Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 13 October 2013
Britta has just reminded me of a wonderful saying amongst small yacht-owners which prevents me from ever buying a boat with sails. Owning a boat, they say, is just like standing in a cold shower, tearing up £20 notes.
I cannot even swim, but the only fear of water I have is of it going into my nose and ears. It goes without saying that I am not too keen on drowning either. When Widdy the cat (above) went missing, I hired a skiff and rowed up and down the river, plaintively and desperately calling out his name into the empty undergrowth of the banks. When I returned - catless - to the boat-hire quay, they refused to charge me any rent for it.
I came very close to buying a 72 foot, Birmingham coal boat once, but lack of marine finance prevented me from standing in that cold shower, tearing up paper money.
The narrow boat was - at the time - a virtual shell with a small engine-cabin, but the hull and engine had been carefully restored and the whole thing was just waiting for someone like me to come along and build two luxurious cabins fore and aft, leaving a decent sized sun-deck in the middle. The wealthy tramp who did buy it just strung up a couple of tarpaulins to live beneath, and - as far as I know - lives on it like this to this day.
The man I didn't buy it from had found it in Birmingham, languishing where it had picked up it's last load, sometime during the war. He hoisted it into dry dock, which was where the work to the hull was done, then he was faced with the task of getting it back to Bath with the Severn Estuary in the way.
The traditional route for a canal journey like this is - obviously - through the canal systems in between the 'Venice of the North' (!) and the Rome of the South, but my friend is, and was, far from traditional.
He decided to save a few days journey by cutting across the mouth of the Severn Estuary in a virtually straight line.
Taking a 72 foot long, 8 foot wide boat with a 3 foot draught into the open seas could justifiably be called suicidal, but he did it anyway.
The whole, vast area of water has the fiercest tides in the whole of the UK, with a rise and fall of about 20 feet at it's deepest lane. If the boat were to ever go off-course by just a few degrees so that it's length were to go side-on to the waves, then it would have capsized so quickly and so frequently, that it would have just spun in the water like a top for a few minutes before sinking.
Choosing the most advantageous tidal conditions (there are none to speak of) my foolhardy friend set out with a head-wind strong enough to test the little diesel engine to the extreme, and puttered off from Wales to England, about 20 miles distant.
About half way across, things got very hairy indeed and - for some reason - he needed to go into the little engine cabin and - for some other reason - straddle the engine to step over it and get to the other side of the 7 foot-wide room. The engine was going flat-out, but the boat was only doing about 2 miles per hour in the filthy weather.
Just as he lifted one leg over the engine block, his trousers on the other leg became caught in some unseen obstacle - unseen because it was almost dark inside the cabin.
The other leg of his trousers then became caught in some other moving part of the marine diesel, and he found himself being slowly lowered onto the massive, exposed fly-wheel which was spinning round as fast as it could go.
Like some horrible James Bond-type torture equipment, the wheel began to eat it's way through the crotch of his trousers before starting on the fabric of his underpants.
After it had finished that little job, it started on the skin of his scrotum, and it was the pain of this which gave my friend the super-human strength required to pull his trapped leg away from the engine block by completely tearing the the leg off the garment and falling to safety on the other side.
It would have been bad enough to have drowned out there in the high seas, but to have your bollocks slowly burnt off beforehand would have been a very nasty prelude to a very nasty end.
The coastguard (alerted by his wife) was waiting for him in Bristol as he stepped off the boat in his one-legged trousers.
Unlike Widdy, he had not used up all of his nine lives.