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The Odyssey 2019: Day 9-ish

Posted by alexgrehyauthor on 26 August, 2019


Thursday 13th June



I was really looking forward to our holiday on board and to the convoy’s Wash crossing at the weekend. But we had an anxious week as the rain became biblical and the rivers became unnavigable – first the Soar, then the Trent, the Witham and finally the Nene.

Boston visitor moorings in a rare gap between showers 🙂

By this time, all of the other members of the convoy had rushed to beat the floodwaters and were moored in Boston. Nb Coracle was brested up to Indigo Dream in the marina and we were glad of it. They had been on board all week minding our lines. When we moored up on Monday, we tied the back rope to a mooring cleat on the fixed pontoon, nice and level for stepping from the boat; the bow line was tied round a tall pole. After the first night, our neighbour slackened the aft line, then tied the back rope to the next level, then to a tall post; the front line neared the top of the post and had to be moved to a cleat on the high bank. They watched anxiously as the levels shifted up/down by five feet as the EA tried desperately to control the floodwater coming down the Witham.

Here’s how it worked:

  • High tide – sluices closed – fresh water coming downstream has nowhere to go so the river level rises by several feet; on Thursday, this meant that we needed a gangplank to get off the mooring; over the weekend, the banks were completely submerged, stranding the boats. The flow stops and the river is calm (flat water).
  • Medium/Low tide – sluices open – fresh water is now being discharged onto the tideway; flow in the river becomes dangerously fast but the water level drops by several feet.

And looking upstream…

We had to work on the Tuesday and Wednesday, but we were getting increasingly anxious about the boat. We had a typically convoluted plan for Thursday – Richard would get the train up to the boat and I would follow later after I had dropped the greyhounds off – they were going to stay with Archie and the rest of the Beanz in Suffolk while we crossed the Wash. There was little benefit in having a car in Boston if the Wash crossing went ahead, so I parked up in March train station, not far from where we hoped to end our holiday. Although the drive to March was immensely slow, the train connections to Boston worked well. Nonetheless, it was past 5pm by the time I arrived and the rain was still pelting down.

Water levels were still quite high when I arrived so the pontoon was submerged; this meant creeping across our brand new combination gangplank/ladder which was solidly anchored to shore by a bag of coal! An hour or so later, the river level had dropped and we could step out onto the pontoon. We set out for the pub but then disaster – I was stomping along the grassy bank in my sturdy walking boots when I thought it might be less slippery to walk on the timber pontoon – my mistake. I slipped and fell hard onto my shoulder, the one that I’d broken at the Crick Boat show back in 2006. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t think it was broken so we carried on to the pub.

Although it was lovely to meet up with our boating friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen since our last convoy in 2015, there was an air of gloom. It was highly unlikely that we would cross the Wash on Saturday and it seemed that it might be a week before we got a fair weather window for the crossing. Nonetheless, we all agreed to attend the official briefing (a great strength of St Pancras Cruising Club convoys) the following night and make a go/no go decision at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

We wended our way back to the boat, consoling ourselves that at least “steak night” in the pub had provided a decent dinner at a reasonable price.

Friday 14th June

When you can’t see a silver lining, you can always rely on a rainbow 🙂

We had a pretty bad night’s sleep on the moorings – high tide was at 3am, so we were up and checking the lines as the river level rose and overtopped the bank. We weren’t the only ones to be worried – some convoy boats were moored on centre lines to short fixed pontoons – this meant that they heeled over when the levels rose and their centres needed to be loosened or cut. The spirit of the convoy was great and everyone looked out for each other.

However, the priority at the next flat water would be to move the boats moored in the marina onto the public CRT moorings – floating pontoons which would be much safer. But my first job of the day was to catch a cab to A & E at Boston Pilgrim hospital to have my shoulder checked out. Several hours later, an x-ray had confirmed that I had not broken any bones but they suspected severe soft tissue damage and immobilized my arm in an old-fashioned triangular bandage sling. I was feeling very sorry for myself when I got back to the boat and was very anxious about getting on and off the boat via a gangplank or a slippery pontoon with only one arm for balance.

Luckily, Simon from nb. Scholar Gypsy had been busy with his tape measure and had written a mooring plan which would enable the whole convoy to move onto the CRT’s floating pontoons. This involved breasting up with three boats between each pair of short, but floating, pontoons, which worked perfectly. As soon as the sluices were closed and we reached flat water, all the convoy boats in the marina moved swiftly to the pontoon. It was such a relief to be on a safe mooring, then, to our delight, it actually stopped raining for a few hours!

Our leader, Andrew Phasey from nb Doris Katia, had  arranged for the crews to congregate for a safety briefing and supper at the riverside Boston Cafe. A lot of work goes into these briefings with detailed information about convoy communication as well as charts and a presentation from Darryl, our pilot, with the key navigation hazards.

The Boston Cafe did us proud on the food – they’d prepared a delicious middle-eastern feast – the dessert (baked peaches with greek yogurt, honey and toasted nuts) was particularly luscious!

We didn’t stay out late as we needed to be awake early to check the go/no go message – although conditions did not look favourable for our crossing, the decision was left to the last minute just in case the weather suddenly improved overnight.

Saturday 15th June

We got the “No Go” message at 6.30am  – a combination of factors including the rivers Witham and Nene being closed to navigation and predicted force 5 winds on the Wash meant that our passage was scuppered on many different levels. We had a lie-in!

We knew that Andrew and Darryl were busy perusing the weather forecast for the rest of the week – at first we thought we might get across the Wash on Tuesday, but a mid-week crossing meant that many boat crews couldn’t come. The crossing was postponed to the following Friday.

We had booked the entire week off but we decided to head for home on Sunday – Richard could go in to work for 3 days and save his holidays. I would have done the same, but my shoulder was so painful that I wouldn’t have been able to work; however I could book some time with a physiotherapist and start my recovery.

The weather improved in the afternoon, so Richard practiced flying his drone in anticipation of getting some aerial shots of the convoy on the Wash. There was some adverse comment about the drone so after that it seemed best to limit flights.

Encouraged by the almost blue skies, we had a mooch around Boston on Saturday evening, but getting caught in an apocalyptic thunderstorm and getting drenched while looking for a place to eat put the tin lid on the weekend! We ended up taking shelter in the Church Keys restaurant and wine bar in the shadow of the Stump (not to be confused with the Church restaurant round the corner). The service was delightful and the meal was enormous, so that lifted our spirits. It’s worth noting that they stop serving food at 8pm, though the wine bar stays open until 1am.

Sunday 16th June

We weren’t the only boat crews to “abandon ship” today – we joined a little group of boaters on the train, having cleared the fridge of a week’s food (a shame to waste it, but we didn’t have shore power and every other boat had a full fridge!). The CRT moorings do have a water point (now under flood water when the sluices were closed!) and useful rubbish bins.

It really did feel like “one of those” weekends – the trip from Boston to Grantham was fine, but our next train to London was jam-packed (standing room only) and soon after we boarded it actually broke down and we were on stop for ages before it limped in to Peterborough where we had an unexpected change.

It all took ages and by the time I got home I was suffering from a major sense of humour failure – some holiday this was proving to be 😦



One Response to “The Odyssey 2019: Day 9-ish”

  1. Thank you for reminding me of the mooring plan, I have found the photograph …

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