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  • Writer's pictureAlex Wild

A Treacherous and Prolonged Journey to London on the Kennet and Avon Canal Part 2

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

So our plastic boat was sinking in middle of the canal and the engine had ceased working. I told my boyfriend Wolverine that we should start screaming “help”. I was quite self conscious about screaming “help” so it sounded very stilted and British. A lady with a broken wrist came out of a house on the other side of the canal. With her good hand she managed to pull the boat in. Then a man came out the house and told her we couldn’t moor there.

“We’re not mooring, we’re sinking!” I said.

He told us we couldn’t sink there either.

I had to run round the other side of the canal and pull the boat over there. Wolverine bailed out water with a tiny pan while I ran about looking for help. I found some boat related business that let me use their phone to call the river canal rescue. Unlike normal emergency services the lady on the other end of the line spent about twenty minutes very slowly taking all my personal and financial details. While I was telling her my national insurance number, date of birth, amount of moles on my body, a man crafted us a bilge pump out of a bit of hose pipe.

After an hour of futile water bailing with two miniature pans, a young comedy duo from the river canal rescue turned up and found the massive gaping hole in our hull. They stuck a larger bilge pump in it and said if it hadn’t sunk by the morning it will likely need towing to a dry dock to be taken out and fixed. With my none existent insurance they said this would set me back thousands of pounds. When the RCR (River and Canal Rescue) people left I leaned against our sinking ship and cried. The sort of crying that involves lots of snot exploding out of your face.

We went to the local pub to kill ourselves with alcohol. I bought a bottle of red wine and got talking to a group of seasoned boaters in the corner of the pub. One of them was called Lenny and he said he’d take a look at our boat. Lenny had a thick brown beard and large sailors jumper and would not be out of place at the helm of some viking longboat crossing the North Atlantic at the turn of the last millennium. He shone a torch on our little plastic titanic and said he could probably fix it in the morning, and that we could stay on a wide-beam he was building for his daughter. We tried to buy him alcohol to thank him but he said he’d completely caned it at the weekend and was now just drinking pints of soda water and lime.

In the morning, Lenny put on waders and found the hole. Then he used weights and planks of wood to partially lever the boat out of the water. By the end of the day, Los Bravos was floating again and we were paying off a chunk of Lenny’s bar tab. We stayed at Honey street for a few days while the ice melted. At night, Lenny jammed with the guy behind the bar and told us about making crop circles with a biker gang. There were murals of crop circles, and stone circles, and the green man on the pub ceiling. One night they left a bed in the middle of the bar and we talked about the money making potential of turning "The Barge Inn" into the first sex club on the Kennet and Avon canal.

As we zoomed out of Honey Street we talked about making a shrine on the boat to Saint Lenny. Then we ran out of petrol about a mile down the canal. Wolverine had to run back to Honey street and jump in a van with Lenny and Co. back to Devizes. I remember that late afternoon, our engine burbling through the dusky landscape, getting tangled in the reeds either side of the canal. We spent that night moored in a frozen forest with the lights of trains occasionally flickering past. The next day we ventured around the nearby hamlets each with a Jerry-can to refuel Los Bravos. After that I recall a time of abundance. We bought crockery at charity shops in Pewsey and had tortellini and rocket salad by the light of about 10 candles. Then I checked my account online and realised I had about five pounds left.

We were penniless and frozen on a plastic boat held together with car filler administered to previous crash holes by an insane man named Keith. We had to start talking about leaving to recoup our dwindling finances. Then turning a corner toward “Great Bedwyn” on a shallow stretch of canal we saw a wide-beam barge coming toward us through a bridge. I tried to reverse and with a crack the engine stopped and wouldn’t start again. The wide-beam was actually completely stationary, and now so were we. Somehow we got to the bank, lifted the engine up and saw our mangled propeller. That night in a depressingly upper-middle-class bistro pub we had to agree that our mission was over for now.

I want to say we came back after Christmas with a new propeller and a battery and a toilet! Yeah, I didn’t mention the lack of toilet. But since then between very brief periods of activity the engine has broken down in a multitude of vexing and difficult to diagnose ways. Storms smashed up the already dilapidated canopy, algae and crud stuck to the outside. The interior began to resemble the wreck of the the Mary Rose on display in Portsmouth and me and Wolverine broke up. That was going to be the end of this blog. But then I took Wolverine to see the wreck of our former love boat, stuck in a 24 hour mooring in Newbury. After twiddling with various parts for an hour or so he yanked repeatedly at the pull start. The engine spluttered and then a mass of smoke billowed out and it stopped working. He did it a second time and more smoke spewed out, filling the inside of the boat and the surrounding area. But when the smoked cleared the engine was still running and the journey was back on.

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