Sunday, February 03, 2008

London Boat Show

So off to the London Boat Show I go….

I flew Easyjet to Gatwick airport and withdrew a hundred pounds from the ATM. Of course it doesn’t weigh a hundred pounds, but since you only get 1 pound for every 2 U.S. dollars it certainly feels weighty.

They have decent train service in the U.K. but it doesn’t come cheap. I hopped on the “Gatwick Express” for a 17 pound half hour ride into London. From there I hopped into one of those quaint London cabs and drove to the ‘Royal Thames Yacht Club’. Neil is a member and had reserved a room for me there. Small, but sufficient although the dress code prevented me from hanging around and chatting up the club members.

I was staying right on the Thames River and Hyde Park was just two blocks away. However, we had typical London weather; cold and rainy, so I wasn’t too keen on walking the city much. So I settled for exploring the famous Harrod’s Department store. A rare pleasure for an avid shopper like myself. All the super expensive designer goods anyone could ever ask for. I spent countless hours trying things on. NOT! I was impressed with one department though, the food court. Fresh made delicacies from every genre of food. The kind of place where you wish you hadn’t eaten for a few days so you could strut in and gorge yourself.

The next morning I met Neil and we went to the London Boat Show at the Expo Center. The Expo is outside the city and was a huge project that went bankrupt. Now they are trying to revive it and have worked a deal with the Boat show. Unfortunately, the show used to be right in the city and now that it’s kind of a hassle to get to the attendance has suffered. Both in terms of the public and the vendors. So I don’t really have anything special to report here, just a lot of walking around getting ideas for the boat. We did see a couple of interesting items and made a few contacts that might be helpful in the future.

So after we had our fill we got a car to the train station, grabbed some take away dinner and waited for the stampede to the train. It was Friday night and the throngs of Londeners were trying to make there way home. It’s an interesting system they have there in their busy main station. There are some 18 tracks and they don’t tell you which track your train is on until the last minute. So you stand there staring at the board getting a kink in your neck while trying to jockey for position at the front of the pack. As soon as the track assignment is posted the stampede begins as everyone starts making their way at anywhere from a speed walking pace to full out sprint. I was one of the fools at a full out sprint. That’s because there are no seat assignments and a very limited amount of comfortable seats with tables to spread out to. Definitely a sought after commodity on a crowded three hour train ride where if you are slow you could actually wind up standing the whole way.

So Neil was in charge of our bags and it was my job to get a couple of good seats. I thought I’d play it smart and head to the farthest cars. At first things looked easy, but then I saw that most of the prized seats had been reserved and so the frantic search began. In the end I barely managed to secure a couple of seats while beating off others until Neil arrived to claim his seat. We were on our way and had some nice conversation with a couple of locals while we dined somewhat comfortably at our table with a high speed view. We arrived in Manchester and hopped into a cab and started to go to our destination, Liverpool. But Liverpool had their opening night as the “City of Culture” and those Mod Liverpool Lads, Ringo and Paul were back in their hometown to play a concert for the opening ceremonies. Who knows maybe John and George were there also, but one thing was for sure, a hell of a lot of other people would be there and hotel rooms might be hard to come by. So instead of possibly being stuffed we decided to stay in Manchester for the evening.

The next morning we made our way to Liverpool to pick up Neil’s new baby. A 7.5 ton Mercedes covered flat bed truck customized and decked out with all the necessary goodies to transport his little Riva boat. We picked the truck up from a tall, lanky mohawked, skull jewelry wearing ex-Hells Angel. Of course looks can be deceiving and I don’t think this guy would hurt a fly.

Not un-typically the truck needed gas so that was our first stop. After the fill up it wouldn’t start. Luckily we were on an incline so we just gained some momentum, popped into second and away we went pledging to not to turn off the truck until we got to our destination so it could get a good charge. We drove South East through the English countryside and the areas where some of the bloodiest battles of World War I took place and finally arrived at the “Chunnel” (English Channel Tunnel).

I had envisioned a typical tunnel that you simply drive through. Not the case. You have to cue up into six long lines of trucks and await your turn to load up on the train. After driving your rig on to the train you have to hop out and take a seat in the passenger compartment. It’s a short trip, but they actually serve dinner. Well everyday except Saturday and Sunday. It was Saturday. So we missed out on dinner, but that wasn’t our only problem. When we got back in the truck and tried to start it up, well you can guess, it didn’t start. We figured the battery was just flat and after a day’s drive would be fully charged. Obviously it wasn’t a flat battery problem or it was compounded by a bad alternator or something else. So with the truck on a dark train on the coast of France with 10 other trucks stuck behind us and patiently waiting for us to move our ass I popped off the battery box cover to investigate. Fortunately the problem was quickly obvious. The battery cable was loose on the terminal.

So we cranked the rig up and got off the train and drove our way to a hotel for the evening. We got in just in time to sweet talk a hostess to convince the kitchen to serve one more meal at a typical French family restaurant in town. The next morning surprise, surprise the truck wouldn’t start. Off with the battery box again. The cable wouldn’t stay on the terminal because all the arcing the first day wore away some of the terminal. I held the cable on to the terminal and amid a small shower of sparks we cranked it over once more.

Another day of monotonous driving and another hotel. We probably could have made it home that night, but we had a little delay along the way. Neil was driving and I was stretching out in the loft above the cab when I felt us slowing down. I opened the hatch and popped my head in to see what was up. “I think we are running out of gas”. Greeaaaaat!! He managed to get off the freeway and we actually got lucky enough to stall out exactly where there was a sort of rest lane along the lonely single lane road. OK so it’s Sunday in France and nothing is open on Sunday in France. I would have called AAA, but by the time they shipped a tow truck overseas well….

Well the stars must have be shining on us because against all odds we managed to find a very helpful Frenchman who had a gas can and drove us to a non attended, but credit card self service fuel station. There wasn’t a funnel on the gas can so I improvised with a wet/dry vacuum house. Now we had some fuel and just had to go through another shower of sparks to get her started. Another hurdle overcome and the next morning we would only have a few more hours to drive and a small detour through Nice because of a tunnel closing.

It’s a good thing we made it when we did because we wouldn’t have been able to start the truck again. The battery terminal had completely disintegrated! Well another adventure over and it’s back to work…..