Man Overboard

In stark contrast to my last post about the hottest days of last summer, it’s currently the coldest it’s been all winter. Which admittedly isn’t saying much, but putting it into context, it’s now 7.40am and 0 degrees (“feels like -4”).
Imagine then my shock, when I nipped out onto the pontoon at 6pm last night to turn the water off to hear a quiet, “help” from the river.  I barely heard it but I peered into the icy gloom and was horrified to spot an upturned scull (thank god it was white) with a woman holding on for grim life as the tide whisked her out towards the sea. Man, that river can move. 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to do for a second – I was so surprised. It was FREEZING. It was a seriously serious situation. I yelled down the pontoon to the guys who thankfully were still on the marina working on the black water pump/tank installation, who stationed themselves on the outside of boats further downstream to try to catch her. 
The life ring at our end was tied on against the wind – “textbook fail”, I thought – it was like being in a thriller – but fortunately it was just hitched and I got it to the first guy on Volharding before she went past. We missed. 
The next guy was already on Seahorse waiting, so a couple of us grabbed another ring and ran down to the very stern, shouting for an ambulance and to call ahead to Kew Pier in case we missed her again. Thankfully Stuart caught her from his position on Seahorse and pulled her onto the roof. 

She only had one oar – we later learned the other had snapped up by Brentford lock and she had been stuck in her boat caught in branches for half an hour as the sun went down before something gave (tide or branch) and released her, and she tipped over into the river and started moving – we estimated she must have been in the river for half an hour or so. Fortunately she is 17 and super fit, and pragmatic enough to keep her head and as much of her body out of the water as she could, holding onto her upturned boat. She didn’t even get her hair wet!  I was humbled by her dignity – she very nearly died. 
We quickly decided our boat was the warmest and helped her back up along the pontoon and inside Maria Elisabeth. Thank god our friend J was here and doing a sterling job entertaining Sadie, who by this point should have been in her bath and on her way to bed but instead was still in her highchair eating blueberries and yoghurt and giggling. 
Meg was shivering so hard she could barely speak, but she knew what she was about and knew her mum’s mobile which we called as we got her out of her icy things and into dry warm clothes, made her hottie bottles and hot sweet tea, and installed her as close to the open door of the fire as we could without singeing her. 
Her coach arrived – the poor guy had been scouring the river trying to find her since he’d seen her boat was missing from the clubhouse, and finally found it empty on our mooring and thought the worst. He must have gone past her a couple of times in the dark which is a scary thought. Her mum had called him, demonstrating the value of a crisis comms plan (as my BBC days drummed into me!)
The RNLI arrived, who were as great as ever. She warmed up, the club’s safety officer turned up. The Bun’s bath was cancelled. 
It was all incredibly dramatic, and not in a fun way: once everyone had finally gone their ways and I’d got the Bun to bed, I acknowledged my headache and descended into a migraine. I haven’t had one since the junior doctor tried to make me go cold turkey on the dihydrocodene in hospital when I had Sadie: Not. Good.  
I have no photos – obviously, but a pity for you as it was v dramatic – so you are dependent on my powers of description. Go crazy. I’ve been up since 4am so I’m going back to bed. 

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Barging up the River Thames DAY ONE: BARKING TO GRAVESEND

Well that was quite the cliff hanger, wasn’t it?! 

I would say I’m sorry, but I’ve been enjoying every moment with the Bun and it’s been heavenly, so… 
Casting my mind back with a wrench to those halcyon days of summer, and the 1st July which was if you remember, the hottest day of the year. 

  
Because Life is a little tinker who never misses an opportunity to make a point, not only did she introduce us to one of our favourite new families of 2015 two months before we left Barking; but they turned up to wave us off bringing The World’s Best pastel de nata from a glorious little Portuguese cafe around the corner that we never knew existed. Still, the cakes were nice.

  

After an ever-so-slightly anxious moment leaving Fresh Wharf where we cast off before the tide was high enough to open the barrier and had to hover midstream against a minor current until the gates parted (don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do that but it’s almost impossible), we were off. 

   

  
    
 
  
 
   

  

  

  

            
I couldn’t quite believe it, to be honest.

 There was an amazing moment of stillness as we meandered down Barking Creek through slack water towards the Thames, basking in the sun as we left the industrial estates, scrap yards and sewage works behind us and all those niggling little weights that had accumulated over the past two years slipped gently one by one from my shoulders and plopped into the water.  It was a glorious feeling to be under way – in our very own boat, heading for an incredible mooring, on such a beautiful day, with two fantastic days of boating on the finest river in the world ahead of us. I’m sorry if that reads as smug – it’s not intended. We couldn’t believe our luck. 

