Funny old life

It’s a funny old life, living on a narrow boat. We set sail yesterday on our six month summer adventure and here we are, twenty four hours later, three miles from the marina, settled for a few days in Burscough. It feels like five minutes since the gun went off for the start of a marathon and we are sat by the side of the road having a picnic having run two hundred yards. We have even been shopping in Tesco this morning, the same Tesco we have been shopping in all winter. Yesterday, shortly after we moored up, one of our boating neighbours came by with his dog and another boat from the marina is moored just a few yards down the canal from us. It’s all a bit surreal.

We are mainly sitting tight because Gill has to pick up new glasses tomorrow and there are strong winds forecast all day so it wouldn’t be much fun travelling anyway. And talking of strong winds …..

Wind’s up!

We have an unwritten rule, passed on to us by experienced boating friends that if the forecast wind speed is over fifteen miles per hour it isn’t worth going out on the boat. That’s because handling a narrow boat in those conditions is really tricky. It may weigh sixteen tons but the wind will toss it across the canal like a puck on an ice rink and close manoeuvres such as pulling into lock landings or leaving locks is really just a game of chance. With this in mind I stood on the end of our jetty yesterday morning waiting for friends to arrive and watched my new wind direction indicator flipping around like a ballet dancer on acid. The forecast said fifteen miles an hour gusting to twenty five and I was thinking, stay at home. Unfortunately said friends had been promised a ride and there was additional pressure to leave in the form of more help at the other end of the Rufford locks from boaters Alan and Jacky who we met whilst travelling last year. All I could think about was the last two weeks of painstaking rubbing down, priming, undercoating, glossing and blacking and the narrow marina exit with it’s rough concrete edging and rusty iron work protruding. I could have cried.

In the end I managed to get out with only minor contact between hull and stone, in fact the wind practically blew us out onto the canal which turned out to be a haven of calm as the first few hundred yards is well sheltered from the east winds. We passed through lock No. 7 and a swing bridge without a hitch, survived the male mute swan that shepherded us past his partner sitting pretty on her rather magnificent nest and there was just enough straight calm water to let Jackie have her first experience of steering the boat.

Phillip helping. Or is he Morris Dancing?
Pan flat West Lancs

From then on it was a constant battle with a strong east wind from our left blowing across the pan flat West Lancashire fields. They were actually harvesting turf on one side of the canal, a fitting crop for an agricultural area that has the profile and wind resistance of a bowling green. I doubt Gill and I would have carried on on our own, so difficult was it to pull the boat in against the wind as we stopped at each lock, but with more than enough willing hands we were soon through all seven obstacles and mooring up for a well deserved late lunch with lashings of tea and yummy cakes. (It’s beginning to sound like Famous Five go Boating).

It’s really hard to reconcile the amount of effort required to travel through seven locks and two swing bridges whilst covering a little over three miles. It feels as if we should be in another time zone, speaking a different language and maybe even seeking out our passports for a border crossing. Instead, we are round the corner from our local Tesco. As I said, surreal.

Time for another adventure

Time for another adventure. We’re off for another six months of meandering lazily around the waterways and I won’t be sorry to get away. We love the marina we live in during the winter and it’s been great to have the time to do work on the boat but the swallows are here and it’s time to follow their example and get moving once more.

OK, elephant in the room, no blogs all winter I know. No excuses I just haven’t felt inspired to write for some reason so with the full intention of making up for it over the next few months I’ll start with a quick run down of our second winter on the boat and the first of our retirement proper.

I say proper because after retiring in April last year it felt like I was on holiday until we came back to Rufford in October. I got no real sense of what retirement felt like and to be honest I was a little bit apprehensive going into the winter months. Newly retired folks seem to fall into two categories, those that get bored really quickly and either go back to employment or throw themselves into voluntary work and those who say, “I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work”. I appear to fall into a third category, that of enjoying doing lots of things whilst revelling in not having to do any of them. Choice has never felt so good. I’ve always liked choosing. Choosing a book in a library, a meal in a restaurant or a route for a walk or a bike ride, but being able to choose just about everything I do is totally liberating. But there’s a catch. It didn’t take long to work out that whilst I could choose to be idle all day every day, or spend every day busy as a bee it turns out it’s all about balance. Isn’t it always? I’m getting the hang of it but maybe it will take a little longer to fine tune things and who knows, I may even choose to write more.

