Thursday, 6 November 2008

It ends

Kensal Green to Battlebridge Basin, 5 miles, 4 locks

So is was it then. The day when surely I must finally get 'home'. The sky was grey, but in a good way and was saying that it was giving me a chance if I was prepared to take it. Not wishing to rush into anything, I went to Sainsbury's for breakfast. It's not quite up to Bull's Bridge Tesco standards, but it's okay.

Back at Oothoon, I did the usual pre-flight check of the water levels (hardly needed topping up) and selected my clothing for the day (Caterpillar boots, Dickies work trousers, a Snickers polo shirt worn over an NTK 'geek' T-shirt, and a fluorescent green workman's jacket. I looked just like one of the workmen on the aggregate barges that're going up to the Olympic site, which suited me just fine. 

I cast off and headed along past Sainsbury's. I wasn't expecting trouble today, unlike yesterday when I was constantly on the look out. I think I felt that this close to home I didn't care. Worst case, I'd get a neighbour to come and tow me back if need be. The canal drifted by and soon I was passing Trellick Tower—long one of my favourite buildings in London, even if it is a brutal concrete tower block. Trellick Tower also means that Little Venice is just around the corner and sure enough there's a large collection of boats leading to the approach. As I get near the bridge which is the entrance, a little boat appears in the 'hole', but thankfully reverses and gets out of the way. Then I'm nearly under the bridge when another boat has a go at coming through, but he manages to move out of the way and we circle around each other as I emerge into the basin.

I'd put my tunnel light on before I set off, so I'm all ready by the time I reach the Maida Hill tunnel. It's only a little one and it's clear, and I've been through it loads of times, but I guess my attitude to tunnels has changed while I've been away (Blisworth—shudder!) and I'm glad I'm through it quickly. My neighbours had been through here a little while before I'd set off and had somehow damaged their chimney, but I'm at a loss to see how unless they went through with sunglasses on or something.

Just after the tunnel there's a little basin, then a tiny tunnel under a building. Creeping out from the mouth of the tunnel is the Beauchamp electric barge. The Beauchamp is huge. I mean huge! It's about 75ft (~23m) long and about as wide as you can possibly be and fit into a lock. It completely fills the tunnel and it's about to fill the basin. Quickly I go into reverse, which brings my prow straight into her path, but a bit of reversing into a handy nook, followed by full left rudder tucks my nose in and the behemoth silently slithers past and turns towards the next tunnel. The skipper gives me a friendly wave as he goes past and I'm pleased that I was here and not the other side of the Maida Hill tunnel, because with all the boats moored up there I'm not sure that there would be room for all of us.

A nice quiet stretch of canal through Regent's Park and the Zoo, with the Snowden aviary on the left and I'm at the bridge and 90° bend where the floating Chinese restaurant is at Cumberland Basin. This can be a tricky manoeuvre to do, especially if there's a Jason's Trip boat coming under the bridge at the same time, but I do just fine. I think the lack of an audience probably helped, since I could give it my full concentration.

Past moored boats and nice houses and the canal eventually ends up at Camden. I haven't really thought about Camden and how I'm going to do the locks, but now that I'm approaching them I'm feeling apprehensive. There are always lots of gongoozlers there, which I could do without. I'm lucky, though, in that the gates of the first lock are open and I can go straight in. As I do so, a workman appears and starts fishing around for something in the lock with a SeaSearcher magnet. He kindly closes the gate on his side, so I do the one on the side where I've parked and open the front paddles. There are a few observers, including three builders who are clearly fascinated. Oothoon descends into the lock beautifully and I soon have the paddles closed and a gate open, and I'm on to the next lock.

The next lock also has the gates open and is an easy approach. After closing them, I set Oothoon going down and look towards the third lock across the basin. It's empty and the gates are closed, but after this lock is drained, I wander down to fill it and open one of the gates ready.

The approach into the third lock is made more difficult by a weir, whose water is pushing the boat off course. I correct and manage to make a passable entry into the lock. I'm going a little quickly, since I'd needed to use some power to counteract the force of the weir, but I don't want to go into reverse which will send me to the right and nudge open the other gate. In the end I jump off and try to slow her with the centre rope, but the bollards on this lock are simply slim concrete cylinders and the rope soon comes off. She's slowed down, but still manages to lightly dunch the bottom gates, and to top it all, the other top gate has opened anyway.

