Warning. This blog post is not our usual jolly jaunt along the waterways. It’s about two days when it all went wrong. It did all turn out alright in the end, but there was a point when we really thought it wouldn’t.
Make yourself a cup of tea, take a seat and read on….
On Thursday we pulled the pins on our lovely mooring on the Cranfleet Cut, said goodbye to the moorhens and the swans and headed for the lock. We watered up while we waited for Matilda Blue to join us…
...then at around 10:30 we dropped the boats down the lock and out onto the river.
Even though the water gauge was well into the green there was still quite a bit of flow and we made really good time going downstream towards Beeston.
At about 11:00 and about a mile before Beeston we came to Barton Island. Here the river goes round a left hand bend and there is a sign telling you to keep to the left of the Island.
Half way round the bend we met two boats coming upstream. Matilda moved to the right to pass them and so did we, but in doing so Legend was caught by the stream going round the other side of the island. Dave did his best with full power and the tiller hard over, but it was too late, we were pulled sideways and the front left corner of the boat rode up on a submerged obstruction, which brought us to a sudden stop. The flow of the river then spun the back of the boat round 180˚ anti-clockwise, pivoting on whatever it was we’d hit, so that we ended up leaning over quite alarmingly and pointing back upstream.
The two boats that had been coming towards us tried to help. Ray on NB Rossaline threw us a line, which Ann-Marie caught at the front and looped round the T post. He then tried pulling us in different directions, but all that happened was that he got swept onto the same obstruction and ended up grounded 50 yards downstream.
So by the time Bob had managed to find somewhere to turn Matilda and had ploughed his way back up to the bend, there were three boats stuck. We phoned Mandy and told them what was happening, and managed to persuad them to not even try getting involved, but to carry on down to Beeston.
No amount of revs and tiller pushing on our part made the slightest difference; we just pivoted a few degrees either way, so we gave up and turned the engine off. While Ann-Marie got on the phone to the emergency services, Dave had a quick assessment of the situation.
The lean was about 25 degrees to port, which had put the big air vent for the engine very close to the water.
For now it still had an inch or two of freeboard but the river levels had been going down over the last few days and any further drop could increase our lean and tip us further over. We tried to think of ways to cover it up, but it was completely inaccessible from the inside, and the angle of the lean meant that we couldn’t get to it from the outside either.
CRT’s emergency number went straight to a voicemail message telling us to phone 999 in an emergency, which is what Ann-Marie did and explained our situation. The fire service were mobilised, after a while we could hear sirens in the distance, and eventually a small RIB and three fire fighters arrived.
Obviously they weren’t going to be able to pull us off whatever it was – at that point we were assuming it was a broken post - but they were able to make sure we were in good health and not in danger. They offered to take us ashore, but we said we’d rather remain with the boat and assured them that if our situation deteriorated, we’d be back in touch straight away.
As far as getting Legend rescued was concerned, the fire service had been in contact with the Canal and River Trust on our behalf and informed us that CRT doesn’t rescue boats, so it was down to us to arrange recovery. Fortunately we have fully comprehensive insurance with GJW which covers this sort of event, so we phoned River Canal Rescue (the waterways version of the AA) and explained what had happened. They said they’d come out to us as soon as possible, but warned us that it could take a while as their recovery teams were all busy.
We were in VHF radio contact with the other two boats, so we were able to keep them up to speed; however both of them only had third party insurance so they were going to have to foot whatever bill was forthcoming for their part of the recovery. As NB Rossaline had beached on the obstruction and not spun, Ray, (who was rather keen to not have to face such a bill) reckoned that a good tug from behind would be enough to pull it back into the stream. Between them, he and Kiki devised a plan to get his Range Rover with a winch on it to the water’s edge, then for Kiki to fire an arrow attached to fishing line from Twilight II to the shore. He could use that to pull a thicker line, and then a rope, and then winch his boat backwards off the obstruction. It all sounded like a Marvel Comic script to us, but it was an idea, which was more than we’d managed. The only flaw was that he’d first have to get to shore. We suggested that as he had two dogs on board and it didn’t look like RCR were going to turn up for several hours, he had a very good case for phoning the fire service back and asking them to take him and his dogs ashore for humanitarian reasons.
