Who would have thought the bad stuff would happen right at the start of the summer? This week’s holiday started off well enough - a day off to explore Bath (what a beautiful city, why did nobody tell me?!), cheese and tea shopping, a couple of drinks playing multilingual Scrabble and chatting to the local bartenders of a music venue. Back to the boats to greet our new guests and discover that they are, in fact, all lovely, and mostly new to this boating lark. That means no more singing Avenue Q songs in the kitchen in case we scare them off… the cruise got started the next day, so for lunch we arrived at Bradford-on-Avon - our route is back the way we came before heading up to Reading and Henley - and as we were leaving, the Bad Things began. I’d been coughing quite a bit, so had been sent off to the chemist for throat sweets and was to meet the boats back at the first lock after they’d set off. This left only three crew: slightly inconvenient, but no catastrophe. So I went, and I came back, and there were Snipe and Taurus about to go under the bridge before the lock. I stood by the gate. I waited. Corinne came to join me, as she’d come ahead to check it was all set. We waited. Nothing was happening, nothing was moving. We waited. From our positions we could just about see under the bridge - the front of the motor was sitting there, apparently not doing a thing. Corinne went back to find out what the situation was, while I continued coughing and waiting. She was gone a while - there was a boat waiting to come the other way through the lock, and a crowd was gathering, as it became obvious there was a problem.
All of a sudden I saw Bertie sitting on top of the boat, shivering and wrapped in a towel, standard procedure after he falls into a canal. Again?! He doesn’t like water much, but seems predisposed to finding himself in it, and he’s only a little thing so if he isn’t willing to swim it’s a bit of a race to pull him out. As Corinne would say, il mio cane e pazzo! So that’s Bad Thing number one. Bad Thing number two - my cough was rapidly turning into a full blown cold (and is making me miserable as I type this!). Colds, according to Corinne and Neil, happen to people at the start of seasons, when all the new work gets on top of you. Aggravatingly, as with most snuffly fluey things, I’m completely fine and able to work mentally and physically, but constant running noses and coughing get in the way of food prep and service, cycling, talking and general activity! Bad Thing number three was the main issue with the boat - a huge piece of wood was stuck in the propeller, meaning the motor couldn’t work, meaning we had no power at all to move either boat. Corinne eventually had to bow-haul (pull with a rope) both boats into the lock - no mean feat, at 70ft long and 7ft wide each - just to get us out of the way, and the problem was sorted on the other side. The problem being sorted, however, relied on poor Neil having to get into the freezing canal up to his shoulders to physically drag the piece of wood away. Sara and I were sent to put on the kettle and run Neil a bath while onlookers and passengers in turn watched, laughed, panicked and took pictures. Canal folk (an expression I like, as opposed to “boat people”) appear to be generally a friendly bunch though, and we had some assistance from a couple of guys with beards, leather jackets and excellent West Country accents. We decided enough work had been done for that day and we moored, calmed down and had plenty of tea. Since then the weather has turned from “utterly glorious” to decidedly disgusting, but everything else is going smoothly. The last day of the second cruise was Caen Hill - a huge flight of 29 locks which somehow didn’t seem too ominous coming the other way… possibly because all of our eight passengers on the first cruise were helping out in some way. We have to separate the boats to do this flight, as the locks aren’t wide enough to hold both, so Neil went ahead by himself with the motor while Corinne bow-hauled the butty through and between every single lock. A tough day for everyone, but we finished on a high with Nutella mousse and alcoholic ginger beer to reward ourselves… Mmmm. Roll on Cruise Three!