Tag Archives: Boating

Much Ado….

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I have been accused of making mountains out of mole hills. My best friend  tells me I do anyway. Not all the time mind you, just while telling a good story that isn’t as good in reality as in the telling of it. But most of the time, stories just drop into my lap that are as incredulous in real life as any fictional account could ever render. And….they really happened. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

Now, dear reader, let me just confess that I have been in a bit of a writing funk of late. Nothing has happened worth writing about, especially not this, but I cannot keep silent for fear of losing some of you, so let’s look at the past few weeks and see if I can’t squeeze some kind of juice from nearly nothing. What’s say eh?

Right, well, here we go….I moved to a boat from a house just over two years ago and now live in a marina on water instead of on land. Nothing new so far. But I have to say, moving from a house onto a narrowboat means you have to give up a lot of stuff. I even had to sell one of my guitars in the process, a Gibson Les Paul. If you have no idea what one guitar is from another, think jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. It still is his guitar of choice. Les Paul played one too. It was , as you can tell, named after him.

Don’t know Jimmy Page? Well, it may interest you to know that all the great guitar players have played one at some time. Unavoidable. That, and the Fender Stratocaster. I kept that one. But I miss my Les Paul. Of all the things I had to leave behind, that was the hardest. I had to let go of all kinds of music equipment, good clothing, pine furniture, my electric train set, books (I love my books) and, of course, my studio.

Some of my stuff I could not part with and so we rented some space in a garage our neighbours Eddie and Mimz had, loading it with bags of clothing, Christmas decorations (if you know me, you know that means a warehouse full), memorabilia, photos, my journals, CDs, and journals I have been writing over the last 25 years. And still we had stuff back at the old house in my old studio. The house was being sold again and it was time for us to finally make the last decisions on what to do with the rest of everything.

I am a kind of pack rat. I keep all kinds of things that I don’t really need. But after living on the boat, I now realize that I need less than I thought. I keep old Christmas and birthday cards, used pens, music concert T-shirts (that don’t fit anymore), music books and music sheets and hard copy books. There were sleeping bags, a blow-up bed, art supplies and a stack of old 45s my best friend has dragged around with her for years. I can’t count the number of old candles we kept, suitcases and bags and, well, you name it. Plus, we have that garage full of things we think we might need just up the road from the boat.

So, there we were, standing in the midst of a pile of stuff we had to finally sort and either keep or discard. I was told to be ruthless. And ruthless I was. My best friend’s mum was involved in a Jumble Sale for the Scouts at their local community centre. We decided to give the excess stuff to that….books, 3 old stereos, a printer that still works, clothing and various other novelties. Some of the things I gave away I now regret. But to be honest, there was no room for any of it on the boat and in the garage.

We left a pile of rubbish to be taken to the dump. I can’t believe we kept rubbish. I know there are people in this world that can’t afford their own rubbish, but please. Where are we going to put the stuff we kept? Better ask my best friend. She is good at culling things (none of them living….she even spares spiders). I, on the other hand, usually find a reason to keep those 5 rulers and the yellow book underliner. It turns out the latter had dried up long ago, as had the other 2 or 3 dozen underliners. Just having that many in the first place begs all kinds of questions.

My old studio is empty now. No trace of my years of music teaching and recording anywhere to be seen. I even took down the glow-in-the-dark musical instrument stickers stuck to the ceiling. I was, after all that, ruthless. I threw away those birthday and Christmas cards….most of them anyway….and most of the stationary related items except one pen I have had since the 90s and a heritage pen my best friend bought for me at Tintagel castle in Cornwall, the alleged birthplace of King Arthur.

Oh, and 8 other items I just had to keep….corks from significant dates while I have lived in England these past 12 years. I wrote the date and the event on each cork, even one from a trip to Paris. What is wrong with me? When I left Canada, all I left behind was my fire department dress uniform and a metal trunk my parents gave me on my 21st birthday in 1972. It’s covered in those flower-power stickers with my name on them. Inside the trunk are all the mementos I’ve kept since boyhood, including a scrapbook filled with Valentines Day cards collected when I was in the first grade and school photos of my classmates. Oh, and a collection of Pez dispensers. Must keeps.

