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On Good Friday we took the boat out for the first time, intending to just do a short run then turn the boat around ready to paint the windows on the other side.  (And to have a change; having the boat facing the other way livens things up slightly, like sleeping up the other end of the bed, or going a different route to work.)  Anyway, serious live-aboard types generally advise against going out at times such as Summer Bank Holidays and Easter Weekend, due to the amount of traffic on the canals, particularly hire boats.  It was funny that without any planning and without either of us working right now we just kind of naturally ended up having an Easter weekend like everyone else, going on a boat trip Friday-Saturday, and then driving to Norfolk on Easter Sunday to see my son ahead of his trip to New York.

Anyway back to the boat trip.  My husband lived on a narrow boat for five years and so has a lot of experience, me not.  I began the day feeling very anxious and almost panicky.  The steering takes a bit of getting used to, the tiller and rudder are at the back, it’s not like a car, there’s a delay between moving the tiller and the boat nose responding.  It needs constant tiny adjustments to keep it on course and if you lose concentration it can start to drift to one side surprisingly quickly.  Well not quickly, but….  If it is going off course, you have to over-correct and then correct again.  Anyway the only thing to do is do it, and I did begin to get a feel for how the boat moves and how the steering feels.

If you have a very small boat you can turn around anywhere, but for ours we need a turning point, a wide part of the canal designed for this purpose.  With few turning points on that stretch we ended up going much further than we intended.

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Just as we approached this marina and diesel point, the engine conked out.  We thought we’d run out of diesel.  We moored up right by the pumps, only to find they had just closed- they closed early as it was Good Friday, and wouldn’t be there until nine o clock the next morning.  There was a cafe, but that was also closed, and there was nothing nearby.  So we resigned ourselves to just chilling out on the boat for the evening, which was absolutely fine, and were waiting at the pumps at nine am.  The boat hadn’t run out of fuel after all, but because it hadn’t been used for ages silt had got in, then settled again overnight and the engine started easily.  We bought some more diesel anyway, plus a new fuel filter, turned around in the marina and headed for home.

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Me steering and concentrating hard and my husband looking like the seasoned mariner that he is

By the end of the trip I had steered past moored boats, past moving boats, through a narrow gap, around tight bends, and under bridges.

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My husband steered the boat through a narrow course between double moored boats and oncoming boats, with inches to spare, and reversed the boat between moored boats into the marina to turn around.  In the hierarchy of difficulty this ranked even higher due to the moored boats being made of fibreglass.  If you bump into a narrowboat they are made of steel and very strong, it does happen, someone on a windy day bumped into ours when we were moored up, no problem, but if you crashed into a fibreglass boat, well, that would not be so good….  Anyway my husband had lost none of his skills and completed all manoeuvres successfully while I thanked my lucky stars it wasn’t me in charge.

Pulling the boat in is surprisingly easy, it is slow to start moving, then once it starts it comes easily.  You pull in from the centre rope and then tie up with the centre rope and a rope at each end, to rings if they have them, or using one’s mooring pins if not.

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We stopped a couple of times for a cup of tea or to stretch our legs.  It was lovely sunny weather, really quite hot. 

Arriving home was again another tricky manoeuvre due to the very tight mooring space between our neighbours and of course not wanting to bump their boats.  And- apparently due to all the boats going past on Friday and Saturday- there was a silt bank and getting the boat in was very hard, needing a bit of engine and a lot of pulling.  Since then there’s been storms and rain so it should have cleared a bit, and the more you go in and out the more it clears it.

Aside from learning to steer, the most fun thing for me was looking at all the other boats.  Like houses, they cover the full range of money, class, styles and tastes.  Hire boats are usually fairly traditionally painted and neat.  Then there are the serious hobby people whose boats are beautifully traditionally painted and lovingly restored.  There’s a kind of hierarchy of authenticity/grit, starting from the bottom with hire boats, then the weekend boater (people who have their own boat but don’t live on it), then people who live on their boat but have a permanent mooring (that’s us) and finally at the top of the cool hierarchy are continuous cruisers who have to keep moving and don’t have a base to moor up at. All boaters have to pay a licence fee to the Canal and River Trust and they provide toilet emptying and water points along the canals.

Continuous cruisers have to move their boats regularly to comply with the regulations of the Canal and River Trust, this can be as often as every two weeks, but they can sometimes stay put for weeks or even months, depending on the area and the frequency of warden patrols.  Continuous cruiser boats will have a wheelbarrow and often a bicycle on the roof as well as firewood and/or sacks of solid fuel.  Wheelbarrows are useful for carrying the toilet cassette, collecting firewood etc, and the bicycle is for cycling back to get your car if you have one.  Often there’s plants and pot plants on the roof and deck.  Some boats are neat and tidy, some look more lived in, some cluttered, one looked like a hoarders’ boat.  We saw one with loads of firewood including a huge log wrapped up that would need chainsawing, and another with loads of sacks of coal on the roof and extra gas bottles and water butts outside.  Fully prepped…  Especially if you don’t have a car, it’s good to be stocked up. There’s also a fuel boat, we met ours the other day, they come every month selling solid fuel, firewood, kindling and gas bottles.  We are fortunate we also have a yard selling fuel and gas over the road- we stocked up via wheelbarrow when we first got home before the car was MOTd and insured.

We saw many boats we coveted, from big wide beam Dutch barges to cute little ones, which would be so easy to steer and move but small to live on.  I liked a smart little shiny burgundy boat, a little dark green boat called Wilson, as well as a grey undercoat punk boat, and an eccentric looking one aptly named The Shed.  We saw one with the roof hand-painted in silver glitter, the doors decorated in mauve glitter.

My husband was a continuous cruiser when I met him, he travelled up and down a stretch of the Grand Union Canal around Watford, Hemel Hempstead and Rickmansworth, within easy reach of his children in North London and his work on the M25.  He had regular mooring points he used, all with their own advantages, one might be nearer to work, another near a shop or launderette, one near a water point, all had to be near somewhere to park the car. One was near a field with horses and in the mornings the horses would come down to the water’s edge and enjoy the water, dipping their heads in it and splashing the water about. Living on a boat is fun enough, taking it out adds a whole other layer of fun.  Knowing you didn’t have a base and just kept moving felt like a romantic prospect on a sunny day, but I am sure it would feel less so in the middle of winter when the ropes are frozen and it’s moving day or you’ve run out of water.

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Photo of iced buns consequences

This is the photo where I realised the iced buns* had caught up with me.   Since then, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no noodles, and absolutely no iced buns.  In a week or two I’ll have another photograph taken and hopefully see a slight difference. This random aside is inspired by Bryntin who wrote a very funny post about  how, having written one post about losing weight and tagged it ‘weight loss,’ he suddenly got 10% more followers; albeit ones that may only be interested in weight loss and therefore find that the rest of the blog is not quite what they’re looking for.  If that’s you, Welcome anyway!

*possibly Greggs vegan sausage rolls had something to do with it.  They’ve been in the news again this week, cited as the cause of a fight between two women in a Greggs store (fighting over the last one).  Although this may turn out not to be true after all, who knows

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The swan has returned with their mate and eight cygnets!  The family came by for the first time a few days ago and were fed and admired, before continuing on their way.  They passed by again presumably on their way home that evening, most of the cygnets were having a ride inside underneath the wing feathers of one of the adults.  As I was writing this they came by again and were photographed, above.  They have grown a lot already.  Also a new family of ducks with seventeen ducklings has appeared; together with the new born lambs everywhere things feel very Spring like.  Although this being the UK temperatures have randomly plummeted as I write this….

Thank you very much for reading