The British Diaries

The 1920’s Boat Diaries: Part 1 “What have I done?”

What happens when you go from a 32ft boat to a 70ft narrowboat from the 1920's? Lizbef finds out...

My heart hammered beneath my ribs.

What was I doing? What was I doing? What was I-

Everything that my boatbuilder had taught me about Maggie had suddenly been stripped from my mind. My eyes picked up the odd figures standing on the docks, watching as Maggie was reversed slowly out of her mooring space by her bow and stern lines. My friends, Maddy and Steve, brought her back, listening as I called out instructions on how I wanted her brought out.

But now it was time to push forwards, turn the tiller starboard, and I had forgotten everything.

Oh, God, Oh God, Oh God-

People were watching from their windows, as I attempted to log into my muscle memory and trust my hands with the gear stick and accelerator wheel.

I had to do this. I had to.

I found a heavy wave of stillness wash over me. Suddenly I was back on Papageno, attempting to navigate her through buoys and millionaire boats in the dark. If I didn’t do it, then no one would.

It was a feeling of being encased in steel. There was no way out. Only forwards. Only this overwhelming and suffocating obligation to see it through.

It never occurred to me to give up. Giving up and passing her over felt like the more terrifying option.

“Right, Liz,” my friend Maddy said as he jumped back on board, settling beside me at the tiller. “If you tell me what these things do, maybe I can help?”

I stared at the brass instruments before me. What was forwards, neutral and reverse?

How had I forgotten everything?

I stared at them. “I would,” I said, my voice far more chipper than it should be. “But I’ve completely forgotten.”

A pause hung in the air between us both.

“Ah, that could prove tricky…”

Delving deeper into the abyss of recollection and allowing my hands to take over, Maggie drifted further and further back towards the neighbours’ very expensive boats. An overwhelming sense of panic began to wrap around my throat. I needed to stabilise Maggie. Get her secured and safe.

“You’ve got this, Liz,” Maddy said next to me. “Easy does it.”

Swinging the tiller, and finding the pressure on the gear stick, I pulled until a burst of water came from the propellor.

Forwards.

At last.

Encouraged by this, my courage came trickling back, and I managed to slowly ease Maggie ahead until she finally turned her spine portside away from Mancetter Marina.

Relief bubbled inside me, echoing out in a frantic and half-mad laugh. After getting close enough to the towpath for Steve to jump off to head home, Maddy and I were faced with a boat moored at a bend.

Maggie is 70ft.

70 bloody feet of 23ton steel and no longer had enough space to turn. Sending Maddy to the “pointy end” as prevention, Maggie got away with her nose merely giving the other boat’s fender a kiss and then turned away.

I’m going to have a heart attack, I thought. I’m going to have a fucking heart attack.

Another bend came ahead and Maggie eventually stopped moving.

She was stuck. Hard and fast in the silt.

But the panic didn’t come. Just simple embarrassment this time. At least this sort of problem could be dealt with without the need to be hasty. Getting a barge pole, we shoved off the silt and headed straight towards our friend, Xavier’s boat, Oakwood. We had been planning on tackling the Atherstone Locks and then reward ourselves with a pint at the King’s Head.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I said to Maddy, laughing and half sobbing at the same time. I was so relieved still at not hitting anyone’s boat. The thought was making me feel sick that it could have been a possibility.

Everyone was right, a voice said in my head. Everyone was right. How can you do this? How can you do this? You can’t- you’re a silly girl. A silly girl who is way over her head.

Everyone was right.

“Oh, mate, don’t say that!” Maddy put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got this! Look- you already did it! You did it, Liz!”

How was I going to do all of those locks? I couldn’t do this- he was wrong- I had made a mistake-

Xavier had paused his boat ahead of us, and I glanced down at my phone to see 7 missed calls. “The pub is shutting in twenty minutes!” he called over. “May as well moor up here!”

Relief almost made me choke.

“Thank God,” I breathed, turning Maggie into the direction of the towpath. I needed to be still. I needed to rest. I needed to process everything that had just happened.

I was faced with another thing I had forgotten. As the boys jumped onto the towpath, secured Oakwood and then turned to Maggie, there were no mooring pins. I usually had them always prepared, but today it had fallen from my mind. I had been so preoccupied with leaving the marina and focusing on mooring at the mushrooms in Atherstone, I had forgotten to familiarise myself with where the pins were.

Yet another thing I had been lacking. Racing inside the boat, opening the lockers and cupboards, I eventually found them and a hammer and secured her with my friends.

Lifting the hammer and settling it back on board, I realised that a faint tremor had begun to vibrate through my fingers.

Shit. I had really scared myself.

Well- disappointed myself.

The heaviness of that feeling, of all the things I was lacking and the new supposed realisation that I was an idiot, careless and no way cut out for Maggie would have me clinging onto that spot on the towpath for the following two weeks. My confidence was crushed. My bravery nowhere to be seen.

I stayed inside that boat, panicking and giving myself a hard time about the things I had and hadn’t and should have done.

I went over and over them in my head, wondering how I was going to do this alone, whether I was brave enough and where would I even go?

Can I do this? Can I do this? Can I do this?

When we sat down together inside and had a glass of wine, I am slightly ashamed to say that I cried a little in front of my friends. Hearing my own voice speak out the sentences that others who had wanted me to fail had said, was painful.

Silly girl. What does she think she’s doing?

After much reassurance from Xav and Maddy, I settled back in my chair, the wine twirling around in my glass like the whirlpool I was feeling within. Dread of what lay before me in two weeks’ time crept along with my bloodstream, promising more change, promising more lessons to be learned.

It’s a lot, it’s a lot, it’s a lot, my mind kept humming.

But there was a small very quiet voice that made me grip my glass tighter.

I can do this.

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1 comment

  1. OMG, that’s everybody’s fears realized! You’re a great storyteller, and normal I’m afraid!

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