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David Greatbatch
River Severn
Viking 26' Narrow Beam Rear Cockpit Cruiser "NO WAY!"

The Incident

I have been on many boating holidays during my time and have always thoroughly enjoyed them all, however an incident of some kind has been experienced on most trips. These have ranged from rescuing a family from a sinking dingy on the Norfolk Broads to nearly sinking a Cruiser on the Staffs/Worcs Canal, or in many cases having to un-foul a screw from discarded ropes or old fishing nets with a carving knife. So I half expected some sort of incident on our planned two-week holiday in the summer of 2003.

Loaded up and ready to go

There was only my wife Sue and myself as crew and our destination was Llangollen, our boat was a fine looking Viking 26' cruiser named "NO WAY !" that we had been purchased late in 2002. She was based at Otherton Boat Haven on the Staffs/Worcs Canal, so the planned route was to cruise down the Staffs/Worcs Canal and then onto the Shroppy at Autherley Junction then to cruise as far as Hurleston Junction as to pick up the Llangollen canal, then on to Llangollen.

We had allowed two weeks to complete the round trip, as the intention was not to race about but to switch into relax mode and cruise at a leisurely pace as to enjoy the peace and quite of the country side.

The first few days all went according to plan, the weather was good and the boat was performing well, we were both soon into holiday mode, enjoying the local ales and good food at the canal side pubs.

On day four we found ourselves at the top of the Audlum Lock system, which looked a bit daunting to say the least. We decided an early morning start would be the best approach as to clear the system quickly.

All went according to plan and we cleared all 15 locks in 3 hours without any major disasters though some of the cross-flows were a bit hairy.
After a good hearty breakfast we cruised on past Hurleston Junction to stop the night at The Olde Barbridge Inn with the intention of commencing down the Llangollen canal the next day.

The next morning soon came and it was then when we encountered our first major problem, Sue prepared the first lock on the Llangollen Canal and as I entered, it soon became apparent it was going to be a tight squeeze with only an inch or so either side of the boat. After entering the lock the gates were closed and as the lock began to fill the boats bumping strips were hard against the lock walls and she was struggling to rise with the incoming water.

Though we managed to raise here to the next level, both rubber-bumping strips were pulled from their aluminium mountings, these had to be replaced before the second lock could be attempted.

While replacing them, which took a good hour, I thought to my self it's going to be tricky on the return trip. But that was about to happen sooner than I reckoned as I soon found the boat would not even enter the second lock.

To save further damaging to our boat we decided to abandon the Llangollen trip and instead cruise up to Chester, but first we had to re-negotiate the first lock again as to return to the Shroppy Canal. I decided to remove the side bumping rubbers before entering the lock as I could predict they would be torn from their mountings and possibly damaged beyond repair.

We managed to clear the lock OK with no further damage to the aluminium bumping mountings, this was due to the careful use of one paddle and centralising the boat in the lock as best as we could.

After replacing the rubber bumping strips and a well-deserved breakfast, plans were made for the remainder of the holiday while thinking "well at least the incident for the trip is out the way", but little did we know the worst was yet to come.

We carried on cruising up the Shroppy as far as Chester and found a cracking pub on the outskirts of the city with good moorings, namely the Cheshire cat. We decided to moor here for the night and intended to catch a bus in to the city centre the following day.

We had very enjoyable day in Chester walking around the old city walls and visiting the double tier medieval shops, we also took a boat trip down the River Dee and finally had lunch in a quaint little pub. We soon forgot about our disappointment of not being able to cruise the Llangollen Canal as originally planned.

One week had passed and the weather was still holding. It was our intention to head up the Trent and Mersey canal via the Middlwich Branch Canal with a view to visit the Anderton Lift and then head for home. According to my calculations this should fill the remainder of the week nicely.

Stores were taken on board at Ventiam Marina on the Middlewich Canal and we spent half hour or so admiring some of the 200 or so boats in the marina. We then set off looking for a comfortable night mooring, if possible in a shaded from the extremely hot sun. It was at this point that Sue mentioned that she had strained here back at the last lock, as the paddles were a bit on the stiff side to operate.

After a two hour cruise in the searing heat of late afternoon we came across a gorgeous mooring close to bridge 12 over looking a valley with a superb view of the winding River Weaver. We seemed to be in the middle of no mans land with no sign of civilisation anywhere the only exception was a couple of moored narrow boats further along the canal.

In the middle of no mans land.

Sue was quick to get a barbeque underway while I set up the table and chairs under a shady area of the tow path, drinks were set out and we both relaxed and soaked up the beauty of the scenery untill the sun set and a mist appeared at the foot of the valley. What could beat this I thought.

We retired to bed at midnight looking forward to the rest of the holiday, but I was soon awoken at 1am by Sue complaining of here back strain which seemed to be worse. It did not worry me at this point, but I got up and made a cup of tea. It was not long before we both went off to sleep again, but again she woke complaining about back pain.

