On our last morning in Bristol, I was up and hanging up washing when I heard a woman call, I looked up and a young beagle was on the deck and peeping in. She called the dog back to her and told me she knew someone with a boat and had been on it and liked it. She clipped the lead on and moved away. Not long after I was pleased to have another little visitor. A moorhen was pacing up the somewhat uncomfortable metal grid nearby. It approached the bow of the boat then went away. A little later it was by the window then it got on the boat and crossed over before plopping into the water.
Just as we cast off, the galleon Matthew, hove into view, a commonly seen trip boat seen at the harbour but a vision to behold when you first see it. I never saw sails however. Since we pulled out after we got a closer look than usual. Then it turned to moor and drop passengers. Shane took care not to be in its way and give it time to turn.
Further along was the low bridge, where boats that can’t fit under have to wait for your booked time when the bridge is opened. We fit under and even though I now know I fit under when seated, I can’t help ducking. I try to straighten up slowly, as we go under. The driver cannot straighten up and shouldn’t try.
Shane handed over to me just before a corner and had a momentary panic having not driven for a few days and not in the harbour, but soon realised it was not so hard. My nerves made Shane cautious and put him into driver training mode which was no longer necessary, but hard to resist.
He warned me of a ferry behind that went faster than we do. It is a rule to give way to ferries. I was approaching a wide bridge so it could pass but was more likely to wait until there was more space I speeded up a bit so as not to delay it. After the bridge, I slowed and it passed and the driver and passengers waved, then turned in front of us to pull in and pick up passengers so I had to slow and then go round it. Immediately they were pulling out again and going out to pull past on the other side. They were heading to another pick-up point on the other side of the harbour. I slowed to help it pass only for it to stop before it reached its pick-up point and waved to us to go past. Another ferry was already at their pick-up point so they were having to wait. The driver looked apologetic at all the weaving and giving way that had gone on when she now had nowhere to go and showed her appreciation.
Once out of the harbour we had sx locks to do. Shane wanted his turn to do them. At the first we had an easy run through with no phonecall to be made in that direction. I had remembered a sign showing a different style of map though at the first we reached, so although Shane was working the gates and paddles I went to get a picture of the eco-map of the river from Saltford to Reading, made from bottle caps. I had plenty time while we waited for the lock to be ready.
At the second lock a small plastic boat appeared just as I was driving in. It looked to be heading up an unnavigable part and I wondered if they were just turning. Then they swivelled lockwards so I signalled to them to find out if they were turning or coming in with us. They came in and said they hadn’t a windlass (or “one of those” as he called it) but they had been resourceful and he showed me an adjustable spanner he had managed to make use of. They were glad to be with a boat that could operate the lock for them. They told us they were new to this and asked various questions about lock size and whether there was a system about what order or side of the lock boats should coming in. They decided to spin around in the lock since they were short enough to do this and go back down in the lock again and go back the other way. There were two boats waiting to coming but both were shorter than we were so all three would probably fit in. A boat spinning right round in a lock and changing direction of travel is a first. The other boaters were game for making it work.
When we reached the next lock, I moored up as boats were already in it. I remembered that this one had had very heavy gates at the other end that were hard to open. We had had to have three people last time and using the gate at the side with a stone wall to push your feet against, rather than the turf and mud on the other side, to get it started was essential. I saw Shane was already with a young man at that side. Both boats were loan boaters. I went to help the narrowboater on the other side, who had been warned this was a very difficult lock to open, while Shane and the young man took the other. Predictably their side cracked open first and they held it while we got our side open. They returned to their boats to drive out and the young guy wished us luck when it was our turn. We were hoping that another boat would come but there was no sign. So we had to go it alone. I brought the boat to the side of the lock and roped up when it was nearly full and went to help Shane with the gate on the stone wall side. Shane had had an idea to use a metal spike that these gates had to prop them open, and place it against the wall to stop the gate slipping back when we eased pushing in any way. It helped though was a dangerous looking item and there was still some serious push back from the gate. As we pushed it would drop down the wall a little but as the wall was wider further down it allowed us to hold our position, as we adjusted our positions for the next push.
As we carried on through the next section we passed the young boater pulled in to a jetty for services. He waved and called “you made it through then!” He looked jubilant on our behalf. Shane told me he had said he had some engine trouble. His water cooling system wasn’t working properly so it was overheating. He didn’t seem to be letting that get him down. “You could fry an egg on it,” he said. We couldn’t help that notice that he was covered neck to toe in scars. It was obvious he often was not so chipper. Being a wimp, I cannot imagine what amount of internal distress, could make someone want to cut themselves to feel better, but I know it happens.
At the fourth lock we waited for a boat coming out then I went up to operate it. When Shane had driven in I saw that the young man was approaching so I beckoned him in and he waved back enthusiastically. I held the gate till he got in. He was pleased to t manage to get through one gate without incident. It wasn’t even a gate that opened fully but these locks are pretty wide. He got out of his boat and helped with the opening of the gate at the other end and was saying how great it was that we didn’t shut the gate on him. I wondered how many doors in his life had been closed to him. On leaving the lock, he was again profusely thanking us for waiting for him and how great it was to meet us! I really hope the boat life works out for him. Perhaps he is finding a community.
He was out and working the next lock and opening the gate for us and waving us in. He was holding both his ropes and dancing to Taylor Swift – he informed me life was good with Taylor Swift playing. His stern rope unravelled and became attached but he leapt down and tied it back on. I don’t think he has been boating long but is certainly giving it a his best go. We saw him manoeuvre niftily to moor up later on.
At the last lock we met a wide boat. The woman with a windlass said it was her daughter’s boat that she was visiting and had been ‘volunteered’ to work the lock. She at least got a little help from us, but as we left we found their daughter was unable to get their engine to start. Shane gave a suggestion for the issue, but that didn’t seem to be it and we left her repeatedly trying to start it and a trip boat approaching that was going to want to use that jetty.
We had a chat with a boat going the other way about the scarcity of moorings. We hadn’t seen any spaces since Bristol and they didn’t have time to get to get there. They didn’t seem keen on what they had seen in Bath but we found easy quiet moorings. They were only for 24 hours though so the next day we headed to a different one to hide from the rain next day. It gave me time to finish my hat.
A boat moored up behind us but started running it’s engine late at night. Presumably they needed some energy for their electricity in the evening. In the morning we were surprised to hear it running again. They were turning the key. There was a whining noise that really shouldn’t be happening. Then another person was chatting and explaining their alternator was probably not working. They were following the advice to charge up by running the engine but it had been ineffective. They phoned their boat operator for an engineer to help and in their engine compartment. We offered breakfast but they had a gas hob, and had managed to get it lit with matches, as the spark ignition wasn’t working due to the electricity failure, so were managing to get that sorted at last. They had a good humoured chat with us. They had to return the boat to base the next morning and were not going to have time. Shane suggested they make a run for it in a pedalo that was attached to a passing boat. Mind you it was a distinctive colour scheme.
Very wet weather was forecast later so I went to post my hats at Bath post office. It was at the back upstairs inside a stationery shop and had a much longer queue than the shop. It was equipped with five self serve machines, but none of them were working, so the two cashiers had their work cut out for them, dealing with the ever growing queue. It looks like when machines takes over the world it might just break down.
A detour to a bakery and a green grocer market stall, meant a longer visit to town than expected too. The engineer had arrived by the time I got back and was trying hard, but was struggling to effect a repair, faced with a completely different kind of alternator to replace that which was originally in the boat and he had a broken voltmeter. Shane was able to provide a working voltmeter. “Legend!”