1973 marked a shift away from the canals in favour of the Fenland river navigations.
We ventured into these waters for two consecutive years, initially hiring Craik from Hoseasons and exploring the River Ouse, the Cam, the Wissey and the Lark.
With Dr D otherwise engaged (quite literally) boating became a three person affair and at the age of 12, I was deemed old enough to take my turn at the helm and most importantly, to operate the locks.
Matilda dnd Capt Ahab on Craik
A bit of explanation about the Ahab family dynamics is needed here.
Mother Ahab (Matilda) is a wizz at driving cars but when it comes to boats she has a complete blind spot. No matter how much she tries, she can't get used to steering it "the wrong way". This was a problem back in the 1960's and to be honest, it remains a problem today, to the extent that I wouldnt even ask her to steer Wand'ring Bark out of a lock!. Matilda's role was focussed on galley duties (little somethings and mugs of tea were a speciality) plus rope holding. As I reflect on it, her continued support for my fathers boating adventures is a true sign of her love for him.
That left the Capt Snr. Now he was wildly enthusiastic about his boating and as soon as he took control of the craft he was away, lost in a watery world of his own. The problem was his mobility, or rather his lack of it. The Capt Snr was injured in WW2 with a bullet passing through one thigh, ripping out large amounts of muscle and vein. As a result he was unable to walk great distances and could easily find himself suddenly lame and virtually unable to move at all. This disability was a huge frustration for him, and boating was an ideal way to allow him to be out and about in the countryside, without too much walking.
So as I said, lock duties fell to me. The locks on the Ouse and it's tributaries were, at the time, all of the manual guillotine variety. This meant labouriously winding the bottom gate up and down to allow the boat to pass underneath. This usually involved a couple of hundred stiff turns in both directions over a sweat inducing period of ten minutes or so. Heartbreak Hill had nothing on Fenland cruising.
The sign says "hand operated" - like I didn't know it!
I believe that these locks have all been automated over the years, but it was interesting to encounter a couple of manual guillotine locks on the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals last Easter, when the twinges of back ache brought back memories of the stiffness I endured on the Fens in the 1970's.
We made it up to Cambridge and has a mooch up the Lark and Wissey, but never went down as far as Denver Sluice, which sounded so remote and mysterious. To this day I havn't been to the Sluice, or experienced the delights of Salters Lode. It's a bit off the track from a Midlands base, but one day...
These were wild and empty waters, with few other boats to be seen and cruising was mostly within the confines of high embankments . Maybe it's not surprising that landmark events were thin on the ground.