On board were: 

– Us and the Bun

– My mum (who’s been with us all the way since that first trip to Holland and wasn’t going to miss this for anything)

– Our skipper Edward and his wife Pamela, and their friend and engineer Carlo

– Our good friends and longtime partners-in-mischief Tom and Sophie joined us for day 2

         
 

We turned left at the Thames and headed out into the estuary and the commercial reach of the river. My god but it’s wide. Obviously – but you don’t often get to see it from the middle like that… And bumpy! 
The Bun wasn’t phased however – she proved her mettle as a true-born boat baby and slept solidly all the way down to Gravesend. 

         

 

After two peaceful, uneventful and wholly satisfying hours, it felt as if Gravesend came upon us rather quickly.  But there we were, and as we all cooed and marvelled at the swans (“Swans! Loads of them! In the sea!”), our skipper expertly manoeuvred us into the place he’d reserved on the pontoon at the end of the pier as the last of the tide ebbed away, and we gathered ourselves to go to the pub. 

 
  
 

Except it wasn’t the right pier. 
It looked a bit grubby and neglected  I grant you, but we only really started to smell a rat when there appeared to be no way off the pier except by pre-approved vandalism (is vandalism still vandalism if you’re given permission?)

 
  

Sure enough, it soon transpired that the PLA pier was the next one upstream, and we were going to have to try and get ourselves off our now distinctly shallow berth and onto the right one. Which in its favour had a very nice-looking pub easily accessible just at the top of it. 
In our excitement we had failed to realise the following useful fact:  to contact the PLA whilst navigating the Thames, use call sign LONDON VTS and vhf channel 14 (West of Crayfordness) OR vhf channel 68 (East of Crayfordness). All that time we’d been patting ourselves on the back on the wrong pier, they had been trying to reach us on VHF68 to no avail… Awkward.
To cut a long story short, it culminated not only in a snapped jackstaff and the PLA having to rescue us with a very powerful tug, but further in a sternly worded letter of reprimand which we received just last week (I take some small consolation in the knowledge that the PLA are evidently as inefficient at admin as I am). The nice harbourmaster did give us a useful map though which is now stuck to the bathroom wall for us to memorise while we’re brushing our teeth:

 

So. Live and learn. Duly chastened, we did eventually make it off the pier and into the pub, before bunking down ahead of our Big Day still to come. Hopefully I’ll get to that bit a bit faster, because it was genuinely EPIC. 

Catastrophe

As you know, I have a six month old baby. She is the best Bun in the world – she sleeps like a dream, she eats like a horse, she beams at everyone she comes across but especially at me: she’s great. I do have the odd moment of feeling completely knackered and ever so slightly over it, but by and large my life feels pretty perfect these days – I am actually Living the Dream and I think I might be the happiest I have ever been. 

So imagine my regret when I recently started to feel the odd twinge of nausea. 

Then I felt a bit dizzy. I had a bit of a headache. Over the course of a few days and a few more symptoms, I realised I might have a Situation. Hmmm.

The first pregnancy test was negative. I weighed the fact that it was impossible to tell whether I definitely had several other symptoms as they are also symptoms of / absent during breastfeeding (sore breasts, missed period, sore back), so I waited a week while the nausea and dizziness persisted and the Owl suffered a bout of my ill-humour, and did another one. 

Still negative. Hmmm. 

I reviewed the facts and checked my calendar. It started about three weeks ago. My main symptoms are occasional waves of nausea and dizziness. 

The dates coincide with our move up the Thames to our new mooring. It’s a busy stretch of the river, and fully tidal – I’ve really enjoyed spending so much time on board watching all the activity and being rocked about by the wind and the wake of the bigger boats going by, and by our own boat as she bottoms out twice a day. 

I have a mild case of sea sickness. 

Ha! 

Passage Plan up the Thames from Gravesend to Kew Bridge

This is the plan for tomorrow. I may regret saying this, but if you’re in Central London and free at lunchtime, come on down. I’ll post bridge updates as we pass them on Instagram @minkypink – proviso being, our boat has a whole load of gubbins on it so don’t judge us for being scruffy, we’re working on it and we’re in a better state than we were.  Also – photos please! 

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY 2015

06.30 Run engine and check systems.

LW G’End at 07.00

In slack water ease the barge out of berth. 

dep G’End by 08.00

G’End to Kew Bridge 34 m = 6 hrs @ 6 kts.
Tower Bridge c12.00

Hammersmith Bridge c13.30 (1.5 hrs before HW)
HW Kew Bridge 15.00

arr 14.00

Turn barge upstream of mooring and ease down into berth using the last of the rising tide to manouevre.

all secure by 15.00 (slack water)

A Burgee and a Jackstaff

Don’t worry, I had to Google them too. And I live here. 

Today’s the day!  I’ve got through the last week by trying to do a new thing every day. Yesterday I made a new burgee. 

To quote our lovely new skipper: 

“A small jackstaff (goes) at the bow with a small burgee, flag or anything that flutters – it shows the helmsman what the wind is doing to the bow. Ideally the jackstaff should be a fraction taller than the highest point of the ship. It allows you to approach a bridge with caution and shows whether you will get through. A broomstick will suffice.”

