Water, water, everywhere…

February 10th, 2009

Firstly, some very quick apologies for the very long absence of blog posts – I’ll explain later…

This morning I was lying peacefully in bed, gradually coming to, and the boat banged against the bank a couple of times, which it often does when there’s a strong wind or a rowing eight passing. A few moments later there was a much bigger bang, and some shouting. This is less common, but not unheard of – usually it means a broadside collision by a rowing boat – but this morning the bangs and shouting continued until I jumped out of bed and realised all was not well. In fact, Innocenti was 250m downstream, having come adrift, and had been rescued by two kind gentlemen from one of the rowing clubs.

The cause of all this was, inevitably, the weather. A week of lying snow in Cambridge had given way to a day of rain, and the river had been steadily rising all day. I’d come in from a night at the theatre (well, CUGS’ production of Iolanthe, actually) and gone straight to bed. But by morning, the river had risen enough to submerge where the mooring pins had once been, and they must have just pulled straight out vertically. Tragically, in the drift downstream, my new chimney (more on this another time) hit a tree branch and sheared off – although it dangled by a thread of metal by the side of the boat and I was able to retrieve it.

Back at “my” mooring, another problem presented itself. The big risk in a flood is that the boat comes over the edge of the bank as the water rises, and when the water recedes you’re either left aground or catch on the edge and capsize. Flood poles are the solution, and I’d been meaning to get some for a while. They’re just wooden or metal poles that are inserted between the boat and the edge of the bank to keep the boat in the right place. As it was, I just had the wooden bargepole, so I stuck it in by the stern and went off to work. I needed to get some poles, ideally today. All the Cambridge Streetcars were booked that morning, so I thought I’d wait until the afternoon. Scaffolding poles would do, I thought. I’ll go to Ridgeons. For those not aware of this East Anglian phenomenon, Ridgeons is the Mother Of All Builder’s Merchants. The branch on the south side of Cambridge is vast – several warehouses – containing everything one might need for a construction project. Except that having fought my way there through the afternoon traffic, the chap at the Building desk said “Scaffolding poles? Don’t do ’em mate, you want a proper scaffolding company!” Oh. I went back to the car and considered my options. Thanks to the magic of internet-on-your-phone, I found that Yell.com listed just one “Scaffolding Hire/Sales” firm in Cambridge. I called. A helpful chap answered, said he could help – would I meet him at the yard in half and hour? I found my way to the depths of Cowley Road (an industrial area right at the other end of town) and the Helpful Chap turned up in his pickup truck. He kindly supplied me with two six-foot scaffolding poles (with flattened ends to make them stick into the mud more easily) and then, concerned that they wouldn’t be long enough, with another two four-foot poles and two connectors. The price? “Just the price of a pint – £2.55”! Should I ever be needing scaffolding in future, Logic Scaffolding of Cambridge will be my first port of call…
I went back to the boat, dropped off the poles and then returned the car.

Having cycled back to the boat again, I decided it was probably best to sort out the poles right away. The first one was quite easy – from the stern deck I could easily push the pole down into the right place. The bow proved trickier. As I had suspected, the bow mooring line was pulling the bow over the bank edge. I leapt across to the bank and slackened it, leaving the pole leaning up against the boat with one end in the shallow water. I then slackened the stern line and clambered up the gangplank. On making my way back through the inside of the boat to reach the foredeck, I heard an ominous clattering noise. Sure enough, the pole had managed to fall into the river! I retrieved the wooden barge-pole and, from the bank, inserted it into the right place. Then I went in the river. I should say at this point that I fully anticipated that I might have ended up in the river by design or by accident during the pole-placing operation, and had therefore put on my wetsuit and neoprene boots, with a jumper and jacket helping to keep my top half warm. Anyway, I stepped into the shallow floodwater and felt around with my feet. No pole. Curse it, it must have just managed to roll under the boat and into the deeper water. Bother.
Still, a solution presented itself. I went soggily back into the cabin and retrieved the Big Magnet and a rope. The Big Magnet came with the boat and has saved my bacon a few times before. It’s a horseshoe magnet about the size of a tea mug, and it’s very strong indeed. A few minutes of fishing in the river with the magnet produced a bite. A gentle tug, and the magnet came free. A bit more fiddling and fishing produced a more definite result and up came the end of the pole. Phew!

I now have the two scaffolding poles at each end of the boat and the wooden bargepole in the middle. The gangplank’s getting a bit short but I’m told by those in the know that the river is going down now. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

3 Responses to “Water, water, everywhere…”

  1. John C. Kirk Says:

    Wow, that all sounds quite eventful! Is the mooring still underwater, or have you found somewhere further away to put in the peg?

  2. Michael P-J Says:

    John: fortunately the river hasn’t come high enough to cover the footpath (or I’d really be in trouble!) and so I’ve been able to peg the lines in higher up, right on the edge of the path.

    The river’s going down now, but I won’t relax until the concrete edge is exposed again. I reckon the river’s risen at least 75cm above its usual level, possibly more.

  3. Rich Says:

    Hmm, that all sounds like fun. I was wondering if you might have had a spot of bother – the view from the train on the way to Norwich today involved a few more drowned fields than I’d normally expect. Pain about the chimney…

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