Day 20 (26th Sep 2013) – Twyford Wharf to Gibraltar:

The crew here reunited after Andy brought Stevo JP and Curtis back from his and Jane’s B&B. Stevo saw the sixteen miles planned for the days paddle and decided to swap with Curtis and let the young fellow paddle for the day while he acted as first mate on ‘Merlot’. Selfless, yes, but that’s just the kind of guy he is. ‘Merlot’ had been acting up for a few days with problems with the electrics and engine revs and water getting into the engine bay so a rendezvous with a mechanic was organised for the days end.

Justin, JP and Curtis set off southwards and presently Curtis managed to achieve his second swim of the trip when re-entering his kayak after portaging around a lock. One minute he wasn’t in the water and then he was. Swim seven. The team were briefly together again when ‘Merlot’ was replenished with water and diesel at the first available opportunity. The canal wound through the Cherwell valley and followed the path of the River Cherwell for most of the day. The open farmland eventually changed into woodland and Stevo made the first deer sighting as a doe ran into the undergrowth. At a point where the canal ran beside a railway station Stuart made the first celebrity sighting when he spotted Freddie Jones who apparently plays Sandy Thomas in something called Emmerdale…

Up ahead Justin challenged Curtis to a match race and was subsequently soundly beaten. The paddlers finally made Gibraltar and retired to the Rock of Gibraltar pub for debrief. ‘Merlot’ was limping along and arranged to meet the mechanic at the last lock. The mechanic listened to the engine and then turned to Stuart and said, “as soon as you get out of the lock, turn off the engine”. Uh-oh. Apparently one of the engine legs had snapped causing the engine to vibrate so much as to loosen the seal around the prop shaft and allow water to leak in. The water had ruined the alternator, explaining the electrical problems. This was indeed tragic news. Whichever way you looked at it, ‘Merlot’ had been removed from calculations as several days, at the least, would be required for repairs. All was not lost though, as a new support boat, the 61 foot, wide-beamed ‘Hannah’, supplied by the Bruce Trust, was meeting the team at Oxford the next day. It would require a bit of logistical work, but they would carry on regardless. So, a moments silence and reflection for the gallant ship ‘Merlot’. She won a place in the heart of all who sailed on her.

At Gibraltar the team met Corinne who had generously offered a couple of berths in her narrowboat to help out the cause. Corinne joined in for a ‘stew’ which consisted of everything left in the fridge on ‘Merlot’, delicious. Some of the lads had a nightcap in the pub where locals turned up with instruments and started on some Irish reels and the occasional a cappella. A pleasant end to a rough day.

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