Archive | November, 2017

An arrival..

29 Nov

As we pulled into Hartford Marina I, at the helm, was nervous…

I knew a few people there and felt under pressure to not look a total twat be in control, appear competent, to glide serenely by.

There was a small plastic boat in front of the arrow that showed the way to the sales pontoon, where I was to report, so I chugged unknowingly down a blind alley. On trying to turn around I, to my eternal shame, bashed one of the moored boats, panicked, leaned on the throttle and fled.

As I was explaining to Lorna how I missed the big red arrow, we passed said yoghurt pot on which a man was fishing. He laughed and said it was he who’d inadvertently sent me the wrong way…and sort of sniggered.

So, rather than a landing, it was an arrival – as they say in aviation circles. My only hope was that everyone was comatose/out to lunch/gone fishing or seriously not paying attention. (No-one ever mentioned this incident but I suspect it was very quickly the subject of the towpath telegraph.)

We eventually tied up in the appropriate place where  a friend and new neighbour was waiting to greet us – I’d texted him our ETA – and his young daughters presented me with a card and bottle of sloe gin. What a welcome!

I checked in and was given a choice of two berths (adjacent) so decided to decide which one when we got there and crashed slipped into the one that was easiest to negotiate. No more heroics today. A neighbour appeared, grabbed the ropes and tied us up. We shook hands and he offered help if needed – now or at any time.

How nice was that?

Little did I know that within the hour I’d be knocking on his boat because all my electrics had failed. He was as good as his word and sorted it out. My batteries were dead and I would need to buy a battery charger, which he would fit for me.

We’d had problems during our journey there. We’d cruise all day but the lights would dim soon after we moored up. I should have twigged the batteries were knackered but, like I said, I was a complete muppet novice.

Rewind a little to when Lorna and I stopped in March on the Fens. We went to the Tesco Express there for top-ups and look for candles. Couldn’t find any so Lorna suggested I should ask. Having already come to the conclusion that we must look like a couple of dykes on a dyke there was no way I was asking for candles!

Funny looks all around as we collapsed in fits of giggles. Fen folk can’t help looking funny – don’t be rude! We didn’t immediately take to March but I’ve been back to the Fens many times since and love it. Old-fashioned shops, totally barking charming people and those great big skies.

Marina life was great. It was like a village down my pontoon, a real community; friendly and helpful. Despite my car being parked only a hop, skip and a jump from the boat, it could take hours to get home. That’s because everyone chatted to you. And by the time you did get to the boat, it was only to fetch a chair and a glass because you’d been invited to the pontoon party.

Drinking and boating do seem to go hand in hand and some were better at it than others. I won’t name names but they were the ones who (if they were lucky) fell in the hedge on the way back from the pub/club – or the lake if they weren’t. But there was always someone on hand to fish them out or check they’d made it safely back to their boat after a session.

Bit of a theme emerging. But it’s not all about the booze. Really.

Every time I entered the marina on my return from work, one look at the lake and my shoulders dropped down from around my ears and, more often than not, audibly sighed. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that work was getting in the way of my life. I actually enjoyed the boatie chores, even the more unpleasant ones. It all made me feel so alive, in charge of my own destiny and much more in tune with nature and the elements.

That first summer was hot hot hot and people jumped off their roofs and swam in the lake. Evenings were abuzz with folk who chatted for England, BBQ’d, strummed and sang, making the most of those long, hot, sultry evenings.

The flip side of this was the winter, though even this was special for me. I learned how to keep my woodstove going 24/7 and that if you had a brilliant neighbour as I did, he’d rev it up when he returned from work (around 4pm) so it was toasty for me when I got back around 7pm. He even put a kettle on top so there was boiling water ready for a cuppa.

We became good friends and often cooked for each other, swapped stories and had many a good laugh. He taught me tons about boat life, maintenance, safety, how to tie knots and which to use where.  He worked on my boat as and when necessary – electrics, plumbing, stove and flue work and even fitted a new kitchen for me. And, in Billy-no-mates times, he’d crew for me.

I think it was the winter of 2009/2010 when the temperatures really plummeted. Minus 17 at one point. Water taps on the pontoon froze for days…


And I became adept at water conservation. Who needs to wash anyway?

The marina became magical…

Austere beauty at the marina63Iced in at the marina

And, to the untrained eye, boats looked cold and icy…

Winter in the marina-but cosy inside

But look close to see swirls of smoke from the chimneys and know that those in side were cosy and snug, so warm in fact that sometimes doors and hatches were thrown open and clothes discarded in order to cool down. True. Ask any liveaboard. And the smell of wood smoke is right up there with freshly cut grass and coffee brewing.

