"It Floats My Boat" - By Lisa Sewards
(article previously appeared in the Daily Mail)
Nothing is more thrilling for a child on holiday than a disaster. Nothing is more thrilling for a dad than a disaster, either, just so long as it’s someone else’s and he’s not to blame; and he can avert said disaster and turn it into a personal triumph, about which he can boast for days.
I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about at the time, but after the event it became clear to me that the boat carrying me, my two young boys, baby daughter, close friends, expensive luggage and husband has narrowly avoided an industrial cargo vessel.
We were in France and the boys, Callum and Timon, raised the alarm at 7am, shortly after a horrendous metallic grinding rang through our quarters. ‘Brilliant!’ they announced in unison, panting with excitement. ‘We’ve crashed!’
My husband was no less thrilled. They all ran above-deck (as it is called in the trade) and inspected the damage.
We had slipped our overnight mooring somewhere near Aigue Morte – literally ‘Dead Waters’ – and our beautiful luxury barge was drifting along the bank, scraping and juddering its iron gang-plank along the verge until it bucked and collapsed into the deep.
At this point, the boat arced lazily across the width of the Canal du Midi at the point where it is more shipping lane than pretty tourist beat. Everyone hummed and hawed, but didn’t hurry into action until the grain barge was spotted in the distance.
It was low in the water and moving slowly but inexorably towards us. Black smoke belched from it chimney. It parped out warning tattoo; clearly, it foresaw an imminent coming together. Alas, our boat, the Anjodi, could not be manoeuvred. One hinge of the wrecked gangplank, wedged into the muddy bed below, was still attached to the boat. The chaps sprang lustily into action.
An angle grinder emerged from a cubby hole and James, our dashing blond guide, set to work freeing us. With filmic timing, the gangplank fell fully and James pulled the boat back against the bank just as the cargo barge slipped past.
I mention all this because it is an endless source of fascination to me how favoured holiday memories differ so predictably between husband and wife.
If you ask my husband, our boys and our friend Paul what happened on our idyllic week in the finest, most five-star barge imaginable, it would be this episode – or possibly the day at the water park when my husband twisted his ankle stepping into the kiddie pool.
Paul’s other half, Sarah, and I, on the other hand, would speak to you of wood-panelled staterooms, fluffy towels, indulgent staff – four for seven guest – and old-world serenity.
The Anjodi is possibly the most beautiful boat on any waterway. Once you’ve been cosseted by her, you will never again want to share quarters with the day trippers’ fibre-glass rentals or hanker after a Russian billionaire’s seven story gin palace.
She is 100ft long, almost three times as wide as a British narrowboat and has a truly resplendent paint job – red, blue, yellow and white, with hanging basket geraniums, bicycles lashed to her bows, a fabulous deck-top whirlpool spa, steamer lounges and a Canadian flag on her stern.
The Anjodi, it transpired, once had a tradition of sporting her guests’ national colours. All caused offence at some point of her voyage to some nationality or other. The maple leaf was the only standard not to have received a passing insult proving that Canada is the most inoffensive nation on the plant. It has stayed in place ever since.
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