I never imagined (even in my wildest dreams) that I would someday pilot a 65-foot long, 6-foot wide, 16-ton vehicle. But that’s what I ended up doing last week.
Peggy and I, along with her sister Jane Hagedorn and her husband Jim, did a seven-day narrow boat tour on the Trent and Mersey Canal out of Long Eaton, England. If Long Eaton doesn’t ring a bell, think Robin Hood. Nottingham is nearby.
The prince of thieves was one of my all time childhood heroes. I knew the location of Sherwood Forest long before I knew the location of London.
Jim and I had pilot duty. Our job was to stand in the back with tiller in hand hoping that the boat would go where we wanted. This included not running into other canal boats, avoiding overhanging trees and mudflats, navigating under watch-your-head, boat-wide bridges, surviving locks and learning the delicate art of mooring our not so delicate craft.
Peggy and Jane were in charge of locks plus a certain amount of backseat driving. For example, they would point out boats coming toward us that we had been worrying about for five minutes.
Lock duty was not easy. Heavy cranking was involved in opening and closing the paddles that let water into or out of the lock. Full body strength was required to open and close the gates. The women quickly became lockmasters and I am sure wowed the English males with their prowess. (Honey, can I have one of those?)
Other chores included muscling the 16-ton boat into shore and filling the craft with water. Getting from the aft to the bow of the boat for work or pleasure involved maneuvering along a narrow gunnel.
Upon arrival at Sawley Marina we were provided with two hours of training for our adventure. That was it. Afterwards we were turned loose with the 16-ton barge for on-the-job training.
Canals are found throughout England. Once upon a time they were vital to the nation’s economy as transportation corridors. Reflecting the good taste of the Brits, beer was one of the major items transported over the Trent and Mersey.
Now the canals are mainly used for recreational boating… primarily by brightly colored, cleverly named, narrow boats. We also talked with a number of people who live on their boats year around.
Although we came uncomfortably close to hitting a couple of boats (give or take five inches), banged into the shore several times during mooring (as expected) and grounded the boat three times (Jim won 2 to 1), the adventure was quite enjoyable.
Picturesque countryside, abundant bird life, and attractive villages entertained us along the way. Pubs served surprisingly good food and even better ale. I worked hard to sample all of the local brews. Even Peggy developed a taste for dark beer.
Accommodations on the boat were quite comfortable. There was sleeping for six, a gallery and two bathrooms. Jane and Jim’s beds were a wee bit narrow, however… make that body wide, and one of the bathrooms required a shoehorn for entry.
You learn a lot about each other on a small boat. For example, Jim likes coke and peanut butter toast for breakfast. The only exception was when he substituted a mixture of orange juice and beer for his coke.
Jane believes it is totally uncivilized to use paper towels at meals, period. Those who know Jane will understand this. She began to ‘borrow’ napkins from the pubs. Peggy, in order to keep her sister from a life of crime, started neatly folding our paper towels to look like napkins.
I didn’t ask Jane and Jim what they learned about us…
Time slowed down on the boat. It had to considering out top speed was three miles per hour. We arrived at Burton on the Trent and turned around to return to Sawley Marina. Scotland and dead ancestors were waiting.