Part 30

I had remained vaguely hopeful about Alan Pratts ability to collect Misterton before the end of the summer holiday and bring her round the coast, but as the start of term loomed nearer this was looking as likely as picking six winning numbers on the lottery. My opportunity to crew aboard the trip was slipping away as the weather stubbornly refused to abate. I felt as though my adventure of the summer was over before it began, although the surprise weekend in Venice including a motor boat water taxi to the hotel in the style of a James Bond movie had more than compensated, bringing our home home was an adventure I was slowly thinking would never happen. I had begun to resign myself to another winter of driving up and down to Goole as the weather was beyond the control of anyone.

Finally one day my phone went and it was Simon, ‘they’re going to get her on Thursday, the weather is reasonable and forecast good so they’re off.’

I had mixed emotions, relief at the thought of weekends where we didn’t have to drive 400 miles on a round trip but sadness as Thursday meant no chance of coming with Misterton round the coast, a trip I suspected we would not do too many times in our lifetime.

Later that evening Simon explained they would get up to Goole Friday, then tie the boat to a tug and bring her down by the end of Saturday. He had asked Alan to keep Misterton in Rochester till the following weekend and the plan was for us to collect Misterton Saturday morning and come up the Thames with her. That seemed a good compromise.

Originally we had planned to bring her up under her own steam but Alan Pratt had a very valid opinion on that. He explained that she has a lack of ballast and is not gripping the water well and the trip could be tricky. He also explained all the equipment we needed and lacked, the boat identification system, the ability to use a VHF radio, a qualification we had yet to achieve, as well as other technical details that still escape me. All points taken on board we realised we were not in a position to do a solo trip up the Thames, and if we ignored his advice and attempted too we were imitating Kamikaze pilots, not an approach either of us prefered.

Luckily for us Alan had a job bringing some boats back down the Thames and he was able to take us up the Thames on his way to collect them, which made the job a little cheaper, and he was happy for us to go along on the trip. I was excited we would be bringing our home home for the first time.

Simon put together a food parcel to bring with us as we worked out it was going to be a long day, and we decided to get a car to take us down early in the morning. We had loosely toyed with the idea of staying in a hotel overnight, but there were not any near to the dock that were overly appealing and the cost was slightly less taking a hire car. At 4 in the morning my alarm went off and we packed together our food, cameras, and warm clothing and off we set.

Just after 6 we arrived in Rochester and the car drove us down a small lane to the waters edge, once the driver had turned the headlights off it was pitch black, and not a sound was to be heard, worse than that no boat was to be seen.

The driver was quite interested in our boat tales, but he seemed slightly anxious. Simon offered him the fare, and he took it but then said he was reluctant to leave us in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight as he was concerned for our safety. I felt quite pleased that he was not going to drive off with the car that represented the only safety I could see at the moment, the drivers concern for our safety echoed in my imagination. The dark and cold feel by the edge of the estuary appeared to be the perfect setting for a murder to occur with the perpetrator able to slip away easily and no one around to hear our screams. Simon got on the phone.

‘He’s on his way,’ he said, ‘there should be a row boat coming to collect us so it’s fine.’

‘Are you sure?’ the driver asked.

‘No problem,’ said Simon, ‘we’ll be on our way soon.;

‘I have got another job waiting,’ said the driver, looking around unconvinced that we really were ok.

‘You get off,’ said Simon, ‘we’ll be fine he’s just around the corner.’

The driver shook our hands, wished us luck and drove off, as he went part of me could not help wishing I was in the car as well, as the cold, dark blanket wrapped around us and started to seep into our bones.’

There we stood in the black silence, and Simon gave me a reassuring cuddle, as the stillness seemed to stagnate around us it was suddenly broken by the headlights of a car. The passenger door opened and the familiar silhouette of Alan appeared, and I felt relieved, it was all going to be fine.

