Getting intimate with my Golden Girl

Well I would love to be able to tell you that I have serviced the engine on the boat and everything went smoothly and to plan but I’m sure that isn’t what you want to hear is it? Well lucky you because that is exactly what didn’t happen. I can take the credit for researching the parts required for the job and ordering them, but that is where the bulk of my involvement ended. I would love to show you pictures of me deep in the engine bay wrestling with filter straps and bleeding the fuel supply but there aren’t any. The reason there aren’t any of course is because I didn’t actually do the service. What I did was service my friend Paul’s computer and he, in turn, serviced our boat engine. Know your strengths, that’s what I say.

A great place for doing yoga

What should have been a two or three hour job ended up taking a bit longer and spanning two days. This was mostly down to me ordering the correct fuel filter but the correct fuel filter not fitting. Don’t ask me to explain this, I’m still in correspondence with the supplier and for now I am pleading not guilty. Their blurb plainly stated that the filter in question would fit a Betamarine 38 engine and my friend Paul, who knows about these things, found that it did not. I will let you know the outcome of the dispute at a later date if it proves to be interesting in any way, which I doubt.

So here is a brief summary of what I have learned about servicing an engine on a narrowboat.

Firstly, it’s best to get somebody else to do it if at all possible. This is mostly because the engine in question is very big and the space that it lives in (we boaters call it an engine bay), is very small. Not only is it very small but it also filled with many cables, wires and additional bits of inconvenient apparatus in addition to the engine which makes working in it almost impossible. Watching my friend contorting his body into ever more complex and painful looking shapes it occurred to me that a great second profession for a yoga instructor would be marine engineer.

The second thing that struck me was the way in which all the parts of the engine that you need to access in order to service it are hidden in the most inaccessible places imaginable. If I had done the job myself I would have considered it a major achievement simply to find the oil filter never mind replace it. The situation did at least provide me with a small but vital role to play. Once Paul had squeezed himself into a cavity smaller than his head he was totally dependent on me to pass him the correct tool at the vital point in the oil filter removal procedure. I never thought I would feel so comfortable in my almost spotless overalls, or as proud when I noticed a small patch of grease on them.

With the service itself complete and the engine purring like a contented cat on steroids I thought we were finished. Apparently not. Deep in the bottom of the engine bay there lurked an evil looking cocktail of water, diesel fuel, oil and general filth. Paul pointed out that in such conditions it would be difficult to detect any residual leaks from the new filters and it might be a good idea to clean it out. He even offered to lend me his wet vac to help with the job. So, there I was, me and my new found status of ‘marine engineer’, hoovering foul smelling waste matter from the bowels of my Golden Girl. By the time I had finished I was quite adept at wriggling around the engine though and I am very pleased to say that my overalls ended up satisfyingly filthy. You never know, I might even get to wield a spanner next time.

The view from the top of the mountain

Nearing the summit

Just a brief update for anyone who’s ear we haven’t managed to chew yet.

I don’t know if you have ever climbed a mountain or not but if you have you will know that you rarely have continuous sight of the summit the whole time you are climbing. There comes a point though in most ascents where you can clearly see the top and you become confident that you are going to achieve your goal and reap the rewards for all of the effort that you have put in. That, metaphorically, is pretty much where we are now on our narrow boat journey.

The view from the top of the mountain

Last week we completed the sale of our old home which brought our final goal of retirement and cruising the canal network into sight. It’s been very much like climbing a mountain in that there have been easy bits, hard bits and down right miserable bits but suddenly all the effort seems worthwhile and we can almost touch our summit.

We have made the decision to retire at the end of March and once the necessary maintenance work on the boat is complete we should be away on our travels by the end of the following month. We have revised our plans a little and now intend to travel for around six months returning to our berth in the marina for the winter. And before anybody asks the question; “have you planned your route yet?” the answer is no and we won’t be doing so either. Just about everybody that we talk to asks us that question but the nearest we have to a plan is to head vaguely south and allow curiosity to be our compass.

New horizons beckon

Our original idea was to take off this Spring and just cruise indefinitely but having had a taste of marina life and because we are already making good friends here we thought we would come back for the winter. It will also give us plenty of time to work on any changes we want to make to the boat and to decide with a greater depth of hindsight if we want to repeat the same pattern in future or just become permanent nomads for a few years. Not knowing how it will work out is what makes it so much fun I suppose.

