German canals - bulletin three
MUCH ARDUA, NO ASTRA FOR HAMILTON.
Royal Air Force afficianados will know that the motto of that fine service is 'Per Ardua Ad Astra', the encouraging implication being that difficulties and struggles will lead eventually to triumph.
Well, we've been having a spot of “Ardua” on old 'Deneys Reitz' of late........
The Ultimate Bad Hair Day actually started quite well. The crew - Charlotte, Don and old friend Ian Hamilton had emerged only slightly hungover at the crack o' dawn, (9.30 am), taken a little light breakfast, (Wurst - not me, Totty) speculated on what the mid-day temperature would be if it had already reached 32 degrees and were dispatched to their duty stations before another arduous day battling against the 5-knot Rhine current. Don's first task was, as always, to descend into the engine room and conduct a minute inspection of the machinery for invisible stress fractures, metal fatigue, oil seepage, water leaks, impending seizure and the like.
This morning, it was immediately obvious that all was not well - something to do with an atmosphere in the engine room that induced paroxysms of coughing and the discovery that sitting on the left hand battery cover was like placing one's backside on a hotplate. Removing the battery cover revealed a steaming cauldron - six big 24 volt batteries, enough to power a small town, hissing, bubbling and steaming violently.
Even Don was sharp enough to twig that this was not good news. His sharp appraisal was confirmed by Hamilton, who ventured to suggest that fuming batteries produced hydrogen, which, when mixed with oxygen and encouraged by a spark made an explosive gas which would instantly convert Deneys Reitz from an 8-knot retired lifeboat into the Starship Enterprise on a one-way trip to perdition at full warp power.
A hastily convened conference decided unanimously that - a) we had a problem - and - b) we didn't have the skills to fix it. So, Ian and Don set off to see if we could find an electrical engineer. By blind luck, the first person we encountered in the yacht harbour claimed to possess electrical engineering skills, and to prove it, produced a voltmeter or some such machine. We encouraged him to accompany us, finding that he spoke voluble if ungrammatical English, far better than our halting, ungrammatical German. When we boarded the boat, our new friend, proudly brandishing his voltmeter, descended into the engine room and instantly produced a brilliant impression of Corporal Jones, rushing round shouting, 'Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring' in German, the stress having robbed him of his English.
He shot out of the engine room, gasping for air and spluttering 'Lieber Gott, sie kochen'.
Putting a handkerchief to his mouth, he bravely re-entered the disaster area and started to apply his voltmeter vigorously, then calling for a spanner and uncoupling several leads, apparently randomly. He vehemently declared that it was all a huge disaster, we would all perish, but he couldn't find anything wrong, the batteries seemed fine, except for the fact that they were cooking and producing enough gas to fill the 'Hindenburg'. Then he legged it down the pontoon to a safe distance (50 metres).
Don then rang Paul Watts, the engineer who created the old boat in its current form.
Watty listened carefully and then said “If the people that I can hear talking in the background are on the boat, get them off - switch off the main electrical isolator switch, open all the hatches and go and have a coffee some distance from the boat, not returning for at least 2 hours. Do not under any circumstances light the gas to brew a nice cup of tea”.
Our German helper was still showing obvious determination to keep a safe distance as far as possible from the boat and its obviously barking mad crew, but before he left telephoned a fully qualified electrical engineer.
The expert promised to come to the boat that afternoon, so we went for a walk and sat on an electricity-free boat listening to the faint but perceptible sounds of batteries boiling.
Eventually, a large, cheerful, competent-looking English-speaking German engineer appeared, asked for the main switch to be activated, told an amusing story about a boat that exploded, “Opened the front up like a crocodile's mouth - all the furniture shot from the back of the boat to the front, re-sale value severely impaired, crew alive but deafened by the explosion etc”.
When Don turned on the switch, he acutely observed that the first bit of good news was that the boat had not yet exploded. Our man then bravely descended into the engine room with an enormous piece of test-gear, spent 15 minutes going round all the batteries and announced that, surprisingly, all were perfect, but 6 out of the12 were a little over-excited.
