Sunday 26 July 2009

He's Fallen in the Water!

Our last full day of Narrow Boating and unfortunately a day of almost ceaseless rain. Mrs S tries hard to out-psyche the clouds with her "Looks like it's brightening up" but Michael Fish is having none of it. None the less, we have to move the boat - we have to get it back into range of the Sowerby Bridge basin for 09:00 on Saturday.

Dad and Mr Silverwood dress for the conditions (Dad's in poncho, straw hat, shorts and sandals again!) while everyone else hides "indoors", emerging only briefly now and then. Dad has to do "Chief Engineer" - the boat had been handling oddly at the end of yesterday and a fouled propellor was suspected. To sort this the back deck lifts up and there are hatches and access holes to let you get at the shaft with hands and, if required a junior hack saw. Dad pulls a great tangled mass of plastic sheet out, which explains the lumpy, unresponsive drive.

With the prop freed, we set off, chugging down from Brearley, through Luddenham Foot and down the tall Tuel Tunnel Lock (where the Waterways guy, tee shirted in his warm dry office asks our drowned-rat forms "What are you doing moving a boat around in weather like this?" (but he's happy enough to don hi-vis waterproofs and work the lock.).

Now it's only 2 locks to Sowerby Bridge, where we do not really plan to stop. It's not the end of the holiday till tomorrow and we don't want to give it a premature sad end by just mooring up here all afternoon and overnight. We are hearts set on a gently (45 minute) chug down to Salterhebble for our overnight, and then a 7:30 start Saturday to give us a bit of boat action before we hand in the old girl.

So we're between locks 1 and 2 and Dad has an attack of muppetry. He and Mr S had been hauling bits of tree out of the pound with the boat hook while lock 1's chamber filled, and Dad found himself at the bow of the boat (which was by then tied to a bollard, the stern sticking out into the pound, too far from the bank to jump across).

The chamber filled, and Dad had to get back to the stern, but the "dining room" is congested with ladies, children and dogs, so he decides it's easier to ignore all the advice and warnings you're given never to use the narrow side "Gunwale" walkway, and to "tight-rope" along to the stern. He almost makes it, his right hand is hovering over the ash-tray right at the back, when he loses his footing and splooshes in feet first.

Nobody is looking and luckily, because of the rain the pound is unusually completely devoid of "gongoozlers" (boaters term for gawping tourists). Mr S hears the sploosh and turns round to see Dad's head and shoulders in the water surrounded by a big khaki green "lifebelt" of the poncho, which has risen up around him. Dad swears at the cold and the soaking. It's only chest-deep though, so he can wade to the bank where Mr S pulls him out.

There is then several minutes of mad activity where Dad strips off the poncho and coats and races through the boat (the right, safe way this time!) to the bathroom, grabbing a supply of clean dry clothes on the way. Everyone is laughing with relief and genuine hilarity, cracking comments and enjoying a chance to break with normal children's rules about it being rude to "point and laugh". Mum nips into Sowerby Bridge for brandy and hot-chocolate ingredients.

The boat is now being guided into the lock by Mrs S and Mr S, as the chamber is long since filled, so when Dad appears back on his aft-deck (probably the cleanest dryest person on board now!) we just have to close the gates and let ourselves down to Sowerby Bridge basin level, to moor up for hot choc brandies.

Realistically, we were lucky not to have worse damage - you can get badly hurt, crushed by the (7 tonne) boat against something, injured by propellor, pick up an infection from swallowing water and, of course, drowning. Our only casualty is Dad's (work) mobile which he stupidly had in his pocket. Point for next year - all electronics inboard in bags etc, not "topsides" while working.

Much excited babble about how stylishly Dad hit the water, compared to Em-J's "polaris missile" job in 2007 (she lost her footing while black-berry-ing and slid down the gap between boat and (concave curved) bank, where-upon her life jacket exploded out and shot her back up the gap like a missile breaking the surface. Dad and Em-J now consider themselves in an exclusive club - the "Gap Divers". On the basis that you cannot call yourself a dinghy sailor or canoe-ist till you've capsized, Dad and Em propose that you can't call yourself a narrow boater till you've fallen in the water.

Pointing and Laughing becomes a boat-wide sport, and various children are captured on video and even on Dad's voicemail system (he finds out at work much later by putting the still-working SIM card in a colleague's identical phone)

Ah well, Mum eventually asks "Are we moving any further today, or what?". The boys man their stations and we cast off, turning right out of Sowerby Bridge, for the long chug to Salterhebble. It's getting on for 4pm by the time we come down the first two Salterhebble locks and we must moor up facing back up, so there's some gently bank-nosing and rope hanging onto, as Dad tries to wind the boat's 56 feet round turning on a (big) sixpence.

Mr S takes this opportunity to fall into the canal out of solidarity to Dad. He's on a rain-slick grass bank holding the bow-painter (rope), when he spots a big slug (we kid you not!) and only has time to say "Look at the size of that slu...." before he disappears from view from Dad's aft-deck viewpoint, and it is quickly apparent from the ironic cheers (and more pointing and laughing), that he's in too. Luckliy again, we get away with it - he's chosen a bit of bank that's only thigh-deep, so he is hopping about in gales of laughter.

Not a good score - funny but also fairly stupid and dangerous - 2 humans being careless and behaving like muppets, so although we're joking about "Gap Divers" and jokingly pointing and laughing the grown ups are anxious to stress to the kids that this cannot go on, and that "look what happens when you ignore all the safety advice" etc. The ladies and children can all feel justifiably superior tonight, but I'm guessing they are secretly determined not to do anything silly tomorrow. That really would be difficult to live down!

Deefski (I've not been in yet!)

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