The Girly Button


Life on a narrow canal boat is not all fun and games. You have to have your wits about you at all times. That’s probably true for everything in life, but on a boat, it’s doubly true. Always something to look out for and changes to be made….other things to consider and still more stuff to keep you occupied. What we boaters strive for continuously is comfort….maximum comfort, when and where it can be obtained.

I know we live in an age of convenience. Everything at hand and foolproof designs to minimise the event of things going wrong or other things breaking. A toaster that toasts evenly. A vacuum cleaner that picks up even the most stubborn articles. Car tyres (tires) that endure and microwave ovens that pop all the popcorn without burning any. We want electricity when we flick a switch. We want pure water to drink. And food that is always available, always in season and organic with it. No pesticides please. We don’t really want oil but we do for most of the convenient products we use. We want guaranteed warmth in the winter and conditioned air in the heat of summer.

Thing is, we get what we pay for….usually. And we want all our conveniences to be cheap. So, they bend, crack, break and sometimes explode, even the most expensive gizmos. Our world works on the unshakeable principle of Atrophy. Nothing lasts forever….not even stars (the ones out there in space). All our stuff has built-in atrophy or obsolescence. Makes you want to give up on the search for the perfect toaster. Be that as it may, we are forever inventing new products to make life more convenient and hide us from nasty old Atrophy. If needs be we’ll pay ridiculous sums to make our lives more comfortable.

With boating, the comfort has to come in small packages. I’m talking about narrow canal boats here, not those ocean-going yachts or the cruise ships. Not even the wide beam narrow boats that offer more room and twice the comfort. My best friend would have opted for one of those if it weren’t for the lack of access to some of the more picturesque, narrower canals of Britain. We recently changed our captain’s chairs for a more comfortable and practical sofabed made by folk who specialise in narrowboat furniture. And it had storage underneath. We love it, falling asleep regularly while watching the telly (TV).

But there is one convenience we don’t have that I sometimes wish we did. A Girly Button, better known as a Bow Thruster. My neighbour,Eddie, has one. He gave it the name Girly Button. It does have a button. You can see it on the device at the bottom of the illustrations with all the technical gear you need for a Bow Thruster. The Thruster itself can be seen on the boat (not mine) on the front hull just to the left of the greyish/silver anode (the thing that keeps the hull from rotting). Got all that? Took me ages to and I live on one of the damned things. A Bow Thruster blows water away from the boat. There are portals on the right and the left of the front of the hull. In the picture you see below, the hull is basically all the black bit at the bottom.

The beauty of the Girly Button is that if you get caught in wind, you can press the button for either side and right yourself. A few weeks ago I helped Eddie take his boat over to the pump-out in the marina. There are two types of boat, one with a big holding tank for human waste and our kind with cassettes (last image below) that you pull out from under the toilet and empty yourself in a room provided for just such a thing in the marina. Lots of fun.

Anyway, Eddie had to take the boat from his mooring to the pump-out. He had his boat away from the jetty, into the open water of the marina and alongside the jetty that contained the pumping station within minutes. And it was windy. I was so impressed at his driving skills that I cheered. “How did you do that so easily?” I asked him when he got back and I helped tie him back up. “It’s me girly button” he replied. “Couldn’t do without it. I’d have one for the back of the boat too if they made ’em.” He had literally blown his way along, adjusting his direction in an instant all with the push of a button, a Girly Button.

You have to understand that most narrowboats are not fitted with this gizmo, the older ones especially. The man who owned our boat before us had it made to his specifications (5 years ago). He didn’t want a Bow Thruster. Old timers detest them and never have a good thing to say about them. ‘Just another gadget to go wrong’ is the usual response. Mention them to a long-time boater and he’ll curse or worse. One spat on the ground when someone dared bring up the subject. Newer boaters sing their praises….like Eddie, though he’s no newbie like me.

We won’t be putting a Girly Button in any time soon. I just read an article by a chap at Norbury Wharf who said he noticed a narrowboat in his marina was sitting 6 inches lower than usual. When they investigated, they discovered water in the bilge. The boat was gradually sinking. It took them ages to find the problem. Turned out to be a leaky Bow Thruster tube. A tiny hole is all it takes. The grit taken into the tube from the canal eventually pits the steel, causing rust and eventual corrosion. He recommends constant vigilance in checking the tube….not an easy task….for damage. That can only happen when the boat is out of the water. By then it could be too late. The Girly Button controversy continues to rage.

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