On Thursday evening I was joined aboard by my friend Janis, who you may remember crewed recently for me from Saxilby to Lincoln and back.
In August she has some time off from work and plans to bring her boat ‘Roots and Wings’ from the River Trent onto the Chesterfield. So she had asked me if she could join me for this couple of days to see what it was all about down here.
Of course how could I refuse? She was marvellous company last time she visited as well as being a very handy crew member and was always most welcome again. She had to return home on Saturday so the idea was to explore as much of the Chesterfield Canal in that short time as possible, but we had to return here for her car early in the afternoon.
Since being here in Retford, I have met two fine people Peter and Jeanne, who are in the process of selling their home locally to live out their retirement on a narrowboat that is currently being built by S M Hudson of Glascote. When they heard that Janis was joining me they volunteered to look after her car outside their house while we were away, which I thought was most kind of them. As all parking around here seems to be very restricted it was nice to know the car was safe while we were away.
As always when I have a visitor I had prepared the double bed in the Cabin for Janis, while I would bunk down very comfortably in the Boatman’s Cabin. I’ve enjoyed the privilege many times before. But she insisted that she had been looking so forward to sleeping in there that she would be disappointed if I made her sleep anywhere else. Afterwards she let on that she had slept very well in her sleeping bag on that settee bunk and without any pillow too! Talk about the pioneer spirit!
‘A pile of sodden green woollen sweaters’
We set off on Friday towards the west but the going was slow due to the canal being filled with a fine silky green weed. Within the first hundred yards we were making no progress at all as the propeller and rudder were so thickly wrapped up in the green clogging stuff. We stopped and I dived into the weed box to find masses of the heavy stuff jammed up tight in between the screw and the rudder. It took a long time to clear as well and as I heaped the sodden mass up onto the deck to dispose of ashore it reminded me of a pile of sodden green woollen sweaters.
For a little while afterwards progress was brilliant again but in total during the day I lost count of the number of times we had to remove the weed hatch lid to repeat the function. However the weather was beautiful and the Sun shone brilliantly for most of the time through a white cumulus speckled sky.
Lunchtime aboard ‘Futurest’
We managed to pass through three locks altogether, having to bow haul sometimes to avoid the threat of the weed which was actually in the chamber.
By 2pm we had covered about two and a half miles but we had arrived at the visitor moorings below the Forest Top Lock. It wasn’t a distance to boast about for a day’s run but we were very happy with it and decided to remain at these superb moorings overnight. It had been a very adventurous morning but we were tired and spent the rest of the afternoon dozing, walking and exploring along the canal as far as the next winding point about half a mile above Forest Top Lock. Up to here the waterway was thick with weed so we decided that at this point we would have to turn around to return to Retford the following day.
Later Janis prepared a lovely pasta meal which contained many vegetables and spices. It was appetizingly delicious and as twilight quietly descended we enjoyed it in the soft glow of candlelight with a bottle of red wine to the eloquently sonorous moving strains of Celine Dion.
The following morning we struggled up to the lock, passing through it to fill up at the water point. With the tank full we then continued the struggle for a further half a mile through thick weed; the surface was coated with it.
Luckily the winding point was clear and we were able to perform our manoeuvres there without having to stop in the middle (thus being at the mercy of the wind!) to clear the prop. All was quickly accomplished and we were on our way back.
The return to Retford seemed to be quicker and quite definitely we didn’t need to stop as many times to clear the propeller. But again the Sun was at its best and we had enjoyed such a grand two days adventure that it might have appeared to be quicker because it was sadly all coming to an end.
Janis is a great crew member, pulls her weight completely at everything she does. She is happy to try anything that needs to be done to run the ship and always succeeds admirably. Where most ladies, understandably stop doing a job because it becomes too much for their strength and are happy to leave it to their man, Janis stays in there and finds her own way of doing it. She never gives up. She isn’t very tall but she still wanted to do her share of bow hauling for example through the locks and of course didn’t mind at all diving into the weed hatch. Yet she was quite happy for me as the skipper to tell her what to do without question.
Soon we were tied up just above Retford Town Lock and straightaway we walked the half mile to collect Janis’ car, which was still safe and exactly where she had left it.
And then she was gone, leaving behind her a poignant loneliness.
I shall miss her.