My first sight of “my” boat, which has been moored up away from its normal berth for an engine service yesterday. As we need to get heavy bags aboard and diesel loaded, it is necessary for North Star to be moved. I suppose it is inevitabe that this first manouevre requires two awkward turns, a reverse through a tight gap, plenty of expensive GRP boats nearby and local marina residents watching from their deckchairs. "Simples," as that annoying little Russian meerkat says on the TV. Oh, and there's a strong westerly cross-wind. Surprisingly, thanks to heavily knitted brow and stern-faced concentration, I succeed with no bumps or scrapes, although I do forget to flick the throttle back from neutral initially. I lean over the tiller, a study in professional cool, the engine belting away increasingly but with absolutely no movement from the prop. Chris, the boat broker, nods at me from a jetty near the bow and asks "Throttle out of neutral?" Damn. And I looked so good.
Completion of the paperwork is straightforward and I cough up more than 750 quid for the annual British Waterways licence: North Star is 6" into the next band. We have dealt with some difficult brokers and sellers in the last year, but Chris and Matt of Nottingham Boat Sales have made the whole process so easy. I add my signature to a ream of papers in their office and scoot back to my boat. My boat. Hear that? Mine. Mein. Wode. My boat. The blue one. It’s mine, you know. Yes. My boat.
We load almost a hundred pounds's worth of diesel and then decide that we just have to get moving: that's what boats do. We start up the engine again and T heads up to the bow to help with the awkward marina entrance. The north-westerly wind again makes for awkward manouvering but we slide round with ease. A man on a bench opposite scowls at us: I think he sits waiting only for boats to run aground.
Our trip into Nottingham is very slow, barely outrunning the flotsam in the languid current. Ducklings sail past us. North Star swims well but the engine seems to be belch fumes easily. I wonder how she will work in the Trent. I consider heading out into the river at Meadows Lock but decide to turn instead at the Devil’s Elbow, a ninety-degree turn by Nottingham’s long-disappeared Grand Central Station. In the meantime, we approach Castle Lock where there is much action. A broad-shouldered swarthy man in a pink dress gesticulates wildly. D.H. Lawrence would surely have approved of the metrosexual behaviour of 21st Century Nottingham. A waiting boat slides into the lock, but as I follow I am just too slow with the throttle, though, and we slide towards the overflow weir at the head of the lock, where we stick. The back of the other boat just yards ahead prevents the tried and tested ‘full ahead thrust’ solution. A rope is thrown to the kindly man in pink and he, and another bystander, try to pull us off the suction. It is all to no avail and I suggest that the boat goes ahead down the lock while I am left to reverse off in shame. I apologise profusely for keeping them all waiting, but they depart in good humour. “It happens to all of us,” they say. It is a refrain I am to hear repeatedly over the next week.
We pass through Castle Lock at the second attempt, pass the fine old British Waterways building and a collection of old warehouses opposite the courts, and head down to the sharp bend to turn. This time I get it perfect and spin the boat effortlessly and return to the city basin. Here we moor up by the slender brick bridge, and celebrate our first outing with a pint, basking in the sunshine and in the reflected glow of being a boat-owner at long, long, long last.
2.0 miles, 2 locks
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