Saturday 25th June.
A parade team briefing by Graham and John began the day at 09.00. I was allocated boat control at Braunston Turn with Bob. Neither of us had done it before, so it was a case of the blind leading the blind. We worked out between us a method of coping and while I went up the Oxford branch to the nearest bridge, Bob remained on the junction bridge to control the parade boats. My job was to stop any boats from the Napton direction from moving past me to the turn, until there was a break in the parade, which was rare for quite a time. The private boats where quite happy to do as asked, but a boatyard guy was towing a broken down boat and told me that he was a working boat and almost demanded to be let through. I managed to get him to slow right down and await a space, which he reluctantly complied with. Why is it that some people are so arrogant? After the last parade boat went through, we stood down until the second parade at 14.00.
Thinking that I would be doing the same in the afternoon, I walked back to the turn and did a radio check. At which point John wanted me to return to base. When I got there, he said that I was now off duty, to which I replied, “Does that mean you want me on tomorrow?” When he said yes to that, I told him that I had other commitments planned for the following day, as originally I was to be on duty all of Saturday and had Sunday free. At that point he asked me to control boat exits at Ladder Bridge with Wilf – hardly a job for two people, but that’s what I did. A number of boats came out of that marina exit and appeared to be trying to get into the field opposite, or have to reverse several times to make the turn at all. Very few steerers managed it in one go. I was due to do this on Sunday with a butty in tow, so watch this space.
Sunday 26th June.
My friend Joyce arrived after breakfast. We had a good chat over coffee, before walking up to the Trust boats, ready for the Sunday parade at 11.30. Introductions all round and I was pleased to see Maffi there too. Despite him wearing a Dryzabone long waterproof coat, it did not rain during the run.
I felt quite relaxed, having done this last year and it was only at the end that I realised how much pressure I was under to perform well. We had to move across to the bank first to pick up Alice Lapworth, who was to steer the butty. Alice was born and raised on working narrow boats, so what she didn’t know was not worth knowing. I have got to know her well over the years that I have been to this show and she is such a lovely warm person, who will readily offer advice to the new boys, like me.
Waiting for the starting gun with Maggie.
After picking her up from the bank, we singled out and I picked up the cross straps from the butty bow, which went on the two stern dollies of Nuneaton. The butty is always towed like this when empty, so that the pair can make faster progress.
Andrew at the ready with long shaft.
Easy going so far,
All was well, with a fairly clear run up to Braunston Turn where the boats had to wind, by going up one side of the triangular island and then reverse down the other side. They were then back on the main line facing the right way ready to return to the marina. That was the bottleneck, which caused all boats behind to wait until it was their turn. Now there were boats moving in both directions, causing more chaos, as boats stopped, tend to drift across the cut. Everything was done on tickover, so all I had to do, apart from steer, was to put it in and out of gear. The gear change rod was really stiff and I even had difficulty getting into gear a few times, so I asked Andrew to give the rod some lubrication where it went through the bearers. What a difference that made.
At last it was our turn to wind the pair and I had previously passed a message to Alice to give me the thumbs up when the butty ‘ellum was past the apex of the triangular island.
Waiting for the signal from Alice to indicate that
the butty was beyond the apex of the island.
Starting to reverse.
At that point, I moved the motor stern across the cut to direct the butty stern down the exit side. All went well and we were off back down the straight again, with a spontaneous round of applause from the gongoozlers on both bridges. I raised my bowler hat in acknowledgement, but Alice has to be included as it was a team effort.
Job done and back on the main line.
Back down to the marina at snail’s pace, with oncoming boats all over the cut, before turning under the bridge into the marina. Unfortunately, Michael Pinnock’s boat was in the place where I need to go to make a wide sweep into the turn. I got past him and stopped. At which point he said, “You have left it too late now.” To which I replied, “ I can’t get any closer, or I will scratch your paintwork.” What I should have said was, “Why didn’t you hold back and leave this space clear, you selfish a*!?%$+e.” Which of course would demean the Trust; not a good idea, but would have made me feel better. Andrew was there on the bow ready to shaft the bow into a position where I could turn on the power and we were through to the next hurdle. I have to give him credit for weighing up the situation in advance and for being in the right place at the right time.