Don’t you worry Edward. We own both these items. We just didn’t know what they were called.  Also the burgee (or “burger” as predictive text would have it) was in a terrible state having been whipped to shreds by the wind over the last two years.  Anyone remember the punishing gales of winter 2013/14? You didn’t want to be our jackstaff in them, let me tell you. 

  

Our boat in profile, where you may or may not be able to see that the jackstaff is taller than the wheelhouse.

The Owl suggested a tea towel. I don’t want to sound petty but I am not motoring past the Houses of Parliament with a frigging tea towel flapping in the wind.  I may not know one end of an alternator from another, but I can sew a straight line on a sewing machine like you wouldn’t believe, so off I went. 
  Our embarrassingly tatty burgee

Do flags warrant dedicating? They feel like semi-official type things, so with that spurious link established, this one is dedicated to our friend Kacey who had never been on a boat before ours, and who got married two weeks ago to the equally marvellous Amy. 
Turns out that despite having fallen to shreds at one end, the other end of our old burgee was really well made. The fabric itself was 100% pure class plastic. I own a lot of fabric, but none as plastic as that. The first thing that came to hand was this 100% cotton Dutch batik I bought for Kacey and Amy’s wedding two weeks ago, so I traced out the flag with chalk, gave it an extra 2cm depth for the hem, and set to with the pinking shears. 
  I love this fabric
  

Here is the original burgee, mid-dissection. 

The fabric is sewn onto the string, and then the binding is sewn up and down it twice, with a neat little arrow formation at one end for luck. (I’m making that up. Presumably to stop it from tearing – in which case it was v effective, so I copied it.) 
 The string having been sewn onto the flag,  I sewed the flag into the binding


 My trusty Janome at approx 11pm last night
  Here it is finished (the sewing part)


  


Here it is being waxed.
 

Being 100% cotton, I’m not expecting it to last long – but obviously the longer the better, and waxing will help.  

  
And here it is up on its jackstaff.
And with that, with any luck, we’re off at 11.30am today, riding against the top of the tide down to the Thames and hanging left to overnight at Gravesend, practicing some manoeuvres on the way.  
If anyone is in central London around lunchtime tomorrow, come and give us a wave!  I’ll post our estimated timings tonight or first thing tomorrow, once the skipper has a feel for the boat and has revised his original guess.  

Today is our third wedding anniversary, and the Bun was 5 months old yesterday. The times, they are a’changin…

A new-ish Alternator and Slippery Crew

After the crushing disappointment of Sunday, this has been the longest week I can remember.  The Owl has been working hell for leather to get the engine part we needed in time to leave Barking on Monday, when our skipper and crew have said they’re next free. 
It turns out our lovely Volvo Penta engine is not as doddery as initially suspected – thankfully the ‘dodgy’ fuel pump is in fact fine, it was just an air lock.  After two hours of expert tinkering on Sunday night by our friend T and engine man P however, the alternator was still screwed: putting out waaaay too much voltage.  Something needed doing.  To be fair, it is over 30 years old.  
As such, they don’t make them like they used to, so Plan B of getting it reconditioned wasn’t going to work out as the parts were likely to be so hard to get hold of, so back to Plan A we went to find a replacement. 

By Tuesday, the Owl had found a knowledgeable man called Steve from London Essex Auto Electrics who had another more recent Penta alternator that would probably do. 

By Thursday night, he’d been to Steve’s (armed with photos of all the connections to make sure the new one would fit and he’d know how to reconnect it), swapped the alternators, and run the engine for the requisite 2 hours without stalling. What a hero – we were ready to go, two days early. 

Here is what success looked like from the outside: 

  
And from the inside: 

Sadly our jubilation was short lived – precisely two hours in fact – before we checked our email to discover that our skipper had decided he could not now afford us 24 hours on Monday/ Tuesday after all.  He might be able to manage Friday… Or maybe (we’re away on Friday) mid July…?
I deleted the email quickly to prevent myself from causing an unfortunate occurrence.  First thing Friday morning we started looking for a new skipper. 
We have now found a skipper who will not only get us where we need to go when we need to get there, but will also teach us how to drive her so that we don’t find ourselves in this pickle again. All we need then is a VHF radio and license, and we’ll be golden.  Maybe being let down (twice) by our original crew is no bad thing in the end…  

#keeponlookingforthesilverlining

Oh.

And… Oh. We’re not going anywhere, today at least. 

Turns out the engine’s alternator and fuel pump are screwed – WHO KNEW?!? Not us, sadly. 20/20 hindsight is a glorious thing. 
Will have to see what exactly is wrong and how long it’ll take to fix/ replace before we can make a new plan. 
In the meantime I might try swimming to Kew wth the Bun strapped to my back you know, just for kicks