Monday 25 July 2011

Standedge and Marsden

Dad, never one to hide his light under a bushel, reckons himself a pretty good helmsman. After 6 years of driving these 56 foot beasties ("like driving a bus with rear wheel steering and no brakes") he does a pretty good line in slotting the boat into narrow locks, doesn't hit many things (or hits them soooo gently if he does hit them), manages to avoid the sides of tunnels and moors up with a glancing kiss to the bank.... mwah! OK, there are detractors who might point out a certain faux pas with an aqueduct 'kerb' (caught on in-boat video) and an occasion when the opening of floor paddles sucked the boat in harder than intended towards the closed upper lock gate (boing!) but generally, we hope everyone agrees, he has climbed out of 'beginner muppet' class and does a reasonable job.

However, both he and Commander Dave found the Standedge tunnel something else. It is very narrow, extremely dark and quite twisty as well as being given to random widenings and re-narrowings in the 'rough hewn' (un-lined) bits. Rear deck crew are required to wear a hard hat for very good reasons, mainly unpredictable and not-easy-to-see reductions in tunnel width and height. Northumberland is an old boat with a clattery old diesel engine and only enough inverter to power phone chargers, so we have a pathetic headlight trying to light the dark sandstone from the foredeck and the glimmer of cabin lights shining out sideways to light the walls you have already missed (you hope). The only way to keep the front 'corners' off the walls is to swing the back corners even closer to those walls 56 feet behind which is only possible if

a) the back end is in a wide enough bit of tunnel

b) you have seen the narrowing rock outcrop coming at the front (some of them are under water, anyway!)

c) it is safe to stick your own head out beyond the profile of the boat at the back end (ie to look over the roof or round the sides).

d) the Waterways chaperone (BW Terry, in our case) has let up from his enthusiastic and non-stop explanation of the tunnel's history for long enough for the helmsman to start concentrating on the job again, after yelling "sorry? pardon? didn't catch that!" over the yammering diesel noise echoing back off the tunnel.

e) you have not collapsed with exhaustion from concentrating for nearly 2 hours

f) you have not whanged your head and hard-hat off the roof so hard your neck is reeling, your hat's fallen off and you are trying to grab the hard hat before it rolls off the back deck.

Now this may sound, says Dad, like a load of excuses or 'managing expectations'.... It is. They got through in an hour and 45 minutes but I doubt there's much paint left on the wales or chines of that poor boat. Never mind - BW Terry said Dad did OK and was even encouraging him to greater speed in the lined bits and they all had great fun. The front deck crew enjoyed the bits where they weren't ricochetting off the sides. The boat's progress is tracked from one of the disused rail tunnels using a van to shadow you and report in periodically, and that guy was also happy with us.

Mum, incidentally, had opted out of the tunnel fun and games and taken Max and I in a taxi over the top. She was there waving like mad as the boat emerged into the light at the eastern (Marston) end with its bunting hung up in celebration and ice creams handed out to all. Dad shed life jacket, hi-viz and scarred hat, and slipped BW Terry a tenner for the brilliant ride.

That was it for the Wednesday - we moored up in Marsden, planning to visit the Visitor Centre on Thursday morning.


1 comment:

Mr Silverwood said...

Just admit it, you pointed in the right direction and hoped, I was on the front of that boat and that's what it felt like to us........ but really your dad did a good job, better than most I think.