Sunday 17 May 2015

Cirrhosis of the River

Sparks and Co take to the water, 2015
Readers who have been with me for a while now, will know of our love of canals and all things narrow-boat; there have been many posts (e.g. from our Kent days covering our family holidays with the Silverwoods in hired boats. We did them every year for a few years and loved every one of them. They are one of the (few) things we miss about our UK 'dinky*' lives. Well, for all of those years and many before and since, bro-in-law 'Sparks' has also been doing the boating thing but his was always Irish style.

Entering the Albert Lock on Jamestown Canal. 
No narrow canals here and few decent wider ones, so here they take to the huge and long River Shannon and, instead of our 7 foot wide, 56 foot long 'buses', they go out in enormous gin-palace look-alike River Cruisers. Sparks and a gang of his work mates (not always the same lads; they tend to rotate in and out of the idea) have been doing this now for 14 years or so, always in May. When they started these were, apparently, rather lairy 'booze cruises' and became known as the annual "Cirrhosis of the River" trip. Now, of course (cough) they are all much more sensible and mature, have kids, families, mortgages and a reduced ability to recover from 'benders', plus they are all mad keen foodies and cooks. They compete with each other to serve up the best food in the galley and chug down stream as a group of gourmets, snacking on home-made pork-crackling and the like.

Crazy fools let me steer!
One of these trips coincided with the end of the house-build here and I can remember us putting in some 15 hour days trying to get some jobs finished in time to let Sparks away to Carrick for the start of it, and he has asked us every year to come and meet them at the boat's latest moorings. So far we had not managed it even though, as they pass through Carrick, they are only half an hour's drive from here. This year we determined to correct that and finally got to see them, look round the boat and, absolute icing on this boaty cake, joined them for a bit of a cruise up the river.

Familiar role. Liz waits while the Lock fills.
Our job was to arrive at the Albert Lock on Jamestown Canal at 3 p.m. on the Saturday (16th May). We decided to come provisioned up, so we packed bags full of eggs (goose and chicken), chutney, tomato and chilli 'jam', honey and a specially baked honey and orange polenta cake, plus called by Tesco to get them a bottle of red and a bottle of white. They seemed quite pleased to see us (!) - no seriously, the lads welcomed us aboard enthusiastically and were immediately great 'craic' and excellent company. We left the car at the lock knowing that the 45 minute cruise up into Carrick could be 'undone' by a 15 minute, reasonably priced taxi ride. These hire boats, even opened up on the wide river where nobody cares about wake and wash, will still only do about 7 knots, so you don't get far from your car even if you go at it all afternoon.

An apéritif on the 'sun deck'? It might look warm but that's
a chilly wind across that open water.
So, full of nostalgia for the gazillions of do-it-yourself locks on the Pennines, we entered the Albert Lock and waited while the Lock Keeper secured everybody to his satisfaction, took their money and then did his thing with gates and sluices. We were off up the canal and then out into the hugely wide, open river, the lead boat of a little short-term convoy of 3 boats from the same hire company (Emerald Star). When signed up 'Skipper' Tony suggested I take a turn at the driving, I was in like Flynn.

I used to do 99% of the 'driving' on our narrow boat trips (I was always 'volunteered' but I wasn't complaining) so I spent 99% of the time we were in motion standing up at the back of the boat, a noisy diesel yammering away just below my feet. tiller in my hand, open to the elements; lovely in the sunshine but get that poncho/cape on a bit quick if it started raining. I did plenty of driving while soaked to the skin. These river cruisers are a completely different kettle of fish. You get to steer using a big, chrome steering wheel, in a comfortable seat and at the front fo the boat. You have a choice of driving seats - up aloft or down in a cozy, waterproof cockpit with a proper windscreen and even windscreen wipers. The lads had even developed a code for 'take over below' when it rained - drop the joystick into neutral and thump twice on the deck with your foot. Then you can nip down the companionway and out of the rain. Luxury!

Sparks at the 'indoor' controls.
So, we had a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday afternoon messing about on the river, picnicking on fine cheese and wine with the lads and just enjoying the company and relaxation of superb people. Thank you very much Sparks for letting us on board and we hope you enjoy the remainder of your break. We bade them farewell as they snatched a public mooring right in the middle of Carrick and they wandered off into town, amused by the 30-40 party-dressed young ladies tottering off a hire-able party-boat in their heels and short skirts, clutching part-drunk pints of lager, part of a Hen Night which looked like it was already well under way at about 5 pm. We headed for the nearby big hotel in pursuit of a taxi to take us back to the lock.

Chased up the Shannon by two similar hire-boats.
We are determined to do it all again next year if Sparks is 'playing' and the tradition of Cirrhosis of the River makes it to 2016. Even though we are not now in a position to do the old style family narrow boat weeks or fortnights (finance and livestock 'babysitting') we do dream that one day, in our dotage, Liz and I might nip over there and hire a little 2-berth from Shire Cruisers of Sowerby Bridge, who served us so well for many years just has Sparks has been looked after by Emerald Star of Carrick. If you've not tried these holidays but always hankered after a bit of river-based 'messing', then do yourself a favour and sort one out just so you know how much fun they can be.

Sparks and Liz (Tony behind) moor the boat up in Carrick at
the end of our little outing.
* DINKY - Dual Income No Kids (Yet)

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