out to get across the ebb, when we did reach the calm water just inside the entrance, the Skipper had to stop and then go full astern to avoid hitting the lock cill ahead of us, which I have to say the old chap did very well, to pull me up in time, with my stem just kissing the stone.
In fact (but he was lucky!) I wasn’t injured at all. It had just been a graze really along my starboard side and nothing was damaged on board. I just felt so embarrassed that my skipper had let me down in front of all the gongoozlers watching above. And I cannot remember my previous skipper Ian ever doing that to me, so why couldn’t this one have been less careless and got me in clean as well!
Don't think he could have been concentrating at all!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Life on the 'Chesterfield'

Much has happened since I made my last posting of almost a week ago. The duration is not that long though it seems for ages and the continued weakness of my internet signal in this area of the country is not helping.
When I can go away and make myself a cup of tea whilst the text that I have just written is uploading indicates how much time can be wasted during a day simply by waiting for something to happen on the computer. And as for thinking of adding pictures on these occasions I might as well consider giving up the whole day to load one only and then be told that I have been timed out before the end of that day with the photograph still not loaded!
So you can understand what excitement it means for me when I spy the little blue light appearing on my dongle indicating a 3G signal, the strongest, rather than the diminutive despondent green as an alternative. However the latter is better than nothing since I can at least send and receive emails then .... without attachments. Unfortunately there is a third alternative, which happens frequently when I cannot even access the internet at all. Then I have to read a book for my literary fix that day.
But I mustn’t fret now while I am with the ‘green’ light, as on the Chesterfield Canal, so rural, quiet and tranquil without a human in sight for miles anywhere, I wouldn’t expect anything else; and I am content with that. The privilege of observing the rolling wooded hills of this part of Nottinghamshire, the multicoloured meadows of hay grass and the wild flowers of early summer, together with green pastures of excited bleating Lambs and disinterested Ewes, is enough to make me abundantly happy enough to forget all computer irritations as being totally irrelevant.
Today we are at a comfortable mooring, adjacent to the south portal of the short Drakeholes Tunnel. The Sun is shining brilliantly in between heavy showers that frequently pepper the otherwise still waters around. We are having a quiet day and ‘Futurest’ seems quite content with this too after a lot of hard work that I put her through yesterday. We are well into the country and I am happy with that.
On Wednesday last at Saxilby, my friends from Australia Robin and his wife Jan, came to visit me. They were unable to arrive early enough for us to enjoy a cruise but this didn’t deter us from enjoying each other’s company.
As I’ve mentioned earlier Robin and I as young men were shipmates together fifty years ago but at the end of that voyage we parted company never imagining that it would be so long before we met again. On Wednesday he was still very recognisable even though on the last occasion we had met he sported a fine head of blonde curls. Now like mine his hair is thinning a bit and grey and he maintains also a matching moustache, which gives him a distinguished look. But the old vital Robin is still there, easily noticeable behind the camouflage of ‘middle’ age. On the voyage he always had the reputation of being able to fancy the prettiest of the girls around and I noticed in Jan that he obviously hadn’t lost his touch in choosing his wife. I thought she was lovely.
We had a great day, though it must have been incredibly boring for Jan, listening to us rolling back the years and raking up the old ashes. But it was fun. I think they enjoyed it as much as I did.
‘Futurest’ and I arrived at West Stockwith at the beginning of the ‘Chesterfield’ early yesterday afternoon, topped up with water at the tap and set off to find a suitable mooring nearby. We had endured a busy few hours together having left Torksey at 1015. So I was ardently looking and I’m sure she was as well for somewhere to moor for the rest of the day.
Little did we realise that the tall green reeds in which I often spied little brown birds with an unusual song, which could only have been Reed Warblers, flitting in and out in front of us, together with the white blossom of Blackberry brambles and green pads of yellow water-lilies, all crowded in to make the waterway little wider than a ditch and certainly no place to knock in our mooring pins. By the time we had passed through four double locks I was becoming more tempted to moor at one of the landings. But we pressed on ever hoping to spy a length of the interlocking steel plates that British Waterways use to shore up the sides of their canals, which make ideal mooring points.
But it wasn’t till half past six and six miles along from the entrance of the canal that we came upon, out of the darkness of the Drakeholes Tunnel, this beautiful mooring where we are now. The gods were on our side too as there were moorings for five narrowboats and one of them was unoccupied and just begging for us to go there. We have thankfully been here ever since.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

