Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tempora's voyage part 1...



I like to contemplate gender specificity in ships; it's an intriguing quirk of the English language and a satisfying figure of speech, but there's much more to this personification for me; Tempora deserves her feminine pronouns for a multitude of reasons.

For a decade she's been a constant for me in Bristol - she's grown weed along her wind and water line, becoming unkempt whilst stagnated in the brown water but she's always been a hub and a host to a hive of activity.

To highlight a little of her history, Tempora before her current owners 'Floating Harbour Studios', had been the headquarters of the Bristol Ferry Boat Company for twenty years; she's 110 years old and registered to the port Terneuzen in The Netherlands.

When I arrived at Tempora a decade ago to begin work for the ferries, I was hoping for a job which might build on my soul and not crush it; I was ignorant and apathetic over things nautical and I wasn't expecting to imprint upon a Dutch barge:

Tempora, the people surrounding her and the sense of belonging she brought made her like a second home and a second mother.

My main source of friendship and employment for ten years, she's taught me as much as radio 4 - more than school ever did; she's launched my music career, dirtied me into a man, made me who I am.

Tempora, my kora and this book I write in; these three are the pride, my fleet, my material necessities.



Now, my role aboard Tempora has changed - I renovate and maintain, and arriving here on the dawn of her first voyage since knowing her, feeling familial and a little apprehensive, I'm not ashamed to say that on seeing three people I'd never met get intimate with her engine, turning her wheel, I felt a protectiveness kick in and had to remember not to forget myself.







Consolation quickly came on reasoning that these three men are like boat doctors;
they're professionals to whom Tempora is of a genre. That's not to say that I think that Tommy, Nigel and Mark lack passion or romanticism with regards to boats, but that their purpose was transitory and true to nautical character, in no time at all we're laughing whilst we work and feeling solid;
a crew.

There is much to get done before the old girl leaves - coffee making, the removal of shore-power and phone cables, cutting the spot-welded bolts which hold the gangplank in place, the severing of her umbilicus from the city.




The walls seem to anticipate displacement of water, and at 10:40 we're away, busied, tying bowlines to suspend fenders; the bascule of Redcliffe Bridge descends and Tempora regains the primary function of a boat: To provide passage across water. A rich thick exhaust, a cake of old oil splutters and we come to rest by Pooles Wharf with ease, having only needed support from our escort Mariner once, on the sharp bend by Redcliffe quay.







I admire Tommy Nielsen's expertise - now that Tempora is no longer carrying cargo, the majority or her 260 tons is above the water - It's so close to a hover that her wind and water line is barely halfway up the rudder and this poses a great challenge to maneuverability.



We all breakfast together and then I work on my list of tasks - tidying cables in the bald patch of her rebirth, buying batteries for torches, oil to keep her quenched and the battening down of hatches to ready us for departure on the evening tide.



We get beyond the Clifton Suspension Bridge - grinning, exhilarated, but Tommy slows to tickover and we're forced to come about as there's not enough water circulating to adequately cool her engine.



As the sun begins setting, we come back to the Cumberland basin to rest for the night, sleeping on bales of hay in the black-walled hold. There is mild confidence that the problem is solved, but the next morning after we nudge her about on the bow to head out on a level, we have that same elation, and then the disheartenment - to turn around once more, to be tugged by Mariner back into the entrance lock.


We're threatened with the involvement of the MCA, and listening to this understandably authoritarian speech, I was at pains to conceal my contempt, wilful to appear humble and subordinate, and my head span with a nightmarish saga of officious bureaucrats prodding at the hull, hemming us in.

None of us doubt we'll get there though...


 

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