Please find below a blow by bump account
of the first ever journey on my new boat which was recently purchased in
Cheshire and then roaded down to High Line Marine on the Slough arm of the Grand
Union Canal in readiness for me cruising her to her current mooring location.
The text is long and contains various requests for help and advice (in brackets). It could be seen as a confession but also as a real life account of what can happen when inexperienced boater meets inclement weather, meets, other waterways users, meets boat that needs some work. It is not pretty but it might make you laugh a little in parts.
Arrived at High Line at opening time as I wanted to be out of the way before things got busy. After a quick tour of the shop it was time to find the boat. "Just around the corner" said the man, "you can turn it near the slip" said the lady. I had never thought about my first manoeuvre being a 180 turn! I was worried enough about the steering.
Walking past the slip I became concerned when I noticed many people working on their boats where I was expected to turn on my first ever voyage. Concern became panic when I realised the boat was facing the wrong way in a narrow canal in which boats were moored for as far as they eye could see three and four abreast.
After working out that the wire to the starter motor had become detached in transit I started the engine and began to consider my options. I had come prepared for what I was told was a maximum three hour cruise and promised to collect wife from work some 65 miles away at 2.00pm. Equipment consisted of bow and stern rope but as I was crewing alone I fixed a centre rope to a semi solid item in the boat.
I decided that rather than turn around in front of all these people I would head towards Slough where a turning point was indicated on my map. I gingerly slipped the mooring to the boat alongside and became alarmed when the boat started moving quite quickly.
Now I have read about GRP cruisers being skittish in high winds but I had not realised how high the wind was, nor the fact that it was coming from astern. I was blown merrily along at a fair old pace completely out of control. Luckily nothing was hit. The boat did what it wanted until I realised that putting it into forward drive helped although I did seem to be going very fast in a narrow waterway. The route I was taking resembled a very very drunken person on their way home from the pub ( Contact details for manufacturers of add on rudders, no matter how expensive wanted please)
My panic turned to horror when I realised that the haphazard course I was taking was taking me towards a fishing match length. I realised I would be going through this twice and had vivid memories of a ride on a friends boat which was bombarded with groundbait some years previously. No way was I going to attempt this so I had to think fast. Mooring came straight to my head although I had not practiced this manoeuvre either.
SCRAAAAAAAAAAAPE said the boat as contact was made with the wall - I knew I should have hung those balloon things off the side before I set off. I jumped off the boat, then jumped back on again when I realised the rope was still in the cockpit. Rope collected and the second problem became evident - as I was going A-B I had not bought mooring pins and hammer with me.
Luckily I spotted a gap between two rows of narrowboats and decided to turn the boat on the centre rope. The Enfield leg made a great pivot point although the crosswind meant this was an extremely body torturing manoeuvre. The number of spectators would indicate that some idiot swinging a boat around with a rope tied to the kitchen sink taps was something different and many muttered things that I am probably glad I could not hear.
Manoeuvre over and boat facing the right way I realised my back was very painful and decided to stop awhile to rest - Time into journey, wrong way 45 minutes. No mooring pins meant a nearby fence post took my rope which then doubled back to the cockpit. Time to move off and it would surely be simple to move away and drag rope aboard swiftly. Not so - the rope, which was in my hand, had snagged the barbed wire. The resultant rope burn spanned four fingers and hurt - a lot
I was however moving in the right direction and even managing to hold a reasonably steady course despite much steering correction being necessary. Heading towards my first bridge I even managed a friendly wave to the group of children above.
I am not sure whether it was a shopping trolley that narrowly missed the bow as we emerged. I did not actually see anything other than large shiny object which splashed into the water. The fact that all the children where now shouting loudly would indicate that the "bomb aimer" was not very popular with the running group.
This threw me somewhat and my course was very erratic for a little while. This was caused by incidents so far and the wind which was now coming from all directions. The boat seemed to slide all over the place (I will consult ballast postings again but any tips very welcome). Some manoeuvre practices along the way put the time for my journey now at one and a half hours.
