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This is an account of a winter’s day boating on “Laplander” an 1870's canal ice breaker boat now fitted with a steam engine.
Recently I was delighted to be able to take up Sean's offer of a day on Laplander - the last time I was aboard I was confined to the engine 'ole, so THIS time I went without my overalls!
The run down from Derbyshire was broken briefly at Buckby Top Lock, where I pulled in for a moment to look at Top Lock Cottage < pedant> where the only genuine Buckby cans came from < /pedant> and where Shirley Ginger, the author of "Lock, Stock and Barrel" and "A Little More Boating" lived and had a shop. The shop is gone though the house is much the same (though the bit which was the shop is now "just another room" - I wonder if the hooks where the cans hung are still in the ceiling?). The garden and orchard are well-kept and the descriptions in the books came alive when I saw the real thing. Enough of that, there's boating to do!
When we had spoken at Draco's launch the day before, Sean's instructions had been quite specific. "Drive into the marina at Whilton, go down to the end of the promontory and I'll be moored at the end." Easy peasy - I arrived at the marina, drove down the promontory and then saw Laplander - moored on the OPPOSITE side of the cut! One very long reverse later, I got parked up and made my way down to where a gentle stirring of the water round the stern indicated that all was just about ready to cast off.
Before this, however, I was offered one of Sean's Winter Warmers - a mug of coffee with a substantial tot of rum - the hot water produced in seconds from a little steam-powered boiler in the galley. I hadn't even seen this on my last visit, as it hides coyly behind a pair of doors in the back cabin. Having got a good bit of this under the belt, we set of in Laplander's usual unfussy manner, though a toot on the whistle did wake up any laggards on or off the cut!
The boating, being lock-free, was relatively simple, apart from the bridges, which require a certain amount of co-ordination. The system generally worked like this: When I spotted a bridge, a swift blast on the Taiwanese Acme Thunderer clone summoned 'im in the engine 'ole - a warning call of "ears" from me was followed by a blast or two on the whistle if the bridge was a blind one, after which I deliberately let the whistle chain go, so Sean knew he could ascend to the cabin top to commune with the funnel, safe in the knowledge that his gonads would not get steamed - a distinct possibility otherwise. The funnel only got dropped just as much as required and then only at the last second, producing a mellow organ-type note as the engine's exhaust blew across the end of the funnel - the note varying as the funnel was lowered and raised. Sean is obsessive about trees, feeling that each one is about to topple his beloved funnel but I managed to stay away from most of them - I think I only hit trees twice, and then only very light twigs - not funnel-topplers!
I am not too sure what the fishermen thought - they hauled their poles in quite quickly when warned by a blast on't whistle! I was intrigued with the paraphrenia they had with them - most of them had proper seats (it appears sitting on the tackle box isn't done these days) and most had little plastic tables on legs alongside, with a multi-compartment tray with various types of bait neatly to hand in them. A cloth over the hedge behind them provided a smooth passage for the pole when pulled back, and a rack alongside enabled it to be neatly dismantled section by section and racked ready for reassembly. Catapults for shooting bait across the canal I have seen before - what I hadn't seen was the little cup on an extra "far end" pole section, which enabled a small quantity of bait to be very precisely laid on a spot. It must have been working as I saw quite a few fish being caught, though nothing of any great size.
Having not cruised this particular section before, I followed our route on what must be one of the grubbiest specimens of a "Nicholsons" in existence - hardly surprising seeing as it lives in the engine room! I was able to look down on Weedon church as we passed by on the embankment, and of course for the first mile or two kept close company with the M1 - I know I was in the better place! Another Winter Warmer helped keep the cold out though too many of theshe can shtop you from sheering straight!
The pasty went on the boiler between the funnel and main steam pipe about 40 minutes before we stopped at Stowe Hill for diesel and refreshment and a gleg through Millar Marine's chandlery. It was just warmed through nicely by the time we arrived. Filling up the tanks (both human and boat) (the former in the Narrow Boat Inn, with a roaring fire to dry out my slightly soggy jeans - my fault for wanting to sit on the cabin roof) took about an hour, following which the remainder of lunch was consumed on the move. The weather, of course, was glorious in comparison with that earlier in the week - sunny and quite clear but cold at times - Sean closed the engine 'ole doors on occasions so the spare heat from the boiler warmed the steerer rather than the ducks!
All good thing, unfortunately, come to an end, and so we arrived at Gayton, where the Peckett brothers (I TOLD you to do it THAT way!") assisted with mooring, chats (and further Winter Warmers) were consumed, and a grossly overloaded Cavalier transported us back to Whilton. When it went south, the Cavalier wasn't quite as well loaded as when it went north - Badger's old gas stove "it's going on the tip if you don't have it" is now residing in my garage, donated to Rumpus! Thanks to them for that, and to Sean for a very pleasant day's boating.