This morning was bright and breezy, so it was an ideal time to take in the cover’s front and back. We’d decided that if Clare ends up trying to handle the boat alone, it will be much easier handling ropes and hopping on and off if they are stowed. Putting them away dry seems like a good idea.
The canal was quiet for much of the morning, but there was a sudden increase in the number of boats just before lunch time. A couple of boats tied side-by-side seemed to be coming very slowly. I told the driver I was pleased not to meet him coming round a corner. He said he sometimes towed a third boat behind as well, but today he was going to go back for that one.
By mid-afternoon things seemed to have quietened down again, so we set off. It was a third of a mile to Fenny Stratford Lock, but our plan was to fill at the water point just before going through. Another boat popped off its moorings just in front of us. They were very apologetic when they realised we wanted to get on to the water point, but they were there first and we assured them we were in no hurry. Their boat was half the length of ours, so when they were done, they did a nifty winding with the rope and set off back.
By the time we’d filled the tank there was a boat coming up in the lock – perfect timing. I went to help him out so that we could go in. I recognised him as the driver of the pair of boats I’d spoken to earlier – now bringing his third boat along. We hadn’t gone far when we saw strange activity with rope and pole on a boat near the towpath. Clare slowed down and I went to the front to see what was happening. It turned out their engine had failed and they were trying to punt and haul the boat to the marina.
I know just how hard both of those activities are, and I knew the marina was more than a mile away, so I offered them a tow. Dan and Cat were very happy with that offer. After a few seconds discussion on how to tie the boats together I remembered the boats going along abreast. That would give the maximum control and the bridges should be wide enough.
We tied the boats front and back and set off. I was wary of going too quickly because I wasn’t sure how easily I would be able to turn or stop. The additional drag of a second hull meant that we made a very sedate pace the whole way.
At the first bridge I slowed right down. I was pretty sure we’d fit, but if we didn’t, I wanted to be able to stop! I applied my usual method for handling tight squeezes: look down my side of the boat and aim to miss by as little as I dare – the other side should look after itself. Fortunately their chimney was in the middle of our ensemble or we might have caught it on the brickwork. Dan helpfully let me know how his side was doing, and through we went. It was so tight at the back and we were going so slowly that he hopped off for a look.
Another narrowboat had come up behind us, so at a suitably wide spot, I pulled over to the towpath and invited them to pass. As they passed they also asked if we needed help. When we told them we were towing they offered to provide some more power. We thanked them but said we reckoned we were cumbersome enough as it was.
One of the benefits of travelling side-by-side was that we could all chat as we went along. Canal folk always have stories to tell! We passed the mooring spot we’d chosen and I was pleased to see it was vacant. I knew it wasn’t far to the marina and we’d be able to come back so we carried on.
The marina entrance is a ninety degree turn under a bridge. We didn’t know if we’d fit through there, but I thought it was worth a look. The bow thrusters made the turn easy, and with Dan again checking his side, we drifted slowly in – yes, we fitted. Directly in front of us was the extremely wide boat we’d met a few days ago: Moose Drool. Dan pointed out the berth he was aiming for.
I decided the easiest way to get there was to pirouette in the basin and reverse on to the service jetty. Again the bow thruster made this very easy. Dan said his next boat will have one! We untied and they were able to pole and pull on to their jetty. Dan and Cat were very grateful for our help, now they “just” have to replace their engine. We enjoyed their company, and find helping out like this is its own reward.
Just as we were setting off out of the marina, the staff member we had spoken to a few days ago came out to see what we wanted. He thanked us profusely for helping out, and added it also meant he’d get home sooner too.
As we came out of the marina, Clare was spotter at the bow. She warned me of a boat coming, but said I had time to come out in front of it. I then reversed ahead of it through the next bridge to our mooring spot. As they came by the driver asked if we had bow thrusters. She said she had been amazed at my driving: either I was a genius or I had bow thrusters. I admitted the truth.