Nice to be home

Coming back to Rufford was a joy. Like a real home coming. We were enthusiastically welcomed by old friends and warmly accepted by all the new floating residents that had moved here in our absence. The marina is full now and it’s such a lovely community to live in. Totally relaxed, peaceful, stress free and friendly. We are surrounded by nature and in tune with the ticking of the seasonal clock. I have loved being immersed in the transitions from autumn to winter and eventually spring. To really have the time to notice the falling leaves, first frosts, frozen water, snow drops, catkins and daffodils and now, our first fledgling mallard ducklings have marked that passage with a reassuring sense of inevitability. Our regular walks along the tow path have rewarded us with so many sightings of kingfishers we have reached the point that it’s disappointing not to see them. Barn owls, roe deer and hare have all surprised and delighted us whilst the sight and sound of thousands of pink footed geese passing overhead are as much a part of winter as frosted window panes and frozen hose pipes. I have loved it all.

Piggy backing: an early sign of Spring

Converting the spare bedroom on the boat into a sitting and eating area with storage has kept me busy while Gill has been honing her skills as an artist. She seems to have uncovered a treasure chest of hidden talent whilst I have become a dab hand with a tin of emulsion and four inch roller. It’s been great to ‘put our mark’ on the Golden Girl and she now feels well and truly like home. We are now frantically finishing a long list of final preparations before departure and wondering why we didn’t start the list sooner or at least make it shorter. It can feel a bit pressured until I remind myself that since we are actually going away in our home with everything in it there isn’t really a departure day at all. Like the seasons, it’s much more of a transition from our stationary winter mode to what we hope will be another wondrous wandering summer.

Gill’s painting is really coming along

Our route this year is no more precise that ‘vaguely heading south’ but we will be passing through some glorious countryside. I don’t like to promise but I’ll try to blog a little more than last year and if anybody fancies meeting up at a waterside hostelry or two it would be lovely to see you.

Teenagers in the making

A year’s worth of lessons

Beginning of our journey

Twelve months ago today, on the 27th of September 2017 we moored up our Golden Girl for the very first night of our new life. As I recall it Gill was exhausted from the physical effort of raising paddles and pushing heavy lock gates and I was exhausted by the stress of handling the boat during those first half a dozen miles of our journey. A year later and the journey continues along the waterways and of life and the learning goes on.

Having lived through a particularly cold winter and one of the hottest summers on record I think it is safe to say that we now have some idea of what living on a narrow boat is all about. Those first few days on the boat last year were a very steep learning curve but now after this year’s journey of nearly six hundred miles (and counting), 370 locks, numerous tunnels, aqueducts and bridges I think we can also say that we have some boating experience under our belts. Living in such a small space and being responsible for your own water, fuel and waste distils life to the basics and that in itself has been another challenge. So have we learned anything?

Deep in thought, deep in a lock

Self sufficiency certainly. Practical skills of course. But most of all I think we have learned to cherish the simple things in life. Perfectly still mornings when the mist rises from the water and nothing disturbs its glassy surface. Leaving a mooring when the only sound is that of the dawn chorus and no other boats are moving yet. The flash of electric blue as a kingfisher skims by the boat and the wary look of a heron as it watches us pass by and tries to decide whether to stand its ground or gracefully move on. Relaxing on the back of the boat at the end of a tiring but fulfilling day and watching a spectacular display of light and colour as the sky comes to life with the setting of the sun. All things that cost nothing but give plenty.

Should I stay or should I go?

One of the things we have laughed about is the feeling of satisfaction and comfort that we both get when we leave somewhere with a fresh tank of water, empty toilets and bins and having re-fuelled with diesel and gas and re-stocked the larders with food. It makes us feel totally self sufficient and that the world is, once again, our oyster. We are free to go wherever our fancy takes us, to stop and moor wherever and whenever we like and to enjoy the anticipation of new places and people as yet undiscovered. To travel with no real destination is the best kind of exploration but it has been something that has had to be learned and I’m not convinced we have totally mastered that skill yet. It’s going to take time as well as miles and maybe another long trip or two to really perfect that skill but we are getting there.

