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I gazed skywards to watch the effortless flight of a Red Kite circling overhead. Its wings outstretched, hardly moving, while its ‘V’ shaped tail dipped and twisted to correct its flight in the up draughts. A brisk breeze was blowing and the current in the river was running fast but neither of these natural manifestations could distract me from the glorious sight of the magnificent Red Kite.


‘Oi, watch the bow,’ Ian shouted from the stern of our narrowboat Winedown. Too late, I realised that I had allowed my attention to wander at a critical moment and now I had to deal with the consequences.

Frouds.gif There are several rivers that have an influence on the Kennet and Avon canal, with the river Kennet and the river Avon sharing prime importance. Near the entrance of Frouds Bridge Marina, the river Kennet leaves the canal and flows on towards the Old Mill. The entrance to the marina is on that short stretch of the river and the flow, particularly after a lot of rain, can make the navigation of the marina entrance very tricky. Just as a boat makes the turn, pointing the bow into the marina, the river current will hit the broadside of the boat, and attempt to drag it down river. The trick is to start a tight turn early so that it appears as if the boat will hit the bank, then increase the engine speed while holding the tiller well over to pivot the boat and get the sharpest turn possible from the stern. The current will inevitable deflect the bow from the river bank and drag the stern around so that the entrance will be perfect – you hope!


On our first visit to Frouds Bridge marina we were blissfully unaware of the danger and promptly fell into the trap. Ian had slowed the engine to tick-over while I was posted at the bow to reconnoitre the layout. While my attention was on the Red Kite, Ian had executed a wide, cautious turn into the entrance – inadvertently making all the mistakes. The current struck the broadside hull and the brisk breeze compounded the problem by turning the side of the boat cabin into a sail. The bow was deflected from the marina entrance and we were being carried helplessly downstream; sideways.


Ian revved the engine to increase speed and swung the tiller hard over but to no avail. The current had us firmly in its grip, and Windown wasn’t responding to Ian’s urgent manoeuvring. The knotted rope button on the bow snagged the branches of a tree that were overhanging the river and the stern continued to swing downstream.


‘Fend off,’ Ian shouted urgently. I grabbed the bargepole in a futile attempt to salvage our precarious predicament, but it was too late. A moment later, the tipcat and button on the stern of Winedown snagged on a young bushy tree on the opposite bank, holding us in a deadly embrace.


I heaved on the bargepole, trying to release the bow but all I succeeded in was doing was jamming the stern even tighter into the bushy sapling. Ian quickly took up the boat hook and stabbed its end into the bank in an attempt to free the stern, with little success. In the melee, I noticed a lady stand on the bank near the entrance we had just missed but there was nothing she could do to help. We later discovered that her name was Carol and she was the previous assistant manager’s wife.


I climbed off the bow of our boat and into the tree, taking the bargepole with me in an attempt to heave from a different direction, but all I managed to accomplish was a hairstyle that gave new meaning to the dragged-through-a-bush-backwards look, so I gave up and clambered back on board the hapless Winedown. It took nearly half an hour of pushing, pulling, grunting, revving of the engine, and many heated exchanges with barely guarded expletives before we had managed to disentangle the tipcat and button from the sapling and force the stern around so that we could use the strength of the current to drag the stern downstream thereby extricating the bow.


As the bow button came free, Ian revved the veteran Lister engine and attempted the entrance from the opposite direction. This time we sailed in smoothly. Still pulling twigs out of my hair and nonchalantly draping myself on the front deck, I waved cheerily to Carol. ‘You missed then,’ she remarked evenly. At that moment I noticed Sue on the stern of her narrowboat which was moored just inside the marina entrance. She was holding up a white scorecard that was probably a foot by a foot in size, with a huge ‘0’ printed on it. Our spectacular arrival into Frouds Bridge marina had merited a 0/10 for execution but 9/10 for entertainment.


If you find yourself in a similar, unfortunate position and Sue gives you a low score, don’t be disenchanted; it can’t be as bad as our achievement.

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