By the time the fire service came back we’d heard from RCR that they weren’t going to be able to get to us till the following morning, so we were going to have to spend the night on board with the boat heeled over and the river rushing round us. We'd been regularly checking our our bilges and found some water had collected; further investigation revealed that the bilge pump outlet was now just below the water line. It really should have a non-return valve in the pipe, but a pair of mole grips and a bit of rag squeezing the pipe served to stop water coming in there, but of course that meant that the bilge pump couldn't opperate automatically. The firemen asked us if we were still ok, and we told them we were getting quite worried as the water level was continuing to drop, and we were leaning more, bringing our big vent closer to the water.
They had a look at the problem, then left one of their crew having a coffee with us while they took Ray and his dogs to Beeston. When they came back they were armed with a foot wide roll of Sellotape and a big roll of Black Nasty Gaffa tape which, from the RIB, they employed to put a temporary seal over the vent from the outside.
They again offered to take us ashore; we declined, but we got them to take our anchor out into the river and drop it just in case we slid sideways off whatever it was during the night. They gave us advice on defensive swimming in case it got to the point where we had to get off in a hurry, and they also advised us to pack a couple of grab bags with essential stuff like passports, crucial paperwork and irreplaceable photos, along with two days’ worth of clothes. Before they left they gave us the Duty Fire Chief’s mobile number with strict instructions to phone him immediately if the situation got worse overnight. Now fully aware of how serious our situation was, and trying to keep the panic at bay we tried to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and prepare for a rough night. Ann-Marie somehow managed to heat up some bolognaise and we had dinner off our laps with our feet braced against the boxes, trying to stop the sofa sliding across the boat.
A couple of hours later NB Serendipity, a powerful 60’ narrowboat, came ploughing up the river with 4 people on board, one of whom was Ray. He’d managed to find someone from Beeston Marina with a big engine willing to come and try to pull his boat off. With the help of a passing paddle-boarder, they got a rope onto Rossaline’s stern and began pulling. Going upstream didn’t work, but when they tried downstream it twisted round and, amid cheers all round, gradually broke free. As they pulled the two boats together, Ray climbed back on board, started the engine, and off they went. It wasn’t without cost though; as it slewed from side to side, the rope had flipped Ray’s auxiliary outboard into the river, never to be seen again. Serendipity's crew offered to try with us, but we felt that because of the lean and how much of our boat was out of the water that – quite rightly as it turned out - no amount of pulling was going to make any difference.
Ray said he’d be back later to check on Kiki who had refused help as well; like us she was now further out of the water and wanted to leave it to the professionals. Twilight II was 30 years old and she was concerned that there was a real chance of damaging the wooden hull.
Once he’d checked on his dogs, Ray came back up the river and hovered in the stream for a while to give us a bit of moral support. He told us that what we were stuck on was a Roman Wall and that everyone he’d talked to at Beeston had a tale to tell about some mishap or other to do with it. If you go to what3words and click on the globe icon to get the satelite image you can see it, or go to Google Earth
Happy that we were in good spirits he bid us goodnight and went back to Beeston.
Somehow we did manage to get some sleep. We put two piles of books under the low side of the bed base to level it up a bit and Dave was up every couple of hours checking the bilges and the freeboard under the vent. Nothing had changed very much by Friday morning, no more water had got in, and by the time Baz, Pete and Andy, our three-man RCR rescue team came round the bend in their high powered RIB we were breakfasted and ready.
After recovering our anchor, they put a rope from our front T post to their very substantial towing arch, fired up Legend’s engine and gave it everything they had.
Once again we pivoted a bit either way, but didn’t budge an inch. They tried pulling from the back, and levering with a big scafolding pole, but to no avail.
The next step was to tie a Turfer winch to a tree and pull us sideways. Setting that up would take a while, and our poor wee engine needed to cool down a bit, so they went to see if they could free Twilight II first. One of them got into the water and found he could walk all around the boat.
It looked to be grounded on a shoal rather than the rocky lump of wall that we were on. They tied a strap to the stern, and began pulling with the rib while rocking the boat.
Kiki was able to fire it up and set off down the river with Ray, who’d come back to help if he could.
So that just left us. After a well-earned tea break, the winch was tied to a big willow tree on the west bank...
...and the cable was extended to reach our front T post.
