I’ve had plenty to choose from since 2010 but today has been my worst day of boating in London. I’m still shaking and am putting these words down, predominantly, to write it out of my system. Enjoy.
Today, I’ve been less than perfect in my own thoughts and actions and, right now, I’m triple moored in Kings Cross. That’s not a boast.
There’s plenty about the struggles of boating in London in what I’m about to describe. If you’re thinking of bringing a boat into the metropolis for the first time, this might be worth a few minutes of your time.
Just over a week ago, whilst emptying my ash pan into a steel bucket, a gust of wind caught it and blew some of the ashes onto my forearm. I was wearing fire gloves and a jacket but didn’t notice that my right sleeve was partly rolled up, exposing my forearm. For 30 seconds, I didn’t feel any pain. But then the heat came … and grew.
If I attached a photo of the burn, you’d gasp although, due to some nerve endings being instantly killed off, it looked worse than it felt. That said, within 3 days, I’d made 2 trips to A&E at UCL as the wound had become infected and my forearm was swollen. They prescribed high dosage antibiotics and sent me away in a sling.
I was moored in Angel, from where I was due to move earlier this week. I was approved an overstay until the weekend.
By yesterday, I was no longer feeling much discomfort, mostly just grump & lethargy from the medication & inconvenience.
Even though I had a few extra days available, today was sunny and I was feeling the itch. At 1.30 pm, I left Noel Road, planning to top up my water, then spin round and head through the Islington Tunnel.
There were 2 boats at the water point though so decided I’d fill up at St Pancras instead.
As I was turning to face West, my propeller jammed. My rear rope had dropped in. I hadn’t done that in years. Careless.
I opened the weed hatch and figured it was going to be a tough one. 20 ft of thick rope was wrapped around the propeller – TIGHT.
I called over to the boat waiting to fill up and asked if he’d mind bringing his boat out and pulling me into the towpath so that I could get to work on clearing the prop. He shouted something, I think, about it being too difficult with his type of boat. From his body language, I sensed he didn’t want to the aggravation and I didn’t blame him. Maybe it was too big an Ask. However, I then noticed a couple of mooring rings opposite the towpath and a girl standing there. This was closer anyway. I threw her my centre line and she pulled me in.
Luckily, the propellor had snapped the rear rope and I was able to get hold of an end bit. Within 20 minutes, it was all out.
The first boat had now left the water point so I decided to wait there after all. The boater who had not helped was now starting his own fill. I’d used that tap recently and knew it was fast.
It was 2.15 pm. Sunset was 5.30 pm. I’d definitely be through Camden before then.
At 4.30 pm, however, 2 hours and 15 minutes later, the other boat was still filling up. The guy came out of his boat.
I was wound up, tbh. If I’d known his water tank had previously been installed in a ferry, I wouldn’t have waited in the first place. Nonetheless, I stayed civil and made a comment about wishing my water tank was big as his.
“It must last you a month or 2,” I said.
“It’s 500 litres,” he replied.
“That’s the same as mine and this is a fast tap. There’s no way a 500 litre tank would take this long. There must be something wrong with your hose.”
“No, there’s no pressure,” he said, pulling the yellow hose out of his tank inlet to show how pathetic the trickle was. We then unclipped the hose at the tap and the water gushed out.
“You’ve got a blockage in your hose,” I said.
Now I was beyond wound u… but kept it together, sort of.
“You’ve got enough water now though, surely?” I said, gesturing passive aggressively at the 2 boats he’d kept waiting.
“No I’m going to fill to the top,” he said, “I have a wife and new baby on board.”
I attached my own hose and he filled up with that.
It took another 20 minutes, during which time I quietly fumed over how his ineptitude was going to force me to cruise solo in the dark.
By the time I had filled up too, it was just gone 5 pm.
I got to the tunnel and stopped before entering. The sun was starting to come down and my own failing eyesight left me uncertain as to whether another boat was coming through. I could see a tunnel light but no movement. It looked as if a moored boat on the other end might have had its light on. I just wasn’t sure. I put my tunnel light on and moved my nose into the tunnel, eventually realising that it was definitely another boat heading towards me. I reversed back out, turned my light off and waited for the tunnel to clear. As the exiting boat passed, the owner mentioned that my light had been blinding him. Just what I needed to hear.
By the time I’d hurtled through to the other end, there was still a little daylight left but no open moorings in Kings Cross.
By St Pancras Lock it was sunset. The lock was in my favour and I knew Camley Street was my last hope. I also knew I was not going to do Camden Locks solo at night.
Camley Street was all double moored so I picked one with the lights off and started to moor up.
Suddenly from the towpath someone shouted over.
“There’s no triple mooring here!”
And suddenly the injury, my medication, the snapped rope & fouled propeller, the 2 and a half wait for a newby with a blocked hose – all exploded out of me.
“WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH YOU?”
“I’m a volunteer for CRT,” he replied.
“I couldn’t care less,” I said.
“I’m going to take your boat number and report you,” he said.
“I couldn’t care less,” I repeated, “But you don’t have permission to come onto my boat.”
He talked about triple mooring, not caring about my excuses, boaters who lie about their illnesses and pretend to have broken down.
I swore a lot and shouted about A&E, antibiotics, coal ash, forearms, my overstay that I’d voluntarily cut short, water points, newbies with blocked hoses, tunnel lights, Camden Locks, the darkness and knowing perfectly well I’m not supposed to be triple mooring but what choice did I have?
And suddenly things changed.
“Why don’t you moor alongside my boat tonight?” he said.
“I’ll be very quiet,” I said.
And then we liked each other.
If I was a new boater with a wife and new baby, I’d definitely want my water tank full too, even if my inexperience and mistake had inconvenienced others. I made tons of mistakes when I was new. I make mistakes now too.
It must be beyond difficult with a baby.
And there’s the chain effect….
Boater A’s mistake holds up Boater B. Three hours later, a mile up the cut, Boater B is yelling at Boater C.
Today, I think I am done with London.
I might feel differently soon.
‘Angry Boater’ is in London for the next 5 Tuesdays. This story is not featured.