This was received by email from my nephew Tom. (See previous post "In the beginning. . .")
My Best Birthday Week…Ever!
Having over exerted ourselves during the Notting Hill carnival at the start of the week, Ang (my Fiancee) and I were looking forward to filling the remainder of my Birthday week with relaxation. As my Uncle Peter explained, we were over the moon when the Sonflower was made available to us.
Uncle Peter’s tuition was very thorough, but not overly so. We soon found that maneuvering a boat 57 foot long and weighing more tons than I can comprehend was no easy task for complete novices as we were. I was glad to find that Uncle Peter was very keen for us to take the controls and learn from the driving seat. I recall that when I was learning how to play tennis, my coach had told me that you can learn everything you need to know about hitting a ball well in a day, but to do it takes practice. Even so, I caught myself wondering how much had sunk in to my sieve like brain as the list of things to remember and consider grew. It was my hope that what I was inevitably to forget would be remembered by my better half as is so often the case in our relationship.
The tuition was largely without incident, apart from one collision into the side of a particular tricky narrow part of the canal. I was to learn that guiding a boat through a clearing of no more than a foot each side was tricky at the best of times, but when that foot is to be judged 57 feet in front of you, the task is altogether more daunting. It was clear after this collision that this boat was no bumper car and I was clear in my mind that this was not something I wanted to do again.
Uncle Peter appeared happy to leave us with the keys, however Ang and I sensed how precious the narrow boat was to my Uncle and perhaps I could not blame him for being slightly apprehensive.
The fresh air ensured we slept well that night. There is no denying that the following morning we both were nervous about the journey we were about to undertake. We had looked at the map and decided on a realistic goal for the day. From Banbury, where we were moored to Cropredy. This encompassed a few locks and a dreaded turning point before heading back the following day.
I was to be in control of steering for the best part having taken to it slightly quicker than Ang the previous day. It was very easy to forget how slowly we were moving due to the fact that steering still required a lot of thought and concentration. As such, it was to my surprise when a rucksack laden man strode past us on the towpath on one occasion. Ang was to be in charge of navigation and locks. The going was good and as the journey progressed we became more relaxed and started to take in and enjoy the experience. Corners were rounded, locks were tackled and oncoming boats floated by.
What I had not expected was the willingness of others to help us along the way. On the first day Ang did not open a lock without somebody to take care of the second lock gate. We were thankful for this help and I thought that perhaps the fact we sized up each lock and talked through the process before starting each one may have given away our novice status.
I was soon becoming more comfortable with my steering and was prepared when we arrived at Cropredy to turn the boat around. I had learnt that turning the boat was no easy feat and involved a lot of aiming, stopping and starting - things which did not come naturally to a boat of such length and weight. The turn itself would have been faultless had the boat been one inch shorter! As it was, I found myself attached to the concrete bank by the knot at the front of the boat (he means the button, Ed). This was quickly overcome with a firm push, which enabled me to swing the boat ready for our return journey.
Having visited the Red Lion in the late afternoon for a few celebratory drinks, we looked forward to our evening meal that did not disappoint (Starter: chorizo sausage, main: steak and ale pie, desert: chocolate cheese tart). Evening entertainment consisted of a pub quiz where the locals got the better of us.
I think we were both very relaxed about the journey home, we enjoyed the journey so much that we deliberately over shot Uncle Peter's Mooring place so that we could get another lock, lift bridge, turn around , lock and lift bridge again and were able to fill the water tank before finally reaching the end of a most enjoyable experience. We were truly sorry that this experience was at an end and very thankful for the generosity showed by the boat’s first crew.
I was also thankful for those people who had been so friendly to us along the way. I guess the canal and the people on it are far removed from the hustle and bustle of life in a city. The proximity to nature; the calm lack of urgency must make for a friendly environment. Friendly acknowledgements from passers by was something I fondly remember of living in a small village… and now the canal too.
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