Gravity sucks

This was written on Wednesday evening, but this is the first chance I've had to get online and post it.


Falling off a boat is a strange, sedate, graceful business, categorised by an over-arching feeling of disbelief. At least, it is if it happens while you're mooring – presumably Robert Maxwell found it rather more dramatic.

I performed my own pirouette into the River Bure by Horning Staithe, a location redolent with all sorts of things for those who (like me) grew up reading Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books. It was here that the Death and Glories were confronted by an angry crowd in The Big Six as they tried to sleep following a night-time visit to an eel catcher. And it was also here that I jumped ashore barefoot with a mooring rope, only to have my feet disappear from under me on the wet wood of the quayside. With my feet ashore and my shoulders braced against the side of the boat I formed a very unstable temporary bridge over the murky water for what felt like a lifetime. And then my weight started to slowly force the boat away from the staithe, inexorably increasing the size of the gap I was stretched across.

There was a moment – a very clear moment – when I realised the only way was down, not up. And then I was in. This may be the moment to mention that I am, to all intents and purposes, a non-swimmer. I can do a few lengths of a pool in swimming trunks, but I've never done any of this lifesaving stuff about how to cope when dunked in fully dressed.

There was a sharp tug, which was grabbing the hood of my waterproof, and then three blokes from the next boat were fishing me out. I didn't even have time to sink properly, I only went in up to my throat, and bruised my ribs on the quayside as I was hauled up. I stripped off the top layer of waterproofs to find the next layer down was pretty dry – splendid things, Icelandic waterproofs – and recovered with a cup of tea. Right now there's a duck on the roof, so things can't be that bad.

Actually, we've spent the last few days surrounded by wildlife. This is exactly the time of year to see birds nesting or with their young, and we have seen ducks with their ducklings, geese with their goslings, families of great crested grebes, and herons stalking around eyeing the small fluffy bundles of lunch greedily. Earlier, we saw a grebe locked in mortal combat with a fish, slamming it under the water repeatedly until it was beaten into submission. Terns and martins and bats have been swooping around terrorising the local insect population. Swans have lined up beside us with siege-ladders and carronades, ready to storm our barricades and seize our food (one even poked its long and incredibly flexible neck in through the galley porthole when we were cooking lunch). And when we spent two nights in Fleet Dyke, near South Walsham, the evening and night was punctuated by the strange noise of bitterns calling in the reeds, not unlike the sound made by blowing across the mouth of an empty milk bottle.

Today's the first day we've been boarded though – one duck earlier today when we made a brief, abortive, attempt to put the sails up, the other just now. has just coaxed it down into the cockpit and fed it bread as a reward for its audacity.

Only a day or two left before we have to go back to London. There are reasons why this is good, and reasons why this is bad.

It's good because after a while you get sick of damp, rain, condensation, falling in the river, backache caused by low headroom, a toilet where the flush doesn't work and where there isn't room to sit up straight, limited cooking facilities, and the constant morale-sapping fear that you're about to do something stupid and sink £10k's worth of historic boat.

It's bad because, well, I could tell you – but how long have you got?


Since then, I've almost fallen off again (ended up sprawled with my feet in the water), burnt my hand on the stove and blocked the toilet up. Fixed that one, but it's definitely time to go home…