Moving towards the main leg of the Grand Union Canal I slowed to pass a marina before turning. I was pleased to note that this bit was wider although sparse vegetation meant the wind was a pig. Despite this I thought it was time to practice a few under more under power manoeuvres which initially went well.
I am not sure if the driver of the narrowboat that appeared to be bearing down on me at an amazing rate of knots had ever seen a GRP cruiser sailing sideways before. My defence is that I had just attempted to move from one side of the canal to the other making a 360 degree turn in the process. For some reason the engine stopped (How do you adjust tickover on a diesel engine) at low revs and I was unable to start before inconvenience occurred. The captain was not too impressed but I think he smiled a little when I managed to contact the metal pilings in my attempts ot get out of his way SCRAAAAAAAAPE.
Nerves jangling and hyperventilating at this time I decided to stop again. The area was devoid of anything to tie to as it is mostly ex demolition with concrete bases of buildings remaining. A bush looked handy so I headed over to it. Holding onto a sturdy bough with one hand I got my breath back for a while and headed on.
Upon moving off a strange prickly sensation became evident in my right side. Closer investigation revealed a sunflower like seed with little grappling hooks sticking through my tee shirt. there were millions of them. I did not want to stop again as time into journey was now in the order of two and a quarter hours so I decided to press on removing seeds with left hand in between correcting ever increasingly wandering steering.
After an interesting journey I approached the turn into the Paddington Arm. Time for a stop to look at map and weigh up the turn. The ropes on the bank above Nestle look handy - where the heck did that metal fence panel come from - watch me window - never mind the other side one fell out in transit - both sides match now (suggestions for boat window manufacturers would be useful)!
More manoeuvres and off we go. The turn reveals an uninteresting landscape with the odd group of youths to worry about. Highlight of this bit was some mouthy git on a go-ped hitting a rock on the towpath and doing a perfect dive head first into the canal. There is justice after all. His mates dragged him out OK.
The nearer I get to Willow Tree Marina the more frequent the manoeuvre practices get and the more my nerves jangle. I stop at the entrance at four hours + into the three hour journey. I have nothing to eat since 0700 hrs and I am aching all over, all my blisters have popped.
I am sure the route to my berth was not that tight when I came to look at the marina - oh the 70 footer has just arrived - be quick as there is another due in soon! A quick reckie revealed a tight left turn in and then a tight right with another mooring before tackling inner basin. More panic and then resignation - you have come this far.
Off we go - wait for a gap - wave at passing narrow boats - worry about ever increasing wind and away we go. Across the water- turn in - straighten up - turn right - watch the narrowboat - tie up -no problem. Talk to gentleman who expresses admiration for getting in with the wind as it is "are there many plastic boats out today" " er no" I answer " not surprised" he says "too windy". By this time I probably agree and certainly doubt my own sanity.
Undo swing bridge - totally remove skin from already peeled hand with winding handle to raise bridge in process - jump aboard boat - drive through bridge - round bay straight into berth - tie up. Go back to shut bridge and speak to another gentleman who expresses surprise at how I got in and then even more surprise when I explain that this is my first sail since cheap hire on broads through a newspaper eons ago.
A wave of euphoria comes over me at this point. Despite the fact I ache all over and am starving hungry. Wife has rung many times first expressing concern that she is waiting, then anger, then worry - That engine is flippin noisy. Did my journey really take in excess of five hours
Lock doors, make a note to get some glass into windows pretty quick, also to look at water under the engine although this could have come from rainwater getting past dodgy looking floor panels. The time is now well past 5.00pm. More than time to head home to Southampton and find a chippy.
After a sleepless pain filled night on which I reflect upon the previous day I gain a certain satisfaction from realising that the boat is where I want it. The fact that I did some minor damage to my boat is regrettable but I was going to paint the hull next year - just needs a bit of filler as well now.
You may all be interested to learn that the hints and tips I have picked up from this and other websites were extremely useful during my journey. My boating handbook was great but no substitute for actually doing it. I learned tons and this showed by the time I got to the marina.
If you happen to be cruising the Grand Union and spot a beige and red oxide 32 coming your way - give me a wave - AND THEN GET OUT OF THE FLIPPIN WAY JUST IN CASE