Early morning bliss

I think from our previous experiences travelling we had already learned that people are mostly kind and friendly, always willing to help a stranger in need but this last few months has helped to reinforce those lessons. We have met some incredibly kind folks, made life long friends and enjoyed coming across some real ‘characters of the cut’. So much of what we now know has been generously passed to us by people such as Bob and Betty. Both in the latter half of their eighties we first came across them as Bob skilfully reversed their boat into a mooring space whilst Betty jumped nimbly from the prow with the rope to tie up the boat. Later that day they invited us on board for gin and tonics and regaled us with fabulous tales of their fifty four years of boating. Including the one about their second boat “which kept on sinking all the time”. Listening to them and seeing the sparkle in their eyes made me both wish that we had taken to this lifestyle earlier but also very grateful that we have done it at all.

Of course just because we have learned some valuable lessons over this last year it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more to learn. I am still trying to understand why I haven’t been motivated to write for example. I thought that having lots of free time and plenty of subject matter writing the blog would be easy but it hasn’t been so at all. Learning that it’s OK not to write is one of the trickier lessons for me. We also still fall out and bicker sometimes over silly trivial stuff but that’s probably related to living in such a confined space and always in each other’s pockets. We haven’t met anybody yet who has the answer to that one!

Sometimes it feels as if we have this new lifestyle down pat and there is little more to learn and then at other times I still feel like I am only in the foothills of the greatest mountain I will ever climb. It seems as if our lives go round in a circle. We start out doing little other than learning and then after a period of thinking that we know it all the learning starts again. Long may it go on, I’m loving it.

End of the day

Brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked

We are in a frenzy of activity here as we prepare for our first major trip on the waterways.

Isn’t she looking lovely?

The Golden Girl is like a bride-to-be being primped and preened for the big occasion though the analogy breaks down a little in that most brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked. Allow me to explain.

Most narrow boats are taken out of the water every two or three years to check for corrosion and mechanical problems and to clean them off and re-paint the bits that are normally inaccessible. The term ‘bottom blacking’ is slightly misleading as the actual base plate underneath the boat doesn’t get done but I’m not going to miss the opportunity to play with such potential for a little cheeky anthropomorphising.

The actual procedure simply involves taking the boat across the canal from our home marina to the one opposite where they provide the service and floating the boat over a trailer which is then hauled out of the water by tractor. Four days later, once the cleaning and blacking are done, the process is reversed and we can bring our shiny new girl home. Simple eh? Well apart from the fact that our home will be stuck in a shed on a trailer and we will have to find somewhere else to live for a few days. Being homeless for four days simply meant that we could visit family and friends and on the whole I was quite looking forward to the experience. Then I made the mistake of speaking to another boater that had recently had his boat blacked.

Alarm bells started to ring when he asked me if I owned any Wellington boots. I hesitated but couldn’t stop myself asking why and that was the point that ‘getting the boat blacked’ became a completely different prospect. He went on to explain, with a mischievous grin on his face, that because of the steep angle that the boat would come out of the water the rear end, the end I would be standing on, would probably go under water! Apart from the prospect of trench foot, there was also a possibility of the engine bay getting flooded if the bilge pump couldn’t cope. It sounded like the equivalent of sending the bride for extensive plastic surgery a week before the wedding.

I don’t know what it is about my mind but armed with this new knowledge of possible catastrophe it decided to explore all the other things that might go wrong with ‘getting the boat blacked’. I lay awake in the small hours envisaging the boat tipped up at some alarming angle and wondering what would happen to our furniture and belongings under such circumstances. Would they all end up in a broken heap at the back of the boat? Would the sudden shift of weight send the stern even deeper under water? Would I be able to hold on? Should I wear a life jacket? Then, for no logical reason whatsoever I decided that it might be blowing a gale on the morning of our appointment and I would be faced with smashing recklessly into our neighbours homes as I thrashed around trying to manoeuvre out of our marina and into the next one. By the time I finally got to sleep I had managed to conjure up a tragedy that made the Titanic disaster look like a paddling pool accident.

