As just about everyone who knows us is aware, Ewn Ha Cul put to sea yesterday and, with four other boats, and experienced pilot Daryl Hill, we crossed The Wash from Boston on the River Witham to Wisbech on the River Nene. We’d waited for a couple of days for the right sea conditions and on Sunday 9th June Daryl rang us to say we were definitely going on the following day.
The lock at the Boston Grand Sluice is only just over 45 feet long consequently boats over this length can only negotiate it when the levels are identical at either side and both sets of gates can be opened simultaneously. Mike, the lock-keeper, spent a lot of time emphasising to us that we had only 150 seconds to get all five boats through the lock then the gates would be shut regardless of whether all boats had got through. Daryl was a bit more chilled about the whole process and reassured us that there would be plenty of time – to go fast as possible, but not to get too anxious.
As it turned out it all went amazingly smoothly and we got out without any problems at all, said goodbye to Boston and headed off down the tidal Witham.
Daryl proved extremely bribable with offers of food and initially came aboard with us when we offered him a cooked breakfast and a home made pasty for lunch.
He was fickle however and deserted us later (after breakfast of course) when Clive needed someone to steer while he went below to ‘use the facilities’.
The weather was incredibly calm and I was reminded of the line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner ‘….as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean’.
We didn’t share the Ancient Mariner’s fate on account of our not having slaughtered any albatrosses recently, although, like him, we may well bore people s***less for eternity with tales of our journey across The Wash.
There’s not a great deal of hurry to get across as time must be spent waiting for the tide to turn so that there is enough water to get up the River Nene. That meant there was time to circle this cargo ship for a photo opportunity before we beached the boats on a sandbank. It must have been a bit of a bizarre experience for the crew!
Then it was time, should we wish, to beach the boats on the sand. We’d been given dire warnings from Mike, the Boston lock-keeper, about doing this on safety grounds. Daryl was confident that he could lead us to a location where we wouldn’t be sucked down into the sand and be unable to get off or have a hole punched in the hull by a stray piece of metal, but he gave us the choice of whether to beach or not. I think we all trusted his local knowledge and felt that it was too good an opportunity to miss. It was incredibly enjoyable to get our feet wet and wander around on the sand for a while.
The wreck below acts as a navigation aid for boats going into the Nene tidal channel. They gauge the channel water depth by how much of the wreck is visible above water. Not very high tech but it works!
When we eventually floated free from the sands and retrieved our anchors we set off on the last couple of hours of our journey through the channel and up into the tidal River Nene. By this time it was heading on for 7pm and we were getting tired so it was good to get into the river channel and head towards a secure berth for the night.
When you get close to the Wisbech Yacht Harbour you need to turn the boat around and drift, in a controlled fashion, backwards towards the mooring so that you have some level of control as you moor up into the tide. It was at this point, just after we’d performed our turn and got to the drifting backwards in a controlled fashion bit that our Morse Cable decided to snap and we lost the ability to change gear via the control stick. This meant Gordon hastily ripping off the engine hatch cover and jumping down into the engine space every time he wanted to knock her out of gear or put her back in gear and jumping back up to resume steering (banging his head on the tiller each time which didn’t help!).
Minor panic ensued with much swearing and people shouting at me to ‘hop onto that tug and attach a line’ (I don’t hop anywhere, haven’t for years). I eventually managed to clamber awkwardly onto the tug and attach a line and Gordon managed to get the boat under control and safely into her mooring for the night. The fixing of the cable is a story for another day.
Despite this slight setback I reckon the journey across The Wash ranks as the best day I’ve had on the waterways system so far. Daryl was an excellent pilot, calm, knowledgeable with a great sense of humour. If you’re contemplating crossing The Wash either way give him a call on 07909880071 or drop him an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have anywhere near as good a time as we did you really won’t regret it!