Cal crew in training

School’s out – the Summer Break has begun (for US children, that is).

Within hours of the Cal Clan flying into Heathrow Cal Guy Snr was campaigning to be on the boat… Before taking to the water, however, certain things needed checking out:

The taste of a British ice cream 

The equipment at a British fire station (Ampthill) 

The livery of newly painted Cleddau    

The sound and look of a Beta 43 engine… 

“This will be different,” the Captain had been saying to Cal Guy Snr. “This is River. The water flows. The locks look different…”

So a Sunday afternoon recce was made to Cardington Lock. 

Guilllotine top gate. 

Electric control panel, accessed via an EA key.  

The surge of water once the guillotine is raised  

Wide beam craft.   

Heavy gates. 

It proved an interesting and worthwhile expedition, observing others work the lock, helping boats through, (Cal Guy Jnr even getting a ride up the lock on a small cruiser). 

Provisions – you need provisions for a cruise. Welsh cakes were made    – and American Brownies too   (the Alaskan recipe proving a major hit).

Boat and boys loaded up, the training cruise got under way on Tuesday.  All crew donned life jackets        and the boat set off downstream. 

Cardington Lock. All went to plan, Cal Guy Jnr on throttle training on the stern, Cal Guy Snr on the bow with a rope.

There are always things to see when cruising on a boat, a shy heron standing statue still in the reeds,  a canoeist ,  a weir indicating the next lock. Castle Mills Lock  is a monster if ever there was one.  It fills from the side.  The slackers (paddles in canal terms) are wound from great posts from the lock side,    the water entering the chamber (or “pen” in these parts) in a thunderous roar.

Onwards, through Willington Lock,     where over on the wide weir a couple of swans were wading up the waterfall,    showing their cygnets how to climb and search for weed.

On past the abandoned lock,    to Great Barford. 

In need of some shore leave Boatwif took Cal Guy Jnr on a park hunt:. The mission was not a great success; adult gym equipment there was – and a dead bird,     but no swings… As dinner was finished in The Anchor Inn church bells were heard: it was Tuesday night, bell ringing night.     What a glorious quintessentially British sound it is. Cal Guy Jnr found the fishing net     and as the sun began to dip the bells were rung down at the end of the practice.

It had been a great day but all crew members were in need of restorative sleep. At 9.20pm the business of creating two extra beds in Cleddau’s front cabin was begun. At 9.22 pm two men were spotted outside, just yards away on the village green, a trestle table between them. Chairs, people, children, cool boxes, even a BBQ arrived… Days later the Cal Guys still maintain that the party (bellringers and friends??) continued until 4am.

Day 2. The trip was always going to involve outbound and return legs. Would it be a two day trip – or would it be a four day voyage?

The weather was fine (dry and warm) and the novice crew were game for more… By 9am the strange Environment Agency craft      had left their overnight meadow mooring to head upstream.     Cleddau set off, Great Barford Lock the first of six ahead. Cal Guy Jnr had become an enthusiastic windlass wielder – and at each lock his confidence and competence grew.      Spot the differences would be the challenge: gates and slackers at Roxton, guillotine and layby cut out at Eaton Socon, an extensive length and two flights of stone steps at Paper Mills Lock.

On the way there was engaging conversation with other boaters and gongoozlers, the stunning picture at St Neots Bridge,     dense boat traffic below Brampton Lock   and a memorial on the lock side.   

The outbound destination of Godmanchester was eventually reached.   Here Cal Guy Jnr checked out the parks,    Godmanchester Friends 1 and 2 popped by and Cal Guy Snr set up a wifi meeting room on the back deck. For him being afloat thousands of miles away was no excuse for not participating in a conference call with fellow students…  

Day 3   Fatigue affects the brain. So it had been at Offord Lock on Wednesday. A distraction, a press of the Gate Close rather than the Gate Open button, a delay that led to the guillotine cabinet key (on the master set bunch) being forgotten and left behind… On Thursday morning while the lock delay timer ticked away Boatwif and Cal Guy Jnr read the printed words on the side of the cabinet. Then, casually, Cal Guy Jnr’s hand groped in the space beside the box – there to find the mislaid keys. Three resounding cheers for Cal Guy Jnr! Many thanks to the thoughtful person who found the set dangling from the cabinet door.

Paper Mill Lock – what a time it takes to empty this lock, settle the boat in, organise the ropes, close the downstream guillotine gate and to gently refill the lock.         This is seriously hefty work…  

Back through St Neots, with a pause for some fridge replenishment and a water tank top-up, it was then onwards to Eaton Socon. Why does this benign looking lock create so much work? There’s the tricky lock landing (especially when going downstream) and the deceptive downstream slackers. Twice in ten days progress up the lock has been incredibly slow; twice in ten days the cause has been spotted by gongoozlers – the downstream slackers not being fully closed.   

Energy fix needed – with two more locks still to go. 

Under the A1.   At Roxton Lock, with a super hero’s strength, Cal Guy Jnr managed a solo gate opening! After just one more lock an overnight mooring at Great Barford lay ahead. It was Midsummer’s Day – what better evening for the first “Towpath Dinner” of the year!     

Day 4  A deal. Was this slave labour,    payment   – or bribery?     Probably the latter. Danish Camp had been spotted on the outbound trip and the prospect of a bounce on a Viking Castle and some lunch inspired effort all round. While a chocolate retriever swam    and canoeists launched their craft      the work went on – and on – and on!

Then, life jackets on,     and the cruise began again, under the 17 arched bridge, past the old lock chamber, through Willington Lock     for a smooth arrival at Danish Camp.     A good lunch  (and a bounce) later    Cleddau (with Cal Guy Snr at the helm of course) was off again, crossing with widebeam Parsley,      rising up through Castle Mill and Cardington Locks, returning triumphantly by mid-afternoon to Priory Marina.  

Total mileage 45 (Priory Marina – Godmanchester – Priory Marina); total locks: 18

Both novice crew had encountered and mastered new skills. Both had learned new words. But it was Cal Guy Jnr who raised a laugh when on being directed to “the glory hole” beside the side hatch quipped “What? It’s not very glorious! ” A fair point indeed.

Back on dry land both Cals welcomed the prospect of beds that required neither night time preparation nor next morning dismantling…

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