First journey with the Conquest
Finally, having purchased the boat in December, I/We managed to get it back to its new base along side the Thames at Inglesham near Swindon.
Sunday morning saw us (my 21 year old son Harry and myself) setting out from Forrest Mid Top Lock on the Chesterfield canal for a 9 mile/13 lock cruise to Shireoak marina were we had arranged for the nice man from British Waterways to take the chain off the slipway at 11.00 am. Monday so we could get the boat out of the water. We had left home in Swindon Wiltshire at 3.00 am. to travel to the boat and get it packed and ready.
I had earlier asked Retford Mariners Boat Club if we could pay to use their slip as it was only 3 mile away but they said “No! Against club rules! Goodbye!” Mmmm. Friendly bunch.
Ready to leave Forrest Mid Top lock 10.00 am. Sunday 6th March 2011
So we set out with all gear on board and the totally unsuitable (for this purpose) British Seagull engine to make the trip. Now its about this time of year that the nice maintenance men/women from British Waterways cut back last years reeds and do a bit of dredging around the part of the Chesterfield canal we were destined to pass through free floating islands of cut reed was in abundance.
From previous experience of Seagull engines and their uncanny ability to find a lone weed or reed within a mile and its consequences filled me with a sense of foreboding.
Sure enough I soon had to stop the engine, having lost all forward speed AND directional control to lean over the back to hack away all the snagged debris with an ex-carving knife taped onto a short pole, every quarter mile sometimes less. We persevered and after 4 hours the situation improved to once every ¾ mile or so.
But we laughed, we joked, we “bonded”(apparently), we trimmed the boat by moving luggage and a spare battery around to get the best steering and generally put the world to rights as we went our way discovering the real meaning behind the terms ‘pleasure cruise’, relaxing on the water, and carefree mini-break. (These terms are all lies!)
The miles were starting to mount up and 1.30 pm saw us just short of Worksop when the Seagull decided to put the next phase of trip prevention into operation, following a swift course correction to avoid a submerged tree branch which caused the motor to leap of the transom, fortunately the steering connection held and the whole motor only made it to just below the surface.
Now seagull engines are pretty simple souls so make a cup of tea (“Thank you Harry”), remove plug and dry over cooker flame, strip carburettor completely, dry and blow through, pull the engine over a few times to clear out the crankcase, thankfully the one saving grace about this particular engine is that it has a recoil starter cord fitted. Check for water in the fuel tank, rebuild start up and off we go. Easy.
If however in your haste to catch up on the time you’ve lost faffing around doing the above you forget to tighten the totally unsuitable engine transom clamps with the too narrow depth to clamp on nicely, guess what happens within 500 yards? Splosh! Yep the engine had decided to make a break for it again this time in full submarine diving mode to the bottom of the canal. Pulling it up by its loss prevention lanyard (it having parted company from the steering link this time) I repeated the previous paragraphs actions but had to empty the fuel tank (into a suitable container) and replace the fuel. Fit jubilee clip to now damaged steering link.
Three pulls to start and we motor on, its 5. 15 pm were to moor up? Worksop visitor moorings? No; lets press on, try to clear Worksop, through the mass of plastic sheeting, floating filth and discarded hypodermic syringes that covers the surface of Worksop Town Lock.
My reading glasses get knocked overboard here, I decide not to retrieve them.
Many of locals from the Linden Tree canal side pub, all enjoying the effects of a few pints try to get a ride. We fight them off verbally, I seriously thought it was going to have to be physically as well, and make all speed away from what must be England’s answer to Dodge City.
Below Stret Lock we decide we are safe enough and moor up for the night.
Tired, stressed, worried we still won’t get to the marina at the appointed time on Monday morning. Harry offers to concoct a dinner; I go to check out the area, Lockkeeper pub seems promising for a pint later on. Dinner is served, Sweet and Sour flavour super noodles with a tin of Ravioli on top. Its food fit for the gods! One of the best meals I have ever had and gone all to soon. Half past seven, cup of tea or go for a beer? Cup of tea, I am so tired crawl into sleeping bag listen to radio, sleep hits at 8.00pm.
Up at 7.00 am cup of tea and away through Stret lock except the locks too small or the boats too big! (It’s a Conquest published beam 6ft. 10inch). We lift all the fenders up and almost get in; the two-fixed corner ones at the stern jam against the sides. I pull the boat in with Harry standing on one side to get in on a list. This we have to repeat for all the remaining 6 locks but eventually we make it in to Shireoaks top lock at 9.40
Shireoaks Top Lock
Out of the final lock we motor the final 50 yards into the marina I phone the waterways man to let him know we have arrived, I tell him I have to get a bus or taxi back to collect the van and trailer and will try to be back as soon as possible. “Yes I am sure I will be back near to 11.00 am”. My fingers are crossed as a say this!
I set off on search of a bus stop a taxi or someone to ask. A hear a car coming up behind, I try something I haven’t done for years and stick out my thumb, the driver stops! He’s off to work in Retford and will drop me off on the way. He drops me off at Forest top lock, I hitch up the trailer and away I go, back at the marina by 11.00am just after the waterways men who are putting out safety cones by the slip to ward off the marina residents, the place is almost deserted, they have to stay and supervise and to be safe put on their life jackets, well the water is deep (about a meter where we are standing) and apparently you can drown in just a saucer full of the stuff). But the men are friendly and helpful so suppressing my grin and recognising the need for health and safety to be taken seriously at all times I get the trailer ready, into the water, connect up the boat, pull it out a bit adjust the rollers (being the first time this boat has met this trailer I bravely let Harry wade in up to his knees to do the adjusting and nut tightening) He prepares himself by sensibly removing his jeans, he still has his pyjama bottoms on underneath no wonder when I remarked on it being cold first thing this morning he did not think so. Lazy child! Apparently the water is cold.
Boat on trailer, driven clear of slipway, safety chain back in place. I thank the waterways men for their attendance pay the slippage fee (£5.00) so they can go off on their next task. Oh no rules say they have to wait until we leave the marina. I am presented with a receipt. I shall frame it as a memento of out epic achievement.
Taking pity on them having to stand around watching me prepare the boat for its journey I sling everything in the van, one strap over the boat to secure it to the trailer and make a hasty exit from the marina to stop on the road outside to finish preparing the boat for the trip south. This includes Harry having to haul himself back on board to make a cup of tea. After all the work and running around I’ve been doing I’m gasping. Besides I like tea. We are ready to roll.
Ready to roll.
The journey home passes without incident, a stop at the first service station to adjust the tyre pressure and check the straps make sure all is secure. M1, A42/M42, M5, A419 no problems tows nice at 60mph. Swindon 6.30pm straight to a drive through pressure wash to remove muck and blanket weed from the hull whilst it is still soft and damp. Continue on to the farm to leave it just inside the farm entrance overnight ready for putting it in to its “dry dock” area for the next few? months of a much needed re-fit. Home by 8.30pm shattered.
Crawled down the farm Tuesday morning, err 12.30pm actually, but I had emptied out the van of sleeping gear and stuff I would not be needing on the boat either ever again of in the near future for instance the Seagull engine which had done the job but is still destined to go on e-bay any money received will go into the new engine fund.
The farmer moves the boat into its allocated space and over a cup of tea, some essential things I have put back on board, I take stock of what I have let myself in for over the next few months, and hope that the end results will justify the work to be done.
However the cost of the boat and the trailer, that’s been paid off already, it gave Harry and I several challenges, so much fun and laughs and a better respect for each other that the purchase price has been re-couped in full and all in all the boat deserves her refit.