Now is not the time for messing about on the water!

Running along the canal tow path on Sunday, the boats looked idyllic on the canal. The smoke rising from their chimneys. I took a picture and for a brief moment I envied them their freedom. The ability to chug off at a moment’s notice to new destinations. To change their view on a daily basis. However, it was only a brief moment. A holiday on a canal boat with my extended family has put paid to any romantic notions I might harbour for a life on the water.
It was May half term and my mum was trying to live the dream that she had of sailing the waterways with her family. She had booked an extremely long narrow boat and invited my brother and me, with our respective families to join her and dad. Her cunning plan would be that my brother, his wife and three kids would join them for Monday to Wednesday and then my husband, myself and our two kids would join them on Wednesday for a picnic on the bank and then we would spend Thursday and Friday with them, when my brother’s family had gone.
In true British fashion it began to bucket with rain on the Monday. The text that I received from my mum was optimistic. She was sure it would clear up. On Tuesday, as we were packing to go down, I texted her to find out how it was going. The response was
‘Don’t ask. High risk of flooding, stopped by sewage works for the night’ I didn’t pursue the matter.
Wednesday, we set of for Guildford where we were due to meet them. As we hurtled down the M25 a peculiar text came through.
‘Don’t rush. We are stranded without any water.’
How do you lose water in a river? We arrived to see them chug past the boarding place, gesticulating frantically at us. We had no idea what was going on and looked to the boat hire people for help.
‘They can’t stop here, not that way round.’ I didn’t feel enlightened. We ambled down the river path, keeping an eye open for them coming back. We received a text from my sister-in-law.
‘Don’t say anything, your dad has had enough.’
Eventually, they came chugging back towards us. Wordlessly my brother and his family unloaded their stuff. There would be no picnic on the bank. They were going straight home and my parents were debating whether to continue with the holiday. It was pouring with rain and my dad was a pale grey. After my brother had left we ventured on to the boat to find out what the problem was.
Apparently, it had rained so much on Tuesday that they had not been able to go far down the river as the current was too dangerous. They were unable to turn the boat and ended up under a bridge next to the sewage works for the night. The next morning, for safety reasons, some bright spark had drained the river, leaving them high and dry. They were stranded for four hours, during which time they had run out of water and no way to flush the toilet being used by seven people. <a My mum visibly shuddered at this point. At one point on their many attempts to turn, they had nearly gone backwards over a weir.
After a lot of debate we decided to turn the boat and moor up just down the river. I am not kidding when I say it took four of us around thirty minutes to turn the boat. In that time I nearly broke my finger, which got caught between the roof and a branch and my husband broke a pole in two trying to turn the boat. My dad swore a lot and my mum kept out of the way. We moored up for the night and drank a lot of wine, until my dad seemed vaguely relaxed. After a lot of debate the next day, we ventured up the river until we reached ‘river works’ (They are like road works, but on a river.) Honestly, it’s unbelievable. We turned again (twenty minutes or so) we were becoming experts at this time. Then moored up in some stinging nettles and went to the pub. The sun came out and all was well with the world.
‘This is what it was supposed to be like.’ Lamented my mum.
‘Mum, this is England.’ I replied.
A few hours later we were chugging along in the pelting rain. I say ‘we’. My Dad, ever the martyr, was at the helm and I was on look out. My husband, the kids and my mum were eating tea and cakes inside. We pulled up to moor for the night. My husband had already made the executive decision that we wouldn’t be staying and my Dad had finally put his foot down and said that they would be returning the boat first thing the following morning. We said goodbye and thanks and headed off to the car park.
‘We are NEVER doing that again’ my husband said firmly. The rest of the family nodded in agreement. To this day, no one in the family mentions canal boats.

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~ by envisioningutopia on December 5, 2011.

2 Responses to “Now is not the time for messing about on the water!”

  1. Hahaha! Yeah, I think it always seems nice until you get to the real logistics of it. I once got caught on a raft overnight on the Vaal river and had to hang my bottom over the side while clutching someone’s hands for dear life to take a leak. Not my idea of fun at all! And their were 8 of us on the raft, so the rest had to stand on the other end with their backs turned whistling. We did get outrageously drunk though, so it seemed okay at the time. 😉

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