The Cruise of the Dondevoy
It has been a long time since the last entry in this diary. A lot has happened. I gave up the job last Friday, intending to move off today, but I have decided to stay for the boat rally on Saturday and Sunday. There are still odd jobs to be done, so I shall continue to get a little income.
My work had progressed smoothly, but I felt in need of a break, so last weekend being a Bank Holiday, I decided to make a small trip up the canal. I set off back in the direction I had come, seeing new interest in the industrialised five miles to Hawkesbury Junction (otherwise known as Sutton Stop). I had with me a booklet produced by the Coventry Canal Society which pointed out features of interest between the Basin and the Stop Lock. At the latter, I stopped at the Greyhound, as I had on my journey in. I met a sun-tanned couple, who looked the boating type, and we were soon engaged in conversation. It transpired that they were having a six-week holiday in a nine-foot sailing dinghy; they had already travelled over five hundred miles on the canals, and all without a motor. They either rowed or towed, whichever was the easier, with brief interludes of sailing whenever the wind was right. Up until then, my boat was the smallest I had ever seen with anyone living on board. They both won my complete admiration.
After inspecting a pile of debris dredged out of the Ashby Canal, I continued, now rather behind schedule, as I had hoped to get to Newbold by nightfall. At about six o'clock, I came across the entrance to the Wyken Arm, where the Coventry Canal Society and Coventry Cruising Club have their headquarters. I passed through the moorings of the Cruising Club and stopped at the Canal Society Basin beyond the motorway, where Rob the harbourmaster, whom I had met before, showed me where I could moor for the night.
That evening I was given a meal by a couple who were repairing a boat in the basin prior to a two-week holiday down to Oxford; they told me that I could sleep on the sofa in the clubroom. This I did, not without misgivings however, for it was the first night for nearly three months that I had not spent on my boat. The sofa was comfortable though, and I slept well. I was woken in the morning by two small children who talked me into consciousness, and forced me to get up, as it was past eleven o'clock.
I eventually set off, after talking with several people, and stopped for a beer at the Elephant and Castle pub, where the Pearl Hyde is moored, and I spoke with the man who runs her. The Pearl Hyde is a restored narrow boat, named in memory of Alderman Pearl Hyde, a previous Lord Mayor of Coventry. It takes Old Age Pensioners for trips on the cut, but is shortly to be replaced by a slightly better boat.
On passing through Sutton Stop again, I found that a mud boat was blocking my way. Fearing that it had been put there purposely to stop navigation, I walked back along the towpath to enquire. There I met an elderly man sitting by the water splitting a log of wood with a hammer and chisel. Instinctively, I knew who it was - Joe Skinner, about whom I had heard and read so much. I stopped and helped him.
Joe Skinner is very well known, having been a working boatman, with his wife Rose, but nowhere do I remember a description of the man himself or his character, most people seem to use him as a walking archive of things past: "Joe Skinner remembers when..." etc., ignoring his amazing personality. He accepted my help with thanks, casting no remarks about my long hair, and advised me to move the mud boat myself. His eyes twinkle, and every now and again he makes a sudden blink as if to say "Listen to me", or to emphasise some point he had just made.
Joe helped me move the mud boat, and I was off on my way "home" to Coventry, grateful for having met the famous Joe Skinner.
Joe Skinner. Picture taken from Off the Mainline by Tony Lewery - Friendship Remembered
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Copyright ©1972 Ben Newsam. The author of this diary may be contacted at email@example.com