Where we are now is not unlike being tantalisingly close to the top of your mountain and anticipating the spectacular, but as yet hidden views that will surely appear any moment now. We now know that we will be on top of our mountain in April, looking out over a whole landscape of adventures and new experiences. It’s going to be a great view I’m sure.

Who knows what adventures lie ahead?

Getting wound up about nothing

We’ve been living on the boat for a month now and I think it’s fair to say that we can class ourselves as ‘live-aboards’. Novice ‘live-aboards’ I’ll grant you but ‘live-aboards’ all the same. We have also manoeuvred the boat in and out of marinas, through locks and swing bridges and battled sideways winds completely ineffectively.

Perfect day for a winding hole

Maybe you could call us seasoned novices. From here on I suppose it really is just a matter of practice and experience apart from one particular manoeuvre which had, until last Friday, eluded me. Or, more accurately, I had avoided. The operation in question was turning the boat around on the canal. It’s the watery equivalent of a three (or possibly five or seven) point turn and it can only be performed in specific places where the canal widens out into what is called a winding hole. There is much debate about the pronunciation of this canal feature based on whether or not you are thinking in terms of wrapping cotton around a bobbin, winding; or, encouraging a baby to burp after a good feed, winding. If you see what I mean. Based on the fact that narrow boats never had engines in their original form then winding as in baby burping makes sense because the wind would have been used to assist with the turning procedure. I could wind myself up in knots discussing this but it isn’t really the subject of the blog so let’s leave it there. Pronounce it how you like.

Gill in full control

Back to my concerns over the actual turning business and why I was apprehensive. There are two issues really. The first is making a judgement as to whether or not the hole in question is actually big enough to turn our 57′ boat around in and the second, which is related, is the probability of getting stuck, grounded on the shallows at the edges of the canal. It’s easy to blow these things out of proportion by over contemplating them and that’s exactly what I had done. My mind was partially put at rest by a friendly lock keeper. When I told him that it was the only thing I hadn’t yet mastered and that I was a bit nervous about it he came up with a bit of infallible logic to put my mind at ease. He pondered the problem for a moment and then said; “You know the canal network is about 200 years old and to the best of my knowledge, there are no boats stuck in winding holes.” I nearly replied that I might be the first but thought better of it and laughed heartily at my unfounded concerns instead.

Did we really come through there?

Last Friday was forecast to be wall to wall sunshine and, most importantly, dead calm. There would never be a more suitable opportunity for a bit of winding hole turning so having failed to come up with any plausible excuse for not going we sailed off under a cloudless blue sky. Forty minutes and two miles later we turned the boat around without grounding or wrapping any trees or submerged debris around the prop and we are not, as I imagined we might be, still stuck in the winding hole three days later.

In the hole

That’s close enough

The whole process was completely without drama and I actually really enjoyed it. In other words, as is so often the case, I had been worrying about nothing. It was a classic case of the monkey on the shoulder whispering in my ear; “you might get stuck”, “you might foul the prop”, “the winding hole might be too small”, and so it goes on until the problem becomes insurmountable.

Not listening to that pesky little monkey is a lesson that I have to just keep on learning over and over. The lock keeper was right, there aren’t any boats stuck in winding holes but if that monkey has his way he’ll drive you into a hole that you really may never get out of. Don’t listen to him.

Going nowhere – but we have a plan

Today hasn’t worked out as planned at all. The weather forecast said it would be a bit warmer last night and today would be calm but foggy. We had tentatively discussed a little trip out on the boat, just a few miles down the canal to a turning point and back to the marina in time for tea. It would also be the ideal opportunity to let the stove go out and give it a really good clear out. It’s been burning for a couple of weeks now and it tends to get a bit clogged up and less efficient as time goes on. That was the plan, this is the reality: Gill is tucked up in bed with a horrible cold infection, the marina has a thin coating of ice on it again and I have spent the last hour coaxing the fire back to life rather than letting it go out. We are going nowhere today.

Come to think of it, today is like an analogy of the bigger picture. Our old home in Warton is up for sale but we haven’t had any offers so far. Paying bills on two homes means that we are tied to working until such time as it’s sold and being tied to work means that we can’t just take off and travel indefinitely on the boat. In other words, we are going nowhere tomorrow or the next day either.

Never mind; it’s nice when a plan comes together but it’s also important to be flexible and make the most of things when it doesn’t.

