Sunday, 15 October 2006

Jeff's Birthday Bash - and back again

15th October 2006
Tixall to Calf Heath
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 Hours

After all the toxic waste excitement of yesterday you would expect a quieter return journey wouldn't you? Well, fact can be stranger than fantasy so here is the remainder of this comic episode:

After a 9.00 am start we soon passed the site of yesterday's emergency bailout, finding the autumnal air fortified with a very distinctive bouquet, not entirely pleasant I have to admit. It's a good job the spot was very remote and away from any moorings!

On our return to Penkridge who should be wandering around the lock? None other than yesterday's drunk - who had clearly invested his time and money topping up his inebriation in the local pub. Drunks seem to fall into two camps, they are either dangerously aggressive or they greet you as a long lost best friend. This chap was of the latter persuasion and he enthusiastically peered down into the lock chamber and asked how our trip had gone.

Given yesterday's final comment, I had to reply: "You know you were dead right, s**t does happen," and proceeded to tell the tale. I knew that engaging in this sort of banter carried risks but I didn't see the next one coming. "Can I ask you a favour please? - I need to get my boat up to Gailey and I was wondering if you could give me a tow?". In that moment I couldn't think of a good reason to say no, so I said yes and tied him onto the stern dollies. His little plastic cruiser was, of course, entirely without a licence, a mooring permit or valid BSC - but there, no one is perfect!

I kept well to the front on the locks to avoid crushing my companion, and all went well till we approached Shutt Hill. My "passenger" decided to jump off his boat as we approached the bank, but he failed to allow for the reaction of his craft, which skidded back away from him, leaving him suspended in mid air, rather like Wylie Cyotie when he realises he has run off the edge of a cliff. As if in slow motion, I watched him plunge beneath the murky waters and then start vainly scrabbling at the steel piled bank, trying to get out. The water was deep and cold, he was heavily dressed and drunk and the bank was sheer and high - all of which made an unassisted exit nigh on impossible. I genuinely feared the chap would drown himself so I abandoned the boat (again) and dashed back, hauling him out by his belt. He was too shocked to say much but from his moans of dispair it appeared that he had been wearing his best trousers, which were now soaked and ingrained with silt.

Our passenger disappeared back into his boat to change and didn't reappear till we cleared Gailey Top Lock, emerging as we refilled our water tank to replace the water used in yesterdays debacle. I figured that this trip couldn't have any more incident but no, there was one final twist in the tale. Jeff's best friend, Matt, is a lively lad and never walks when he can run. I had reminded him at regular intervals to slow down but what do I know? In the process of filling the water tank I has sluiced down the side beneath the chimney, rinsing off the sticky tar which oozes out. The result was a slippery patch which Matt hit at full speed and, for the second time in an hour, I watched an episode of Wylie Cyotie. This time the unpowered flight attempt ended with a small blond head bobbing down the side of the boat, spectacles still on his nose all glistening wet with water. Another emergency stop, followed by a rapid strip down and shower to quell the shivering. By this time I had had enough of the passenger (I didn't catch his name but I suspect it was Jonah) so I dropped him off on the visitor moorings and legged it back to Calf Heath as fast as I could.

As you can imagine, the three lads found the events surrounding the "toxic waste" weekend hilarious, with the component parts growing in dramatic content with each retelling!.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Jeffs birthday bash - to Tixall Wide

14th October 2006
Calf Heath to Tixall Wide
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 Hours

To celebrate Jeff's 13th birthday we decided on a sleepover with a twist. This year the celebration would be afloat, taking in a boat trip with plenty of locks, a spot of fishing, pizza and monopoly, mooring overnight on Tixall Wide, just before Haywood Junction.

After an early collection of two friends we set sail at 10.00am, making our way first to Gailey and then down to Penkridge. Whilst descending Penkridge lock I unwisely engaged in conversation with a very drunk Water Gypsy who proceeded to tell me his life story in the time it took the water to empty. He told me of how his girlfriend had deserted him, leaving him in favour of her supplier of illicit substances and also taking his boat with them, thus leaving him with an unpowered fibreglass vessel as home. Having told his sorry take he ended with a shrug and observer that "s**t happens". Oh how true he was.

During the next hour or so I had occasional complaints from the lads that it was smelly in the boat, but put that down to over sensitive city boys not being able to cope with the slightly fragrant holding tank system. But no, one of my passengers had managed to turn the flush mechanism of the loo on, and not turned it off after completing his ablutions. Needless to say, the fresh water supply is considerably greater than the capacity of the holding tank and I was suddenly faced with three ashen faced lads telling me that the toilet was overflowing! I dived below and sure enough, a steady stream of water was welling up from the toilet basin - like something from a second rate horror movie. With me frantically bailing out the cascading toilet, Jeff and his friends took command of the boat and brought us into land just short of the aqueduct over the river Sow. The boys laughter was stifled when I pointed out that we had to reduce the level in the tank to below the inspection hatch and proceeded to implement a chain of buckets, discharging a large quantity of "toxic waste" into the hedgerow. Not a nice job. Whilst we emptied about a third of the tank, many gallons found their way into the bilge, necessitating the cutting of an access hatch the next weekend and much unpleasant mopping out. Not a task I wish to repeat!

After the enforced delay we finally made it to Tixall just before sunset, and dropped out rods into the water. Result - one small perch. Not much but better than nothing.

Apart from a rather soggy floor and damp atmosphere the remainder of the day passed uneventfully.