Captain in Training

I love steering a barge through the winding countryside canalways. I enjoy seeing the cows
and horses wandering alongside, the occasional bemused dog and of course the rare
kingfisher flash of blue. I often wonder at how horses used to pull massive M-boats, with only
a hint at their majesty remaining in the ridges and grooves on bridges along the old
tow-paths. Another joy is the relaxation of feeling far away and off the grid.
The canal in Dublin provides a very different experience, it’s very much “on” the grid and of
course, the main wildlife there is humans.
Much like the curious cows, people are fascinated by the barge as it navigates through the
many locks. Unfortunately for me, as the “driver”, it feels as if the spotlight is on my handling
of the 40ft floating hulk of steel.
One incident that stays in my mind is a busy afternoon, passing through a lock where a food
market was taking place. A hundred or so humans of the office breed were gathered,
enjoying the sun, food and unexpected entertainment of me and the barge.
The gates opened and I sailed in at perfect speed, not hitting off anything. The gates closed
and before me loomed darkness. The water began to cascade in and I kept the barge
steady. The onlookers grew closer, phones aloft and flashing. I smiled and waved,
embracing my new role as Queen of the Canal. The water came level, and the gates began
to creak open. I set the barge into gear and elegantly moved forward, expertly avoiding all
edges and maneuvering with a skill I hadn’t known I possessed. I could feel the crowd’s awe,
the hundreds of humans amazed at how I, a mere fellow human, could control the steel
“Sadhbh, pull in on the right and we’ll get some food”, my dad called.
I nodded and pushed the tiller left, causing the barge to swing to the right a little faster than I
My downfall was swift and brutal.
The bow thudded off the bank, ricocheting in slow motion in the opposite direction while still
moving too far forward. I panicked.
“Just throw me the rope”.
I grabbed the coiled lengths of rope and threw them with all my strength the two metres
towards my father.
They soared through the air and my heart soared with them. Unfortunately, they soared less
than a foot before plopping pathetically into the water. My heart sank with the rope into the
I made a sound somewhere between a seagull’s cry and a donkey. The boat was still drifting
down the canal and my brain went blank.
The office workers were finding this even more entertaining, I was gathering a large crowd. I
briefly considered driving off and leaving the food and my father behind on the banks.
Perhaps I’d start a new life on the French Riviera, or Cork.
Unfortunately my grand escape would have to be at walking pace. I pictured the gardai
vehicle crawling alongside the barge, megaphone blaring at me to surrender. Not a good
Frantically, I pushed the tiller in what I hoped was the right direction.
It wasn’t, but the bow magically moved back towards the bank and we managed to tie a rope
off from there. When I say we, I mean my dad, single handedly.
Later, after my audience had dispersed and I munched on a well-deserved pad thai, I
decided to relinquish my brief rein in Dublin and retreat to a different crowd in the midlands,
at least the cows don’t have cameras.