Into the marina entrance after Andrew shafted us round.
There is an awkward turn just after getting under the bridge and I managed to negotiate it by turning the throttle fully open to clear the end of a pontoon and then the bow of a moored boat, accompanied of course by clouds of black smoke from the engine. On to the next hazard, the Ladder Bridge, which is the exit from the marina, mentioned previously, where a ninety degree turn brings us back in line to where we started.
I approached slowly so as to get the line right, then at the point of no return, I wound it on hard so as to turn in the shortest possible length.
Time to turn up the wick.
I was in doubt whether we would clear the piling, but luckily we did and Alice helped the turn by pushing the motor stern with the butty as she came cleanly through the hole under the bridge.
Into the straight.
Alice emerges clean as a whistle under Ladder Bridge.
To say I was chuffed to bits, was an understatement and we got another round of applause from those on the Ladder Bridge. Back to our mooring and the end of another Braunston Historic Boat Parade. What a wonderful experience and I have to say “Thankyou” to Colin, the captain on this event for allowing me to partake.
Joyce and I went off to the beer tent to celebrate, hoping to meet the crew later, but they were held up and didn’t turn up until after we left. Back to Stronghold for a late ad hoc BBQ lunch. It was only then that I realised how much adrenalin had been pumping round and I felt exhausted, but very well satisfied with the day.
Monday 27th June.
Joyce arrived after 10.00 and more conversation followed over coffee. She had asked previously if we could go out on a short trip, so I planned to go towards Napton and wind the boat; a distance of just over 3 miles, which should take about an hour. Very pleasant cruising in the sunshine with no wind blowing. All went well and we returned as planned, but we were not going to make it to The Nelson for a 2pm lunch. I phoned and had the booking pushed forward to 14.55, because the kitchen closed at 15.00. I put on speed between moored boats, arriving in Braunston at 14.30, but with no convenient moorings until near the waterpoint and tying up to do, we were not going to make it, so abandoned that idea. Instead we had a prosaic late lunch in the Marstons pub.
Tuesday 28th June.
I took a chance after 11.00 to see if I could get another mooring close to The Boathouse (Marstons) so that I could use their free wi-fi again. Sure enough, there was one free right outside, so I could then publish the next edition of this blog and most of the afternoon was devoted to doing just that. However, I was too close to the pub to get a TV signal – DOH! Never mind, after doing the business on the PC, I moved down to a mooring close to the Marina entrance, so that I could get a pump out and do some washing, which had mounted up during the last week.
I went into the Marina office to get the appropriate tokens and had a word with Tim Coghlan to thank him in person for his latest copy of “The Last Run” for printing in The Steerer. He showed me all the press release pics of the boats at Yarwoods Historic Boat Yard, which is where Nuneaton was built in 1936, although there is no longer any boat building there now.
Wednesday 29th June.
Wet, wet, wet from dawn until after midday. Graham and John wanted to move Joseph into the arm, so as to be able to unload all the festival paraphernalia into the car. At present there is no engine in the boat, so it has to be manhandled. After about an hour, we did it again back to the original mooring, all in the pouring rain.
Shopping was essential now, as I had completely run out of victuals. The general store and butchers were essential places to visit, as there were no other shops in the village. When I last paid a visit to the grumpy old butcher, about two weeks ago, I said to him, “That’s it then for now, I will probably see you same time next year.”
This time he was in the shop again and I reiterated the above conversation, but added, “I have been in here four times since then.” Which actually caused him to burst into laughter. Everyone in previous years has told me what a grumpy old git he is, but the best butcher for miles around. Maybe he was having a good day.
I was in two minds whether to move up to the top of the locks, as I had been here on Braunston moorings too long in total outside the free rally mooring times. I let go in pouring rain and waited for a noddy boat to pass me into the now open lock, before I followed them in very slowly as the crew could not make up their minds which side to go. Travelling together, I could see that they were not going to lock wheel until we came to a very low pound, when I suggested that they do that, rather than run aground. Although they had been hire boating for 20 years, the guy doing the locks always rode on board between the locks, however short the pound – strange. I think he should go out on the Trust boats! We moored up at the top of the locks, so it is going to be a quiet night.