Food For Thought

The single best trick to keeping a crew happy is food (and drink, of course, but that goes without saying). Which is why we started the day with a very tasty and filling breakfast.

The plan for the day was to traverse a series of river locks on the River Avon, before wending our way through to Bristol Floating Harbour.

After stowing away the breakfast things, we were under way. The sun came out and took the chill off the early Autumn morning.

We were joined on the river by several rowers, who heaved their oars and zoomed past us. One pair were so engrossed in their efforts that only a good, strong beeeep on the horn prevented them from crashing straight into us. In truth one of them seemed quite thankful for the chance to stop and catch his breath. At least that’s how I interpreted his grey, sweaty features anyway.

We made it to Kelston lock, having successfully avoided crushing any of the many rowers under our hull, but we did pick up a sizeable tree trunk that ended up staying behind in the lock. Apologies to those who came through after us and had to deal with it.

As we departed Swineford lock we managed to allow a small family of swans in, trapping them as we closed the gates.

It turns out the swans are far smarter than we are, as no sooner had the gates closed behind us, they opened again of their own accord and the swans could escape without any difficulty.

We, on the other hand had great difficulty escaping as the wind pinned poor Carol Ann to the pontoon just beyond the lock. It took some strong-arming with the pole and a good deal of throttle action to get us underway again.

There’s a seemingly new trend on this stretch of water – paddle boarding. You can’t go more than a few metres without coming across some poor soul wobbling about precariously on what appears to be an inflated ironing board.

At Hanham lock, the penultimate lock before entering Bristol Harbour waters you are politely asked to phone ahead and book in with the lock keeper at the final lock at Netham, as you can’t pass through it without their say so.

We tied up Carol Ann here, as there was a very convenient water point. So, Trevor prepped the lock, Elaine organised the water, the SSO and I scouted around for any security issues, and the Captain phoned ahead. Or tried to. There were four different numbers to try, and none of them resulted in talking to the lock keeper. The best we could manage was leaving a voicemail.

Despite the signs saying do not proceed without phoning ahead, we carried on. I mean, technically we had phoned ahead, it’s just that no one was listening.

By this time the crew’s happiness needed tending to again, and so a quick batch of nachos was called for.

The Captain prepared it all, and went to light the oven to warm it up, only to discover that the supply of gas wasn’t working. The same thing that happened yesterday.

After some trial and error it was discovered that the only way to keep the oven lit was to have the hob lit too! Not exactly how a gas oven is supposed to work, but it resulted in a superb batch of warm and tasty nachos, and a happy crew so we went with it.

Fortunately the Netham lock keeper phoned us back as we made our way onwards, and so we were given specific instructions on what to do when we got there, and were clear to proceed.

It was about an hour’s journey from Hanham lock to Netham Lock. There’s not much to report about this stretch other than more paddle boarders. There was a swimmer in the river too, she looked freezing cold!

Netham isn’t really a lock, it turned out. It’s really more of a barrier between the River Avon and Bristol Harbour. As we arrived all the gates were open and we could’ve just driven through. But that’s not how things are done here. We had our specific instructions to follow, after all.

We did as we were told and tied up on the right just after passing through the gates, where we had our chat with the lock keeper. He was a very friendly man who sent us on our way without any trouble.

Bristol Floating Harbour (so called because the height of the water is controlled and not affected by the tide) is a busy, thriving place and it wasn’t long before we were driving under interestingly shaped bridges full of city dwellers going about their day and passing by a lively beer festival.

Our end goal was to see the SS Great Britain, which we managed to do before turning around and heading back, we also saw the JST ship Lord Nelson sitting alongside the harbour wall.

We passed through Netham lock without stopping, and powered on down the River Avon.

We saw more swimmers (honestly I don’t know how they were avoiding hypothermia), more rowers, and yes… more paddle boarders.

We did see one pair of happy fools worth mentioning, who had spent a good part of the day rowing two inflatable dinghies (that looked as though they belonged on a swimming pool rather than a river). One of the dinghies had sprung a leak, but they seemed to be content enough with their liquid supplies and definitely not in need of our assistance.

The next crazy sight we came upon was a narrow boat pulling into Swineford lock, towing a purple and white craft. This purple and white “thing” (I’m reluctant to call it a boat, as it had more in common with a bathtub than anything else) had apparently sailed the Bristol Channel from Weston-super-Mare to Bristol before its engine packed up and required a tow.

Being good citizens we pulled up behind them at the lock, hopped off Carol Ann, and gave them a hand operating the lock.

The driver of the purple-white bathtub being towed was sat on the roof of his boat.

As Elaine and I started working the lock, the driver of the narrow boat (the one doing the towing) realised we were hire boaters and decided to criticise us, in that jokey way that isn’t funny at all.

“Do you drive by Braille?” For example.

We had the last laugh though, as no sooner had this odd set up driven out of the lock, when the expert driver / comedian proceeded to drag the purple-white bathtub and it’s owner (just about clinging to the roof) across the weir to the left of the lock, causing it to bump-bang-thump its way out, almost spilling the owner into the weir, and definitely causing more than a few beer bottles to go spilling overboard.

We moored up shortly after this (passing quietly through one more lock), and settled in for curry, chocolate cake, and chat.