Our journey down had another break in Coventry. We sat in a park and I noticed a statue. On close inspection it was dedicated to a man though the figure in robes looked like a grecian lady from a distance. I am doubtful of the dedication as Shane has a t-shirt I gave him from a trip with two friends in Amsterdam (the quines) with several designs of bicycle before 1870 and the picture looks like it has three wheels. It does claim he invented the differential gear system which is needed in a tricycle to turn corners. Perhaps his bicycle was two wheels side by side instead of one in front of the other. Still he founded a sewing machine company too.
Arriving in the afternoon, we made headway straight away. Shane drove while I scrubbed the bird droppings off the back deck to make it suitable for sitting in again. I broke off from this task to work locks and a swing bridge. I had worked this bridge last year but most recently it was Shane who had done it. I knew its balance was suboptimal. Last time I had released it then had to cross it while it was lifting and sit on the counterweight to keep it open. This time I could not release the bridge at all. It said to press down then turn a key. I pushed down and sat on it and still the key would not turn. Shane had to come to do it with his extra weight and I drove through.
The first lock was easy though quite rickety looking. As I was operating it a couple arrived at the non towpath side. This lock had only one paddle at each end and single gates so there was no need to cross the lock to work it or open gates. I was winding at the far end from them and could see a narrow sloping wet shelf to allow crossing but it was not tempting. The woman was heavily pregnant and hesitated, deciding how to cross. Shane said they could cross on the boat. She seemed pleased and stepped on, I went along and pulled the boat across the lock so it was close to the wall with no water to step over and she stepped daintily across while her friend said “normally she’d cartwheel over!” In her billowing dress that didn’t seem the best way and they seemed grateful for the smooth ferrying.
The lock at the Duke’s Cut was much more arduous to work and again we had to both get out to push the first gate open and it took a long time to change to the right level, but it worked and we made it to a safe mooring spot before sunset.
Our spot was very well kept and was a cheap mooring with friendly staff. After doing my gymnastic ninja impression, I successfully put two spanners in the works in the engine. I had oily hands but the all black outfit escaped oil free, I think…how would I know? I put them in the wash just in case.
We made progress into Oxford and moored back at Osney, where we had been before and stocked up with shopping. In the morning we were not woken by the honking of geese or the twittering of birds, but clatter of scaffolding being erected. We went to get some fresh bread and get moving. The resident heron was preening himself on the bridge. Locals name him Henry. A woman stopped to chat to us about him when we were watching and said there was a female further along. He obviously likes his own space.
When we returned to the boat the goose was not for moving as I approached our mooring. Hard stares and a hiss came my way but I was allowed to pass. Preening was again the order of the day.
Shane was unsure if the river would sweep us forwards as he was leaving so proposed starting in reverse while I untied each end, as there was a boat moored ahead and he didn’t want to go forward out of control. They seemed to be loading bikes and holding ropes. The manoeuvre worked and before we got the short distance to the lock we passed a larger white boat, just unmoored and they said they would come behind us to the lock. I approached the lock keeper and she said she was about to let a boat in coming the other way and then the lock would be perfect for us. As she operated the lock she took time to pop back and tell the wide boat behind us that they would get a lock to themselves. When asking about whether or not we had the required licence, she didn’t demand or query us but said to me in a helpful tone, “Are you needing a licence?” Almost all the lock keepers are pleasant and helpful, but there was something exceptionally calming and friendly in her manner, as she advised us there was regatta ahead but the marshalls would let us know what to do.
It was as well that Shane had had a plan about standing still in the river earlier in the day, as that was exactly what was required when we met the rowing regatta. No mooring was available, we just heard a woman call through a megaphone “Narrow boat can you just wait” She named the trip boat behind us asking it to wait. The girl steering the couple having a cream tea, had difficulty staying behind us and took up a different position beside another large boat in front of us.
We didn’t have to wait too long for the arrival of some rowers. Some chaps had abandoned their team colours in favour of bare backs. Some rowed in white shirts and ties. They had finished their race and we heard some hip hip hooraying.
Once they had moved away we were advised we could move on, which we did, after watching a massive boat with a school trip reverse past and another marshall told us to follow another boat. Easier said than done as they were able to travel faster than us. We passed the boat clubs and watched one of the team do a co-ordinated exit and lift of the boat out of the water.
We then had to stop again as the ladies race was about to start. I had noticed that some of the male rowing teams had a female cox. A marshall on a boat came over and said we had been misinformed about where to be to be out of the way and we would have to move either backwards or over to the other side. She was very apologetic and said to go wherever suited us best. Shane was not as able to relax and enjoy the event but I was enjoying hearing the passing racing coxes calling instruction and encouragement to their team, as they pulled hard past us.
With the excitement over, we went forward to the next lock, which was self operated but shared with the large boat, with an all male crew, we had started the day with. We had been next to it all morning, but now we had a chance to chat. We were very late getting lunch but had lucked out with access to the electric point mooring and have been able to run the ninja outfit and many more through the machine and they have dried well in the sun and breeze, while I have changed colour to pretty pink. I hope the rowers haven’t burnt their backs.