We then started both engines and he tested the generators, observing, 'If there's still gas, now's the time I get to come out of your motor room vertically without any effort on my part'.
At the end of it all, he announced that there obviously had been a big problem, but for some reason it had rectified itself and the electrical systems were perfect.
A telephone call to Watty revealed that he was less sanguine. “Trouble with some Germans - they are carried away by big pieces of kit. There must be a defective cell somewhere in the bank of batteries. Keep a sharp eye on them and let's change the whole set asap”. (Oh God, we'll have to travel with engine room hatches open and BT with his head stuck inside- Totty).
Watty encouraged us to leave the hatches open for the night, which we did; before retiring to a congenial venue to consume liberal quantities of good old Bittburger Hofbrau (ABV 5.5%).
We then had a cheerful meal on the boat, washed down by goodly quantities of Wollsteiner Rheingreffenstein Riesling Spatlase Trocken, 2003, and, making cheerful resolutions about a trouble-free day on the morrow jousting with the Rhine barges, retired to our various cabins, Don and Charlotte in our comfy lair in the bow and Ian to the stern.
As Don was drifting off to sleep, he was roused by a muffled sound of descending body, concluding with a loud thump, such as could be caused by a 13 stone, 60-year-old English male descending vertically six feet on to the iron floor of an engine room, bouncing off an iron ladder on the way. Having performed such a feat twice Don knew that the experience was rather painful, so he hastily climbed on deck and into the wheelhouse, where a severely shaken Ian Hamilton was crawling out of the engine room.
Initial inspection revealed that he couldn't put his left foot down without pain. We decided that the best thing was for him to take some painkillers and rest the ankle until morning.
Next day, bright and early (9.30 am) Don came into the cabin to find Ian lying on his bunk. Cheerful enquiries into his state of health soon revealed that this was not too hot - his ankle had swollen like a balloon and he couldn't walk. Another bloody Ardua day!
To cut a long story short, we helped Ian up the steep banks of the Rhine to a taxi and thus to the local hospital, which was a model of cheerful efficiency. So efficient, in fact, that they X-rayed Ian's ankle and declared that he had severely broken it, would need an emergency operation, which could be performed there or in Britain, in the time it takes to get the attention of the receptionist in some British hospitals.
So, we booked a flight for 7.10 the next morning from Koln to Gatwick, stayed in the Holiday Inn at the airport that night, consumed copious quantities of beer and wine, but rather sadly, and saw Ian off through Departures in a wheelchair. The only hitch was a ludicrous encounter with a bureaucrat on the check-in desk. This stupid person, obviously brainwashed by attendance at “How to keep Punters in their Proper Place” courses, refused to provide a wheelchair unless the person needing it came to the counter. She was impervious to expostulations to the effect that if he could get to the counter, he wouldn't need a bloody wheelchair. Eventually, Hamilton, now to be known as Peg-Leg, hove in sight on a luggage trolley, pushed by Totty. (illegally, it appeared).
The last sight of our friend was a back view of the wheelchair being pushed past a sex aids shop by a German medical assistant. A hand emerged from the wheelchair, pointed at a particularly spectacular penis enlargement device and a strangled voice croaked, "I want that one". Afficianados of 'Little Britain' will know what that's all about.
Peg-leg has had a successful operation and sounds as good as a person could after such an experience. The tragedy is compounded by discovery that we were only one day from the spectacular stretches of the Rhine, with steep, vine-covered slopes rising from the river, romantic music sounding across the valleys, Die Niebelung, or something, (He's a Philistine, its Wagner's Rheingold -Totty) and a romantic schloss round every corner.
