The best laid plans – and Mrs Claus

Wednesday 4th April 2012, 4.5 miles 0 locks

It was a difficult morning; amendment, it was a very difficult morning after a very rough night. Back in the “historic quarter” of the boat (the sleeping cabin, not yet refitted  to modern standard) the sound insulation is poor. Slap, slap, all night long went the waves which tore across the flash, pushed by the north easterly gale. A lesson has been learned: sunlit expanses of wide water are far from idyllic mooring places in ferocious winds. (From times past a memory of a wild night at a cliff top camp site at Staffin on the northwest coast of Skye surfaces…) Long before the 0700 alarm crew members were wide awake.

 Discussion; debate; decision. The Captain would push hard against the boat while Boatwif steered it off the bank. It was hard; the boat would move, she did, for quite a distance, but not head out into open water. Then calamity – she became stuck. Right under the centre of the boat Cleddau was wedged. The neat stone edging had collapsed for about a ten feet stretch and the underwater slabs were the hidden obstacle. The longest barge pole (yes, the most recently painted one) was deployed – to no avail. The boat needed to be higher in the water, so off came five bags of coal, off came a bag of kindling, then the heavy bag of tools, the tinned foods, a half tankful of water… Still the boat pivoted on the centre point – and the wind blew… No other boats passed by… Telephone calls were made: to relief crew, postpone pickup; to the Boat Lift, cancel booking; to rescue services, advice sought. And then a boat hove into view. What a Samaritan the singlehander of nb Emma was; if it took ten minutes to rope up and snatch Cleddau off the obstruction then it took twice as long for Emma, helped by the Captain’s strong arms pushing, to fight the wind to return the smaller boat to open water.

In summary, some two hours after starting off Cleddau finally was on her way to the Anderton Boat Lift. Relief Crew, in Worcestershire, reported snow. On the Trent and Mersey, approaching Northwich it was bitterly, bitingly cold. Steering shifts were taken to allow fingers to warm up. Past another flash area marked by a partly sunken boat,  past modern housing, past huge chemical works, past the Old Lion Salt Workings, (candidate for Griff Rhys Jones’s  Restoration programme a few years ago), past country parks – and so to Anderton. Four and a half cold miles, though it felt more like forty!

Warmth was restored at Anderton Services (water, loo, rubbish) and humour restored when later we met Mrs Claus, yes, Mrs Santa Claus!

A familiarisation walk was taken along the towpath to the Boat Lift. The trip boat arrived at the top, offloaded passengers at canal level, took on more, then descended to Weaver Navigation level. The huge structure moves boats so silently! In the visitor centre (free entry now in its tenth anniversary year) we sought out a navigation map, and that is how we met Mrs Claus. The kind voice on the end of all those telephone booking calls was there in person, able to pronounce Cleddau’s name, eager to offer advice and encouragement – then revealing herself as the one and only Mrs Claus, married to Weaver lock keeper Mr Claus. Together in their US designed outfits they run the 40 minute (5 a day) December Santa cruises – and love every single trip.

Weather forecast is a great deal better for tomorrow, so the plan (dare one use that word?) is to catch the 1340 lift down to the Weaver Navigation…

FOOTNOTE:  Apologies for lack of photo evidence of off-loaded boat – tension was rather high and minds focused on other issues!

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