‘Where the bloody hell is the rowing boat,’ Alan boomed out in a loud voice. I felt startled, that was my question and now he was asking me? I thought it was his rowing boat we were getting in. It took a few seconds before I realised this question was not directed at me but out into the blackness across the estuary, apparently Alan had eaten lots of carrots and could see in the dark as he was either talking to someone or he was totally barking, I preferred the first option.

He hurriedly pulled a mobile phone from his pocket and proceeded to have a heated conversation with someone, he could see that they were in the wrong place and he was reminding them that the tide was now going to turn and that would cause problems. Terminating the call he turned to us and said we would have to walk down the waterside a small distance as it was now too muddy to board from the bank. We picked up all our possessions and followed him as he set off as a brisk pace, we walked towards a park, and as we approached it became apparent that the gates were locked, they were about 5 foot high, and he perimeter fencing was even higher. I felt my anxiety begin to return, and then came the question I was dreading, did we think we could climb over? I failed miserably at gym at primary school and never quite got over the humiliation of being the only 5 year old who could not climb to the top of the rope, My climbing skills have never really improved since then   I was going to be abandoned outside a park in a strange town. Before I had the chance to try and explain Alan answered his own question and decided he could not really climb over it anyway and got back on his phone. He explained to the receiver that we were returning and they had better get the boat up onto the mud, hold it in place with an oar and be quick as we were loosing the tide. Despite my best intentions I still felt anxious as we made our way back to the rickety jetty the car had dropped us off by.

Much to my relief as we approached the waters edge I could see a boat as the darkness slowly started to lift and only the chill remained. The two men in the boat threw a rope to Alan and it fell short in the mud, so they threw it again and Alan was not best pleased that mud splattered all over him, I prayed I wasn’t going to get splattered next. Alan caught the rope and pulled the boat up the mud bank and told them to hold on tight, we then had to climb down a long ladder to get into the boat with all our bags and join the two men on board on the mud bank. I was bemused as my logic was telling me the heavier the boat became the more likely we were to sink into the mud and I could not see us gliding anywhere, by this time I had decided there was no going back was the only way to see our home again. I ignored the warning noises in my head and climbed down followed by Simon and then Alan. The boat was now truly weighted down. Alan gave the rope a massive tug and to my amazement it started to slide down the mud bank and landed in the water with a gentle splash. ‘Start the engine, we’re loosing the tide,’ Alan roared and the two Filipino gentlemen busied themselves pulling on the engine starter cord, once, twice, three times they pulled and after a sick sounding splutter nothing but silence. This trip was not starting out on the best foot, and my romantic adventure notions were waning fast.

‘We’re loosing the tide,’ Alan yelled, ‘out of the way and give me the oar.’ The two gentlemen let him pass towards the bow of the boat and he started to scull the boat towards a cluster of boats appearing out of the mist as the day truly began to break. Alan was the oldest member of our crew and yet exerting more physical energy than anyone as his face began to glow, I now had something else to worry about, the health of the only person who seemed able to lead the expedition. I sat silently, smiled at anyone who glanced in my direction and began to fervently pray.

At last I could see Misterton and as we drew near I was able to see she looked in good shape, Alan brought the boat up alongside his tug, asking if we wanted to be on his tug or Misterton, we simultaneously replied ‘the tug’. I was thinking of the lack of toilet facilities, heat , and any comfort on Misterton although I suspect Simons motives were much more nautically driven than mine.

We boarded the tug and despite the wind, the mud and the difficult start I began to feel a sense of excitement. We were going to get there, I hoped, although I could not resist asking one question, ‘Have we missed the tide or are we going to get there today,’.

‘I bloody hope not,’ Alan boomed in reply, ‘ lets get this boat moving’

The men all rushed around preparing the tug for moving and clearly communicating in a language of barks, grunts and monosyllabic terminology that I didn’t get, but decided that now was not the time to ask for a translation and I crept into the wheelhouse, and tried to warm up. Simon joined me and we both grinned at each other like a couple of idiots, not sure yet of our role in the coming drama. The wheelhouse door banged closed and Alan started the engine. We were off and there was no going back as Alan pointed the bow of the tug out towards the great expanse of water, the last leg of the move had begun.