While reminiscing on my sloshy past, and reminded by my story of my run-in with the water police, I was musing on the adventures I had in the harbour before I moved into my single-woman watery life. These were events that happened in that sort of trial period I spent on the barge my ex-husband and I bought before I went back to South Africa.
I should mention at this stage that said husband, who I shall refer to as Bill for convenience, was very suited to the life of an eccentric barge owner. Just one symptom of this was that he had a passion for old Seagull outboard motors, loving their clean aluminium casings and fine-crafted design. In the boat's small workshop he had several of them undergoing various stages of dismantling and repair. Each one was lovingly nursed back to health before being despatched to a new home, hand-picked for the owner's ability to demonstrate proper respect for a vintage outboard engine.
|A duck's eye view of a relatively small barge|
At that time, we also had a small rowing dinghy and Bill used to test the success of his repairs by putting his nurselings on it and going for a turn around the harbour - or at least trying to. While his outward trip would invariably start off Seagull motor-driven, as often as not his return would be oar-driven with him providing the power. He was nothing if not tenacious though and always convinced of ultimate triumph even though this often seemed to be a long time coming. So when one night he suggested we test out his latest rescue job on a moonlight cruise on the river, I was understandably hesitant.
All the same, Bill was very persuasive and somewhere around 11pm, I found myself climbing into the rowing boat and taking up position. It was pitch dark with only the lights from the surrounding office blocks to show us where we were going as we puttered through the harbour and out towards the river. Not a hint of a moon in sight.
"Shouldn't we have a light?" I asked Bill.
"Hmm, yes, I've got a torch," he replied.
I wondered whether the river police would think that was quite the same thing.
"And the oars are here, aren't they?"
"No, I left them on board. It'll be fine. This motor's perfect!"
No sooner had the words left his mouth and we had left the harbour than the engine popped twice, puffed a plume of smoke, and died.
There we were, out on the Maas in the middle of the night in a rowing boat with no oars, no proper light and no engine. Yes.
|Daytime view of the way out of the harbour|
Now bearing in mind this river is the main arterial route between the Port of Rotterdam and the German hinterland, the skippers of the huge container barges that plough its course do not stop for tea at six o'clock; nor do they settle down for an early night in front of the telly. They keep on going all night long (and I mean all night long!). As a result I didn't find the situation particularly amusing. The idea of seeing the bows of one of these monsters bearing down on us was just very slightly worrying.
"Er, Bill, what are we going to do?" I tried to sound calm, but it came out as a sort of strangled squeak.
"'Don't panic, Mr Mainwering'!" This was his answer to everything (anyone remember Dad's Army?). "I'm sure I can get it started again."
"Yeah, but what if you can't?" My 'what-if' syndrome has been around a long time, probably nurtured by this kind of incident.
"Just don't worry! You'll only make it worse!" was his waspish reply.
I couldn't imagine how I could make anything worse than it was.
"Hold the torch for me, will you?" he snapped.
And so I pointed a quivering torch in his direction while he tried in vain to pull-start the motor. At least, I thought, anything heading our way would see the torch light wavering madly on the water - I hoped so anyway. If it just slowed them down sufficiently to give us time to leap overboard, we might live long enough to swim to relative safety.
But after some further yanking, encouraging and then cursing, Bill realised nothing was going to convince the motor to cough into life, which was my cue to forget his strictures and to panic without reserve.
Luckily hysteria sometimes has the odd effect of making me resourceful. There was a broom lying in the bottom of the boat. I whipped it up and plunged it in the water 'rowing' for all I was worth (it's amazing how strong fear can make you, isn't it?). To Bill's surprise, it actually worked and we began heading back towards the harbour entrance, albeit at the angle of a directionally challenged crab. To compensate, Bill had the idea of removing the plank he was using as a seat; he began paddling with it on the other side. To my immense and almost pathetic relief, it wasn't long before we were safely under the bridge again.
|Another 'brooming' trip with daughter, Mo|
We used the wall to push ourselves through it and once on the other side, we were able to 'broom' the boat back into the harbour. By this time, my Herculean strength had collapsed like a pricked balloon, and I was completely exhausted. We made for the nearest jetty, tied the boat to it and staggered the rest of the way home.
Bill wanted to bring his ailing baby with him and for once I made no offer to help. Well, after what he'd just put me through, you can't blame me, can you?
And that was it. I don't remember now, but I expect it took me a few days to forgive him. What I do know is that he never suggested a moonlight cruise again.