Boats sink. It’s inevitable. And they sink for all kinds of reasons. I’m not going to deal with shipwrecks at sea. This is about Narrowboats on the canals of Britain and one sinking in particular. It happened on my way back from Cowroast on a blustery, snowy Monday. If you read my last Blog, you know the reason for the trip. I was with my friend and neighbour, the Redoubtable Eddie, Eddie the Dauntless, the Peerless Eddie, Eddie the Bold….you get the idea. The man has many titles. His partner and crewmate, Miriam the Patient, made tea, helped crew the locks and generally looked after us.
We travelled from Cowroast with another pair, Graham and Jan, who, on their boat ‘Whistler’, shared the work on the journey. Jan and I did the locks (most of them) and Graham and Eddie helmed. I mentioned in a previous Blog about boats on the cut, that Eddie’s boat name is my favourite, ‘My Precious’. The Gollum-like creature painted beside the name at the front of the boat gets a lot of comments from other boaters and Gongoozlers alike.
The sun shone for a moment, heavy cloud moved in, snow and sleet fell and the sun came out again. This pattern repeated itself throughout the day. But nothing interferes with Eddie the Indomitable as he fearlessly navigates ‘My Precious’ from one lock to the next. As he goes, he hums, whistles and generally acts weird in a loveable way that is Eddie. He is an experience. Miriam has gone below into the bowels of the boat to recoup.
Everything is floating along nicely. We pass Winkwell Marina and boatyard. The lock here gives us some trouble, but we’re up to the challenge and through we go. Eddie could have come here to black his boat. It’s much closer to our marina. But Eddie preferred Cowroast. He knows the chap who runs the place and trusts him. Past Winkwell. Getting closer to our destination now, Apsley Marina. Just a few more locks to go. “On the home stretch now Larry” says Eddie. “Not long to go and in record time.”
At the 17th lock of the 22 we had to negotiate, the unthinkable happened to us. Up ahead at Lock No. 62 on the Grand Union Canal a commotion was taking place. We saw a woman sitting on the far side of the lock, head in hands and a man running about as if looking for something he’d dropped.We thought there might be a medical emergency. We moored the boat along the side of the canal. I held the boat in place with a rope from midship while Eddie headed toward the conflagration. 10 minutes later Eddie returned. “Boat’s sunk in the lock” he says. “We’re going to be here a long time, mate” Eddie says in a doleful tone. “Bloody nuisance! I shoudn’a said we were on the home stretch. Jinxed us.”
Eddie tied the boat using mooring pins front and back. I walked up to the lock. The woman was still sitting on the side, mumbling incoherently. Her husband was stumbling around the canal from one side to the other repeating, “I don’t fucking believe this!” in a rather calm voice. Graham tried to talk to him to get a plan in place but the poor chap was not up to it. Re-enter Eddie the Planner. He secured the sunken boat with ropes so it wouldn’t roll over and got the man to focus on getting help. He also posted the news on narrowboat websites to warn other boaters that might be coming down or up the cut.
Meanwhile, the sunken boat couples’ dog, a little black something-0r-other ran amok, chasing ducks, yapping at other dogs as they passed by on the towpath, their owners restraining them while at the same time looking over the scene. A crowd had gathered. Dogs fought, people scratched heads and muttered sympathies to the man who owned the boat. Advice was given all round, but nothing was going to move that boat without expert help.
I asked the boat ownner if he minded me taking some pictures for a Blog I write. He was very gracious, considering, and said, “Go ahead. May as well make something of this mess.” Thanks” I said. I snapped away.
The back of the boat had caught on the cill as the lock emptied. The cill is found on the high water (upper) end of the lock and sits as a shelf at the bottom of the high water gates inside the lock chamber. The cill appears as the water lowers. If your boat is too far back in the lock chamber as the water lowers, it gets hung up on the cill when the water goes below it. But the front of the boat keeps going down. Thus the dilemma. Water pours in the front, sinking at least half of it. The poor Griffen floundered.
Eventually, the woman began to come around and was able to speak coherently. The man was by now on the phone to his insurance company. Finally, after heated negotiations, a CRT (Canal And River Trust) rep came. He was no help really. Courtesy call I guess. Although the chap who owned the boat had not paid his boat license fee. Oooops. No matter, a fine young man came along from the insurance people and knew exactly what to do. He would be back the next day with a crew to pump out the front of the boat, raise it and take it out of the lock.
The next day it was done. I wasn’t there to see it. I had gone home that night. I could have walked from here but my best friend picked me up and Eddie and Miriam joined us for diner at The Fishery, two locks away. We were all very tired. The wine went to Eddie’s head and he began singing his nonsense songs. Eddie the Entertainer. No one could ever ask for more.