And that, dear reader, is the state of my world at the moment. Sad methinks. But all that is going to change at the end of November. Blogs galore to be expected. Going on a Caribbean Cruise. Hopefully all the hurricanes shall have run their courses. Have to get some hot weather clothing though. I think I inadvertently gave a big bag of it away during the cleanup. I hope whoever ends up with it is going somewhere warm. Meanwhile, I’ll treat myself to a couple of those garish tropical shirts….the ones with palm trees and tropical fish on them. The kind you purchase for such a trip and then send off to the charity shops upon return. I’m all heart.

 

 

 

Caribbean Cruise

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Caribbean Cruise

When is a pirate not a pirate? When it’s me and Eddie in silly pirate hats. Not the look I’d usually go for, but Eddie had two of these costume pieces, so I had no choice. And we had matching green T-shirts with ‘Sun’s Out, Rum’s Out’ on the front, with a Hoola dancing girl on the front. Fake pirates of the Caribbean in Hawaii. Why not eh? Be that as it may, the event we were attending had a Caribbean theme and so, well, the Hoola girls were imports.

Haven’t been on one of those Caribbean cruises. I hear they’re a lot of fun. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean unlike most Canadians and Brits. But that didn’t stop us at our little marina from having a Caribbean night near our boats and beside the canal the other night. Even Cap’n Jack Sparrow and Smee showed up. That would be me and Eddie.  All good stuff.

I’ve written about our boat community before. It’s pretty solid for the most part. Most of us get along. But like all communities and families, personalities can clash and people fall out as they say over here. But enough of reality, let’s go to one Saturday night when the boating community, much of it, came together to celebrate the end of summer in a Caribbean spirit. Rum included.

The evening was the brainchild of the famous Jools who, you may recall from an earlier Blog, had us move her boat up the Cut to get painted. But Jools is a busy gal and so the bulk of the organising fell to the rest of us. And in the true spirit of community, the gang came together to make it happen. But, to her credit, Jools made an excellent rum punch, in a pink bucket no less. Lovely.

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The evening begins.

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The evening gathers momentum. Good neighbours and good food.

Another couple from the Dark Side took care of the BBQs and all the cooking with the help of a young man also from that side of the marina. My neighbour Eddie gave it that name a number of years ago. He says it’s because we get more sunshine in the day than they do over that side. But now it has taken on a more sinister interpretation as being the side where the nefarious and the no-goods reside. They aren’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a higher turnover rate over there and we of the Residents’ side don’t get to know those folk as easily. To be honest, we don’t really make the effort.

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Our chefs, Phil and Andy.

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The Coy and the Bold gather to eat and drink….especially drink.

So, those Dark Side folk become somewhat of an unknown, mysterious bunch who gather over their side every so often….probably to look over to the Light Side in envy and who knows what other dark thoughts they utter. The Caribbean Night dispelled all those ideas we had of the Dark Side folk. Fine bunch of people they are too. In fact, Jools is from that side and she’s nice. The Duck Lady I wrote about way back when comes from there too. The newly married couple have their boat on that side. They’re fine and so, as a matter of fact, are most of them. But there are those mysterious ones you never see and  who skulk about when it gets dark. I occasionally run into one of them in the marina laundry room. They say nothing and neither do I….then I never see them again.

But, anyone who is anyone was there, including some good neighbour friends from the local apartments. Even Keith and Lynn came back from boat retirement to join us. The weather cooperated, much to Keith’s delight. He always had a lot to say about the weather when he lived in the marina and we had missed his daily meteorological comments. Our side was well represented.

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Lynn and Keith (far right) and others.

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The 3 Beauties….Maria, My Best Friend and Jools.

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The 3 Stooges….Eddie, John and Some Guy.

A few were away. One couple decided to go to Prague instead. How dare they! But the dad was there. He had been painting their boat all week and deserved to party. Another couple, our resident actors, were visiting family in Dorset….the nerve. In all, over 50 of us gathered to eat, drink, talk and, after a few, limbo our way through the night. Yours truly thought it best to abstain from the limbo. I feared ending up in traction for months.

Because of the potential numbers, a discussion had gone on for weeks where to hold the event of the summer. In the end, we settled for the area over by the pump-out. That’s where boats go to pump out the human waste that is in a holding tank on their boats. We have a cassette toilet, like in a trailer or caravan, and use what is known as an Elsan Point to get rid of our waste. The couple who did the cooking with the newly married chap (from the other side) parked their boat there. This served 2 purposes. 1st, we could have electric and 2nd, when people had lots of rum punch or whatever, they wouldn’t fall into the marina….not there anyway.