Even better (worse, Don's liver) we have fallen in with rogues and villains of a similar ilk to Ian at the Brolig Boot Club, near Koblenz. Such a bunch of cheerful, noisy, humorous topers can only be rarely found - in such places as the snug of the Cretingham Bell. But even the 'Bell' cannot boast a foursome of two brothers and two sisters who have been married and living together for 30 years, and used to be a professional musical troupe, playing guitars and harmonicas, with a repertoire of Scottish, Irish and dirty German songs such as are best roared by drunks soaked in gallons of lager and litres of slivovic, whiskey and schnapps at two in the morning after watching the town firework display. Hamilton would have been in his element. So we had to accumulate hangovers for all three of us.
Even now, the next evening, as we cower on the boat listening to our livers whimpering, they are getting stuck in to yet another barrel of Bittburger. Bed early and Alkohol-Frei Nacht for us.
Mortification of the flesh
The crew of Deneys Reitz have renounced the comfortable life in order to attain a peak of fitness and stamina. Not for nothing is BT referred to by German colleagues as "Der Eisener" (Iron Man) and the navigator as 'Charlotte The Catwoman'.
In line with our policy of 'Blut und Eisen” we have booked ourselves into the Baden Baden Spa for four hours of naked hell and flagellation. To quote the brochure:
"Shower, warmth, beat, shower, scrubbing, steam, hot steam, warm bubbles, floating, shower, cold, rubbing, moisturising, relaxing. Afterwards; kaffee, torte und kuchen. Simply Wonderful."
What we do to remain at the top of our game.
Time marches on. Autumn approaches, and with its onset glorious opportunities for the crew of 'Deneys Reitz' to try their hands at funghi hunting. And what better milieu than the Schwarzwald, but a short drive from our mooring place. A walk in the Black Forest is in itself a glorious experience, but the hidden magic is the profusion of funghi nestling under the mighty stands of pine, beech and chestnut trees. So far, the season of mellow fruitfulness has yielded a rich harvest. We sit, gently drooling (a more frequent manifestation as old age approaches), but on this occasion with just cause, as we survey a fine selection of Ceps, or Penny Buns, brown and homely, Chicken of the Woods, bright yellow and issuing a delightful odour, Chanterelles, also yellow and delciously scented. The whole lot is topped off by four tender young Parasol mushrooms, all waiting to be infused with herbs and garlic, mixed with chicken livers and stirred with creme fraiche.
We just hope that Charlotte has got her funghi identification right, as our German friends at the yacht club, upon viewing tonight's meal, seem to believe that we are about to embark on a psychadelic trip, or commit suicide, dying in excruciating agony, or both. But we have rung old friend Ros Harford to double check on the Chicken, as it is a bright sulpherous yellow. She confirms that it is a delicacy, 'well regarded in Germany'. Not in this part, it isn't. We will report further on the meal. We will either :
Enjoy a rare culinary experience, or alternatively:
Float all night, weightless, through the Milky Way escorted by flocks of bluebirds, Willy the Whale and a full choir of singing nuns.......
Last night's funghi were divine, and today's walk in another part of the forest has yielded Slippery Jack Boletus, Wood Blewitts and some divine little puffballs, or so we think.
But....... The water level in the small Rhine boat harbour has risen by more than a metre - what the bloody hell's that about?? Aha, they've closed the river to all but the most powerful barges, something to do with torrential rain in Switzerland, so that's OK??
Finally, a real German Yoke
A man came down the pontoon, obviously bursting to meet us. “You are British”, said he, pointing at the flag adorning the stern of the boat. “Ya”, said BT. “Then you have a good sense of humour and will appreciate my yoke”, said he, nearly pissing himself with mirth. (Oh God, we thought, what now?). “A crime vave has struck Hamburg”, he burbled. Then controlling himself by superhuman effore for a moment, he croaked: “And all ze people rushed to ze beach to see it!! Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!”
“Ho, ho”, we went politely. “Let's get out of here as quickly as possible, said BT to Totty”. “You bet, he's got a whole book of them”, said Totty.
We return from our summer holidays on the 28th June for a well-deserved break, having covered 650 nautical miles at an average speed of 5 knots, much of it on the bloody Mittelland Canal and then the mighty Rhine. The spectacularly beautiful Mosel, with its plentiful vineyards awaits .
Prost, HO! HO! HO!