Downstream to King’s Lynn

Plans for the Wash Crossing began firming up in Ely. Moored nearby was Chouette, her crew booked too with Daryl Hill for a Wash Crossing from King’s Lynn. What good fortune to prepare for an adventure with them, members of the Macclesfield Canal Society and veterans of the tidal Severn and European waters too…

Early start on Monday morning was required to catch the tide. Would all the preparations be enough? There had been much Googling of the Great Ouse channel to identify sandbanks and bridges, copies of critical sections printed out, skipper meetings to swap information, insertion of way marks on the yellow satnav, agreement of communications channel on the CB radios.

0800: life jackets on. “Let go for’ard, let go aft” called the Captain and Cleddau pulled away from the bank,   C28-02 leaving Chouette to follow.

The lock keeper was ready: the lock was open. Tentatrice and Cleddau went UP first (onto the top of the incoming tide), then left the lock to tie up on the floating pontoon outside.

C28-03  Minutes passed. Chouette arrived at the lock, rose and was dispatched. Then the flotilla of three narrow boats set off downstream on the high tide to King’s Lynn, Chouette in the lead, Tentatrice next, Cleddau at the rear.  C28-04   Hardly visible as the boats passed was the entrance to Salter’s Lode and the Middle Levels. C28-05

The river felt full, the water hardly moving, yet speed at 3.2 mph was slow. Then below Salter’s Lode Chouette, the lead boat, seemed to increase speed – was it by throttle or the speed of the now falling tide?

A message crackled back: “Watch your flag, Tentatrice, this bridge is low.”  C28-06   Boatwif scrambled to Cleddau’s bow and retrieved the Pembrokeshire flag just in time, saving it from an ignominious crushing against the concrete deck.

Downstream the flotilla continued, crew nerves at strain point. Keep to the outside of the bends, avoid the silting on the inside. Daryl Hill, the Wash pilot, had given telephone tuition and over Google maps the skippers had identified the really tricky bend at Stow Bank. There was a countdown on the satnav – just as the Captain was about to advise the other boats of the need to cross to the right hand bank the CB radios crackled into life. “Moving out to the right,” advised Chouette’s Skipper.


The water was running high, the sandbank still submerged. Relief – potential incident avoided.

Downstream the flotilla continued – fast (7.8 mph top speed noted).

The surroundings were relatively featureless. Then came another CB call from Chouette.”Dinky chimney on the left.” C28-08

Onward, fast. There were ruins on the right, (Wiggenhall St Peter?).  C28-09

A marker buoy warned of shallows, the tide ripping past it now.  C28-10   Mud slopes were beginning to appear at the water’s edge.

Then, two hours or so after setting out came signs of urbanisation: pylons, C28-11  industrial plant (a vast paper mill)  C28-12  a gas turbine station. Bridges, traffic, the Minster, fishing vessels. C28-13    Visual overload…

Another CB message: “Have visual on the pontoons, going past to do a J turn.”  C28-14   The boats slowed, made wide turns, fought the dropping tide and moved in onto the pontoons.  C28-16    From high above on the quayside people waved and called. Predictably the words “What does Cleddau mean?” floated down.

Grateful thanks to Patrick, the flotilla’s lead skipper. A grand job done!

In slow time the crews set out to explore King’s Lynn, seeking out a park for the Boat Dog, a railway station for travel information for the Chouette folk, fine buildings for Boatwif to gaze at.

C28-15 C28-18 C28-22

C28-20a   C28-21

Late afternoon preparations for going to sea were in hand: roofs cleared of unnecessary items, cratch covers sealed against incoming water, nav lights, marine band VHF radio masts (and a radar reflector on Cleddau) erected.  C28-17  It was an early night for an early start – Tuesday was to be the day of the Wash Crossing…

(Posted from Boston, Lincolnshire)


Fame? Webcam pictures of “Our first contingent of narrowboats” appeared on  site (See the Visitor Pontoon link).




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