Reversing ducks and boats and war on the waters

If any of you are out there still, sorry it’s been a while since I updated this blog, I thought I better let you know what I and Gentle Breeze have been up to, and what the odd ones on the “cut” get up to at boat festivals.

First the reversing ducks. Well that is nothing to do with boats really. “Never mind the reversing ducks” is a light hearted, as the title may suggest, treatise of Mark’s account of Jesus, written by Adrian Plass. If any of you would like to read something that cuts through fanaticism or pomposity, then give him a try. I was reading it and chuckling to myself as I started to write this, hence the reference.

Anyway, now to reversing boats.

Little Venice (a name coined by the poet Robert Browning) is the junction of the Paddington arm and Regents canal.


It is a pool with an island and three branches of canal, in plan it looks a bit like a three-cornered hat. Our mission, which I accepted, was to get more than 100 boats into the right places around the pool and surrounding canal starting Friday 5pm to be all done by dusk with the residue boats turning up Saturday morning. Nothing happens quickly on the canals, and getting them all in was a bit like trying to empty a box of matches down a funnel. Occasionally I had to insist, to far more experienced boaters than I, that they were not allowed to begin to move into position. Sometimes their impatience nearly equalled my intolerance, but we had a good team leader who kept the peace, just. But it all came together without it turning into a multicoloured log-jam. It was a splendid sight in the morning with so many decorated boats, with bunting blowing in the breeze.


One of the activities, now I say activities, but that is sort of relative. Like I said nothing happens quickly and much of the weekend is spent chatting, drinking a little, exchanging tips and gossip, and imbibing, and a little maintenance, and some thirst quenching, before the main event of the day, a trip to the beer tent. Thus activity is a relative word.

One of the activities is the boat handling competition. The experts manoeuvre their 70 foot monsters

around the pool and this year the judges wanted far more reversing, because that is hard to do. Sometimes it seems, to the helmsman at least, to go a lot better after he has “had a few”, that’s probably only his/her opinion. And I can say “her” from experience of last year, but that’s another story.

Well we ran out of willing contestants once the wind got up on Monday thus Gentle Breeze nudged me into volunteering to have a go. Well I made a fairly ragged job of it, reversing, getting to the island, backing around it and trying to get to the second judge under the bridge where I had to get off and shake his hand. The wind was blowing us away from the bank. I think it was in the middle of struggling with GB I noticed that the second judge was the boater who I had told flatly, over the coarse of more than two hours, that he was not to move his boat into the pool. He’s a nice chap, but I am sure I had just added a degree of certainty of his opinion of me. Apart from getting rubbish around my prop during the last part of the 360 degree turn, I think it went OK. Mind, GB is only 41 foot long, and for whatever reason I am not surprised that I did not get the novice prize. Is a lady novice termed a novicess? Whatever, nicer boat, younger, French, hadn’t wound up one or more judges and, yes, handled her boat better.


Just don’t volunteer, in haste.


And so to boat wars.

Tug of war is a weekend game played at the Ricky festival. So I’ll give you time to digest this post before I flood you with more episodes of high activity.

Talking of floods, when we were travelling down to Paddington, coming out of a lock I noticed that my carpets were dark, yet sparkling. It took a little while to work out that they were just under water. For a moment I mused to myself that the water was supposed to be outside, with dappled light and reflections of trees, you know, with ducks bobbing up and down. It seemed odd to consider that any moment I might see a moor hen paddle out from under one of my shelves, or a coot bang its head as it tried to dive down through the carpet.

I suddenly came to and put the boat to the bank. My travelling companions in Persephone looked puzzled so I drew my finger across my throat which I think they understood. For a few moments there was panic and loads of questions, was I sinking? was I leaking? why was the outside of the boat inside? Or was it the water tank? Perhaps I was dreaming? I switched off all electrics and eventually found the source.

In hindsight it is not only obvious but horribly predictable. I give you four relevant facts:

  1. I had recently fitted a new kitchen mixer tap.

  2. The fitting supplied was wrong and had to be changed after installation

  3. I had no really means of pressure testing the system on completion

  4. That morning I found a pipe retaining “washer” and thought to myself that I should ensure these spares are put away not left around as though they had not been fitted.


Once the plastic pipe gets hot under the pressure it can move unless retained by the special washer. Once blown off the pump will continue pumping until all 900 litres of freshwater is inside the boat. Fortunately the tide had not reached anything essential, but for 3 days passers by did wonder why my roof was carpet tiled.





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