A 3mph mercy dash...

Canal Boat - - Letters - PAUL STRUTT, via email

THE LEAD LET­TER, en­ti­tled Spec­ta­torS­port, ( CB, April) re­minded me of a trip we took many years ago.

Back in 1977 in the early days of leisure boat­ing, my fam­ily owned a 50ft nar­row­boat which was moored at Gay­ton in Northamp­ton­shire. We were liv­ing in Nor­folk, so it was a bit of a jour­ney to get to the boat.

My mother had to go to Padding­ton hospi­tal for a med­i­cal ap­point­ment. Ob­vi­ously, go­ing by car or train would have been far too sen­si­ble, so we de­cided to take her by boat.

We set off late on 28 Septem­ber, get­ting through Blis­worth tun­nel and into Stoke Bruerne be­fore it got too dark. This pretty well set the pat­tern for the rest of the jour­ney, the starts get­ting ear­lier and the fin­ishes get­ting later. Most days we man­aged 40-70 lock-miles, even though the locks were broad Grand Union ones.

We ar­rived at Padding­ton at 2.30pm on 2 Oc­to­ber, just in time for the ap­point­ment. While mother was get­ting her main­te­nance, Dad and I main­tained the en­gine.

As soon as Ma’s feet hit the deck, we set off back home­wards, moor­ing at Bulls Bridge long af­ter dark. We had a dead­line to get home – I think I was due back at work, so we had to keep mov­ing. We did get a telling-off by the lock-keeper at Cos­grove when we went through his lock in the pitch dark at 11.15pm.

It was au­tumn and the nights were down to freez­ing. That kind of trip needs a lot of sus­te­nance – I can still fondly re­mem­ber the seem­ingly end­less stream of soup, ba­con butties and mugs of tea that kept ap­pear­ing through the hatch.

It was dur­ing one of our night-time lock­ing stints that I had a close call when pulling the boat in to the side of the lock. I ended up do­ing a back­wards som­er­sault over the edge of the lock, but had the ex­cep­tional good for­tune to land on my feet on the roof of the boat. In a broad lock with full pad­dles on, it could have been a whole lot worse and was a clear warn­ing about boat­ing in the pitch dark on a freez­ing night when you are dog-tired.

We fi­nally ar­rived back in Gay­ton at 3pm on 5 Oc­to­ber, hav­ing com­pleted an ex­haust­ing 174 miles and 145 (broad) locks in seven days with a crew of three. Not the kind of jour­ney you for­get in a hurry.

My photo shows our boat on launch day at Gay­ton in 1975.

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