Boat Blog: Autumn Odyssey Day 14
Posted by indigodream on 27 November, 2012
Rewind to Saturday 6th October
Henley to Cookham Lock
Note the date! We are well behind!
Richard single-handed the boat from Henley to Marlow this morning under blue skies and sunshine – such a contrast to the overnight rain.
We were feeling the impact of that rain all weekend though – Richard reported that river was “fast but gentle”. He got to Marlow without incident, though he says that the currents at Henley Bridge made for an interesting approach.
I met up with the Richard, Ollie and the boat at Marlow – having parked in the Pound Lane car park, which has excellent access to the river. It was busy, as was the river walk, Marlow is obviously the destination of choice for a sunny Saturday! We piled the hounds on board, along with the supplies that I’d brought along and settled down to wait. The moorings in Marlow were unusually deserted and Richard got pole position. There were lots of gongoozlers – most looking at this lovely English riverscape…..and feeding the ducks! I mused about the concept of ‘personal space’ – is there an equivalent ‘boat space’? I felt a bit uncomfortable as people, especially toddlers on scooters, passed very close to the edge of the path i.e. almost on our gunwhales – yet most weren’t interested in the boat – they were just innocent passers-by!
I should add that we have no problem with mooring close to other boats – it’s so frustrating when boats fill a mooring leaving a little gap between each that would have added up to enough space for another 2 boats if they’d budged up!
Today’s cruise was a chance for a family gathering for Danusia’s (Richard’s younger sister) birthday – the birthday girl arrived next, along with husband Martin and adorable dog Polo – all seasoned cruisers. The rest of the crew arrived shortly afterwards – Richard’s elder sister, Alina, husband Rysiek and mum Renia.
We set off downstream – there was a lot of flow in the river, so we gave Marlow Weir a very wide berth, though the draw didn’t feel too fierce – maybe because of the EA tugs and butties that were moored across it. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic and the lock was open – we shared it with dutch barge Izambard. As we got into the lock we were surprised to see a red board on the upstream gate – the lock-keeper told us that the upstream stretch had just gone on to red board (Caution – strong steam) because the weir was almost fully open and they were concerned about the flow across it.
Luckily the downstream stretch was on “yellow – stream increasing” so we felt that we could carry on. Again, the flow was fast but perfectly manageable so we settled down to coffee, cake and enjoying the gentle scenery between Marlow and Cookham. Needless to say, we got to Cookham in no time at all! The moorings in Cookham were busy but there were a few spots available – including a prime 60′ space near the footpath to the village. We had booked a table at Bel and the Dragon, one of our favourite dog-friendly pubs on the Thames. Unfortunately we had to leave the dogs on board – our table was for 10 people, which was set up in the non dog-friendly restaurant area – never mind! The pub was as cosy as ever, with a roaring fire in the bar and professional, if somewhat slow, service – the food was superb. The family was delighted and a good time was had by all. However, Richard and I were disappointed – Bel and the Dragon is far more upmarket than we remember and it has lost the personable friendliness that we valued so much on previous visits. I suspect that the next time we go to Cookham we’ll be exploring other dog-friendly pubs…..
The meal ran much later than we expected – we could easily have sat in the bar in front of the fire all afternoon! But our plan was to cruise down to the Cliveden Islands, moor up for cake and then run the family back up to Marlow (we had now been joined by Richard’s niece, Emilia, his nephew Aleksander along with Alex’s girlfriend Tara). But the river scuppered our plans…
Although it was still on yellow boards, by now there was quite a bit more flow in the river. Indigo Dream is powerful enough for the job so we got to Cookham’s lock cut without any drama, though the current to the weirs was impressive! The lock-keeper was very concerned about conditions on the river and he told us that if we decided to go back up to Marlow then we should moor up below the lock and NOT attempt to pass the weir above Marlow lock. So that became our new plan – go upriver and moor overnight below Marlow lock. River conditions permitting, we’d then cruise down to Cookham lock on Sunday morning where we’d arranged a week’s mooring – it seemed unlikely that the red/yellow boards would allow a long cruise on Sunday.
We did consider whether to stop at Cookham on Saturday night and send the drivers by cab to collect the cars from Marlow. In hindsight, that would have been a very good plan!
We went through Cookham Lock and had a spin round the Cliveden Islands – this is truly one of my favourite spots on the river! But the river flow was significant enough for us to decide not to stop for cake but to make best speed back to Marlow. It was a very good decision. Once we turned into the flow, our progress slowed dramatically! On the way downstream we were whizzing along with the engine barely in tickover (just enough to give some steering); on the way upstream, we were at 1400 revs and barely moving! Never mind, Indigo Dream has power to spare so we soldiered on. Needless to say, it took an age to get back to Marlow, especially where the river narrowed past an (unnamed) island – the flow increased and Indigo Dream came to a virtual standstill! We weren’t too worried though – although there wasn’t a mooring in the narrow channel, we’d only need to turn the boat round and we’d be back in Cookham in the blink of an eye :-)
We crept forward and started to look out or the 24-hour moorings below Marlow Lock – the ones which the Cookham Lock-keeper had recommended. We weren’t familiar with them, so I was on the front as a lookout. There were no obvious moorings though there was a submerged line of posts in the water which I assumed were marking a shoal. Ah, they weren’t – the submerged posts WERE the moorings – now under 6 inches of water! A group of fishermen were wading around retrieving their equipment – they said that the river had been rising all day but had come by 5″ in the last hour. NOW we were worried! The lock moorings were close by so we headed for them, noting, with dismay, that these were within 4″ of being submerged. Normally it takes some time to get the family off the boat – there’s a lot of kissing and extended goodbyes – but the threat of having to wade ashore was a powerful motivator for them to leave – the river had come up another inch while we were offloading them!
There was a real sense of urgency on the boat now – we couldn’t moor in Marlow and would have to head downstream to find a safe haven. Danusia stayed on board with Polo while Martin got their car. Richard turned the boat well, considering the flow, and we were off…literally! I took the helm and Indigo Dream raced downstream – the boat felt very stable but our speed around the bends gave us the nearest sensation to flying that’s available in a 17 ton narrowboat :-)
We estimated that we cruised downriver at around 7 mph – 5mph from the river and 2mph from the engine! I’m not sure how it looked from the shore, but one wag walking along the towpath said “there’s a 30mph speed limit you know”! “Tell that to the river” I thought while easing the helm around the currents!
We toyed with mooring in Bourne End – there are some decent high moorings there. But then we’d either have to move down to Cookham tomorrow (in uncertain conditions) or leave her there and be worrying about the river coming up over the towpath during the week. We decided to press on to the lock moorings at Cookham – we reckoned there was just enough light to get there and so there was!
We moored up above Cookham lock (the moorings below the lock are not dog-friendly) – by now it was full dark, but the day’s dramas weren’t over. While Danusia and I walked the dogs, Richard went to meet Martin. We knew that the lock area is gated and locked after 5pm but Richard had thought that there was some sort of pedestrian access – unfortunately there wasn’t! Martin had to use some advanced gymnastics to climb over the gate (with a hand up from Richard) to get to the boat – we don’t have a step or rope ladder on board so it seemed unlikely that Danusia would manage the climb back. She wasn’t set up for an overnight stay, so there was nothing for it but to cast off and take them back up to the Ferry pub landings just downstream of Cookham Bridge. I was reluctant to do the trip, but at least we didn’t need to go through the bridge and we were soon back at the lock moorings. I was relieved to moor up – Cookham lock cut is effectively protected from flooding by the two weirs either side; there is good dog-walking and the bank is at a convenient height for Lou so we were very comfortable!