Having gone to the effort of doing our short range radio operator’s training back in May, now was the time to put our skills into use. Unfortunately that meant that Eric had to spend several frustrating hours cobbling together the wiring and an aerial. Although we had asked for it to be fitted during the build, we were told that narrowboaters wouldn’t need such extravengances. It was one of the items we mistakenly compromised on knowing we could add it later. Braidbar boats were not designed to have items retro fitted. Luckily wiring is something that Eric understands and his temporary fixes still tick all the safety boxes and some. And oh boy, were we glad we made the effort. Not only were we able to contact the lock keepers easily to ascertain if we were able “pen down”. But we were also able to hear what other boats were doing and plan accordingly. And ok, all this isn’t essential for the Trent and we could have made our contact by mobile phone, but for us, having that reliability and extra source of information has made river cruising less stressful and more interesting. There’s a bit of a misconception that VHF radios are just for calling for help in an emergency, they’re not. They are an easy way to communicate, and once we’d got over our initial nervousness at following the protocols we quickly relaxed when we realised everyone spoke the same language, not everyone followed the prescribed protocols and most of all, no one minded.
River cruising is different to canal cruising. There are sandbanks and shallows lurking beneath the surface which mean the cruising channel can meander from bank to bank. The outer curve is usually deeper than the inner curve because of the natural erosion. The Boating Association publishes the Trent Cruising guides, an absolute must, for safe navigation. The cruising line is overlaid in red and useful information is highlighted. River locks are operated by lock keepers and known as pens. So we ask to “pen” up or down. These locks are huge, hold a whole marinas worth of boats. This was Stoke Lock and besides us on the left, there were 2 wide beams 2 cruisers and another 2 narrowboats.
Having sorted our radio out. Eric also had to connect an appropriate navigation light. Boats travelling on tidal waters, including tidal sections of rivers, boats need to be seen in all conditions to avoid collision. The COLREG rules state that for a boat our length means having a mast headlight visable for 3 nautical miles, red port and green starboard side lights and white stern light visable for 2 nautical miles. (Disclaimer, there are more regulations and criteria than I have listed here) The logic being that although we might not choose to travel at night, tide times might make it necessary to be on the water at dawn, dusk or in poor conditions. A lot of narrowboaters simply choose not to venture into this territory, we’ve decided to explore as much of the system as practical so we’ve done our best to rig up a temporary mast. One day it will be sturdier and taller, but as we know we’re only going to be doing the very first section of tidal water between Cromwell and Torksey in very calm conditions it will surfice for now. Added to which, the river has so many bends chances are we can’t be seen in full daylight beyond half a mile so we’re happy.