Taking the plunge - Me & My Boat blog
- Credit: Archant
Why Chris and Sarah Atkin will never forget tying the knot
When you’re up against the clock, a narrowboat is unlikely to be your mode of transport of choice. But when the easing of Covid-19 restrictions permitted liveaboards to resume travelling on 1 June, my in-laws had little choice.
Already delayed once by the pandemic, our wedding date had been rescheduled to take place in Cambridge on 18 June. Hotels at the time were closed and visits to the homes of friends or relatives were prohibited. This meant that if they were to stay for more than a day, Di and Mark needed to bring their home with them. So they began the 180-mile journey from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal in their two-year-old boat, Enbilulu.
The trip involved passing through 138 locks as they travelled across the Grand Union Canal, up the Northampton Arm, along the River Nene and across the Middle Level Navigations, via the Denver Sluice, out onto the River Great Ouse and then down the River Cam. Usually an unremarkable stretch of water, the almost total absence of traffic along the Middle Level Navigations meant that the water there was almost completely undisturbed. Gazing down as the boat moved along, it was as easy to spot fish as it is when looking at an aquarium.
Di and Mark made it through the final lock at Baits Bite just north of Cambridge in time for 18 June. Sadly, by this point it had become clear that their efforts would be in vain as weddings were still not permitted. While we were far from being the only couple to have their big day postponed, we nevertheless needed to get married as soon as possible. My fiancé, Sarah, was due to begin a Fellowship at Stanford University in California and I would only be able to travel to the States with her if we were married.
The new date was set for 1 August. Sarah’s parents were keen to explore the local waterways and they used the intervening time to look out for seals and otters on the Great Ouse. One particular highlight was exploring the Cam Lodes. These are man-made drainage ditches coming off the Cam, Wissey and Lark rivers which feed into the Great Ouse.
They would have liked to travel through Jesus Green lock past the Backs of the most famous Cambridge University colleges, but unfortunately engine powered boats are banned from this stretch of the river between April and September to give the city’s famous punts more space in the summer months. Instead, Enbilulu headed off in the direction of Huntingdon, Ely and Bedford.
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Meanwhile, we endeavoured to make the most of having the boat in Cambridge in advance by incorporating her into the day itself. For our plan to work, Sarah’s parents spent the night before the wedding moored by Jesus Green lock. There are a limited number of visitor moorings here as the majority of the bank is reserved for private mooring. Securing a spot was made more complicated by the fact that visitor moorings can only be used for 48 hours, so Enbilulu couldn’t be moored there too far in advance.
Leaving their mooring the following morning, Di and Mark travelled north back towards Baits Bite lock to pick Sarah and I up close to our house. They had decorated the boat so that when we saw it, Enbilulu was adorned with white ribbons and balloons. Filled with nervous excitement, we hopped on, made a U-turn and set off back towards Jesus Green lock.
One of the most memorable parts of a very memorable day was spent sipping champagne while sat at the bow as we were carried for 40 minutes along the River Cam towards the city centre.
Sadly, due to lockdown restrictions our friends could not attend the ceremony, so some came to cheer us on from the riverbank instead. Countless strangers also waved at us and took pictures as Mark expertly steered the boat between the scullers.
Enbilulu was moored exactly where she had stayed overnight. Just when it seemed like our plan had worked to perfection, calamity struck. A hatch door on the boat fell off and sank to the bottom of the river. Of all the potential issues we had conceived possible, this wasn’t one of them. Although there was no way to make the boat secure, there was now only half an hour until the ceremony was due to begin, so Sarah and I had to depart to meet the registrar at the venue. As we walked across the bridge at Jesus Green lock, we glanced back to see Mark out of his suit and tie and wearing his swimming trunks!
Our wedding service was held at the Cambridge University Debating Chamber and, once Sarah and I had finalised the remaining details with the registrar, we were pleased to see everyone (including Mark - now back in his suit) had made it in time for the ceremony to begin. We were equally pleased to hear that the hatch door had been successfully rescued from the river and restored to its rightful place.
In total, 12 close family members attended our wedding. The venue’s 400-plus capacity ensured everyone certainly had plenty of space to socially distance.
Walking out of the chamber as a married couple, Sarah and I felt an overwhelming mixture of delight and relief at having finally tied the knot.
We walked back happily along the river to our garden, where we shared theories over afternoon tea as to how the hatch door had come off its hinges. Our best guess is that the starboard side of the boat had risen when someone had stood on the port side. This small adjustment caused the hatch door to become wedged onto the riverbank and when the boat subsequently righted itself, it lifted the door off its hinges. As a result, it fell with an undignified splash. Being made of steel, it sank immediately, and although we couldn’t see it on the riverbed, it was easy to find and get back onto the hinges.
Whilst we intend to hold another, bigger celebration in 2022, our intimate wedding was everything that we had hoped for. Next time though, we’ll try to avoid needing anyone to jump into the river.