I operate the lock with a trio of people watching from the nearby bridge, but it all goes well. I almost don't need to open the bottom gates, since they spring open themselves. Before long I'm out and into the twisty section of canal that weaves under bridges and eventually leads to St Pancras.

I want to stop at the dry dock at St Pancras to fill up with diesel. It's not that I need it, but I want the tank full over the winter to avoid problems with condensation. I tie up and pop in to talk to Fred, who is busy as usual but still has time to chat for a bit. Peter the welder is also there and he offers to make me a cuppa while I tell him about what I've been up to. Afterwards it turns out that Fred doesn't sell diesel any more and it's the St Pancras Cruising Club who run the pump, but none of them seem to be there so I head off into St Pancras lock. There's another boat waiting to come up and I pass it on the way around the corner when I'm really into the home stretch. There's just the bit where Goodsway Moorings used to be before all the boats were moved on to make way for the King's Cross redevelopment,York Way bridge to get under, then I'm at Battlebridge Basin.

Just as she'd promised, Claudine had untied her boat Bird Song from the one that's normally on the other side, but the wind had blown Bird Song over and there was no gap. Suddenly there was a yell and there were Josie and Sarah, waving madly at me, and pulling Bird Song out of the way so I could get in. At little bit of pivoting on the end of a boat and...I'm in. I put Oothoon into neutral and slowly slide into my berth.

After I've tied up at the back, I walk down the gunwale and Josie and Sarah are waiting to meet me. After a hug, they offer to have me round for a drink and a chat, but I say that I need to sort out my boat first. I tie up the front of the boat and then go back to the engine room to stop the engine and turn the stern gland greaser. I also collect a few things, put the inverter into 'always on' mode and lock everything up. What a relief.

A little while later I heft the gangplank off the roof and try to re-install it. It's a clever design by Fred at St Pancras and it has two pipes which go into holes in the prow, behind which are more pipes. Once they're in the holes, the pipes provide something for the cantilevered plank to brace against and there are two pins to stop the pipes from slipping out. Once that's in place—something Josie has to help me with, since I can't get the alignment right and she ends up lifting one end while I get it in the hole—I attach the other end and access to the boat is once again easy. It just remains for me to re-attach the mains cable from the front of the boat and everything is back to normal.

Josie and Sarah are insistent about having a drink, but I suggest that I'd like to see the new building—King's Place—that has been finished and opened while I've been away. They suggest that we go over and we can have a drink there. It's all very nice, with a subterranean art gallery and double-height escalators, but there's not a lot of character. The Rotunda bar/restaurant has nice views and pretty staff, but service is patchy to say the least. Josie wants champagne and I quite fancy it myself, but I also want a cup of tea. In the end I get both. I also order the 'nibbles' tray, which has olive bread sticks, almonds, olives, chilli-fied broad beans and corn kernels. After that, more champagne and at some point Josie produces a box of chocolates, which is very nice. I share them among us. After even more champagne, we stagger back to our boats.

The next bit is a bit blurry. I know I went through some of my post and also sent some messages on the Internet, but don't really know where the time went. I do know that I was feeling a bit like I was back in the rat race again, wedged between umpteen other boats in the middle of the metropolis.

Dinner was Tesco Four-cheese Ravioli with a bit of pesto. Quick and functional.

A little later there were voices outside the boat and it was Josie talking to Claudine. I went out to have a chat, but Claudine was off to bed. We were joined by Sandra—another neighbour from the other side of Josie and Sarah's boat—and I went back with her to have a chat. It was quite nice, because she'd been reading this blog and decided it was easier to ask the organ grinder or something. A combination of her roaring fire and her lovely whisky completely wore me out and after a while all I could do was come home to bed.

So that's it. It's over. After all the stress and worry that I've had on the return journey and throughout the voyage, it all seems like an anticlimax to be back here. It's going to be strange, not having to look at maps to find a good place to stop or to worry whether something else will go wrong, or the weather will be horrible. Strange? Hmmm, boring more like!