Our marina is usually a pretty quiet place. Even though we’re surrounded by apartment buildings,the noise level after 10pm at night is negligible. Very rarely do we hear revellers from the local pub passing by the boat after hours. Only once in a while do YOBs come by spreading their antisocial behaviour, but that happens everywhere.

The only things we have to worry about in the marina have to do with our boats. Do we have enough water in our tanks? Enough electricity coming to the boat? That requires getting an electric card from our marina warden and inserting it into a slot, giving it a quick jab and slowly removing it. I can never do it, my best friend has the touch. Thus we never run out of the stuff. We make sure the diesel is topped up and clean (no diesel bug), order our solid fuel for our stove, empty and clean out the shitter when full, check that the bilge has no water in it (don’t want to sink), top up the antifreeze for our central heating and generally determine that everything is running as it should. We have a checklist.

If anything beyond our scope of competance arises, we call one of the several experts in the marina to fix it. Mostly we call on our neighbour Eddie to do stuff. The man lives to fix things and keep things in order. Eddie loves order. Can’t stand to see unslightly wires dangling about or stuff cluttering the boat where it ought not to be. I usually just let him carry on when he gets into work mode.

Life in the marina is pretty uncomplicated actually. As long as we keep an eye on things, everything rolls along swimmingly….without the swim. Every so often a problem arises on a boat in the marina that needs attention. But nothing like what happened late one evening last week comes close to this near disaster. It involves fire, the enemy of all boaters.

If people need to get a hold of us when we are on the boat, they generally knock on the roof or poke their faces into one of our portholes and rap on the window. You only have to knock gently. Our hauls are made of steel and sound carries. We don’t have door bells….too silly. Just a knock and a ‘YooHoo’ will suffice. A package being delivered, a neighbour wanting to borrow something or extending an invitation to a meal or other activity are all reasons to knock.

But on the night in question, the knock was frantic, a pounding even. We were just about to retire, so the lateness and urgency of the knock caught us off guard. I scrambled to open the hatch and there was my neighbour Sally with an alarmed look on her face, and not just because it was one of the coldest nights of the year at -2C. Damp cold at that. She said, “Get off your boat, one of the neighbour’s boat is on fire!” We bundled up quickly and rushed out onto the foot path.

Smoke was streaming out of a boat just down the way, its owner safely out, dazed and confused. The fire brigade had been called. We had no idea how bad it might be. The boat owner was too overcome to make a lot of sense. But questions had to be asked and answers either given or actions taken. Eddie to the rescue.

Clad only in his PJs and bare feet, Eddie took it upon himself to enter the smoking boat to make sure the gas and electricity were turned off. He took a deep breath and in he went, just as the fire brigade arrived. Soon, four fire trucks and two ambulances were on the scene. Not because it was overkill you understand. Marina accidents have happened elsewhere. In one case, up north, one boat went up and took four others with it. One fellow boater called us ‘steel cylindrical time bombs’. Not quite, but there is some merit to the description and why we boat owners have to be vigilent.

I am pleased to report that Eddie survived the ordeal, emerging from the smokey boat unscathed. He was able to turn off the gas and electric and report that things looked very misty inside but he saw no flames. On came the firefighters replete in masks and oxygen tanks to go where only Eddie would go nearly naked and they assessed the situation quickly.

Seems the smoke was coming from the area behind the stove and between the outer wooden wall and the haul. The firefighters ripped apart the wall revealing charred insulation. Any longer and flames would have erupted and actually did when the wall boards were torn out. All was under control quickly.

A disturbing fact though. The firefighters knew nothing about boats, where the electric comes from, where gas bottles are stored or even the fact that gas is on board. They had no idea what fuel propelled the boat or how to gain access to the engine rooms and the bilge. I ventured that they might want to think of having a training session at the marina as the consequences of such occurrences as these could be catastrophic. They agreed. I did have some experience on the subject having worked with two fire departments in Canada. I did mention that to them. There was a lull in the conversation when one of the firefighters cleared his throat and asked me, “Do you have smoke detectors?” Please.

As the fire brigade did its thing, and did it very well I might add once they had the lay of things, Eddie buzzed about telling the firefighters where the gas was and advising them on various aspects of dealing with narrowboats. He was still wearing only his PJs although his partner, Marion (Mimz to me), had forced him to put on a pair of slippers, no socks. Eddie is a trained Shaman. Weather of any kind has no affect on him.

One of the firefighters stared at him about an hour into the bedlam and asked Eddie, “How can you walk around like that in this cold? I have on all this gear and I’m freezing.” Eddie just looked at him, smiled, and said, “Pussy.” Everyone laughed….fortunately.

The next day, my best friend and I, along with Eddie and Mimz and the marina warden, Dave, went into the boat and gave it a thorough clean. It was much appreciated. The boating community works like that. That same day we learned that we were less than ten minuted away from a firball as the gas line ran behind the wall just above where the heat was rising. It would have taken most of our boats with it. There are no words.

2 responses »

  1. Wow, this gives a new insight into living on a boat! When we lived in Amsterdam, we thought nothing about safety of the boats assuming them to be just like houses. Seems there is so much more to consider! Its not all romantic sailing in the canals, a lot of hard work to maintain an keep it running safely!


  2. Very true. We didn’t know any of it when we bought the boat. Had to learn as we went. We probably wouldn’t have changed lifestyles in this way had we known then what we know now, but we’re glad we did it anyway. Just over a year in and still loving it.


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