After the lovely visit to Cambridge we were back on the Lee and Stort, which brings another river saga to mind: Deliverance! On the canals we make spur of the moment decisions about our day over morning coffee:
"Shall we stay here another day or move on?" says Les.
"The weather forecast is for rain late this afternoon through tomorrow. I think if we want to move we should do it this morning." Says I.
"Right then," replies Dear Sir and we up sticks, cruising along, perhaps doing several locks on the way until we find a spot that catches our fancy. We convene again quickly on the stern, decide the time and place is right and moor up for a few days to wait out the rain--to wait until the urge to move strikes again.
|As usual, gates left open...|
After leaving Waltham Abbey Town we thought we would cruise through the junction where the two rivers actually meet, up onto the River Stort, through a few locks, and find a nice quiet spot in the countryside. Ah, but it was not to be; the day went pear shaped quickly as I brought the boat out of a lock while Les snapped pictures of an old mill building instead of getting on the boat.
Mildly peeved at me for not swooping slowly by to pick him up outside the lock, Les walked down the towpath with the windlass in hand, telling me to come slowly in and get him. I tried with no success--it was too shallow. Looking somewhat disgusted with me due to his perception of my lack of steering abilities, Les marched on down the towpath and hollered for me to try again; and again; and again. The Lee and Stort Navigation is so shallow on the towpath side it was impossible for me to bring the boat in close enough to pick Les up, which had nothing whatever to do with my steering abilities.
By now the bow of the boat was grounded, Les' arms were whirling like a weather vane in a high wind, we were both shouting at each other and, just under the next bridge hole was a gaggle of kayaks--most filled with children of varying ages with adults in separate crafts nearby. They were wide eyed watching all this unfold.
The adults spotted the large metal boat heading in their direction and pulled over to the side with most of the kids in tow to let me pass--but I couldn't--Les was on shore and the bow was grounded. The kayakers thought I stopped to let them pass so they began to release the metal shuttering, floating out to the center or far right, paddling down through the bridge hole toward NB Valerie.
Les had his back towards them and could not see through the bridge hole. He was ordering me to reverse the boat and take it out to the far fight--right into the path of the incoming kayaks.
"NO, I'm staying put right here until all those kayaks behind you have moved passed our boat. I am not running them over to pick you up." Les and I glared at each other until he looked over his shoulder, spotted the kayaks and realized how deranged he sounded.
The kids-in-kayaks were terrified of us by now--our huge metal boat had been lurching in and out toward the side, backing up, the bow swinging out towards the center, while the man on the path and the woman steering the craft were shouting at each other.
Finally they all passed by, I reversed our boat gently off the ground, cruised down to the bridge hole and Les stepped on the stern. By this time I was so angry I was shaking.
Not only did Les cause this situation by snapping pics instead of paying attention to me and our boat, but then he presumed the issue was caused by his wife's inability to steer properly! Never mind back seat driving; this was towpath driving! He frequently forgets the one steering the boat has a much different viewpoint than the one standing ashore.
We cruised on to the next lock in chilly silence while I fumed and Les smugly took control of the boat. While we waited for the lock to fill and bring us up, Les went off to talk with a local boater waiting to come down. Apparently the conversation referred to the shallowness of the Lee and Stort--especially the towpath side--because Les jumped back on board, put his arms around me, looked me sheepishly in the eyes and apologized.
"I'm sorry Jaq. I was just chatting with that bloke and he did say as how this river is extremely shallow. He's had a hard time of it today as well." Oh isn't that JUST like a man! A woman tells him how it is and she is presumed too ignorant to figure things out; another man tells it like it is and he's suddenly an expert on the situation and believed without concern; and Les made me look incapable of steering our boat in front of an audience to boot!
Well suffice to say I forgave Dear Sir and went below to make tea as it was starting to rain. We needed calm and warmth. Soon enough we arrived at Sawbridgeworth lock. We figured we would find a nice mooring somewhere above the lock. We could sit out the rain and then investigate the town...
What did we see when our boat rose up and floated out of the lock?
A long, straight line of bollards BUT---they were only there for looks in front of the lovely, new brick apartments (flats). Nope--no mooring allowed here, so we will move on through town and find a nice bit of towpath.
|Looking back at Sawbridgeworth--no joy there! Both sides beyond the forbidden bollards were too shallow to moor.|
Finally two miles on we came around a bend in the river where the towpath rose above us and the shoreline was choked by grasses. Les had had enough. Skillfully maneuvering NB Val alongside the thick sudo-shore created by centuries of dead grasses piling up, testing it to ensure it would hold him, we finally moored up, using bow, center, and stern lines pinned in place as the boat was sitting in a trench next to a reed bed about six feet below the solid towpath.
