We continued our stately progression around the Broads with Captain Pugwash (Nick) at the helm, nursing a blistered armpit and a near death experience from his exploits a couple of days earlier. He had finally ditched his Life jacket after coming close to drowning in it believing – and rightly so – that he could achieve that feat much more efficiently without all the effort involved in having to put it on in the first place.
This meant he could now hold onto the steering wheel without having to get first one handhold, then compress the huge preserver across his chest as he launched his opposing hand onto wheel obtaining a dual grip with the both hands.
Unfortunately it left him perched on the steering seat struggling to maintain a hold with what was in effect a loaded spring across his middle..
It gave the impression of him striking a pose, straining his muscles to maintain his death-grip, leaving him looking like a short, padded orange Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with a much lower center of gravity. The slightly pop-eyed look that accompanied the straining had gone too and normality – or as near to it as we ever managed – returned.
Without the huge life jacket that had surrounded Nick at the helm, there was instantly breathable room on board. You could now pass him with-out having your face pressed against a window.
The other members of the Good Ship Lollypop now simply took to relaxing and watching Nick nod at the wheel as he drove at the regulated snails pace along the river. On board were Winny, Nasher, caddy barny and yours truly.
Everyone occupied themselves as well as they could during what was really a monotonous time during the day until we reached a town we could moor up at, then wander off and find a pub.
I was sharing a room and bed with Caddy as all the single bunks had been claimed which left only this tiny room and built-in bed for Caddy and I. I must admit that I felt a little hard done by as Winny and Nasher were the two smallest in the group and they could have lay like starfish and not touched each other.
Caddy and I on the other hand were forced to drink extra beer in order to go to sleep quickly and avoid coming into contact as little as possible. What I will add is that (from my point of view – Caddy may disagree) each morning we woke up I found Caddy’s arm over my shoulder and him spooning me..
As awareness spread and we both woke up it led to us jumping from bed and coughing with loud manly “Coughs!” and both trying to squeeze past each other into the main cabin through the narrow door, all the time trying not to actually touch and avoiding eye contact.
“Uuha! Uuuurrhhhaah!! I think I’ll go do some manly press ups!”
I would say loudly.
“Yes! Press ups! And star jumps or something!”
Caddy would add.
“Yes I’m all for a star jump or two! Like men! Anyone else for star jumps? Anyone?? No? You must be all gay!!!”
“Yes I agree! Gayboys the lot of you!! Can’t do manly press-ups and star jumps? Poofters!!”
Caddy would confirm.
Barny, leaning in the door-way of his and Nicks cabin watching this pantomime, licked the edge of his liquorice paper to complete his morning roll-up, would look over his glasses and ask,
“Caddy been cuddling up to you again Mike?”
“Yes! The big poof! Had his arms all over me! Uuuuurrr!!!”
“I fucking Didn’t!! It was him! He was cuddling me!! He was nudging me in the back!! The Poof!!!!”
“You lying fucker!!! You had a big boner!!”
“I haven’t got a big boner!! No! Wait!! I DO have a big boner!”
“Yes! Me too!! Mines a massive boner!!”
And on, until Barny interrupted,
“Yeah, yeah. Calm down girls you’ve both got big boners. Now go do your press-ups.”
flicking the lid off his zippo to light his ciggie in that laconic way he had, like it really wasn’t worth the effort getting worked up over.
So we would, “Harrumph” our way to opposite ends of the boat and stretch manfully avoiding each others eye-line. Which was hard on a 40 foot boat.
But, it was Caddy was spooning me.
The rest of the trip rolled along in what would have been a pleasant way if not for the rain. So we ended up lounging around the main cabin or napping in our own until we could land somewhere and go and have a pint.