Of course it all went smoothly on the day. I didn’t fall overboard, our belongings never moved, no neighbours boats were destroyed and I didn’t even have to change my socks. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience and our Golden Girl is positively blushing.

Here are a few pictures in case you are wondering what on earth I am wittering on about.

Waiting patiently to be hauled out

Here we go, onto the trailer

Testing the pressure washer. Oops! Sorry madam.

This is great fun!

Out we come

Our Golden Girl’s bottom.

Going back into the water and this is as bad as it got.

Are you sure she’ll fit through there?

We have a plan! It involves Liverpool and a black bottom.

The two most frequently asked questions to anybody going off on a trip or adventure are: “What’s your plan?” and “Have you planned your route?”

Sometimes people genuinely want an answer, sometimes they do not. Some of them really do want all the details but I suspect the majority are just being polite. Either way the answer, in our case, is usually “we don’t have a plan” and, or, “No, we don’t have a route”. In the case of the our cycle trip around the coast of Britain we didn’t need much of a plan other than; get up, eat, pack, cycle, camp, eat, sleep and repeat. As for a route, that was largely dictated by the boundary between the land and the sea. That’s just the way it is if you are cycling around an island. We have, up to now, adopted a similar attitude to the six month canal trip.

For ages now I have been giving the same, slightly facetious answers to the same questions about it. I have even refused to put a definite start date on the trip, answering somewhat glibly that we will simply wake up one morning and decide to leave because it’s a sunny day or we don’t have any reason not to, or we have run out of cornflakes or something. Well for all those people that I have irritated with my non-committal answers I have some news: WE HAVE A PLAN!!

To everybody that has asked about our route the closest I have got to any kind of answer has been, “we will be going vaguely south”. I can now reveal that we will be going west, and not vaguely, but purposefully. You see based on a whim, and what better premise is there for formulating a plan, we decided the other day to look into the possibility of going to Liverpool on the boat. I don’t mean that we began researching whether or not there were canals that went to Liverpool, there are. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal kind of gives the game away in it’s name. What I mean is that I had read that it is now possible to float your way right into the heart of Liverpool docks courtesy of an assisted passage provided by the Canal and River Trust. All you have to do is book a return journey on specific dates and once there you can stay in the shadow of the Liver birds for up to a week free of charge. So that’s what we plan to do. After that we will head east and then vaguely south.

I had heard that these assisted passages into and out of the great metropolis were very popular so we didn’t think we stood much chance of finding one at such short notice. However, to our considerable excitement, we discovered that there was one slot left available on the 4th May. We snapped it up pronto and then started to read a bit more about the journey. It seems we will be navigating several open dock basins (life jackets have been purchased), a couple of tunnels and possibly some rather big obstacles in the form of ships.

Room for a little un?

If it all goes to plan we will end up sailing majestically into Salthouse dock right in the heart of the city where we can stay for six days. Tourists can look forward to some hilarious entertainment as I try to manoeuvre onto to our allocated pontoon without bashing into any visiting cruise liners. Pretty cool eh?

Look out Liverpool, we are coming for you.

So that’s the glamorous start to our journey sorted. Before that can happen our Golden Girl will have to endure the rather undignified procedure of being hauled out of the water by her prow to have her bottom blacked. That’s happening on Thursday so we are de-camping to stay with family and friends for a few days. Apart from not being allowed to stay on the boat while she is out of the water I don’t think she would want us watching such a process anyway.

So there it is. A real life plan with dates and everything. The next person that asks; “have you got a plan?” had better have an hour or two to spare to listen to the answer.

It’s my list to port

I do like a list. Shopping list, jobs list, wish list, etc. I love to set things down in a clear, easily understood format and then obliterate them when they are done, achieved or acquired. Lists are a visible measure of organisation and whilst they may be daunting at times they should always result in satisfaction eventually once they are complete, or even diminished. There is one list however that isn’t giving me any pleasure at all. In fact, it’s giving me nothing but angst. I lie awake at night pondering it and trying to work out the answer to it. I have spent several months now working out how to address it and although it isn’t as daunting as it once was it still causes me consternation.

It’s my list to port.

