Friday, 29 June 2012

Tunnel vision

It's been a busy time, not least because my new boat needed a new mooring.  But I found one, rural and blustery and half a mile from the lovely village of Roydon. Phidash resides there now, tied up to the trees, moored between two working boats and a Springer.

The journey from London to Essex began in Kings Cross on the 5th May 2012. It was a heavy, grey day and the prospect of Hackney in the rain was hanging over me. I had changed the oil and the filters, but old boats rarely travel far between breakdowns, so I had my doubts.

We reached the Islington tunnel and I realised that that my reactolite lenses were still black and our torches wholly inadequate.  This lead us into to a forceful collision with the tunnel wall about 50 yards in. I heard the graunching sound of steel against bricks over the heavy thump of the engine. I panicked and thought I'd destroyed the boat and the tunnel, which obviously turned out to be an overreaction.  This episode prompted me to later go shopping for the biggest torch I could find. 

We had no choice. we had to inch onwards through the tunnel, because there isn't space to turn, eventually emerging into gloomy daylight at the Islington end grimacing at the brick bits scattered across the roof.  It was to be less than100 yards before the next disaster.   We lost forward gear coming out of Islington lock.  We were drifting in circles until a man selling hats from a dutch barge threw us a line.  After some phoning, flapping and apologising I moored up above the lock, and waited for assistance. My wonderful friend Myles had very, very kindly offered to tow us back through the tunnel.  He took a long while to appear though, having trailed a rowing boat through the tunnel which was lit with a single candle.

Myles' boat weighs less than Phidash, and this inequality commanded our boats into a swaying, swerving dance along the canal.  This also meant once again crashing into the walls of the Islington tunnel along its entire length.  As bits of masonry fell onto my boat, I mentally applauded the skill and craftsmanship that went into constructing the tunnel back in 1820.  Without it there would have been no network of canals in London and I would not have been attempting this ill-fated journey.

Many days later, following some hours spent in the engine room removing failed hydraulics (!), we left Kings Cross for the second time.  It was Saturday 2nd June, the day before the Jubilee. BW had announced a stoppage on the Hertford Union, which turned out to be open, huge relief.  The only alternative route would have been Limehouse, filled with all those boats ready to take part in the Jubillee pageant.  The Big Torch got us safely through the Islington tunnel this time around and we were lucky enough to share locks as far as Cheshunt with Justine II. It was good fun, and the sun shone on Saturday. We all know how bad it was on the Sunday though, such a shame for everyone.

So Phidash arrived on the River Stort, and one week later returned to Enfield to go into dry dock. The hull was shot-blasted and painted and the rusted gas lockers repaired.  I also installed a Hobbit stove and now can't wait for the weather to turn so I can light it.  I don't anticipate this being a long wait.

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