Barny as organized as ever, spent his time plotting our route through the broads. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else to do that until we were eventually so far into the water-ways that we would have had no idea how to get back. What would have ensued then would have been a chaotic abandonment of out craft and a brisk walk across dry land until we struck a road. Then hitch a ride to where-ever to then make our way somehow to our starting point at the boat yard. Only to there inform the harbor master when asked, that,
“No we have no idea where we left your boat mister. On the river near a bend? It definately wasn’t near a road.”
So Mr. Efficient personified took matters into his own hands and was the only one with enough patience to keep coming back to Nick and inform him, 1. Where he was, 2. Which way to go, and 3. Tell him when he could have a toilet break.
Everything had a time-table.
Precise instructions were drafted on paper and ticked off as we reached each way-point. He probably could have guided Nick with his eyes shut and by tasting the water at intervals. He was that organized. He just drifted up behind us while we were at some task and either “Tsk’ed” to let you know you were doing it wrong and could do better, or silently ghosted off to inspect someone else.
It just showed how disorganized the rest of us were really. I’m sure if we had lined up of a morning, after his first coffee and roll-up, he would have tied each of our laces.
It was sickening.
The other two members of the crew were Winny and Nasher.
Now, up until a few years previously both lads had been a similar size. Which was short. Nearly waist high as I recall but I may just remember leaning on someone’s head once. Anyway, Winny managed to have a growth spurt which brought him into the heady hieghts of normality or at least eye-level. Nasher though maintained the status-quo and never quite hit the height burst that Winny did. Staying around the five-and-a-half foot point – but that may be my memory being generous.
Winny must have been drilled by Barny who was probably handing out jobs at the time, because every time we stopped he was first off and tying the boat off or dropping the anchor. You just had to make sure whichever you were using was tied on. The importance of this was highlighted when we stopped to have a pint one lunchtime.
Nick, in his Captain Pugwash role had scraped us to a stand-still alongside a mooring point, allowing Winny to leap into action. He dropped off the boat and tied us off on a mooring point then dashed back onto the deck and dropped the stone anchor over the side.
The day was gently streaming with rain and Caddy, Nasher and I huddled together on the deck at our pre-ordained exit point, waiting for Winny to complete his tasks and have Barny allow us to evacuate the boat in an orderly fashion.
As we stood watching Winny drop the anchor over the side, I sleepily watched the anchor rope snake over the side, the coil – expertly rolled by Barny – unwrapping with a satisfying zip away across the wet deck. I had about as much time to say
“Uuuh – Uuuuuuhhhh!”
While frantically eye-balling Winny and pointing at the rope slipping away, but unable to actually form the words.
Winny immediately looked back to the rope to see the remaining 6 foot-or-so disappear into the water.
“Awwwwwwww Christ Winny! there goes the deposit!”
And he grabbed the boat hook and began fishing frantically in the water trying to catch the end of the rope.
“I can’t feel it! Hang on lets see how deep it is!!”
And with out further a-do he speared the 8 foot boat hook into the water after the anchor, fully expecting to see the remainder of the boat hook protruding from the water. It disappeared without any fuss into the depths with barely a splash, accompanied by the chorous of,
Winny stood for a few moments, hands on hips staring at the water where it had gone, then started stripping off.
“I can probably reach it with my feet.”
He stripped to his underpants and slid into the water sucking in breaths in the chilly water. Taking care to keep a grip on the side of the boat, he began working his feet around in the water below him, trying to regain contact with the lost hook. Finally, he resorted to pushing himself under the water, extending his body to arms-length below the surface but still unable to reach the hook.
Which when you think about it was sticking 8 foot out of the river bottom, and Winny was stretched six-and-a-half feet into the water with his feet waving around trying to touch it.
It didn’t take long to decide the risk of diving down for it wasn’t worth it.
The following day we finally reached our turning point and began heading home. We had motored through Great Yarmouth swinging away from the foot of the River Yule that ran under a bridge continuing down to the sea. The flood water by now having risen so much that there was little of the arched supports to see. We had left the River Bure and entered the River Yare at its bottom end turning to work across what was a lake-like appearance at this point, until as you reached the far side, it narrowed back down into the more familiar river shape.