We didn’t notice it when we bought the Golden Girl. In all the excitement of finally finding our ‘perfect’ boat we never noticed that she was a little wayward. If we had noticed we might have been able to negotiate a reduction in the price. The money saved could even have been converted to one pound coins and stashed as ballast on the starboard side to solve the problem. Now that would have been a neat solution don’t you think? It was only after we had been living on the boat for a while that we became aware that we were never quite upright. I started to investigate, and I started with a list.

Heavy items on a narrow boat

Fresh water tank

Fuel tank

Calorifier (think of it as a fancy immersion heater) (or if you are under fifty, a giant kettle)

Solid fuel stove

Batteries

Engine

Washing machine

Freezer/Fridge

These items need to be carefully distributed on either side of the boat in order to maintain a nice even balance but in our case they are not. The heaviest items are all on the port side and to make matters worse we gave away the really heavy sofa that used to sit on the starboard side with us on top of it. Now we sit on two lightweight IKEA chairs leaning gently towards the fire and the telly.

It’s not all bad news; if you drop anything round or cylindrical then you immediately know which side of the boat it is to be found on and spillages on the sink side of the galley all run to the back of the worktops rather than on to the floor. We also corner marginally better on left hand bends.

As I have explored the dark recesses of the boat I have discovered that the previous owners had made various attempts to redress the balance as you might say. There are bags of garden stone in the engine bay on the opposite side of the battery bank. Handy if we ever moor long enough to establish a patio garden or put in an entry to the Chelsea Flower Show I suppose. We have continued this theme, storing a 40 foot length of redundant anchor chain under our bed on the starboard side but nothing quite seems to solve the problem.

I did come up with the brilliant idea of buying lots of beer and wine and storing it all on the lighter side of the boat. It definitely helped but it turns out not to be a permanent solution. I obviously didn’t think that one through properly.

If anybody can come up with a list of ways we can solve the problem I would be truly grateful.

Does that look straight to you?

Curse of the mad axeman

Arrrrgh!! What’s that noise?

There seems to have been nothing to talk about for the past week but snow and ice. Well, that and stupidly low temperatures rendered even lower by wicked easterly winds. The TV, radio and every nook and corner of social media have been obsessed with it but nobody has been talking about the noises. We have kept our lovely stove well stoked and coped quite easily with the cold and the wintry weather but the noises have been a whole different ball game.

It’s been a bit chilly

Amongst all the research that I did about life on a narrow boat I never came across any warnings about all the weird and wonderful sounds that boats make. Particularly in winter. I’m not talking about the gentle throb of the engine or the jaunty toot of the horn but the strange vocabulary of the boat itself. These noises are amplified and multiplied when combined with ice and wind and, let’s face it, we’ve had a fair bit of both just recently.

Of course if you’ve never lived on a boat before as we haven’t then it’s easy to work out what is going on. The loud bangs of what sounds like metal on metal are obviously the work of the mad axeman on the roof as he tries to break in and murder us in our sleep. Then there is the ear splitting screech of tearing metal as ice pierces the side of the boat just below the water line. The ropes strain to breaking point with agonising creaks which must surely be an indicator that they are about to snap and cast us adrift into the wild dark night. The sudden pounding of the wind moves the boat so violently that there couldn’t possibly be any explanation other than we have been rammed by something like an aircraft carrier or the QE2. All of this is magnified both in volume and by vivid imagination as darkness falls and especially once we are lying in bed in what ought to be blissful silence. Then the groaning starts. It sounds as if some wretched former owner is trapped in the hull, probably as a result of the curse put upon him for renaming the boat. Well it was called ‘Smith’ so you couldn’t really blame him. It’s tricky getting to sleep when all you can hear is the desperate last gasps of some poor soul dying an agonising death somewhere below the bed.

After several days of this we manage to rationalise most of the sounds. The reality is that we haven’t been gruesomely murdered in our beds, there isn’t a stench of a rotting corpse coming from the hull and when we look out of the window we are still snugly tied up to the jetty. All the strange noises, well most of them, can be attributed to the boat moving against the ice and the ropes and a bit of good old expansion and contraction of steel. I’m still a bit worried by the axe I found on the roof though.

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.

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