To Lincoln and Back

It was a lovely day yesterday when my friend Janis came to visit. Originally from New Zealand she now lives aboard and skippers her own narrow boat ‘Roots and Wings’. We met recently at one of the locks on the River Trent and promised that we would meet up again.
I invited her for yesterday and Janis had texted to say that she would love to travel up to see me. I suggested that she arrived early so that we could fit in a cruise possibly, which she happily agreed to.
As ‘Futurest’ was already heading towards the east I thought a visit to Lincoln and back we would be able to fit in with ease and when she arrived the weather was perfect even though showers were forecast.
When we left, I’m sure the ship was happy to be on her way again, as if she had been idle for far too long.  The slow ‘chug chug’ from her gleaming brass banded funnel seemed very positive and merry as we wended our gentle way along the Fossedyke under an almost clear blue sky. There was no breeze and the water was glassy and smooth, almost undisturbed by the ripples that we made as we passed slowly along.
In spite of the lack of rain the sides of the waterway were very lush and green, liberally clothed with tall Nettles and white plated Hogweed. Though the Irises were now dull and listless, past their prime, the yellow Water-lilies were beginning to burst open to the beckoning rays of the Sun.
We were sad to see a mallard family with only one chick remaining, though he had grown very perky and large. We also met a much healthier looking family of Greylag Geese. Mum and dad still had a litter of five, who looked very fit and well.
Janis and I chatted all the way to Lincoln; we had not had a chance to do so before and we talked at great length of New Zealand about her life and my happy visits there so many years ago. The time passed quickly and we were soon arriving at Brayford Pool in the centre of Lincoln, surrounded these days by posh restaurants, pubs, cinemas and marinas filled with expensive white cruisers. Gone are all the commercial buildings, ships and cranes of old.
There was no space available at the visitor moorings here so we pressed on through the ‘Glory Hole’ and tied up under the weeping willow, by the footbridge, outside the ‘Witch and the Wardrobe’ pub. We enjoyed a beer there before returning to the ship for lunch, which Janis had brought with her and which now she warmed up on the hob.
We enjoyed a delicious Thai chicken Soup with soft bread rolls which she had supplied too, to be followed by her mouth-watering homemade blackberry and apple crumble topped with double cream. It was all absolutely scrumptious!
Conveniently during our lunch a black shower cloud leaned heavily over us and briefly dropped its deluge but by the time we were ready to begin the return journey to Saxilby, the rain had stopped and the Sun was shining again quite radiantly. However it was cooler going back as the breeze had picked up from the west in the meantime and we had to head straight into it. It became necessary for us to put on our coats.
As we arrived back at Saxilby there were no moorings available again. Of course it was the weekend and everybody was out, but in this respect we'd not had much luck that day.
In the end one of the boats said we could breast up to him, which we gladly did. It was about six thirty and I had enjoyed a wonderful day.
It was time for my companion to collect her belongings and travel home but not before we had promised to meet up again. She was a lovely lady and a very competent boat master. She had been at the helm of ‘Futurest’ for most of the day and I felt very confident at being able to leave her to it, as I frequently volunteered to make cups of tea.

Still at Saxilby. Ugh!

Oh dear...  He’s been at it again!  Would you believe it?
I do wish the Skipper would stop trying to be a twenty one year old sometimes and act his proper age! It’s quite pathetic to watch.
I’m sure you would agree with me.
Yesterday he was entertaining a young lady on board!!!
It was a beautiful day when she arrived by car in the morning, so soon we all went on a nice cruise together up to Lincoln and back.
How nice, especially when one of us had to be a gooseberry!
It was good to be under way again though, after being stationary for so long. But it was in the wrong direction. We should have been going towards Torksey and the River Trent, where he and I had had such an adventurous time together before.
Earlier in the year he had promised me a lovely season of cruising down the Trent and up the River Ouse he had said, to York and beyond, but all we’ve been doing for so long now is messing about around here amongst the growing weed. We’ve well outstayed our welcome and should be moving on ....  just him and I .... Together!
It’s really not fair!
I have to admit though she was a pretty girl and for most of the journey she took the tiller at the Skipper’s invitation, while he chatted on inanely, whilst clinging to the side of my superstructure, which I find most irritatingly uncomfortable. It gives me an unnecessary list to starboard, which I don’t like.
At first when he suggested it I was horrified at the idea and was prepared to kick up a fuss. How dare he suggest such a thing without consulting me first! But right from the start, she handled me with such confidence and sensitivity, unlike the Skipper’s wild and heavy manhandling, that I thoroughly enjoyed the way she caressed the tiller so skilfully .... It was wonderful and a bit of a shock when he took over again at each end of the cruise to manoeuvre .....  
It was like being doused in cold water again after sleeping in a nice warm dry dock!
We arrived back at about six thirty and the girl left to go home fairly soon afterwards. But I think they’ve made arrangements to meet up again soon.
You’ll have to ask him about that as it doesn't bare thinking about! ..... He seems quite smitten ....  Ugh!
We’re back at Saxilby yet again, but at least we are now heading in the right direction; towards Torksey and the River Trent. Maybe we’ll be heading off tomorrow to continue our journey and all I can say is ....

