I haven’t been boating long. Not long enough, at least, to understand all the vagaries that can beset me on the canals of Britain….or in the marina. I have a lot to learn. The old-timers who have been on narrow boats all their lives laugh at us newbies. Their derision of us knows no bounds when they get together. I overheard a conversation between a group of them not long ago. We are referred to as ‘The ones who don’t know what the hell they’re doing’.
Not entirely wrong if the truth be told. I really haven’t the foggiest. I’m learning, but I’ll never catch up to the old-timers. One old timer in our marina is half my age. He buys old hauls and refits them to his specifications. Guts them then rebuilds them. I get him to do some of our work. When the water pump went, he was the one to fix it. While he was here, I mentioned that our cupboards feel damp inside. He said we need air vents. Too bad we have to cut into the oak, but better that than damp clothes.
He said to me that I would need such and such a cutter and some sort of drill and, of course, the vents. I said to him that what he realy meant was he needs those things and, naturally, has them. He looked at me knowingly, not feeling even a tad sympathetic toward my DIY ineptitude. After all, it meant money for him. But I just know that he gets together with his DIY boat buddies and has a right laugh at my expense.
My best friend did the DIY at our old place. She knows I’m all thumbs and have no patience for the nitty grittys of life. I like to pride myself in being the big picture sort of bloke, the bigger the better. But even my best friend leaves boat work to boat experts. Boats are a tricky sort of work space and not for the faint of heart or the tricky of knee. There is only one real problem here.
Things need changing on a boat more often than in other living spaces. They wear out faster for some reason. This boat is only 5 years old and we have had to change the water pump, the shower and the central heating system. I don’t ever remember changing a water pump at any house I’ve lived in. Never gave them a thought. Turn on the taps in the house and, swoosh, water.
It seems that every week since we got the boat, we have had to put money into something or other, either voluntarily (an improvement we want make) or forced (due to breakage or malfunction). In the improvement department, we got a pram cover for the back of the boat. It covers the hatch and the back entrance to give us more room to store things and a sheltered area to take off wet gear before getting down into the boat. It’ll be great for the tough winter predicted for this year.
And all this is why narrow boaters have the very descriptive expression B.O.A.T. which stands for ‘Bring Out Another Thousand’ or ‘Bung On Another Thousand’, depending on the boater you talk to. That is the usual round sum of things when upgrading or repairing things on narrow boats….and any boat for that matter. Though you may have gone from a house to a boat, don’t think for a minute that it’s a cheaper way to live. Not so. A better way to live maybe….but a less expensive way?
If you decide you want to live this life style, you have to do it passionately and with a desire to live mobile on water. If you think engine maintenance, fuel costs, annual mooring fees (if you berth in a marina), general repairs and upkeep, constant cleaning, camp-style toilets and very small spaces, you’ll never make it. Ozymandias knows we’ve had our moments. We live on boats because it is a lifestyle, not a financial consideration….well, maybe a bit, but not totally.
Having said all that, there are plenty of narrow boats on the canals that have seen better days and some you wonder how or why they still float. Some have no engines at all. They are either towed from mooring to mooring or pulled along by roaps from the towpath. When we travelled a section of the Oxford canal with some boat buddies a while back, we ran across a couple pulling their narrow boat from the bank. Problem was, there were so many tall reeds and bullrushes along the shore that their task was extremely difficult. I wonder where they ended up?
I bought an ash can today (£15)….and some gloves that will stop my hands getting burned when I tend the fire in our Bubble (brand name) solid fuel stove (£3.95). It’s on at the moment, keeping me warm. I’ve spent nearly £200, so far, on the fuel for the Bubble. Those expenses are a drop-in-the-bucket compared to all the others. But they add up. We also just bought a new sofa that turns into a bed and are giving away (because we’re generous folk) two chairs we had that cost over £2000 for the pair. They were on the boat when we bought it, so no expense there. I won’t tell you what the sofa cost. B.O.A.T.