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.
Oops apologies for being AWOL for a few weeks. But don’t worry I didn’t sneakily take Firecrest joyriding down the rapids and we haven’t sunk like John thought; just busy enjoying ourselves. So I’m going to skip through the past few weeks with just a few photos until I’ve caught up with myself. We’ve been travelling downstream from Nottingham to Newark.This rather non descript side arm besides the Nottingham EA building is actually the lock entrance onto the Grantham canal. At this point it doesn’t go beyond the the length of the lock, but work is on going to restore the whole navigation. And if and when it does open we’ll certainly be back to explore. One of the drawbacks of big river cruising is the lack of pedestrian bridges, this is Radcliffe rail bridge, with 4 cruisers hurtling towards us. We’ve come to the conclusion that cruisers generally hunt in packs and their challenge is to get from one lock to the next as quickly as possible. Pootling, obviously isn’t in their vocabulary. Having said that, it isn’t a criticism, because if we had lived beside the Trent we might have had a cruiser, a narrowboat is not the obvious or most appropriate form of river transport, just as we don’t think cruisers are the ideal for canal cruising. We’re finding the scenery along the river quite different to the canals, beach life is the thing.And in some sections, desert life seems the current norm. River levels are low but at least cruising hasn’t been restricted because of lack of rain, like some sections of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Actually despite us hitting 30 degrees some days, we’ve had the benefit of a few heavy downpours and quite a few cloudy days. On the whole though, the weather has been fantastic cruising weather.
Time to move on from Nottingham and make our way downstream towards Newark . The plan was to lock hop-or as I kept saying “we’re hop locking” mainly because we’re true codiwomplers and we like to travel slowly. Until, that is, we arrived at our first lock and I saw this little off shoot from the river… Holme Pierrepoint which is where the National Water Sports centre is and I saw the white water rapid run…oh boy did I want to have a go, but Eric insisted that Firecrest was too long to take the turns and twists. Can’t think why. So while he stayed on our mooring, polishing the brass, I went to find out how I could get my adrenaline rush. Frustratingly the event they suggested would be suitable for me, a complete novice, wasn’t available until the weekend and I knew we’d have moved on by then. So I kept my dignity intact and just enjoyed watching others risking life and limb. The whole site has several activities on offer, a proper mile long rowing lake, an adventure lake/river and the rapids, plus some land based activities, high wires, climbing walls and obstacle courses. I could easily have spent another day here watching it all. Eric has promised we can come back one weekend. But is still insistent that Firecrest won’t be joining me.
Victoria Embankment is a great place for people watching and an even better place for boat watching. Although I think Roger the anchor man had been at it a bit too long and had forgotten to come down for his dinner. There were the large. Several huge floating gin palaces came past, full of happy people, the later the hour, the noisier and flashier the lights, but they were travelling sedately so didn’t cause firecrest to rock, so not a nuisance at all.Not like these maniacs on their hover speedboat. They were ‘playing’ with a jet skier, racing round like Vettel drawing donuts. Don’t get me wrong speed can be great fun, but they weren’t wearing life jackets and the consequences didn’t bear thinking about if they had crashed into each other. And they created a huge wash. There were a lot of rowers or skullers, I’m never sure how to tell the difference. Some were obviously in training with coxes with microphones and coaches on bikes racing along side on the bank.Some like the Dragon boats looked ready to take on the speed boat.Some just prefered to sit with a fishing rod watching the world go by. These girls had brought their picnic so stopped paddling for a bit to eat.I chose to wander into town, West Bridgford is the rather attractive town separated from Nottingham by the river. About 5 minutes walk from our mooring, I found the thriving buzzing high street. Lots of rather nice street cafes, not that we could afford to ‘take lunch’ in them. And itC turns out to be where one of our best friends was born, and his parents had married at the parish church, St Giles.I went to the Sunday morning service and received a warm welcome, Bridgford is lucky to have such a lively thriving parish church. Definitely one I’ll return to. While we were moored here, our friends Ian Joy and Kate joined us. Trad sterns aren’t the best place for 5 people to stand whilst cruising so we let the fellas do their stuff at the helm.
On leaving the Beeston Canal we were planning to turn north and head downstream but a couple of people had said Victoria Embankment was a nice place to moor. So we came through lock 1, and turned south to go upstream instead. There is about 2 miles of navigable river before we would have to turn around. Passing by the Nottingham Forest football ground, and under Trent Bridge itself. Now it’s a beautiful 3 arch stone and iron bridge, painted in blue and gold, built in 1868. The first was built in 970 but I couldn’t find any photos. The second built in 1156 had 20 stone arches and a chapel dedicated to St James. But they continued to be destroyed by flood. Here the river is now contained by concrete steps on either side, which not only greatly widens it’s flood volume, but makes Victoria Embankment a very attractive place for us to moor and a real asset for the local community. It was packed with people from the County Hall taking their lunch breaks.Sir Jesse Boot, founder of Boots chemists, had the memorial gardens built on this section but sadly they have suffered from lack of maintenance, so despite these impressive gates, the gardens were weedy, and the grand rockery was starting to fall apart. But the grounds are expansive and beyond the formal gardens are fields that double as a car park for the nearby sporting venues.You can conveniently cross over the river on a suspension footbridge known as Wilford Bridge. On Thursday we looked out to see hordes of people doing so because the most famous sporting venue here is the Trent Bridge cricket ground. And England were playing India. The atmosphere was party like all day so we couldn’t have guessed from the demeanour of the crowds going home who had won. We could hear the roars of the crowd cheering. I took a photo in the morning for a family who were obviously of Indian origins, so I asked who they were supporting- mum and dad instantly said India, the children England. India won. This was taken from Wilford Bridge. The flood lights and curved roof on the right are the the Trent Bridge cricket ground. The green roofs are the County Hall. Notts Forest FC is behind the scaffolding on the left. And that’s the bridge itself on the left. Firecrest is the 7th boat from the right. Perhaps the sunshine has helped but this has proved a very sociable mooring, one we will use again. Lots to explore.