A minor obsession

Why I would like to rename our boat.

Most tribes have their obsessions and will discuss them endlessly, and probably boringly, given the slightest opportunity. The tribe I am most familiar with is that of the cyclists and they will bang on and on about punctures, hills, waterproof (or not) clothing and motorists. Or more particularly, motorists that hate cyclists. It’s no different with boaters. There are multiple topics that attract a plethora of opinions but without doubt there are two that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Toilets and tick-over. Toilets will have to wait for another blog but right now I have tick-over on my mind.

No drinks were spilled as a result of this passing

For the less mechanically minded, or interested, tick-over is the speed at which the engine runs at its lowest setting with the forward gear engaged. I suppose you could have a reverse tick-over setting but we’ll keep things simple. I really hope for your sakes that this gets more interesting. Anyway, let me explain why tick-over is important.

Not so subtle reminders

Suppose you are travelling down the canal at a sprightly three, or even a reckless four, miles per hour and you come across a couple of boats moored by the tow path. Convention says that you should reduce your speed to tick-over whilst passing the boats. The reason for this is to minimize the tendency to rock the moored boats and pull them back and forth on their ropes. The effect of a boat passing by too quickly can be so violent that it has, in extreme circumstances, resulted in spilt wine or beer. A serious problem as I am sure most people would agree. The advice is to slow your boat down three boat lengths before any stationary vessel and not to speed up again until you are clear of it. It’s a simple enough convention to adhere to so what’s the problem you may ask? Well the problem is a combination of human nature and boat propulsion mechanics.

The mechanical problem is related to different engines with different tick-over revolution settings and varying propeller sizes which combine to result in differing speeds at tick-over. Our boat has a slower than average tick-over for example so if we stick to the rules we are real goody two shoes and nobody shouts at us. The second element is the fact that some people are inconsiderate idiots and some are just not very bright or aware of how the world works. The consequences of all this is that boaters in motion are adamant that they are travelling at a reasonable speed that won’t cause any disturbance whilst the people on the stationary boats are convinced that they are about to sink, or at the very least lose a precious glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

This conflict usually prompts a variety of ‘questions’ or ‘suggestions’, mostly shouted from the moored boats, along the lines of: “What’s the hurry”, “You’ve lost your water skier!” “Where’s the fire?” and, most common of all, “That’s not tick-over!”. There are various responses from the guilty party, the most common being to look the other way and feign deafness. Another is to insist they are travelling at tick-over but somehow manage to reduce their revs at the same time. Which is odd. Or often they simply ask the other boater to kindly keep their opinion to themselves but not exactly in those words.

All of which is the reason that if I ever changed the name of our boat I would like to call it; “That’s Not Tick-over”. This would enable me to criticise every passing boat whilst staying safely inside guarding my precious glass of wine or beer.

It’s a tribal thing

We have bought our tickets for the second annual Cycle Touring Festival in May. The first one was a resounding success with about two hundred like-minded, two wheeling nomads coming together to share tales of misery and delight over beers, brews and a small mountain of cake. At that time we were not long back from our big trip around the coast of Britain which we thought was quite an epic adventure until we listened to some of the speakers at the festival. It turned out that what we had done was like a bit of a warm up for some of the odysseys that others had undertaken. Phrases like “that was our twenty second country” or “it was just towards the end of our third year on the road” were bandied about with a casualness normally reserved for discussing the weather. There were, of course, plenty of cyclists there who had yet to embark on their first multi week tour and even some who had never strapped a pannier on a bike or even sniffed a pair of socks to determine whether they would do another week or not. We were somewhere in the middle I suppose.

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What was brilliant about it though was that we were with our tribe. It didn’t matter whether you were a grizzled old warrior of the road or still dithering over which Swiss Army knife you should choose, you were one of the clan and as such safe and protected and in the right place. When people with a common interest and passion come together there is a real genuine feeling of warmth and support; especially if the common interest is a bit wacky and not really understood by other people. I’m sure there is exactly the same cosy sense of being wrapped in a protective but fluffy blanket at model train conventions or a velology festival. I’m not sure whether it’s because of a deep rooted ancient yearning to come together with others that share our passions and beliefs or simply a desire not to feel weird. It doesn’t really matter, it’s fun and it gives us purpose and place in a confusing and crowded world.

Being with ‘your own sort’ is easy and relaxing. It’s so refreshing to be able to emerge from the tent in the morning and talk to your nearest neighbour about the relative merits of synthetic or natural sleeping bag fillings as if it was the most normal thing in the world. When we share a campsite with the public at large we are often greeted by concerned caravaners who want to check that we survived the night without succumbing to hypothermia. We were even asked on one occasion if we would like them to boil a kettle for us. I don’t know if they thought that we might be desperate for a hot drink or a good wash but we assured them in the nicest possible way that we did actually have the means of boiling a kettle ourselves. When you are with your tribe you don’t have to explain the obvious and you can just get on with laughing hilariously at the shared memory of being wet for three consecutive days or making dinner from a spoonful of rice, a chicken flavour cup-a-soup and a lump of cheese that has been lurking in the bottom of a pannier for several weeks. Of course you both know that you are exaggerating wildly but that’s all part of the fun.

Most conversations will, at some point, turn knowingly to the non-tribal members of the population who are missing out on the true meaning of life and the route to ever-lasting happiness by not going cycle touring. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? We come together and celebrate our eccentricity. We revel in our difference from the masses and look to each other as living proof that we and we alone, have found the answers. Just like the train spotters, the sequence dancers and the cheese rollers probably do when they attend their annual tribal gatherings. The sense that we are a part of something is important, even vital, to our well-being so I for one can’t wait to gather around the camp fire once again and remind myself that I’m not the only weirdo on the block.

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