The design for the new wheelhouse necessitated having the aft hatch coaming and part of the decks cut away, the sides shortened and then the aft coaming welded back onto the shortened sides. From what we had seen of work being done around the docks, there were so many ‘cowboys’ that John Wayne would have felt quite at home there. With the closing of the shipyard, there were very few people who had the experience of working on large steel vessels and this was before the David Abels yard had opened to take their place. Eventually, we chose one small company that seemed to know what they were doing and towed the boat to their yard.
It was now February and I hoped to be back on our mooring in two to three weeks. In order to save money, we had agreed to do all of the donkey-work and preparation needed, so that the “experts” only had to do the cutting and welding. In spite of the fact that we always had plenty of other work to do, the delays were almost intolerable. No matter how much we stressed the urgency of our situation, ‘manyana’ always seemed to be the order of the day.
Kate and I carried on working on other bits of the barge, anything to feel we were making some progress. The workshop of the company that was supposed to be doing the steelwork, was on a barge, moored near Junction Lock and Glevum was tied up alongside that. Very little work ever seemed to get done there; indeed, they seemed to run it more as a hobby than anything else. They had a resident ship’s cat, she was a pretty tortoiseshell called Brindle, who took a great shine to Kate and to the peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches that we ate most lunchtimes. Brindle would follow Kate about and settle down wherever she was working, sometimes even climbing onto her back when the job required her to bend over for any length of time!
Another source of constant amusement, during those long winter months, was the chap who was teaching himself to wind surf. I have never seen anyone with such dogged persistence. Month after month, he would be practising most days. Never once did he stay on the board for more than five yards before he was back in the cold water of the docks. Then, one day in early April, Kate called out “He’s up and going!”
I turned to look, and sure enough, he was hurtling along, heading across the dock from the Cottage pub towards the sand wharf, on the other side of the dock. Unfortunately for him, that day was the first trip that spring for the Bristol Packet narrowboat, Redshank, which was coming down the dock, with a party of schoolchildren on board and moving at quite a speed. The helmsman sounded a warning blast of the horn and tried to take evasive action. Alas! All in vain! Redshank was still going at almost full speed, when her bow hit the windsurfer’s board, right in the middle. The impact did nothing to slow the narrowboat and the poor chap, now back in the water, had to fend himself off the side, as Redshank continued down the dock with his mode of conveyance still wrapped around the bows, the sail trailing one side and the board the other.
We never saw him again.
They say “Everything comes to he who waits” and – at last – the work that we’d been waiting for finally got started, albeit at a snail’s pace. Seeing the first metal being cut away served to lift my spirits. It may have been slow, but it was progress.
To be continued. Next post 9th August