My last Blog featured trains, old trains. But my present love is boats, narrow boats especially. Not only because I live on one. They fascinate me. Each narrow or canal boat represents the personality of the owner. The longer the boat is owned, the more it becomes like its owner. Like anything else, I suppose, but narrow boats are particularly unique as I’ve come to see.
My own history with boats began in 1955 when my mum, my younger brother and I left England for Canada aboard a passenger ship, The Scythia from the Cunard Line. I was 5 years old and it wasn’t a particularly good experience, but I loved the ocean. And my love for being near water or on it has never waned. A psychic told me that once. She wasn’t wrong. I wrote elsewhere that I nearly drowned at Muscleman’s Lake in Ontario, Canada when I was 6 years old. I remember it as a peaceful experience….until my mum dragged me up to the surface and applied CPR (or whatever they called it in the 50s).
I was never more at peace than at a cottage on a lake in Ontario. Being by the sea in England soothes my soul. And now being on the water all day and night is like a slice of heaven. As frustrating as the boating part can be, all I have to do is go outside, walk to the end of our jetty and stand staring at the water. Clears all the cobwebs from the brain. Keeps me going.
But it’s the boats that make the whole experience interesting. The people on the boats make it even more fascinating. I’ll leave some of them until the last. Good for a laugh let me just say.
I’ve also written before about the first boats, the horse pulled ones. Some of them still operate, but with engines dropped in. My fuel guy Phil has one such. Have a look. He and his wife have two boats side-by-side out of which they live and operate. They have a section of the canal that they cover every two weeks. Our marina is in the middle of the back and forth run.
Other doubled up working boats provide other services and act as workshops. This one, for example. A floating workshop that can make anything a boater needs to keep going. It has no name, but its uniqueness is in having an old £50 people carrier (van) welded to the back rather than having a pram cover £1200 like on ours. The chap who runs the boat said it’s easier for him to open one of the doors to get his tools.
And you may remember the Candy Boat from a previous Blog. If not, go back and read it. All manner and type of narrow boat wind their way along the canals of Britain. Some are in pristine shape, while others are left in a state of decay, their rusting hulls a reminder that some boaters never worry about appearance.
In fact, there is a pride for some (especially the old-timers) in having a derelict boat. A sign of, ‘I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of me. I’ll live in squaller because I want to. I’ve dropped out of polite society to live as I like.’ You find them everywhere. Many boats are manned by single men who pay alimony and can only afford to live on a boat. You can get them pretty cheap. Lonely men who have no incentive to clean or paint their boats outside or inside, who want to be left alone to exist off the grid. The boat becomes their sanctuary. Too much dazzle would call attention to them. They become scavengers, maintenance men, purveyors of the odd job and pub crawlers.
But not everyone. People have all kinds of reasons to be on the canals. Some are spiritual, some for practical reasons and still others because they have gypsy blood in them. Most of us have some affinity toward the elements that goes beyond any normal person’s perspective on things. Normal to us is relative anyway. We’ve met witches and shamans, artists and musicians, ex-navy, corporate drop-outs….the lot. Each of their boats tells a story about who they are and what they are trying to say. Try to figure these ones out. What does the boat say about them?
You may have noticed that most boats have names. To register, a boat has to have a name. You’ve seen the ‘Shackleton’ above, owned by a guy from the same neighbourhood as I in Ontario, Canada. Obviously the lover of the Arctic explorer of the same name. We have The ‘Eight Bells’ near us. I saw ‘Andromeda’ at a festival last summer and again on the cut a little later. The ‘NutGone’ is moored on the other side of the marina. I saw a boat named ‘Nicki-Nacki-Noo’ and another ‘Poop Deck’. Some have the family or a sweetheart’s name. My favourite is my neighbour Eddie’s…’My Precious’. Don’t ask.
The boats I haven’t mentioned yet are the ones for hire. Companies all up and down the cut provide boats with minimal instruction to anyone with money enough to have a holiday on the canals. People come from all over the world to rent narrow boats. In the summertime, the canals are crowded with vacationers who know little about running a boat. But in some cases, whole families have come back year after year because of the attraction of the canals.
But one time, in October, late in the season, we ran into a bunch of renters along the Oxford canal that we’ll never forget. Eight boats passed us in succession loaded with males on a stag weekend. You can only imagine. But instead of that, I’m going to show you two videos of our encounters….the first two of the eight boatloads. Please excuse some of the language….these were stagmen after all. But watch them to the end. It will give you an idea what we encounter from time to time. Narrow boats of the cut take on a new meaning when stag boats are encountered.
Boats of the Cut can be all things to all people. Try one some time. You won’t be disappointed. But please, make sure you get proper instruction beforehand. Don’t want to have to rescue you along the way on a nice sunny day.