the noble tug named mayfly

the noble tug named Mayfly

a short story from "here we go" by michael nye

The morning was pure summer as depicted on postcards and chocolate boxes. Blue sky, candy-floss clouds and warm sun of the kind that umbrella manufacturers secretly pray will not last long. After feeding the remainder of a hearty breakfast to a group of ducks the couple, just hours away from being a week married, were under way again. Their destination was the limit of navigation on the river to spend some time looking around before returning to the canal system for the first time since the odyssey that brought them together. The locks on this part of the river were manually operated, smaller than before, but still big by canal standards and all were manned. The ones lower down the river were worked by a hydraulic mechanism of some kind, apart from a couple that still had an earlier, and possibly experimental, electric system.

bridge over river

clearwater sky

The channel too was much narrower with shoals to be avoided as they rounded the many bends. During the afternoon they came across a rather large hire cruiser, named Clearwater Sky, that was firmly lodged on one of these sandbanks. The initial effort of trying to plough through the obstruction, or reverse out under engine power had proved completely futile as was the use of the more ornamental than useful boat-hook supplied with the vessel. The family, having failed to work out quite how to deal with the situation, had decided to wait for further inspiration.
“Can we help?” Amanda shouted as they approached.
“Thanks, but you won’t have the power to lug this thing off. We’re well aground,” the captain, otherwise known as “Dad” replied rather despondently.
“We can try,” Amanda said as Jim brought the bow of the Mayfly round towards the hopelessly grounded cruiser.
“No harm in that surely,” the first mate, otherwise known as “Mum” answered, gratefully accepting the offer.

boat clearwater sky

Clearwater sky

Mayfly, being of much shallower draught than the centre cockpit wooden hire boat, was able to edge in alongside to a point where Amanda was able to hop aboard with a length of rope, one end of which was tied around the centre thwart of Mayfly. As Jim gently edged the craft back, and turned to face it down river. Amanda, tied the rope firmly at the stern of the hire cruiser and headed off to the cockpit.
“Right,” she said with such authority that nobody questioned her youthful appearance. “I’ll reverse whilst you rock the boat, I mean really rock it. Once Jim's taken up the slack, we go.”
As the line tightened, Jim heard Amanda’s barked orders. “One, two, three, ROCK!” He gently applied more power until the little outboard was at full throttle. Gradually the hire cruiser started to move, Jim reducing the output of his own motor as it did. Once she had judged they were at last floating free, Amanda instantly put the motor of the hire boat into neutral to stop the line from fouling the propeller. Jim then cast the rope off for Amanda to retrieve.
“Pick me up at the lock, it’s only a short way,” she shouted. “It’ll save us getting stuck all over again.”
Jim waved in recognition and continued as Amanda set to aiming the cumbersome cruiser to avoid any further shallows.
“Pretty niftily executed,” Captain Dad said. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“Bit of a long story,” Amanda replied.


river lock

“Go on, tell us,” the younger of two girls, pleaded. “Is that your mum and dad’s boat? Or did you hire it like this one?”
“Don’t be so nosey Emily,” first mate Mum said to her eight year daughter.
“Actually she belongs to Jim and me,” Amanda smiled. “That’s a long story too.”
“Will you tell us. Please,” Emily insisted.
“You’ll distract her and we’ll be aground again,” her eleven year old elder sister intervened.
“She won’t do that Debs! She's an expert she is!” Emily persisted.
“Enough from both of you little tykes!” Captain Dad said firmly, feeling rather worried about the chance of hitting another shoal. “And thanks, are you heading for the top of the river this evening?”
“Hopefully,” Amanda replied.
“Then we’re buying you two a drink as a thank you, and before you say no, we insist. Our daughters won’t forgive us if they don’t get some of these long stories out of you!” he smiled.
“Then thanks, we’d love to,” Amanda answered for both Jim and herself, noticing a raised eyebrow from the first mate.
“We both like telling our stories so prepare to be bored to death. By the time we’ve finished you’ll wish you were stuck on the mud again,” Amanda smiled.
“Is he your brother?” Emily chirped.
“That’s another long story,” first mate Mum, having seen the rings on Amanda's finger, replied. “Or at least I think it may be?”



At well over twice the length and a good deal wider than Mayfly, Clearwater Sky wasn’t blessed with best of handling characteristics. Where Mayfly answered almost instantly to a small move of the tiller, Amanda found herself waiting for replies to her commands as cables and pulleys moved an undersized rudder. Once in the lock she switched back to her own boat as soon as the water level in the chamber allowed. The family in the hire boat assured them that they would be fine after their short course in avoiding mud and insisted that Jim and Amanda go on ahead. The politeness was partly due to pride on the captain and first mate’s part, but was contested by the two girls who, as minor crew members, were overruled.
“I may have landed us in for some serious interrogation,” Amanda said as they were back under way.
“As long as they don’t use thumbscrews, I really don’t like thumbscrews very much,” Jim replied calmly.
“They asked us, out for a drink. They were pretty insistent, so I accepted. Hope you don't mind,” Amanda smiled.
“We knew we’d have to explain ourselves at some point,” Jim kept the deadpan tone.
(© 2024 Michael Nye)