Another goregous morning at Antons Gowt and the Witham looked all sparkly and inviting towards Boston. However, for myself, I chose the harder task of running the path between AG & Boston. (Ran a Personal Best of 3km in 30mins and 12 seconds, however I digress) When I arrived at Boston, Harebell was already moored and being topped up with water, so all I had to do was shower, change and enjoy a post run, boating breakfast of bacon & egg baps. There were 3 other narrowboats on the pontoons and we were informed that they were the others who were doing the tidal section with us; 2 old working boats, Lacerta and Petrel and another boat- NB Bancroft- all cruising together. It wasn’t long before the people from the boat arrived back from a visit to Boston Market and a pleasant morning was passed chatting over cups of tea & coffee and having a good clean up inside the boat.
We were booked to go through the locks just after 1pm, so we tootled of to the lock at about 12.45. The other 3 boats were already there as they had gone ahead to empty elsans etc. There was great anticipation and much discussion between us all over the next few hours as we waited, talked, discussed and swapped stories.
The lock keeper informed us that the lights would turn to red and green, at which point we were to untie an be ready and then proceed through the lock on double green. The tidal Haven (the section of river that runs through Boston below the lock and out to the wash) has a high tide height greater than the height of the Witham, so there is a very small window when both gates could feasibly be opened for boats to cruise through. The lock itself is very small and although it can be operated in the traditional way, it can only accept boats shorter than 40 ft in length. It never occurred to us that, during the 2 hours we were waiting for passage, we could have been locked through at any time. However we were happy with the camaraderie with the other boaters and felt safer all together. All in all, we were waiting 2 hours for passage and the longer we waited, the more anxious we seemed to get!
However, as if to laugh at the slow 2 hours we’d spent tied up, the next 20 minutes passed in a blur, as the lights changed from red to red and green- We were on!! The working boat next to us couldn’t get their engine started and we spent a desperate 30 seconds offering what assistance we could, but we had to go, there was no time to hang around. Barely had our ropes been untied and we were sorting our boating positions out then the gates opened and the lights went to double green…..It was like the starting block of the Grand Prix, but slower!! We just went!! The Boston Belle trip boat had been hovering on the Haven and as we’d been given priority, passed her just outside the Grand Sluice. Her passengers we excited to see us and much photo-taking ensued. Within seconds, we’d passed the Belle and a I glance back and she was though the “bottom” gate and they were closing behind her…….we were on our own, just us, 2 other boats and the rapidly receding tidal Haven down to the Black Sluice Lock.
Barreling through Boston was a fabulous experience as people on the bridges stopped on their journey to wave as we went under; even with the amount of time I’d spent in Boston, it was still thrilling to be whizzing past on the river and great to be the centre of attention, even if it was only for a few minutes.
We’d read that the Black Sluice lock was only big enough for 2 boats and that there was a pontoon outside for the waiting boats, so we pulled in there; The outgoing tide was strong, Harebell didn’t pull into the side as easily as she normally does, in fact Marcus was having a bit of a tussle- the next thing I knew was that he’d leapt back on board and and was throttling away harder and faster than I’d ever known him to before- The tide was leaving us high & dry on the sandbanks and we were in danger of getting stranded at a funny angle for 24 hours and rising/falling with a night time tide- An experience neither of us wanted, so I was glad of his swift action.
The lock keeper came and instructed us to wait just in front of gates and he would lock us through ASAP. We were glad to be in deeper water, but anxious about the strength of the tidal water and making sure that we were not getting left on any mudflats whilst we waited. It seemed like we were there for hours, but in reality it was most probably 5 minutes tops, but eventually, the curved gates of the EA controlled lock opened up to let us into the safer waters of the drain.
Lots of weed meant it looked like were about to hit a patch of grass, but being the only boat in a double lock soon reminded us that we were on water as we bobbed about as the water dropped us down to the South Forty Foot Drain and a new waterway to explore. A quick stop at the EA office to pay our £8.50 for a 24 hour licence and a Nav Key for EA controlled gates at pontoons and we headed off, past Downtown, Tesco & B&Q and on to Hubberts Bridge, places so familiar to us by car but as yet, unexplored by water.
We were not sure whether to moor at Hubberts Bridge or cruise on down to Swineshead Bridge, but Harebell had plans for us as the alternator broke from its housing- AGAIN!! Admittedly, it hasn’t happened for over a year and the engine and its mountings have worked hard over the last few weeks but heck!! We appreciate Harebell’s timing though, as we’d just passed the pontoons at Hubberts Bridge and we were off the tidal waters at least. We used the last 2 cable ties to secure the alternator whilst we gingerly reversed to the pontoons. Marcus was super confident of being able to drill and remove the sheared off bolt, but, in the best boating tradition, it was not to be as he drilled, tapped and hammered at the bolt, but it was not budging. He even go the the bolt extractor tool well and truly stuck; that’s when we knew we’d have to move on to plan B. Local knowledge played a great part in Harebell’s “get out of this one” challenge- There was a steam festival taking place 1/2 mile away and there would be plenty of tool stalls selling cable ties. As it was, on the way, I diverted to a plumbers house, explained our predicament and was given, yes, given, a bagful of sooper dooper cable ties. Back at the boat, Marcus secured the alternator with a mix of bolts and cable ties and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as a 10 minute test run of the engine showed the alternator to be held more securely with cable ties than it was with bolts.
An early start was required in the morning if we were going to finish exploring this drain AND be back back at Black Sluice by 1pm.