Shackleton of the Macc

All began splendidly on Friday morning – I went to collect my lovely boat after her stay with painting genius Andy Russell. I traipsed up to Poynton with trusty crew member John, and there she was moored right in front of us as we emerged on to the canal side – her new name TINKER emblazoned right across the side. She looks fantastic, a completely different boat. 

Then the fun began. Being observant types, we had noticed already that the canal was frozen over. Towering icebergs, penguins etc…. we didn’t see any polar bears but they were surely lurking in the undergrowth around Bollington. But it was a sunny day, and I so wanted to get home after a fortnight of staying with friends. Being used to soft Midland canals which seldom freeze solid for long, I blithely assumed that it would thaw out as we went along. Did it bugger. We had at least 1.5 inch-thick ice all the way. A three hour journey took us four and a half. It was really unnerving – I knew the hull could stand it, but as sheets of ice came flying up at the bow and thick blocks of it skittered away across the surface, the noise was incredible. Tinker was only just making way under full steam. As my home berth finally appeared, something gave way and clouds of steam and smoke emerged from the engine room. All my lovely neighbours at the marina suddenly emerged and started risking life and limb to break up the ice on my mooring, and I slid in with vast relief.

Everyone was congratulating me on the new paint job when (being observant still) I observed that water was pouring in to the boat at the back – this one was a sinker! I cursed myself for being so stubborn as to move the boat through all that ice. What had I done? Quickly we established that the weed hatch had somehow wiggled itself loose as I crushed my way through the last few vicious icebergs. The weed hatch, non-boaters, is a thing which must never ever be undone while the engine is running, as it can sink your boat in ten minutes.  I blanched as I realised a) how close the boat had come to sinking in the last stretch and b) how lucky I was it hadn’t worked loose at any earlier point in the journey – we would have been knee-deep in ice water with no way of reaching the bank, and my lovely new paint job would be meaningless if the whole boat had to be raised, drained and re-fitted!

Poor John had to cadge a lift back to his car at Poynton as we tightened the hatch, and a vital pump chose this moment to break down. My fantastic neighbours gathered round, a tiny bottle of champagne was opened and shared, and I stopped shaking quite so violently. Next time it’s iced over I will say ‘sod it, let’s go to the pub’.

I move around a lot in my normal work, but two weeks away is a bit too much. It was so lovely to settle in to the boat with the fire lit, familiar smells, my books to hand and my own kitchen available. The marina is all decked up for Christmas – my neighbours have fitted their boat out with flashing reindeer and tinsel on the roof, and we have a ten-foot high inflatable Santa outside the shop. I called in to Bakewell Farmers’ Market yesterday and bought my last few presents – some lovely lavender cakes, bulbs in bowls etc – and when I saw a Salvation Army man walking past with a tuba, at last I believed it was Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you all – may it bring fantastic relaxing times, great presents and a chance to rest for a while amongst your friends and family. See you next year….

Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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