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Apartment friend Sandy and neighbour Mimz.

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Rasta Man, Graham, from the Dark Side.

We couldn’t all fit on the jetty, so we set up, illegally, on the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the towpath folk from our marina. We put up tables, chairs and the booze table on that side. I say illegally because we are not supposed to have alcohol in public outside of the marina. Probably not allowed to have a gathering either. Oh well. But we argue that drug deals go on out here all the time, anti-social behaviour and other unsavoury dealings, including a murder last winter….so a party seemed harmless in light of all that.

We did worry a little about the music we had blasting out from a big speaker loaned to us by our Bouncy Castle owning neighbour who moved into the marina not long ago. We had some Bob Marley and other music related to the Caribbean, all provided by Eddie’s Spotify account. By late evening, Eddie got tired of looking for theme music and moved to his own playlist. Everyone was feeling quite mellow by then and so no one seemed to notice the switch. Besides, the limbo had begun and the hardy were preoccupied with becoming pretzels in public. A good time was had by all.

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AAArrrrrrrrrrrrr

 

A Jolly with Jools

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A Jolly with Jools

My best friend and I, along with our boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz, are becoming excellent boat movers. We really do need to rent out our services to people wanting their narrowboats taken from one place to another. But, being the lazy sod that I am and chief procrastinator, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But the times we’ve done it recently are worth the whole experience.

On this occasion, we moved a friend’s boat because it was going to be painted. The name of the boat is Lyra, a 68 foot Titan Trad owned by one Julie, or Jools as her friends call her. She owns a tiny Spaniel named Nysa, but she doesn’t factor into the following equation until the very end of the trip. We had to take it up to a place called Bolbourne, just past the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and back again. Up on the Wednesday and back the following Monday. So now, those are the boring facts of the case.

The trip usually takes about 10-12 hours. We did it, both ways in less than 7 hours each way. That’s because we were under the orders of Mr. Boat himself, Admiral Edward (Eddie) Starck. The man is lightning in a bottle….after the bottle breaks. And, to be fair, he had the best crew no money can buy. Not to mention we’re all handicapped in some capacity given our ages and other medical particulars not for public records….I’m old OK? My knees hurt. My back aches, my hands ache. I get headaches….and I’m the healthy one.

Nothing stops us when the promise of SADS awaits at the end of a long journey (Safe Arrival DrinkS) and I ain’t talkin’ tea or coffee here. We are a dedicated crew that stays with the job until it’s done. It’s as if we were a unified machine with Eddie as our engine. Not only are we motivated by the promise of a bevvy at the end of the day, but the promise of good exercise for those of us who need to drop a few pounds and inches. Plainly and simply, it’s good for us. Keeps the blood flowing and the sinews stretched.

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In the old lock at Bolbourne. The boat is painted and ready to go.

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Jools on the gunnel. Last minute checks before casting off. A-Team to the side.

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Water rising in the lock at Bolbourne. Nearly ready to go.

So, the crew is off, early mind you. Got to keep ahead of the late risers. Boaters are, by and large, a lazy bunch. Just look at the state of many of the boats along the cut. We did and were not impressed. Don’t know how some of them stay afloat. But our ship was sound and ready for a new paint job. The way up provided no drama. I rode in the front some of the way. Very calming. All alone, only the sound of water lapping against the sides of the boat. Eddie had wanted to do the locks but we elected him as driver. He had more experience and this 68 footer gave him all he could handle.

The girls walked all the way to Cowroast. Then they were picked up and driven to Bolbourne where they sat on a bench outside a pub drinking until we showed up, with the chap who was doing the painting. Took us another 50 minutes to get there by boat. 5 minutes in the car. At 4mph on the boat, we don’t get anywhere fast. But that is the point of boating after all. Leisurely does it….unless you’re with Eddie.

The way back, after the boat was painted a lovely blue was more eventful. Partly because Jules drove from Cowroast. None of us was impressed with the facilities at Bolbourne. An old Lock converted into a dry dock for working on boats. Electric cable tangling in the water, rotting wooden steps and gangplanks, old unused tools hanging about and the back-end of Jools’s boat not under cover. Not ideal. And filthy with it. But Eddie deftly backed us out and turned us around for the trip back.

