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Saturday, 18 July 2015


I spoke in my last blog of our recent boat trip along the #YonneRiver and #CanalDuNivernais in #France. Here's another piece to emerge from this wonderful journey.

When we took delivery of our boat in #Migennes, I was handed a Captain's Manual and required to sign a document declaring myself to be the Captain of the boat (and therefore responsible for it). 

Kazalette, Jeśka and Stefan were my crew, but I was the one required to take command. Signing on didn't seem too onerous, but that was before I had been given my initial training on a small patch of water and we had taken the boat through its first lock. Those two events woke me up to what it meant to be in charge of this beast. I learnt as I entered the first lock that boats have a mind of their own. If they aren't steered and managed in a certain thoughtful and consistent way, they steer all over the place and tend to bump into things (like lock walls, for instance). Bumping into things is not particularly good for the welfare of the average boat (ice-beakers might be an exception).

Of course, with the novelty and tension of a new lock, everyone on board had some thoughts and advice for the Captain, vocally put forward, on how to do this thing. At the helm, I could feel an ulcer rapidly developing.

Then we were through the first lock, looking for a place to berth on the river bank for the night. Thankfully we were being guided by some friendly barging veterans in another boat ahead of us, but nonetheless the entire crew again offered helpful advice on how to berth, with the Captain trying to listen to everyone and effectively hearing no one. Despite this, we somehow managed to berth without major incident.

After a big night with our new-found friends and guides, they bade us farewell and we were left to fare for ourselves on the waters of the Yonne for the next week. Inevitably, advice from the crew to the Captain thereafter came thick and fast, going through the locks and finding picnic spots on the following day. The Captain, on the other hand, found himself feeling tense and grumpy about crew members not putting out and hanging into ropes when they were meant to do so and the boat, robust as it was with its rubber fenders, bumping its way past miscellaneous obstacles.

Finally the penny dropped for the Captain that he was being indecisive about navigational decisions, had not been particularly specific with his requirements of his crew and was countenancing way too much democracy on board. No sooner had the scales fallen from his eyes than the locks became a breeze, a reasonable measure of democracy was permitted in selecting lunch and overnight spots, but some order was introduced to berthing procedures.

And so the Captain's folly turned to the Skipper's delight. I stopped feeling tense every time we had to do something other than steer straight down the canal and we all engaged in one of the most wonderful holidays we as a family have ever had.

The lessons learnt?

*  Take total responsibility for your personal boat
*  If you do not take control, expect some bumps, if not a shipwreck
*  Understand that you can't do it all alone, so solicit help when you need it, but be clear about what help you need
*  Do what is reasonable or you'll burn yourself out
* Don't take the journey so seriously: rather enjoy the beauty and excitement of the ride

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