Saturday, March 05, 2016

Lights out

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.



22 comments:

  1. Hysterical! You are amazing, Val! What an incredible - and unforgettable! adventure! Going to share this. It's a riot! (And no one would have blamed you for starting a one-woman riot!)

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    1. Haha, Steph. It's always funnier in hindsight as well!

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    1. Shall we say it had potential...until it didn't, Mel :)

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  3. Oh dear, I was going to say no wonder he is your Ex-husband....but then I thought of a few similar incidents, albeit on land, involving my HB, and we are still married. Maybe it is just Men?? he he So glad you survived without mishap and it is not lost on me that you had the solution, Val.

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    1. Good one, Patricia. Actually it had nothing to do with him being an ex-husband. I have just as many good stories about Koos. These stories are actually good memories because they can be recalled with humour ;)

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  4. I've got an ex-husband as well. Mine was not nearly as entertaining as yours sounds, but presumably you are only telling us the funny bits! Loved the post!

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    1. You are right, Stephanie. He was a very entertaining individual - probably still is!

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  5. Ah, ex-husbands. They always come with great stories. I'm impressed that you managed to forgive yours. (Mine cut a a slice from a Christmas cake I'd made - in November. It was a low point!)

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    1. Oh Jo....no wonder! That was truly unforgivable!! This situation was at least salvaged...

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  6. Great story Val - glad you survived to tell the tale ;)

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    1. Looking back is always more amusing, Jane. Time gives things a humorous gloss...and I've never said I don't like making a bit more of a story out of my experiences ;)

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  7. HA!!! I love this. I so envy you your watery ways!!

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    1. It's a lot of fun and nonsense mixed in with the hard work, TT xx

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  8. Hi Val - well that seems typical of a male .. and then to get you into that scrape .. I'd have wanted no more night cruises either!

    So glad you got out of it .. but yes we were sailing in Falmouth harbour .. tiny sail boat - going towards a huge Ministry of Defence ship ... not funny at all - my mother managed to sail us out of it .. just - but the aircraft carrier was rising and falling on its moorings quite heavily ... I was not a happy bunny - and really didn't like sailing from there on in ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Oooh, Hilary, I can well imagine that! Funnily enough, it didn't put me off, but I do treat the river with care and take it very seriously!

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  9. Would never have thought of using a broom! Not surprised he is an ex dear xxx

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  10. I still cannot figure out how to sign up to subscribe to your blog - must be being very thick!

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    1. Click on the "Join this site" button on the right of the page :-)

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  11. What a fabulous story! Just shows how resourceful us women can be when needed! Loved reading this xxx

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    1. Thanks Fran and Tonia! I've just seen these. Your comments make me smile!

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  12. Men and motors, eh? I'd rather be able to do without one!

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