We continued on that day and spent the night – as I recall – moored up in Norwich.
The next morning we began to retrace our steps and headed back towards Great Yarmouth. The river had risen noticeably with a fast flowing current carrying us along.
As we steamed back across the lake and headed towards our turning back onto the River Bure, Nick shouted us from our sleepy stupor.
“Theres a boat in trouble! Over there heading towards the bridge!!”
Indeed there was. Another cruiser had developed an engine problem and had lost all power. The occupants were frantically waving and shouting as their boat was dragged towards an inevitable collision with the bridge. You could actually see the current in the water we were on, streaming away down the River Yure and on to the sea.
Pugwash leapt into action and steamed towards them having to finally swing the boat into reverse so we could position our-selves to throw a rope to the other boat. We were all stationed across the back of the boat waiting to get close enough and the opportunity to throw a life-line. Lookinbg down I had a moments unease looking at the water and seeing the powerful current flying past.
As we stood there mentally urging our boat closer Captain Pugwash (Nick) was up front blindly reversing it while we shouted directions to him. At the back of the boat we suddenly became aware of a drumming noise from inside, rapidly heading our way.
As we parted and turned to look, Nasher bulleted out of the rear doors and managed to get a foot on the rear gunwale, before hurling his short frame into the air and flying like a miniature torpedo towards the opposite boat some 20 foot away with a rope between his teeth.
Now Nasher was a passionate rugby player, powerful and unafraid of any opponent, size doesn’t daunt him. He showed he had the heart of a lion as he streaked from the cabin clutching the rope – and carrying salvation.
He’s not the tallest person and had often taken some serious ribbing.
He was a doppelganger of Tattoo from Fantasy Island, but, undoubtedly braver than the rest of us.
Personally, I’d have let the boat sink and fished them from the water – if they survived.
It was magnificent. He gained height like a falcon, streaking across the space like some modern day short Errol Finn, the rope streaming away behind him.
We watched slack-jawed and followed his progress as he rose into the air like rocket – almost – leaving a vapor trail as he as he passed through the fine rain drops driving on towards the stricken barge.
Only to fall short and bounce off the other boats gunwale and into the water.
The gentleman on the other boat lurched forward as he struck the side of their boat and caught him by the collar as he dropped into the water. he dangled there for a moment as the man fought to drag him on board finally with the help of another person on the opposite boat, Nasher was forcibly drawn from the water.
I honestly have no doubt to this day, that if he hadn’t been caught and dragged on board then we wouldn’t have seen him again. So strong was the current ripping past us.
As it was we spent some breathless moments watching until he was pulled to safety.
The gasps of relief were interrupted by Barny, who, as ever, was the first to take stock.
“You’d have thought,”
He began, clicking open his zippo with that distinctive “K’ting!” and lighting his roll-up, pausing only to take a contemplative look at the run up area and the distance between the boats,
“That he’d have tied the rope off on our side first.”
We turned as one following Barny’s gaze, to look at Nasher who was now triumphantly stood on the other deck waving the rope back at us.
We did manage to drag the boat to safety despite Nasher risking his life.
It was the most entertaining thing we’d seen all week.
The final night found us exhausted but drunk with Nasher still high on his heroic rescue. the subject only changed when we heard a galloping thumping on the boats outside. Someone was running across the boats in the immediate vicinity – heading our way.
There was a solid “Thump!” as someone landed on the rear of our boat, then the door crashed open and Winny struggled in with his arms full.
“Sorted! Got one!!”
“What! Got what??”
He had seen a similar stone anchor on a boat further along and done no more but clambered on board and made off with it.
“So we’ll keep the deposit! Sorted!!”
It sobered us up quite quickly. I don’t think we slept that night, expecting someone to come angrily banging on the door demanding satisfaction.
Instead on our final day, of all days after a week of rain, the sun actually rose, to find us with it, slinking off down the river.