Feeling a bit more concerned I explained to her, as we have full navigation lights it may be a good idea to head back to some sort of civilisation as we were two hours cruise from anywhere and both mobile phone batteries were flat.

She insisted I was over reacting but I still got dressed and prepared to sail. She was still no better at 4.30am and though a thick fog had descended on the canal I decided to set sail back to Ventiam Marina for possible pain killer tablets.

It was difficult to see anything in the thick fog so speed had to be kept to an absolute minimum, even then I managed to upset a few anglers that were night fishing due to fouling their lines.

At 5am Sue collapsed when trying to stand, I immediately went into emergency mode increasing speeding up as much as I dare and continuously looking out for signs of civilisation where I could find a phone. I managed negotiate two deep locks in the half light and eventually arrived at Ventiam Marina but to my horror it was in darkness and all locked up. I suppose being a Sunday I should of expected it.

I then decided my best bet was The Olde Barbridge Inn where I could at least knock someone up and hopefully use their phone.

After a further half hour cruise Barbridge Junction became visible in the foggy murk of the morning. As I turned left onto the Shroppy I caught sight of a red phone box and after checking on Sue's condition, which was ghastly, I thought it's a 999 call if the phone box had not being vandalised.

I managed to moor within 10 yards of the phone box as the canal came close to the main road and was so relieved to hear a dialling tone when picking up the phone. 999 was quickly dialled

The situation was explained to the operator and an ambulance was despatched immediately. Within 4 minutes I could here in the distance a siren in the quite of the early morning mist. After waving down the approaching ambulance the paramedics managed to reverse their vehicle over the pavement to with in 5 yards of the boat.

Sue was quickly made comfortable in the ambulance and suspecting a possible Heart attack they sped off to Crew hospital with lights and sirens blaring, I intended to catch up after making the boat safe.

After securing the boat outside The Olde Barbridge In, I thought a brisk walk back to the phone box to call a taxi would soon have me at Sue's side in hospital, but it suddenly struck me I had no idea of local taxi numbers.

Secure at The Olde Barbridge Inn

I stopped in my tracks and though how the heck am I going to find local taxi numbers at this time in the morning when most sensible people were still in bed.

It was then I notice a early riser washing his car at the far end of the village, after explaining my situation he invited me in his house and promptly rang the local taxi service.

Within half an hour I was in the A&E section of Crew hospital looking for Sue and soon found her in a cubical with an oxygen mask on here face, but she seemed to have improve in her self.

By this time the doctors had checked out her heart and to my delight everything seemed OK. I spent the rest of the day at the hospital while checks were made to find the cause of the pain in here back. The doctors decided to keep her in for the night for observation purposes but the general line of thought she would be discharged the following morning and hopefully we could carry on with the holiday or head home.

I returned back to the boat for a bite to eat and a couple of pints of larger as the weather was still extremely hot. I finally moved down to Market Draton before dark as to be closer to the hospital as the taxi fairs were running at twenty pounds per round trip.

I was up early the next morning and awoke to a thunderstorm, I thought a quick trip to pick Sue up from the hospital and then hopefully we could carry on with our holiday or at the worst head home.

Well it turned out worse than that, apparently after I had left the hospital the previous day she took a turn for the worst and had been rushed down to Stafford Hospital for a special scan as a suspected a blood clot on the lung was diagnosed, Apparently she would not return to Crew until the following day.

You could imagine the quandary, do I try and find my way to Stafford or stay put and wait for her to return or head home at break neck speed as to have use of my car.

After leaving word with her ward nurse I decide to head home immediately and as the boat was fully fuelled up and full tank of water was on board I was under way within half an hour.

It took me 20 hours in mainly terrible weather conditions to cover the 49 miles, which included 35 locks. I was grateful to reach Otherton Boat Haven with only falling in the canal once and slight damage to boat hood after colliding with a bridge This was due to cruising with the hood up as a result of the persistent heavy thundery rain storms that plagued me most of the trip back.

Sue was kept in hospital for 10 days and it was confirmed that it was a blood clot on the lung that caused the up set, apparently bought on by HRT tablets that she had been taking. According to the doctors she was lucky to survive the ordeal but gratefully she made a full recovery.

Though a nightmare at the time, the experience has not put us off boating.
The incident would have happened wherever we had been at that time, but I suppose help would be at hand anywhere else.

Still boating after the incident

Since then we have had two wonderful boating holidays in 2004 on the River Severn and Gloucester Canal and are looking forward to 2005 on the Warwickshire Avon, but now we always carry charging cables for both mobile phones and also have a VHF radio fitted to the boat in case of any further incidents.

2006-7 Winter Refit

New cushions have transformed the interior

A new Honda 25H/P engine has increased top speed to 7.5mph and give better handling

Our newly fitted out shower / toilet compartment

Further photos under way, 2007


David H Greatbatch