Another plan has gone a bit pear shaped in the last few days but in a good way. We had been planning to go back to our old house and pack up the rest of our belongings to bring them back to the boat. Goodness knows where we were going to put it all but we would cross that bridge later. I knew that we could be imaginative and creative in using all the available space on the boat and I just hoped that once we had it all on board we would work something out. Fortunately, the problem was solved by a simple observation from Gill. She said to me one morning; “the mistake we are making is trying to fit our old life into the boat rather than starting a new one on it”. Light bulb moment!

Just needs a bit of organising

We realised with a bit of reflection that we had been living on board Golden Girl for months now without any hardship whatsoever. We are living in comfort, doing everything we want to do and enjoying life. Why do we need more stuff? So rather than go back to collect the rest of our precious belongings we examined what we were actually missing and it turned out to be next to nothing. What should have been several trips in the car and maybe the use of hire van became one trip, a half filled car and wonderful sense of freedom.

A few more ‘essentials’ to find a home for

We left behind kitchen cupboards and wardrobes full of ‘stuff’ that it turns out we just don’t need. Admittedly there are several boxes of things going into storage but nearly all of that falls into the category of ‘having special meaning’. You know, particular books, photos, keep-sakes etc. No doubt we will get pleasure one day from unpacking them again or if not, some poor relative will unpack them and add them to the pile of rubbish to be discarded.

We thought that we had been pretty good at paring down our belongings over the years but it seems that the temptation to acquire stuff is limited only by the space available to store it in. You may only be able to wear one pair of shoes at a time but given enough cupboard space you can’t half hoard a lot of pairs. We will, of course, have to empty the old house at some point but the contents will mostly be heading to the charity shops or the tip rather than joining us on board as part of our new life. Well, that’s the plan…………. for now.

Error Error – Life on the wagon

Amongst the stuff that we inherited when we purchased our Golden Girl was a set of bathroom scales. Neither of us are overly obsessive about our weight but on the basis of not looking a gift horse in the mouth, and the fact that they looked quite expensive, we decided to keep them. It turns out that they don’t really work on a boat. The problem is that of shifting weight. I don’t mean that we are dieting so furiously that the scales can’t keep up with us. No, the problem is that when you stand on the scales the boat rocks and the electronics in the workings can’t understand what’s going on. About four out of five attempts result in a long delay before “EE” is displayed. I am assuming that at least one of those letters stands for Error, your guess is as good as mine as to the other one. Electronic Error perhaps? Or maybe just Eating Excessively. Anyway, the point is you have to keep stepping on and off the scales multiple times before you get a reading. Just attempting to find out your current weight is probably a reasonable workout and may in fact result in a steady stream of diminishing readings if you keep at it long enough.

Captions welcome

As I said I don’t usually bother with such things but as I have joined the flock of sober sheep that are doing Dry January I thought I might just weigh myself once a week to see what difference an absence of alcohol might make. After a prolonged session of what must have looked like the easiest step exercises ever, I managed to get two identical readings indicating that I had lost 3lbs. I hastily stepped off the scales and put them away before they changed their mind.

This is the third time in four years that I’ve done Dry January. I didn’t do it last year because I was worried that I might be developing a habit. It’s been much easier this year in that I know what to expect, know I can do it and there is altogether less drama about the whole affair. I think I do it mostly to prove to myself that I’m still in charge, thus giving myself permission to drink again for eleven months of the year. I’ve never felt for one minute that I was in danger of becoming dependent on drink but I do have an alcoholic gene in me so I’m always aware that the potential is there given the right circumstances. Besides it’s nice to spend a month sleeping like a log, eating like a horse and waking up every morning feeling as fresh as a daisy. If you’ve never tried it maybe you should give it a go next year and find out what it’s like to experience a variety of life forms other than your own.

Wet and dry January and preventing a drowning!

That’s a full canal

Boats don’t travel around in the dark that much, not on the canal system anyway. That’s why I was a bit surprised to hear the now familiar sound of a diesel engine and to see somebody manoeuvring their boat around the marina early on New Year’s Eve. It was about 4.30pm, already dark and raining, so the idea that somebody might be going out for a pleasure cruise seemed unlikely. It turned out our new neighbours were arriving, later than expected, having been severely delayed by a lack of water in some of the locks they’d had to negotiate. We had only just landed ourselves and as I brought the last of our boxes on board I thought I could hear raised voices. I told Gill I would just pop out to see if they needed any help mooring up but as I stepped outside I was greeted by the screams of a terrified women up to her shoulders in the water and clinging desperately to the end of our jetty. I’ll never forget that sound, it was the sound of pure fear. Not so much the fear of drowning, but the fear of being crushed by fifteen tons of steel narrow boat piloted by her husband who had no idea she had fallen in.

