For no real reason other than a bit of self-indulgence I’ve been restoring stories I posted from my Grand Tour circumnavigation of Britain by motorboat in 1999. There were many moments that will stay in my head for as long as there are working brain cells in occupancy there but this day, eight years ago, was among the best.
My crew was Howard Jones, an unbelievable bundle of enthusiasm who knew the waters of the Severn like the back of his hand and whose hand had been involved in helping many boat owners in that part of the world. Our mission was a rare one-tide passage from Gloucester Dock to Bristol Floating Dock. This involved punching against the fast flooding waters of the Severn Estuary on MBM’s Sealine F36 Missing Link fast enough before the River Avon became a muddy ditch. Only one known boat had managed this before – Howard had missed that show and he really wanted to experience his own performance.
Michelle and I had already met Howard and his wife Jill on a Motor Boats Monthly flotilla cruise in Turkey a few years back where his almost manic enthusiasm for life became obvious about three seconds into that adventure. Howard was often in touch with the magazine, not least to point out the latest British Waterways folly (of which there seemed to be quite a few instances) in his capacity as chairman of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal & River Severn Users Forum.
Far from boasting about his 180 or so pasages along one of the most difficult stretches of water anywhere in the world, Howard would more likely than not show you pictures of the day he got it wrong and parked his Princess Sea Mist in the middle of a field on a particularly impressive high water.
Sad to relate we were writing his obituary just two years later after he joined Missing Link‘s crew for a week of the Grand Tour. But I’ll never forget the look on Howard’s face as he saw the lock gates for Bristol Floating Dock appear around a final twist of the Avon. After we moored up at Baltic Wharf he pulled out his journal, selected a red pen and started to write. “Today,” he told me, “is a rare red letter day.”