Monday 1 July 2013

Gin palace redemption

We left Basildon early in warm sunshine to ensure maximum use of our schedule without the need for rush, passing Radley boat club where my aforementioned sponsored row (my second) commenced. The river is truly majestic. Badly signposted, but majestic.Each lock has a nearby massive weir but you only discover the respective lock and weir entrances at the very last moment. Boats queue for the locks in "lay-bys" and the rules are: First in, first out. Use bow and stern ropes. switch off engine. All locks have two keepers, all extremely friendly. The river was not particularly busy. All was going well until Shillingford where there is a particularly sharp, blind bend, around which appeared a large, black narrowboat at full throttle on the wrong side. The lardy, bald  blob of a driver with the largest builders cleavage you could ever imagine hanging over the back of his shorts and boat (obviously where he keeps his brain cell) had no intention of slowing down, stopping or avoiding a massive accident. (Hence me only recognising him from the back. I'll have nightmares for the remainder of my life or until I happen to meet him again armed with my barge-pole). I slammed Tardis Two into reverse, stopping on the proverbial sixpence and swung towards what was left of my side of the river, only to embed her on a very shallow sandbank. Fortunately the large Tupperware gin place following managed to avoid hitting my rear end and the sandbank ( there's a vision). No amount of forward or reverse throttle even threatened to move us and a tow from the gin palace also failed. Another Tupperware boat with an all-female young crew stopped to help but only managed to break our bow rope, although they did offer to report our problem to the next lock and phone back. I very reluctantly gave them my phone number. In the meantime I phoned the Environment agency helpline to report our problem and to my delight and surprise they were very helpful and supportive, offering to raise the river level and keep in touch, which they did every ten minutes for the next 5hours. The lock keepers at both Day's and Benson locks also phoned regularly to check how we were, let us know when more water was being let through the weirs and to recommend emptying our water tanks to reduce draught and weight. A few boats offered to help, but most were lightweight Tupperware ones. Apparently the river rescue people do not work on Sundays, probably the busiest time on the Thames ! A dad and his son in a passing canoe gave assistance. The dad stood on the sandbank and used his paddle a a shovel in an attempt to dig us out. It failed of course, but kind of him anyway. After 5 hours in the very hot sun a particularly big gin palace silently cruised round the corner and rescued us, towing Tardis Two backwards into deeper waters. To say we were overcome with relief would be an understatement. We both collapsed in tears and hugged as if we had just survived a massive natural disaster, waving frantic thanks to our rescuers as they disappeared over the horizon. Both were middle-aged and very "down to earth", unlike most gin palace owners from my experience. I'll never say another derogatory word about them.
The Benson lock keeper even phoned us on our way "home"from a pub meal at the renowned Miller of Mansfield to check we were OK. How caring is that?
As we cruised through Moulsford after our release we were cheered and applauded by previous "supporters", feeling like Arsenal after one of their many FA cup and/or league win open top bus parades through Highbury.

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