Before we begin I need you to know, despite how far fetched some of this will sound, it is all true. All of it. Even the bit about, well… read on to find out for yourself.
Talk about starting the day with a bang, at 01:30 Jerry needed to pop out and check the perimeters (as all good security dogs do). Unfortunately he got a little confused over just how far the perimeter of the boat was, and instead of doing his business opposite the deck, he took off like a bolt of black lightning along the canal towpath! In my half awake daze I hadn’t planned for this and so found myself barefoot and in my pyjamas sprinting after what is essentially the fastest dog in the world!
I’ve never been a great runner, and certainly not at speed, but I can tell you that I tore along after him for about half a mile, whisper-shouting for him to stop. It dawned on me that perhaps he couldn’t hear me so I bellowed “STOP!” Lo and behold he did exactly what I wanted. We hobbled the half mile back to the boat, my feet were quite sore.
Little did I know that this experience was a walk in the park compared to everything else the day was going to throw at us.
I should say right now that Jerry was beautifully behaved for the rest of the day. His late night antics were all my fault. And it won’t happen again.
The second morning walk with Jerry, the regular one this time at about 0630, was mercifully event free. Apart from a little dirt I managed to get on the deck, from the bottom of my shoes as I stepped onboard.
It was as I was cleaning up this mess that the next antic took place. The mop was bone dry, the bristles congealed into a solid mass. With no bucket onboard the only practical option I had (or felt I had) was to gently dip the mop into the canal water. Which I duly did. However, when I pulled the mop out of the water again what I had in my hands was one handle and zero mop heads. It was gone, lost forever.
That was already twice as much excitement as I wanted, and we hadn’t even had breakfast yet.
Talking of breakfast, Elaine supplied everyone with a seemingly endless amount of bacon rolls. These were all gratefully received and devoured in no time at all.
We ate on the move, making our way to a water station. At this station, one of the few anywhere near us, we moored up and waited our turn.
The gentleman in front of us (Mr Socks-and-Sandals) and his wife seemed to be struggling to workout how to fill a boat with water. For those not familiar with the process, it is this: take the hose from your boat, fix it onto the tap by the canal, turn on the tap, put the other end of the hose pipe into the hole on the boat marked “water”, and turn the water on. You just need to remember to pull out the hose when the tank is full. Job done.
For the Mr Socks-and-Sandals this proved too be much, so he took our hose and attempted to use it as his own. Which is just not how things are done. Still, being generous, and keen to get on, we loaned them our hose and Trevor talked then through what to do. It seemed to take a lifetime for them to finish. But finish they did, and so we floated to the top of the queue, and filled our boat.
The sun was already blisteringly hot, but we had a lot of water to pass under our hull, so we kept up a good pace. This lead us to getting told off by one of the local boat-types, who shouted “there is a speed limit! You should go no more than 4mph!” as we overtook her. We later calculated our speed (using a speedometer on our phone) and we were only going 3mph.
Eventually we arrived at Manchester. We passed by Old Trafford, home of Manchester United Football Club, we came close to the Manchester Ship Canal (but did not go on it), and then somehow found ourselves in the heart of the city.
There were hundreds of people lining the streets, there was some kind of marathon going on, and as we approached our first city lock we realised that we were going to have a bit of an audience.
What we hadn’t anticipated was just how many people were interested in us. Within minutes we were surrounded (it didn’t help that the lock was situated next to a busy pub),and if Elaine and I explained how locks work once, we explained it a thousand times. We ended up with people helping us open and close the gates, they just wanted to experience what it was like.
As we left this first lock the large crowd applauded. That’s never happened before.
There were eight locks to get through in the city, and each one came with it’s own distinct audience. We could judge when we were getting further away from the centre, as the type of people watching us changed dramatically.
We went surprisingly quickly from the large applauding crowd to homeless drug addicts and uncontrolled dogs.
Everyone wanted to talk to us, they were all amazed to see a canal boat, as though they’d never seen one before – and maybe they hadn’t.
I have to say, despite feeling distinctly unsafe for large parts of this section, everyone we encountered was ultimately friendly and talkative (apart from those who simply sat there, out of their minds).
When we picked up the boat, back at Anderton Marina, they gave us a special key for unlocking the locks. It was here in Manchester that we first encountered this anti-vandalism mechanism. It took Elaine and I a few moments to work out how to actually unlock them but we got there, and any worries about getting stuck in a lock were soon put to rest.
Until we actually did get stuck. Completely.
Somehow, and I’m not entirely sure how, at one of the locks where the way in was beneath a low bridge the boat managed to become wedged in the bridge itself. The tiller was stuck, the whole boat was unmovable.
After a few minutes of tension, and a lot of pushing the front end of the boat with a very dirty pole, we managed to free ourselves.
Thankfully by this stage the crowds of Mancunian onlookers had largely disappeared.
The tiller handle, which had been wedged against the bridge, snapped off and required a bit of emergency surgery from boat repairman Trevor.
After this escapade we were on our way, we’d made it through the centre of the city mostly unscathed and all we had to do now was pass through another 18 locks before mooring up for the night.
We got ourselves into a good routine, spurred on by very much not wanting to still be in Manchester overnight. I would scout ahead to the next lock, prepping it as required (unlocking all the gates, releasing water out of the lock if needed), whilst Elaine and / or Trevor and the Captain would work on the current lock. Jerry kept an eye on us all, to make sure we were doing it right.
Working this way sped things up, but it was still hours of effort. We only encountered one problem doing this, at one lock I forgot to close the sluices before moving on, which resulted in Trevor running aground in the lock. In my defence I was busy once again explaining how locks work to a local homeless person and very much trying not to get stabbed, mugged, or worse – so it’s no wonder I forgot what I was doing.
We finally managed to find a place to moor up just as the sun was setting, and somehow throughout all of this the Captain cooked us a roast dinner, ready to serve up exactly as we tied up the boat for the night.
The food was quickly consumed, and after a short discussion over where to go next, it was time for bed.
What a day.