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Leaving the old lock at Bolbourne. Good riddance.

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Admiral Eddie and Jools as we begin our journey from Bolbourne to Apsley.

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Bolbourne Ironworks with CRT (Canal & River Trust) equipment beside it on the Cut.

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Admiral Eddie at the helm instructing Jools on the Tring Summit.

Back to Jools. She took to steering her long boat with style. Problem is, every time the boat scraped against something she had a fit. But this boating. You get bumps and scrapes in the locks and along the banks of the canals and occasionally from other boaters. And you must have your wits about you every moment. Lose concentration even for a moment and the boat can veer off to one side or the other. Jools has a short attention span and a few times things went awry. Especially when another friend joined us further down the cut. The friend sat on the roof of the boat at the back with Jools. The two chatted away….well, you can imagine what happened next. A stiff warning from Admiral Eddie, “Pay attention Jools!” Not too much damage done thankfully.

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Jools at the helm. She’s steering in the rain….

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Jools steering her boat toward a lock. The gates are open. A-Team has done its work and moved on. B-Team awaits the boat to enter the lock….come on Jools.

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Jools in a lock ready to leave. B-Team has opened a gate for her.

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Admiral Eddie of B-Team heads down the Towpath toward the next lock.

So, we carried on. The A&B teams worked in a seamless harmony until a few locks from home. Jules was tired and making more errors of judgement so Admiral Eddie mercifully took over driving and Jools’s boat buddy took over with me on the B Team. Problem? She was working on a huge hangover from the night before and I had to keep waking her up as she leaned on an arm of the lock gate. “Don’t forget to lower the gate paddles” I’d say as she walked by them in a fog. “Oh yeah….thanks” she’d say and continue walking on by. It took a few goes, but they got closed.

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Moored at Berko (Berkhamsted) for lunch.

The highlight of the trip? Well, the high and the low wrapped into one. If you follow my Blogs, you may recall way back when that I wrote about Admiral Eddie when he was Photographer Eddie, searching for the elusive Kingfisher bird last year to get a photo. He never did. Then I wrote more recently that he spent over 2 hours on the back of our boat from 6am at Cassiobury Park. No Kingfisher. I had seen it 3 times. You see, they flit onto a branch and at the slightest movement, they’re off.

So, here we are on the Tring Summit, Admiral Eddie at the helm, heading to Cowroast where Jules would begin her driving apprenticeship, when up ahead, a Kingfisher flits out of the trees and lands on a branch hanging over the Cut. What to do? I had my camera handy but couldn’t get in focus thinking any second the little bugger would be gone. My best friend and Mimz scrambled for their iPhones and poor Photographer/Admiral Eddie had left his camera at home on his own boat.

We glided by the wee kingfisher in awe. It just sat there, on the branch, watching us go by. Eddie swore (and he did) that the little so-and-so wagged its tail feathers mockingly at us. Then it flitted off. We saw another one later but neither B Team Eddie nor yours truly had a camera then either. But, Eddie at least saw one at last. Beautiful plumage. Just have to see one when Photographer Eddie is around.

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The amazing, incomparable A-Team: My best friend on the left and Mimz on the right. Windlasses up! At the main lock at Berko.

 

MERMAID MIMZ

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MERMAID MIMZ

I have always loved being by water. That’s probably why I now, after many years of being a landlubber, live on a narrowboat on the canals of Britain. And I like to go swimming when I can. Not too much chlorine please. I have snorkled off the coast of Cyprus, southern France and Majorca. The fresh water lakes in Ontario, Canada are my favourites. Years ago I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia. I have even gone swimming in the sea in England. Well, not swimming actually. I stood waist deep in the English Channel off the coast on the Isle of Wight. ‘Twas quite cold.

In my 2 years of living on a canal boat, I have never gone swimming in a canal or the marina. Not the kind of water you want to be in….on, yes. In, definitely not. You see, so many things end up in the canal that you’re never sure how toxic the water, if it is actually water, is. Some areas are worse than others. The Welsh claim that their canal, the Llangollen, is pure. You could drink out of it. But then the Welsh claim many things that just ain’t so. Unless you are Welsh, then, naturally, they are so. Still, one day when we cruise the Llangollen, I won’t be either in or drinking the water.