Friday, 10 June 2011


My journey down to South Devon on Monday was long and though I had to change trains twice the bulk of the time was spent on one of those fast comfortable Cross Country trains so it seemed that in no time at all I was hailing a taxi at Newton Abbott station and we were speeding towards Bovey Tracey in the dappled sunshine of Dartmoor.
Harry and Trevor, the proprietors of the Copper Kettle Bed and Breakfast where I have always stayed on my previous visits, were very welcoming again and my usual room was most comfortable.
The service to Marjorie the following day at the Methodist Chapel was in fact a thanksgiving for her life rather than a funeral, so it turned out to be a very happy occasion. She was a well known and beloved lady in the neighbourhood and the tiny church was bulging with at least two hundred people I should think. Afterwards there were cups of tea served in the hall behind the chapel and somehow we all managed to fit in.
Marjorie had many friends but there were only one or two of them that I had ever met. Her carer Monika, though originally from Switzerland, had lived with her and looked after her devotedly for thirty five years. I knew her very well but was not able to have a long conversation with her since she was so busy greeting everybody else. After talking to those that I did know, I left and returned to my digs for the evening.
The following day, Wednesday, I returned to Newton Abbott for the long journey home where I arrived mid afternoon to ‘Futurest’ still moored where I had left her.
It was an anxious moment as I walked along towards the river, wondering whether she would still be there. I had been away for three days and during that time anything could have happened. My biggest anxiety was how I would find the batteries. The weather had been cloudy and showery and since I had left the fridge on, I wondered whether I would find them right down. I needn’t have worried though; the Sun had obviously been shining in Lincolnshire as they were fully charged up.
It was so strange coming back on board after the brief absence. Everything was exactly as I had left it, except the spiders had been hard at work. They had wasted no time in weaving their gossamer strands, which silkily caressed my face as I passed along the length of the ship.
It was good to be home!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Tootling About

The weather remains warm and tranquil and I am still quite happily cruising about on the Fossedyke awaiting the arrival of Monday when I shall travel down to Bovey Tracey.
I’m back at the well found little village of Saxilby, which has a fine Co-op, two pubs, a railway station, a tidy parish church of St Botolph (he seems to have been very much the local saint in this area!) and a fine heritage as a thriving seaport from antiquity up until 1900. My plan is to remain here overnight and then take ‘Futurest’ along to the visitor moorings at Lincoln tomorrow, where I can leave her till I return from Devon. The mooring there is neither obscured by trees or buildings enabling the solar panel to derive full benefit from the Sun; I shan’t then have any anxieties as to the state of the batteries while I’m away.
Yesterday we went along to Torksey to fill up with diesel and fresh water. Afterwards we turned around and stayed there the night at the visitor moorings. In the evening after spending a lazy afternoon in the Sun, I walked across to the ‘White Swan’ for haddock, peas and chips (and a pint of Kronnenburg) to celebrate our arrival, even though it was only temporarily, back at the junction with the River Trent. The pub was very busy, with people spilling outside as one would expect on such a beautiful evening with the Sun shining in a cloudless pale blue sky till after nine o’clock and with the most stunning of pink and yellow sunsets when it eventually set. As I returned to the ship around ten the Blackbird was still singing his heart out and obviously thrilled to be alive. I could understand just how he felt and was as jubilant as he was.
It took us an hour and a half to return here this morning and the weather is still beautiful though the easterly breeze is a little more brisk.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Marking Time

I spent the whole of last weekend in Lincoln, where I received the sad news that a dear friend Marjorie had died.
My wife and I first met Marjorie in Wales fifteen years ago, when we were on a holiday organised for the disabled and we had been firm friends since that time. She had suffered from a rare disorder called spinal muscular atrophy for most of her long life and for nearly all of that period she had had to use a wheelchair to get around. But she was always cheerful, full of positive wit and laughter and an inspiration to all those who met her, including Miranda and I. It is so sad now to learn that she is gone.
She lived at Bovey Tracey in South Devon so I’m travelling down there on Monday for the thanksgiving Service on Tuesday afternoon, returning to the ship on Wednesday.
Lincoln is probably the best place to leave ‘Futurest’ for three days and also there is a good railway station there within easy reach of the moorings. I enquired at the local marina for a temporary berth but there was nothing available, so I’ve decided to leave the ship on the visitor moorings, where she should be okay on her own for three days.
But so as not to outstay my welcome at the moorings where I was, I decided to leave the city altogether for a while and return there next Sunday afternoon. With this plan in mind I departed yesterday morning and tootled up here to Saxilby, in the direction of Torksey, where I have spent the night.
After a few days of cloudy to overcast conditions and frequent heavy showers it was a pleasure yesterday to see plenty of blue sky again and to feel the Sun warming everything up. Today has turned out to be the same. Long may it last!
I noted that the year was progressing swiftly and that the seasons had moved on. Gone were the masses of golden Daffodil, which we had all been looking forward to with such anticipation during those long winter months. They had stood so briefly with heads defiant against the stiff cold spring winds and now were looking a brown worn out mess. So too the Lilac blossoms that had hung for just a week so proudly like wet purple sponges in the frequent rain showers, have departed sadly for another year. As we progressed quietly along I could see that now the banks of the Fossedyke were becoming clothed with tall thick Nettles and masses of even loftier Hogweed with their large white plate-like umbellules attracting all the insects. While at their base Water-lily buds are just appearing on their individual green saucers and green spears of yellow Iris cluster closely together.