CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month - Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and author who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years STEVE HAYWOOD

A night­mare in York for Steve, while Kevin goes back to the, er... BCN

Of course, we knew its rep­u­ta­tion. You can’t have boated for as long as we have not to be aware of the hor­ror sto­ries about the River Ouse at York. Blimey, you only have to watch the news to know about it. Even so, I prob­a­bly thought the sto­ries were ex­ag­ger­ated. Surely, no river could rise that fast? I mean, it hadn’t been rain­ing much, hardly at all, in fact...

Then I called Em. I’d been giv­ing a talk at Bar­ton Ma­rina 100 miles away and the trains were run­ning late. “If I miss the con­nec­tion I may have to stay in Manch­ester,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that,” she replied, “the river’s ris­ing. fast.” By the time I crossed Len­dal Bridge for the short walk from the sta­tion, I could see what she meant. Even at that dis­tance it was clear Jus­tice was en­gulfed by wa­ter which had al­ready breached the tow­path. At this stage, though – it was mid­night by now – the wa­ter was still shal­low enough for me to wade over in wellies.

We had to keep watch all night in or­der to loosen off our lines. In the first hour it rose three inches. In the sec­ond hour, twice that much and in the third, twice that again so it was now go­ing up at the rate of a foot an hour. Soon we were float­ing over the tow­path, be­gin­ning to ride up the an­gled wall which leads to the es­planade above.

There were two po­ten­tial dan­gers: one, that the wa­ters would con­tinue to rise and we’d find our­selves float­ing off to­wards the Min­ster. The sec­ond – more likely – was lev­els would abate as quickly as they had be­gun, either sink­ing us if we tipped or, if we stayed level, de­posit­ing us some­where from which it would take a sub­stan­tial in­sur­ance claim to res­cue us. The river was rag­ing now, bring­ing tree branches and river­side bushes down with it.

Loos­en­ing our lines be­came a night­mare as we strug­gled to hold the boat against the force of the flow. Even­tu­ally, at about 4am, with us ex­hausted, our worst fears ma­te­ri­alised and we lost con­trol of the bow line, the power of the river rip­ping it from our grasp and swing­ing the boat around 180 de­grees. It was now held pre­car­i­ously on a sin­gle rope.

Dawn brought some re­lief, as did the re­al­i­sa­tion that al­though the wa­ter was still go­ing up, the rate of rise had slowed. This – bizarrely – was a great com­fort: while the wa­ter wasn’t fall­ing, we couldn’t be grounded and this meant we could at least move un­der our own power. By now we had de­cided that we’d head up­stream where a huge work­boat was moored with long lines as thick as a man’s wrist. En­cour­aged by its help­ful crew, this of­fered a refuge un­til con­di­tions im­proved.

It was three days be­fore they did though, and I couldn’t help think­ing for ev­ery mo­ment of that time what might have hap­pened if that work­boat hadn’t been where it was.

The En­vi­ron­ment Agency was worse than use­less. Its web­site is aimed at prop­erty own­ers not boaters. And York coun­cil, which is re­spon­si­ble for moor­ings, seems obliv­i­ous to the dan­gers faced by the many boaters who visit the place. You’d have thought it’d have in­stalled a float­ing jetty for vis­it­ing boats long be­fore now. Or, at the very least, some poles set into the river bed for sanc­tu­ary. They could charge for both which would pay for them. Af­ter all, this sort of flash flood isn’t un­com­mon in th­ese parts.

But you get the feel­ing York’s got enough tourists and isn’t go­ing to put it­self out for more. There’s no wa­ter point un­less you count the one at Len­dal Bridge where the trip-boats load and where you’d need a hose twice the length any nar­row­boat would carry.

The El­san dis­posal point at the bridge is a dis­grace, too. It’s badly sign­posted and you have to go through the old Cas­tle wall to get to it; and when you do, it’s just a hole in the ground, so close to an ad­join­ing restau­rant that if it wasn’t that the Coun­cil fund en­vi­ron­men­tal health, you’d have ex­pected both to have been closed years ago.

Re­ally, a city like this should do a lot bet­ter! Fol­low me­onTwit­ter @Cut­dreamer

‘The river was rag­ing now, bring­ing tree branches and bushes down with it. Loos­en­ing our lines be­came a night­mare’

Safely along­side the work­boat with the river still run­ning high

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