This is the seventh of the eight boat stories.
Canal boats aren’t quiet. They may seem that way from a distance, but, when underway, the captain is often unable to hear the first mate over the sound of the engine. Important communications, such as offers of cups of tea often go unheard. At least, that’s the most generous interpretation of the occasional lack of tea. (One mustn’t take a cynical approach to boating; that way lies bow thrusters).
The sound of the engine is one of those comforting noises that fades into the background of a good boat trip. In line with babies, a parallel that I am lately qualified to draw, one must not worry how much noise issues forth (a certain amount is unavoidable), so much as what it signifies. A squealing sound, for example, is a signal that steps to are going to have to be taken to solve the cause. Depending on the context, that might mean tightening an alternator belt or finding food.
And so it was, as I piloted a boat full of friends on a hot summer day, the sound of the engine changed slightly. No-one much noticed nor cared but my heart was immediately in my mouth. My mind immediately jumped to any number of things that it could be. We might have hit something, and it might have wrapped itself around the propellor. Something might have fallen off the engine. Hell, it might even be that alternator belt. My mind was racing, which quickly set it in stark contrast with the boat. The unfamiliar sound soon stopped, as indeed did any sound. The engine had lost power, we were floating mid-stream and I was responsible for a boat full of people.
Luckily it was a hot summer day and there wasn’t much current. The chances of being washed out to sea were minimal. Even if it did happen it would take weeks, so time was on our side. We drifted and inevitably, eventually, gently, collided with the bank. A nearby tree supplied a calibrated dipstick which confirmed that we were out of diesel.
As luck would have it, I had spotted some boat-dwelling friends on the opposite bank a short distance away enjoying the afternoon sun. It didn’t take a huge amount of asking to convince GB to set off on his electric boat and return with a jerry can of diesel. He returned to Monstronauticus and we filled the tank of a very thirsty boat.
The engine turned over, spent a second in protestation, just to make sure we understood that we had truly been remiss in letting things get into this state, and started.
I don’t think my friends really cared: there were wine and olives and boat trips usually involve something strange. But for a moment, we had been in a minimal amount of jeopardy.