And we were well pleased let me say, as it seemed we had found a lovely spot of quiet countryside. Turns out It was frequented by joggers and dog-owners from Sawbridgeworth taking the country air with their hounds. They seemed quite surprised to find a narrow boat moored there. Like a lot of folks do, some stopped to have a chinwag, especially when they saw our lovely stock pile of wood on the roof.
|© Stein & Jacquie, 2012|
At dinner aboard our boat that evening Stein and Jacquie told us not to bother cruising up to Bishops Stortford. The only place to moor was on the town moorings where a lot of continuous moorers were already filling most of the spaces and they looked like an unsavory lot to boot: noisy, late night drunken comings and goings, filthy language shouted back and forth. Across the river on the other side was a large factory of some kind--all industrial ugliness--and they said it didn't feel safe. Also the Elsan disposal was padlocked and local boaters indicated it was out of order.
Well, all righty then! No point in going any further up the River Stort. Jacquie invited us to dinner aboard their boat the next night, after which they were going to do a marathon cruise to get the heck off the Lee and Stort and back onto the canal system. The entire experience had been depressing and stressful for them both. I agreed to make dessert for tomorrow's dinner and we bid them good night.
The next morning showed great promise! The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Jacquie and I chatted about all the walkers and their dogs--one in particular. She looked to be a fifty something woman with dark hair, cut in a severe chin length bob. Short and stocky, she wore a knee length Hunter green Macintosh and sensible walking shoes. Carrying a bright red leash in her hand, she was accompanied by a chocolate Labrador which appeared to be about a year old. Jacquie was certain she recognized the woman from some television show. I had no clue; all I knew was that she was one of about fifteen people who walked past carrying leash-in-hand but never clipping it to their dog's collar.
Jacquie went off to begin organizing dinner preparations on their boat and I baked a pan of Angel Bars, opening my last box of precious Graham Crackers brought back from the States last November. When they were baked--the graham cracker crust golden, the top bubbled and browned, Les sat the pan just inside the stern doors to cool on the back seat in the shade while I logged in to my courses and graded student assignments. Angel bars do best when they set up in the fridge but there is no room in our little bitty boat refrigerator for a 9x13 pan of anything!
About an hour later I heard a commotion outside our boat. I looked out a window and saw the woman in the green Macintosh climbing up the bank on her hands and knees, towing her chocolate Lab by the collar! Strange behavior but oh, well...I was engrossed with work and gave it no further thought. At 3 p.m. I finished up and went out to retrieve the cooled dessert bars.
Oh-my-GOD!!!! The entire middle of the pan of bars had been eaten and Immediately I knew that Bitch's bitch had eaten my Angel Bars! I was livid! Bloody damn dog owners who walk their dogs, carrying a leash in hand like a fashion statement but cannot be bothered to restrain their dog(s) are my main pet peeve about living over here. (This tirade is not directed at boaters like Maffi and Molly, The Palins and their dog Molly, or Sue and Vic and their K-9's because they all have well trained animals for which they are responsible.)
Research indicates the average dog is as intelligent as a human two year old. I certainly would never allow my two year old child to wander around unwatched and unrestrained. I wouldn't expect them to stand quietly at my knees while I jacked my jaw for fifteen minutes with an acquaintance; I wouldn't allow my children or my pet to wander off into someone else's home unaccompanied 'nor would I impatiently scold my two year old for following their curious nature, running off and refusing to return when I called them. Such dog owner behavior makes me mental along with the ill perception that because they love their dogs everyone else does too.
I charged through the boat, half eaten pan of dessert in hand, raving and swearing a blue streak. I have a very long fuse but when its gone--it's gone, replaced by a very nasty temper. I knew I had to calm down. I don't have leave to remain and I couldn't jeopardize my future in this country by strangling this woman with her pretty red leash. She and her dog had to walk back past our boat to get home to Sawbridgeworth. I decided to bide my time by making a pan of fudge Brownies to replace our ruined dessert while I waited to confront her.
Soon enough the chocolate Lab came bounding down the towpath, leaped down the side of the six foot ditch and scrambled up onto the stern of our boat looking to finish what it started--owner nowhere in sight. I yelled and shoved the dog off the boat. By that time the woman came up the towpath about 500 yards back, calling her dog. When it finally ran back she put it on the leash and started down the path towards our boat. I waited for her on the bow where she couldn't see me...
"Look what your dog did! Your damn dog at my dessert and you owe me fifteen quid for it," I held out the pan of half eaten bars for her inspection. The dog lunged for them and she leaned back on the leash with all her weight, yelling at the dog to behave.
"My dog has been on its leash..."
"Yeah right that's why it came back just now to finish these off. We aren't on holiday here--this boat is our home. You have no business walking your dog off the lead if you cannot control it." She sidled away from me sniveling, "Soooorrry," as fast as her thick legs could drag her Labrador along with her. At dinner later in the evening Jacquie said the same dog had charged down the stairs into their galley as she was cooking our meal.
The next morning Like Ducks 2 Water started off on the long slog back down to London, waving goodbye. We decided to turn around at the next bridge hole and head back to the Junction, cruising up to Hertford. Stein and Jacquie had already been there and they assured us the River Lee was much better--not as shallow--and there were great places to moor. We planned to spend a pleasant week in town, visiting the local castle ruins, getting groceries, and having family and friends aboard to catch up. We were finished with the River Stort...