They called it Martlesham

I came within thinking distance of dying today. As in thinking ‘hmm, this is a distinct possibility. Glad I made a bail-out plan.  Now let’s see if it works.’

Boat stuff. I had two things to do, and only took oooh, most of the day to mostly do one and half-do the other. When I checked the boat yesterday I found water in the bilge -about a foot of it. Nothing that hasn’t been there before and rainwater rather than river water, which is good because the leaking through the hull has stopped, but bad because the roof leak hasn’t gone away. Whoever put the grab rails and winding blocks and all the other deck furniture on the the coachroof (no, I don’t know why it’s called that either. Cabin roof. Better, isn’t it?) used screws that went all the way through. So does the water when it rains. Well done, that man.

That should have been easy. Take out the old pump and float switch and put new ones in.  Would have been one answer, but being thrifty and prudent I had to convince myself they were both irredeemably shagged, so had to work out which wire fed which, and of course they’re under water so I couldn’t see what colour they were until I thought just chop them out and replace anyway. Which I did. And found, of course, that the exit hose wouldn’t fit the new pump and neither would the adapter. It took over an hour to think of how to fix this. Answer 1 – Gaffa tape was rejected in favour of Answer 2 = superglue. Eventually.

Then the new pump stopped working. For reasons unknown. I think I tripped the push button cut-out when I shorted everything. Because water. There don’t seem to be any actual fuses, just this push button thing.  Worst case, 12 volt shock. I thought that wouldn’t kill me but I didn’t get a shock anyway, somewhat surprisingly.

Task two was to go onto the river bed and dig a hole around the rudder. It’s a drying berth. That means when the tide is out – and there’s around 4 metres of tide to go out – the boat sits on the mud of the river bed. Because the Folkboat rudder is where it is and the shape it is, it dug itself a hole in the mud, four and a half tons of boat settled on it and in a month it snapped the tiller.

I made a new one, but that month has also warped the rudder to one side. Instead of lashing the tiller straight at the next high tide, thinking what’s done is done and leaving it be I went over the side. But I wasn’t entirely stupid. For once.

I put the boarding ladder over the side first. I wore waders. I considered carrying a whistle and wearing a lifejacket. And didn’t do either. More to the point, I tied not one but two lines to the boat and to the jetty and draped them where I could get at them if I sank into the mud.

I sank into the mud.

But that’s ok, I thought, because I’ve got waders on, and the boarding ladder, and these two ropes. Which was all true, except I was up to my left knee and past my right knee and I couldn’t actually get out. Every time I got a leg a little bit higher the other leg sank deeper. It went on for a bit. Getting deeper. People had to live like this for four years in Flanders. Usually they did it for two weeks at a time or until they got shot or exploded. But frankly, I wasn’t thinking about them today. And that’s not just all me, me, me. This was a bit serious.

The only way out was to jettison the waders and climb back up the ladder, pouring sweat, having achieved nothing at all apart from nothing. And realising how you could actually get a heart attack doing stuff like this, because it was massively, massively draining and I couldn’t and still can’t quite work out why. But it was. I could feel my breath getting short doing it. Four hours later I ache pretty much all over, even after a hot shower.

But I got out. I didn’t die, from drowning or a heart attack. I found almost a metre of plywood in the bow I’d put there for General Purposes and these definitely were.  I dropped it over the side near the boarding ladder and climbed down again, in the wellies I’d stupidly forgotten were in the starboard locker anyway and stood on the plywood to recover the waders, only getting 90% muddy in the process. I tried to dig the mud out from around the rudder but water kept flowing into the hole even though it was pretty much Low Water. I couldn’t see where I was digging and each shovel full was heavy as a very heavy thing and I thought: ‘Actually, this is stupid.’

And it was. I gave up. It took another hour to get all the mud off the waders and the ladder and the plywood and the ropes and me and just about everything I could see, apart from the swan I was worried was going to attack me when it came over to where the hose was. I was hit by a swan once when I was a boy. I literally didn’t see it coming until it did. It didn’t break my arm as advertised, but it wasn’t fun.

I wasn’t looking forward to a renactment today.  But this was an old swan and a swan well used to people as it lives in the boatyard and it doesn’t bother the boatyard people and we try not to bother it, moving slowly and not towards it. Turned out it was just thirsty and wanted a drink from the puddle of water spilling off the muddy ladder, less than three feet from me.

I got the pump and the float switch mostly wired up, even though I ran out of rubbish connectors and had to Manfix it with twists and insulating tape. The push-button cut-out didn’t. The solar charger does. I’m going back tomorrow to stow the hopefully dried-out ladder and lines and lash the tiller again, and make sure everything’s ok. Which it will be. Just so long as I don’t go walking on the river bed again. There’s no future in it.


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