Then there’s always the accursed Weil’s disease, otherwise known as Leptospirosis. That’s the fancy name. Others call it mud or swamp fever. It only kills between 2-3 people a year in Britain. Rodent, cattle or pig urine in slow-moving water is the cause. If the water gets into cuts or scrapes, the lining of the nose or mouth etc., the disease may manifest anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. The most severe cases cause a shutting down of vital organs in the body. Canals are very susceptible to producing the illness.

That’s why we try our damnedest not to fall into the canals or go for a swim in the marinas. Just not conducive to our health and well-being even if the weather is hot and the water inviting. In 2 years on the boat, I have yet to fall in. My best friend has been spared that privilege too. I nearly went in once, but that was at the end of the jetty…..our old jetty. I was trying to reclaim some solar lights I had wrapped around the wi-fi pole at the end of the jetty (dock). I had borrowed another boater’s workmate bench to reach the top. It collapsed and I was left clinging to the pole in the hope that I would not go into the water. I wrote about this elsewhere. Anyway, my inevitable plunge was delayed and I am still a fall-in virgin.

My neighbour, Mimz, was not so lucky. Not during the same episode as the pole, I hope you comprehend. It was later. The circumstances are just now being revealed and the details are finally known. This was no ordinary dive. This was one for the ages and I missed it. I was too busy trying to get to sleep on a very hot and humid night.

We have had mishaps in the marina before. In fact, at least one person died after falling in, hitting his head and wasn’t discovered until the next day. He was dead. Poor chap. A few other neighbours have also gone into the drink but were rescued. Alcohol is usually involved. But other times it can be a simple case of one step too far or a slip. You have to be aware at all times.

Mimz had knocked back a few at a party over on the dark side of the marina. They were celebrating the wedding of a couple recently married who live in the marina…on a boat. Even my best friend attended. I was in the city that night with a friend, celebrating something else. According to all reports, the proceedings were delightful. My best friend left a little early and went to bed. I came back a little while later from the city. Upon my return, I heard the distinctive voices of Eddie and Mimz at the party, laughing and carrying on.

I fell into my bed as soon as I got into the boat. As I lay there, I heard the sounds of what I thought were Eddie and Mimz coming home from the party. It seemed to take them forever to get into the boat and no one was talking. Not long after, I heard Eddie’s voice and he was being a little loud for the time of night and not long after that, more voices. By this time, my best friend had leapt from her bed and, as she passed me, yelled, “I think someone’s gone in! Get dressed.”

I did and joined the gathering throng outside our boat. There stood Eddie, Nick, Ali, my best friend and a very soggy looking Mimz. Eddie had thought I was still out, so, apparently, he had run down to Nick’s boat to get help. Nick stood there, in his underpants, hands on hips. “Think I’ll get you a cape, Nick,” says I, “You’re a superhero.” Nick and Eddie had dragged poor Mimz from the canal.

Well now….turns out Mimz had returned just before Eddie, tried to get the key to unlock their boat, slipped and went head first into the canal. Fortunately, she’s a good swimmer and doesn’t panic. But, she had imbibed, it was dark and she was under water. She ended up under their boat, found her way out but was trapped in a small space between our jetty and the boat, so she swam back under and went under her other neighbour’s boat, ‘Last Chance’ but found no space to get out there either.

What to do? Well, she came back to her own boat, hung on to the side as best she could and treaded water until Eddie came back. That was only 5 minutes later, but a lifetime in the canal. Eddie couldn’t see Mimz anywhere and called out, “Moo (his name for her), where are you?” She replies, “Down here, in the water.” Eddie looks down, incredulously, and blurts out, “What you doing in there?” “Having a swim,”she says facetiously, “What do you think I’m doing in here? I fell in!” Eddie tries to pull her out, but with soggy clothing on, he can’t do it alone….hence Nick.

By this time, Eddie is more shaken than Mimz (my name for her. Real name, Miriam). We are all contemplating what might have been. Why didn’t you yell HELP!? we all ask. “I did call out Jenny’s name (my best friend),” she offered, “But I kept it down because I didn’t want to disturb anyone at this late hour.” Typical British reserve that. Anyway, Mimz went and had a shower and I made her and Eddie a cup of tea when they got back from the shower block. Super Nick and Ali had returned to their boat by now. We sat under the stars, contemplating the universe and life. We were so very glad our Mimz was still with us.