By now Gill was on the scene too but we realised there was no possibility of lifting her out. The jetty is narrow and slippery, as she had found out to her peril, and even a small person weighed down by soaking winter clothing is impossibly heavy to lift in such circumstances. Thank goodness her husband had realised the danger by now and was backing away. That’s when Gill realised that the poor woman was attached to the boat by a rope around her waist and somehow we managed to untangle it just in time. We eventually calmed her down enough to convince her that she was able to stand on the bottom of the marina and then walked her to the bank where there were plenty of helping hands appearing on the scene. Somebody produced a ladder and she was finally able to escape the freezing water to the safety of our boat.

We expected to start New Year’s Eve off surrounded by more of our possessions, and wondering, once more, where on earth we were going to store everything. The addition of a very frightened, wet and extremely cold semi-naked stranger had never been part of the plan. I am very happy to report that there was no lasting damage, as far as we can tell, and our new friend Beth and her very relieved husband made it to the party to see in the New Year a few hours later.

The party was an unsophisticated affair held in the marina offices that are currently under refurbishment, meaning, it’s just an empty building. Consequently it was a bring a bottle, chair, crockery, food and glass party and was all the better for it. It was another opportunity to get to know a few more of our fellow marina dwellers but also a great illustration of what a resourceful and down-to-earth lot they are. The food was magnificent, the drink copious and the laughter unbridled. And so started Dry January.

What was a daunting test of willpower and abstinence has now, in its third year, become more of an annual institution for me. Rather than fret and worry about whether or not I would be able to resist the temptation of the considerable amount of alcohol we have on the boat I was more amused by the irony of the situation. I was constantly reminded of the Dry January tradition on social media as I sat on the boat drinking my tea and listening to the torrential rain beating down on the roof. Then to top it all we woke up this morning to the news that the lower of the two marina car parks was under two feet of water.

Tanker putting the water back where it belongs

It seemed that the heavy rain and Spring tides had raised the level of the canal above tipping point and the car park contained the overspill. Dry January indeed.

One thing is for sure; I don’t think our new life will be boring.

Looking to the source of that Spring tide

 

Squeeze your lemon

 

New Year greetings seem to be going the way of Christmas sales in that they get earlier and earlier each year. Social media is full of Happy New Year messages today even though the new year hasn’t arrived yet. I’m not sure whether it’s a case of ‘getting in first’ or just general over-exuberance for the celebrations. Or maybe some people think that they may not be capable of selecting the correct characters in the early hours of 2018. I’m prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt though and be happy that they want me to be happy.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your sentiments but to be honest; this coming year, 2018, would have to throw something pretty unexpected and unpleasant at me to make it anything other than a happy one. I know I am probably tempting fate saying that but really I am truly optimistic about what lies ahead.

I’m going to a party tonight, the first New Year’s Eve party I have been to for some years and Gill tells me we are “staying to see the New Year in”. Something else I haven’t done for a while. The party is a home made affair arranged by the residents of the marina and it will be another chance to meet a few more fellow boaters and to reinforce the feeling that what we are doing, moving permanently onto the boat is the right thing for us. I can’t ever recall making such a significant, life changing move at the precise moment that we move from one calendar year to another and although the date shouldn’t make any difference logically, it does. It feels very much like a new beginning in every sense.

As I type, Gill is working her last shift in Lytham and later today we will go back to the boat and leave our old life behind. I’m looking forward so much to this new adventure. The chance to learn new skills maintaining and driving the boat, making new friends on the marina and further afield and learning to live a completely new way of life from anything that has gone before. It’s really exciting and it reinforces my belief that whilst we are all either alive or dead there are so many shades of living in between. We all owe it to ourselves to find the most fulfilling and rewarding life we can and not to settle for second best.

I reached into the fridge the other week and found half a lemon going soft and showing signs of mould. I tossed it into the bin (compost of course) but giving it a second thought I realised what a great metaphor for life it offered. I realised how sad it was that it had only half fulfilled it’s role. I can’t remember whether the used half contributed to a G and T or added zest to a lemon drizzle cake but I was sad that half of it had been wasted. Life’s a bit like that isn’t it? It’s so easy to let half of your life go unused, only to find it lying at the back of the proverbial fridge when you reach the end of your days.

I wish all of you the best of life in 2018 and urge you to go out and squeeze that lemon as hard as you possibly can.

Happy New Year.

image_pdfimage_print