With the winch pulling sideways and the RIB holding us from the front we were all very confident that we’d soon be floating, but all that happened was that the winch just pulled us further and further over. Dave was on the back deck while it was going on; with every click of the winch he was getting more alarmed, certain that Legend was going to roll over. The vent was now halfway underwater and the only thing stopping the river coming into the back of the boat was the fire crew’s Black Nasty patch. They’d told Ann-Marie to stay inside in case the cable snapped, so she was sitting half on the floor and half on the side of a box when everything that hadn’t already slid now launched itself across the boat. The sofa, the chest of drawers, all the kitchen drawers, all the jam jars under the plinth, everything just went crashing to the floor on the other side. The noise was terrifying. When it got to about 45˚ they stopped, realizing that it wasn’t going to plan. Dave clambered down the gunwhale to the front to find Ann-Marie huddled on the floor sobbing and surrounded by debris. The crew asked if we wanted to get off and we said yes without hesitation. It was truly heart-breaking having to abandon our home, not knowing if it was going to survive, but we knew we couldn’t stay. The base plate on the right side was right out of the water and the left side was up to the gunwhale in fast flowing river. It was impossible to get through the boat, and we couldn’t get to the access points to see if it was taking on water. 24 hours after hitting the wall we handed over our grab bags and climbed into the rib. It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. With hindsight we should have taken a photograph, but at the time we could hardly bear to even look at it.
Leaving Andy with our boat, Baz & Pete took us down to Beeston then went back to get on with the job, no doubt a lot happier now that the panicking civilians weren’t getting in the way. We made our way down to where Matilda Blue was moored and slumped down in their deck chairs, thankful to be able to sit on something horizontal. Bob and Mandy offered us their dinette to sleep in that night, and we were quite prepared to take them up on it. We were resigning ourselves to thinking that it would be a while before we saw Legend again and that when we did, it would probably be half full of river and uninhabitable.
So 2 hours later, when Stephanie from RCR phoned to say that it was floating again and that the rescue team had brought it down to the lock, we could hardly believe it.
We raced up to the lock and there it was – floating, level and tied to the pontoon. We thanked Baz Pete and Andy profusely; apparently they’d called up another crew and another winch, half emptied our water tank to lighten it a bit, and then using both winches had pulled it off backwards before towing it through a gap in the wall. We think this must have been the gap that our back end went through when we spun round; they’d found it with the help of a two canoeists who’d depth sounded it for them. On the way down the river they’d stood all our plant pots up and had even had a stab at tidying up inside, bless them.
With Bob and Mandy working the lock we dropped down onto the Beeston Canal...
...went to moor in front of Matilda...
...then spent the rest of the afternoon putting our little home back together and checking for damage. Despite sounding like a bottle bank on Boxing Day while we were being winched over, we sustained surprisingly little damage to the boat’s contents. By some miracle all the plants were still on the roof and we still had our big box and solar panels. Dave had taken the precaution of strapping the gang planks to the top of the cratch, otherwise they would have probably taken a dive.
Structurally we weren’t so sure. There was about 2 inches of rusty coloured water in the bilge under the wardrobe; our lowest point. Dave mopped out half a bucket full, but two hours later there was another half bucket. We phoned RCR for advice more than anything, we thought it was possible that with that much of a lean, water could have come in any number of places; front vents, doors, anywhere; we just wanted to know how long was a reasonable time for it to all percolate to the lowest point. The advice we got was that as it had been perched on one point for so long it would be prudent to get it lifted out and have a surveyor give it the once over. Stephanie booked us into Redhill Marina on the River Soar on the Monday morning. Over the weekend the water did in fact stop collecting and begin to dry up, so we were fairly sure that we hadn’t cracked a weld or anything, but we kept our appointment at Redhill anyway. Of course, as Redhill was just round the corner from Trent Junction, that meant going back past the scene of the crime. We looked at it like getting back on the horse; a bit traumatic, but it would give us some closure. Up at Redhill on Monday morning, Graham, the manager, had us out on the big 70 tonne gantry in no time...
He said it could take weeks before the cabin bilge dried out completely. Graham put Legend back in and we went back to the junction for another ‘last night’ on the pontoon...
...before heading back downstream to do the whole journey again.
Going past The Wall and the Island was a bit bum-clenching, but nothing untoward happened.
Legend performed flawlessly and we gently chugged our way past. It was hard to believe what a mess we’d been in the last time, and how quickly it had all gone wrong.
This has been the worst thing that has happened to us in our boating life. We never want to go through anything like that again, but even while it was happening, even when we thought it might all be over, the phrase we kept coming back to was “As long as we’ve got each other we’ll be ok.” We found all the messages of support and offers of help from our friends really moving and it confirmed what we’ve always known; it’s the people in your life that really matter. Legend is our home, we love it to bits and we would have been devastated if it had all ended, but at the end of the day it’s just a thing with some stuff in it. We still have our family, we still have our friends and we still have each other. That’s what's really important. Life goes on.