Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ripping yarn


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.

27 comments:

  1. I once took a Narrow Boat along the Llangollen Canal; it was very tedious. Much better to have them securely tied to a mooring in Chelsea or Maida Vale.

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    1. Or Clifton Little Venice, and pay almost as much mooring fees as rent on dry land...

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  2. Tony Blair's millenium monolith lies at the bottom of the Severn. It was supposed to be dragged from the Preseli Hills to Stonehenge with a Severn crossing on a raft to prove someone's theory. But the mighty Severn had other ideas. Perilous waters indeed.

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    1. I don't suppose he went down with it...

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  3. Canals are not really boating in the traditional seagoing sense. Nothing more than an elongated lake interspersed with boring locks.

    I have to ask why didn't your friend use the Gloucester to Sharpness canal ?

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  4. Dear Tom,
    I could listen hours and hours to your stories (all the while crocheting a brief for your daring adventurous friend from sailor's yarn).
    To take such a boat to sea: wow! Not to buy one in the end: excellent. Though: it has dream potential, lots of.

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    1. The picture of your fine black cat brought to my mind the second Ale I really loved beside Wild Cat: look at the label of Exmoor Beast.

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    2. I know this ale - 'Exmoor Beast'. I got twatted on it when staying in the Quantocks one weekend. Good beer.

      The creature - a black puma/panther - is reportedly often sighted on Dartmoor, and it has also been sighted sniffing around my workshop in Wiltshire.

      It gets around, that beast.

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    3. I love 'Exmoor Stag' as well - the names beat the shit out of our local breweries, like 'Cripple Cock'.

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    4. I took a photograph in Bradford-o-A from the shopwindow of a beer- and wine-merchant, Are you on Facebook? I'll post it on my FB-account (Britta Hill), together with a few photos from Bath.

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    5. I try not to be on Facebook, though they have other plans for me - and all my friends.

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    6. Just email it - like the old days?

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  5. Delusions of Hemingway, and almost as suicidal.

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    1. Hemingway blew his head off with a Boss gun, and my friend owns no guns, let alone expensive Boss ones.

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  6. Never too late to learn to swim.

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    1. Never too late to drown, either.

      My last swimming lesson was in Cuba, but a shark got involved and that was the end of them.

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  7. Sorry about Widdy.

    I have a boat with sails, but it's a very small one, so i tear up fivers instead.

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    1. Widdy has been gone many years ago now, but thanks for the condolence. I still miss him.

      I tear up money all the time, but only on terra firma.

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  8. Once upon a time, my husband had the idea of buying a canal boat and living in Maida Vail. Thank God nothing came of it. He has a racing sailing dinghy which I hate -- he bought it from his son and it is the most uncomfortable thing for a passenger. I want to cruise leisurely with a nice glass of wine and warm breeze ...

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  9. Britta is right
    But better over a large gin and tonic
    Or perhaps four

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    1. The Broad is right - cruising leisurely with a nice glass of wine and a warm breeze coming from one of your dogs...

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  10. All the b's
    Yes the Broad WAS right

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  11. Aren't you glad that you didn't buy the Birmingham coal boat? Instead you can spend your money on candlesticks which seems a much safer hobby.

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    1. The candlesticks are safe, but the Georgian drinking glasses are not.

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    2. Actually, if used, the candlesticks aren't that safe either. Fire and water...

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