Hire-Boatbird

24 Nov

Never having set foot on a hire boat before, it was with great trepidation that I did so this past Monday. I considered dark glasses, a beard, balaclava or burka before  boarding but in the end thought “what the hell” and went as me, myself, I.

It’s not like the Leicester line would be teeming with folk I know – in deepest, darkest, wettest November – so I might just get away with it.

And just why am I cruising a hire-boat anyway you ask…

…when I have a perfectly wonderful Hobo of my own?

Well it’s like this: A friend (total novice) of a friend  had booked it up – a week in a 4 berth narrowboat as part of his time share option, thinking it would be an adventure for him and his girlfriend. Nothing wrong with that (some might say he was nuts to do so in November but hey..) except said girlfriend wasn’t keen. OK, positively anti then.

His brother had initially said yes then later cried off, leaving ‘M’ a potential lone, novice boater. Not a good plan.

So he got in touch with our mutual friend who would I know, normally, have been there like a shot but this time she couldn’t do the dates. So she pointed him in my direction. Lucky me!

Naturally, not having cruised much this year (work commitments, lack of funds, overdue Hobo maintenance), I jumped at the chance. John, having just finished lifting potatoes, was also keen for an outing and we’d both wanted to try some out of season boating.

So that’s the how and the why.

The who…

Martyn and friend Mary.

And the where?

Union Wharf at Market Harborough, where we were due to assemble at 1pm on Monday, a part of the network we hadn’t yet done. Another good reason to go – as if we needed one.

John and I were late but, as it turned out we wished we’d have been a whole lot later, given that the familiarisation/safety lecture was still ongoing when we did pitch. And it droned on for quite some time even after our arrival; surprising really as most hire boats I’ve ever encountered haven’t been particularly clued up. And that’s the polite way of putting it.

This left us precious little daylight in which to get going and after some initial confusion/indecision amongst the crew, we pushed-off anyway and made it a couple of miles down the Harborough Arm before dark. At least we got out of the basin and had a go; the plus side of this being it was only a short stroll back into town for the pub and supper.

Early start the next day.

And that’s where it all went wrong – for me anyway.

Sometime during the small hours, I developed the raging sickness and diarrhea and come time to get lively I really wasn’t. Apart from feeling seriously embarrassed by my condition – within the confines of a 45ft narrowboat where two of my three fellow boaters were virtual strangers – well you had to be there. Second thoughts; strike that – you really didn’t want to be there. Trust me.

I was proper poorly. Not fit for anything that involved being other than horizontal. Couldn’t eat. Couldn’t drink. Couldn’t even smoke. And that’s serious. My attempt at the morning ciggie was aborted. I just wasn’t enjoying it so put it behind my ear (metaphorically speaking) for ‘ron’ where it still was come noon. Unheard of.

I tried at regular intervals to get up but just standing brought on the stomach cramps, followed by a swift dash to the loo, so in the end gave in and remained in bed. Bed, I might add, that was of the assemble yourself and not fixed variety and, when in made up mode, completely blocked the path to and from the tiller.

Despite my suggestion that it be put away (I would heroically make do with the couch) it was decided I should stay put. After all I “did look ghastly”.

And so it was that their every trip to the loo/kettle/radiator was a schlep of note, involving stepping over me and my sick-bed, which quite soon became rather muddy. It was wet out there.

My view of the cut was therefore unusual – mainly sky and treetops. If I looked directly aft it was of my companions, from the waist down, and occasionally a cold and concerned face as they bent to check if I was still alive. The entire Foxton flight passed me by – slimy, brick walls either side as I rose with the boat like a steel coffin from its narrow, watery grave. Tunnels are interesting too – not – when seen from the supine.

They all disappeared into the pub for lunch. I couldn’t even contemplate joining them as could still only sip water and, to add insult to injury, I wasn’t even able to read because I’d left my specs in the pub the night before. I’m bored as well now.

I dozed a lot; waking only when they cooed joyfully at the beautiful kingfisher that had posed patiently for them or when fairy feet thundered over my sheets on the way to fetch bread from the kitchen to feed the swans. Oh, and every 15 minutes or so when the engine blasted in reverse to remove yet more leaves from the prop. How on earth do leaves stick to the propeller? Do tell.

So sadly no photographic record (or even much recollection) of this part of the journey. John said I didn’t miss much…”seen one bit of the GU – seen it all”.

Come nightfall we were threading our way ever so slowly (so slow it gives hire-boats a bad name) between the many, many moored boats along the Welford Arm. The wharf was full and chimneys were a smoking…

… it was like coming home.

And I just had to sit up for that!

I bought Hobo from here some 6 or 7 years ago and lived in this marvellous community for a while before I took Hobo off to waters new. I wondered even then why I was leaving but we do get back to visit from time to time.

We (they) tied up in the one remaining space, which was almost certainly the water berth, just as the light went completely.

Again, I skipped the pub (great shame – good pub) and waited it out on the bed. I tried to phone a friend who lives in the next village but I’d forgotten there’s no phone signal there. Home alone once more.

Miraculously I slept all night as well, waking to pouring rain. It was rumoured that this would clear by afternoon but, given my state of health (slowly improving) and M’s natural aptitude and confidence at the helm, we would head off and leave them to it.

Major re-packing – so much cold/wet weather gear – felt like I’d only just packed it and unpacked it. Well, technically I had. Just thought we’d be around a little longer in-between! Car was loaded and we were off to a wet and spray-sodden A14 on the way back to the treehouse.

Ah, dear old Welford…au revoir. And farewell new friends, good luck with the rest of the trip and meet up again soon we hope.

Just the one thing missing from this post: a pic of John in his flourescent orange microlight suit – a site to behold – but it kept him as warm as toast and that’s a good thing when standing on the stern of a narrowboat in November. Thats for sure.

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