The first two parts of this new chapter in the Story of Eileen can be found HERE.
Part Three begins in early March 2012 with our first solo trip. By any standards the first trip was tiny in terms of distance but epic in terms of marking the start of our adventure afloat.
On the 10th March we tentatively nosed Eileen out of the Great Hayward Marina. Her controls, a tiny thumb throttle, seeming ludicrously insubstantial for such a large and heavy boat. Still, we made it out of the marina in one piece and turned left, onto the Trent & Mersey towards Great Hayward Junction; under Bridge 75 then 74, and with a sharp right turn onto the Staffs. & Worcs.; past Anglo Welsh at the Canal Wharf in Mill Lane and past Eileen’s former home mooring; before crossing the youthful Trent on an aquaduct, through Swivel Bridge and onto the Broad Water at Tixall Wide where we winded and returned – and that was it, a round trip of perhaps just under two miles. We were on our way!
After all the anxieties Claire and I had often voiced about the possibility of the kids not understanding the need to be careful, on that first day they happily donned lifejackets, they listened to advice about sitting down etc. and they had a wonderful time, in fact we all had a lovely, LOVELY, first day aboard (see HERE).
After the high excitement of the day trip, things fell flat for a while. Through the dull days of late March the mundane task of physically completing Eileen before our self-imposed deadline of the 2012 Easter holidays continued. It was a time characterised by a running saga over a leaking water tank. In London, unable to do anything constructive to move the works on the boat forward any faster, I busied myself with achieving my lists.
- 3x gas mantles
- 6x small canisters of gas
- food basics
- 2x 5ltr. plastic bottles of water
- route maps and boat log
- new fore and aft ropes
- Elsan Green (and mmm, get toilet sorted)
- mattress & bedding (cover sheet, futon, pillows)
- horn (blow-type) and (wind-up) klaxon
- coal, fire lighters and kindling (plus finding the chimney for the living cabin Morse stove) etc. etc
This list was typical of many. A chimney? Maps to mark up? Gas mantles, candles and rope. They were odd un-twnety first century, even vaguely Victorian, and I quietly delighted working to achieve each of them.
I was also delighted that old friends Jim and Vi had confirmed that they were up for crewing the boat down to Braunston for us. They were both hugely experienced boaters. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have trust the boat too, both were hugely experienced and have a huge respect for all things waterways.
A plan was hatched for us to meet them in Braunston, and bring then for me and Molly to move her to Fenny Compton, where Claire and the boys would join us for the final few hours down to Forge Farm at Clattercote Wharf. That was low water, lock closures, late stoppages, and random acts-of-god didn’t get in our way!
Finally, on 31st March, after a 7am. start from a chill grey London, everything came together. I collected Jim and Vi (and Jack Russell Patch) from Banbury and by 11.30 the kettle was on, the luggage stowed, the engine fired – and we were off.
Within 200 yards, the water-cooled exhaust was smoking horribly, the temperature gauge rocketing, both tell-tale signs of a blockage in the raw water feed. Happily, with Jim’s expert help we were soon able to locate the locking bolt to gain access to the pipe to clear the water inlet of a lump of sodden rag – and we were off again, this time in fine style, the engine singing and people waving – Eileen was a well-known local boat.
Over my boating ‘career’ I must have completed many hundreds of locks, but at Haywood Lock I was hugely nervous, suddenly and illogically thinking that perhaps the surveyor had got it all wrong and that Eileen had spread wider than 7ft. and would get jammed solid in this first lock. She sailed through, to grins all round! It was with a heavy heart that I leapt off just after we’d passed Shugborough Hall. Boating’s addictive, once the engine had turned all I wanted to do was get ahead, to simply keep going… But that day I had no choice but to trust Eileen to Jim and Vi who would steer her down to Braunston over the next few days.
Next time: our first night aboard what the Boys called our Watery House… and the start of our journey to Eileen’s new home mooring.