I went shopping in Datchett. My eye was drawn to a public notice. Just what you might need to see if you were anxious at all, very clear indication that you are not being warned. No news is good news.
The shop was right through the town so I had a walk in the park to get there. A young girl swept past on an old fashioned red bicycle with bars for carrying a box on the front and back. I exchanged looks and smiles with a man passing me – I don’t know if he was unrelated or grandad but we were clearly sharing admiration of the bike, and the rider.
when I got back I was surprised to see another boat alongside, tied to ours, especially since I knew Shane’s intention was to leave as soon as I had got back. They too had sent out a party in to town to go shopping and weren’t sure how to arrange for us to get away. I thought we could untie the ropes from our boat and in stead loop their stern rope through the ring at the bank and we could shimmy out forwards and they would still be able to pull in to the back when we had gone. There was no response to the suggestion as they were also preoccupied with dealing with a rowing boat, or skiff, at the back and attaching it to their boat.
We weren’t in a real hurry so we waited while they organised that. I unpacked the shopping. They decided they would just go out in to the water and then we could get away and they could get in, so we untied and for some time their boat moved a few feet forward and back against ours (they had huge fenders so no damage done to either of us) but the boat did not move away. I tried asking them to stay back when they had reversed, so we could just drive out, but the driver was inside the boat and so not hearing and just focussed on trying to drive. I am guessing that if they couldn’t work out how to get away from us, they probably couldn’t believe we could manage to get out while they were “pinning” us but we weren’t actually pinned. We are narrower and lower but longer and heavier. It seemed more like we were “pinning” them. It is indeed hard to move a boat sideways. We were like a long solid bank for them and coming away from the side can be tricky.
Meanwhile their shopping crew had returned and crossed over on to their boat at the front of the boats, now they were level. We had small plastic boats moored ahead and behind. When their boat moved forward again, Shane decided to just go out backwards. This was a bit trickier than going forwards especially since there was a long jetty sticking out that restricted how far back we could go. Their boat continued to move backwards and forwards but no further out into the river while he slid out. We called and gestured to ask if they could not come backwards any more, so we had room to manoeuvre. I don’t think the people seeing our signals were managing to communicate with their driver. Shane managed to get the angle right and made it out. We did have the advantage of thrusters which many boaters say is cheating. They didn’t have thrusters.
We were to crisscross with them again throughout the day. They passed us once they moved on; we passed them while they stopped to move some of their crew into the little skiff mid river and shared locks with them a few times. They complemented my hat and asked the day after where my nice hat was when we met again. They have lots of rowing boat experience and transferred back and forth between the two boats regularly, but the hire boat was new to them and driving it was a whole new experience. I have never driven that kind of boat nor done any rowing.
As we came under a bridge I saw another warning sign. There are often signs asking boats to slow down past moored boats on the canal. Some ask for tickover pace or specify 2mph. We usually go pretty slowly. We have no speedometer though. A breaking wash at the side is a sign that you are going fast. The river being wider means that their top speed limit is a little higher and we see plenty of much faster boats of all sizes.
Retracing our route we are seeing familiar sights but that doesn’t mean we don’t see interesting things. We didn’t meet any more royal officials, boats or ceremonies, but we saw two kingfishers and a red admiral sat on my foot while I was holding the stern rope in a feisty lock and at night we got moored in front of Prince William.
That was a very tricky mooring with a bit of doubt on my part that it would be possible. But Shane had a plan and we got one end close. The lady collecting the mooring fees asked for help to find her watch. She gave us her card if we found it.we were unlikely to patrol the field, especially with no dogs to walk. She passed later and Shane asked if she had got her watch. She said no. He wished her luck and a moment later she found it and shouted that she gave him the credit for that. None was due as coincidence and causality aren’t always linked, but she was happy to share the moment of joy with her well wisher.
At the locks there are fewer Wednesday lock keepers than weekend lockkeepers, but we have had help from other boaters when they were unstaffed. Shane reminded one to drop the sluices at one end before trying to operate the other end. He was able to tell him that he had made the same mistake himself recently so was alert to it. At another, a man who was waiting to come the other way, offered to operate the controls. As he studied the control panel, he admitted that he was a novice. He followed the instructions correctly and as we drove out I called thanks and said ‘You are half way to being an expert now’ – he still had to operate the reverse procedure and then he will have completed a full cycle. He bowed and said “thank you for visiting Hurley locks today, and I look forward to seeing you again” totally immersed in his new role of friendly lock keeper.
Later at a lock where I was driving in an actual friendly lock keeper said I had done a good bit of springing. I hadn’t quite heard or understood and he explained it was about how we came off from the side. Reading it up I am not sure if we were using that technique or not but happy enough to receive praise whether or not deserved. Unfortunately while listening and chatting to him I grazed the lock wall I was trying to line up next to, lightly enough there was no ricochet though.
At last night’s mooring we were enjoying the usual sounds of ducks, sheep, kites and goldfinches, then met a new sight: a man in black speeding through as if in a surfboard but with no surf and an engine. It was like something from a Bond film as he hovered above the water and swooshed from side to side.
He came back about 20 minutes later and saw my camera and turned and swooshed nearer. It really was an amazing sight and now I could see a hand held controller. It was a bit surreal and he couldn’t afford to drop down to tick over as he passed. He didn’t have too big a wash either.
Then on his third pass by, he plunged spectacularly. He probably would have preferred no audience for that. I didn’t take a picture. We watched in case he needed help. We had seen a young canoeist earlier in the day do deliberate rollovers under the water as part of a lesson. It gave me quite a fright to see it. He had no problem getting back aboard and getting going again, a feat in itself. We can all keep learning, experiencing new things and improving our skills and we can still all make mistakes.