The next day, Mimz and Eddie were off to a wedding in Dorset. When they got back a couple of days later, Mimz was all aglow. “Look,” she says, “The cuts on my feet have healed.” They had not healed over in a while. We were all stunned. And what was our first thought? Let’s bottle this stuff and become snake oil salesmen. Move over Lourdes.

 

Boat Stuff

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Boat Stuff

It has been nearly a year and a half since we entered the new life of canal narrowboating, unlike any other boating on earth. And we love it. Most of the time. No sour grapes here. Just doses of reality during moments of sobriety and general clear headedness. Living in a fixed home, on land, with plenty of room to spare never looked so good when things go wrong on a boat.

Not that we’d ever give up the boating life. Only old age and waning energy will determine how long we continue at this gig. Dying of old age on the boat is the best case scenario….but not for a long time to come hopefully. We simply ride through any problems that might occur on the boat and move on or not, depending on where we are at any moment. Most of our narowboating life so far has been static, living in a marina. In fact, we have only been on the move for about 3 weeks out of our time on board.

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Our arrival at Apsley Marina in August of 2016.

As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve 2016 and my best friend and I are spending Christmas at our old house in Welling, Kent. My best friend’s son owns the house now and their clan is gathering for the festive feast day tomorrow. A bit unusual Blogging on Christmas Eve, but I’m battling man flu and need a distraction. We’ve actually been here for a couple of days already and things are as familiar as ever and constantly warm. It doesn’t help that we are in the winter season and have to work hard to keep the boat warm.

And as I write this, I’m back on the boat and it’s the New Year. The steel tube, all 60 feet of it was freezing when we returned after our 5 days in a house. You could see your breath. So, we put on the old (or rather new) Wabasto central heating system while we lit a new fire. Took a while to heat up, but we got there in the end.

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The addition of a new pram cover for the stern.

All that aside, it has been a learning curve that continues to teach the longer we live on a narrowboat. And I’m always worried I may have missed some crucial information on this or that technical matter. Keeps me awake some nights wondering if there might be water in the bilge or did I shut this or that appliance or gizmo off or had I forgotten to close a hatch (which I did one time….messy).

The key to surviving this lifestyle is in making friends, especially ones with practical skills. I have none, other than writing and playing one of my musical instruments. Technical stuff either baffles or annoys me. I try to learn, but, really, the inner workings of a diesel engine, while fascinating, do not, by choice mind you, become part of my integrated working knowledge of all things fussy. I am an habitual asker for help. Let someone who knows what they’re doing do it. Besides, I’m a rather tall, large guy and my engine room is small and tight.

But it’s like anything else you do that’s new to you. You make mistakes and learn from them. Most often. I have the nasty habit of repeating mistakes and paying for them….in every way. Just, on a boat, a mistake can be costly….in every way. Haven’t made one of those errors yet. Hope I never do. Remaining diligent for a guy with the attention span of a gnat, takes a lot of energy. Energy I need for other things….like writing these Blogs and learning a new riff on my guitar.

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So, would I do it all again if I knew then what I now know? Probably. Because now,at least, I have an idea what this narrowboating is all about and still love most of it. At the moment, we are expecting a cold snap. That will be a test. And I’m running out of coal. But come March, all will be well again and from then until October, we look forward to happy cruising. Going north this time. Going south into the great city of London last summer was a once in a lifetime experience.

The chores of the day are done. Two shitters emptied, cleaned out and put back into place. Filled the water tank in anticipation of the cold snap. Filled the coal scuttle for the fire. Washed and dried the supper dishes. Threw out the rubbish over in the big bins in the bin shed. Skyped with my youngest who lives in Toronto at the moment. Made sure the boat was secure for the night and finally am finishing this Blog that began on Christmas Eve. The consummate procrastinator.

Keep warm and dry everyone. At least most of you live on dry land. But even you still have chores to do. What else is new? Oh, and I’m still battling man flu….just keeps coming back. Couldn’t be because I live on a narrowboat, a long, steel tube in the dead of winter….do you think? Nah.

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Can you spot our boat?

The Girly Button

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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.