I always felt safe and secure on Hobo but new noises would  dement me until I could identify them. One that took me a long time was the ducks nibbling on the bottom of the boat – I was convinced for ages that I had hobnail – booted rats in the bilge or a body banging against the hull.

That winter we were all frozen in with sheets of ice inches thick…

Swans and their cygnets walking on water

Giving rise to another previously unheard sound. It was a weird one, sort of underwater and echoey. Spooky. It wasn’t until I spotted a chap across the water attacking the ice with a pole that I cottoned on. He was breaking up the ice so it didn’t damage the hull. Strange how sound travels under water.

The Great Ouse is a fabulous river for cruising; all the way to Bedford upstream and Denver Sluice downstream, with many, many lovely stops along the way. Truth is you don’t have to go very far at all to be somewhere completely different with lovely views, pubs, villages and walks. But that’s the beauty of boats. They move.

There are several tributaries – the Lark, the Little Ouse/Brandon Creek, the Wissey and the Cam – all ripe for exploring. Which we did. But that’s for another time…

For me, those four years in that marina were an ideal start to life on board. I made good friends there, who educated and nurtured me. I was safe, happy and had found the perfect lifestyle for me.

Until I got the urge that is to let go the ropes/unhook the umbilical …

Unplugging the Umbilical

And head for the big,  wide, watery world out there.

P.S. Great that so many of you wanted to hear more of my early adventures. Thank you both.


Boatbird’s beginnings..

22 Nov

I’ve never talked here about my previous life on land, before boatbird was born and, don’t worry, I’m not about to now.

It’s just that this picture popped up on my facebook page today…


You know how they do – ‘your memories on  facebook’, ‘we care about your memories’. Blah de blah. I do remember the occasion but choose to forget that chubbier version of me.

FB says this was from ten years ago but I dispute this. It was eleven years plus –  July 2006 to be precise. I remember it well. Moored outside the pub at Littleport, where we met up with my brother for lunch/to show Hobo off. It was such an exciting time for me, having just bought my boat and in the middle of an incredible journey to move it to its new mooring.

I knew nothing about boats then, let alone how to drive one. Looking back, I was lucky not to have bought a heap of junk, but I just knew I wanted to embark on this way of life. At least I was sharp enough to know I knew nothing, take some advice from boatie folk, which mostly consisted of ‘Stop thinking about it. Just do it’. And, courtesy of my niece, hooked up with a colleague of hers who might be able to help me move her.

Lorna came to meet with me and Hobo, had a chat, a nice lunch at Welford Wharf and a mini cruise along the Welford arm. We all hit it off and, despite my obvious ineptitude, she agreed to help and a date was set. July 1st it was!

Exciting times!

I furnished Hobo with what I thought was necessary to see us through the two week journey, booked the time off work and was totally puzzled by studied the river maps kindly provided by friend Malcolm.

Tools and equipment were acquired, largely by guesswork, and included new ropes, a big pole and a cupboard full of booze. My niece had told me that Lorna like the odd glass of something alcoholic but, as she hadn’t specified exactly what, I bought a  shed load little of everything.

We met at the boat on the day, went off and did a huge food shop and readied ourselves for what was to come. The Wharf manager fuelled her up, Lorna carried out the pre-flight checks while I panicked watched and learned.

It was a very steep learning curve for me but Lorna was a good teacher and I soon became proficient on the helm, at the locks and emptying the carzy.

I was blissfully ignorant Everything was new to me  – a great big adventure – and I loved every minute.

Our route took us down the Welford arm and onto the Grand Union, then the Northampton arm to the River Nene…

A friendly wave on the NeneThat perfect mooringSwans and cygnets


The Middle Levels…Floods Ferry sunsetFlax field at Floods FerryMarmont Priory-sunset

The tidal crossing from Salter’s Lode to Denver Sluice and the Great Ouse…

Ouse-Pike and EelOld West-StreathamThe old bridge at St. Ives

It took us thirteen days in all to reach Hartford Marina near Huntingdon – Hobo’s new home and my new life – a journey that takes about an hour by road.

But what a journey it was. A journey in every sense of the word – physical, emotional, educational and then some. Those two weeks at the beginning of July 2006 were in the middle of a heatwave and we burned to a crisp tanned beautifully, arriving at our final destination looking like we’d just come from the tropics.

Malcolm popped up randomly during our journey, always at the end of the phone and ready to provide us with anything we needed: more booze/chocolate/name of local boat mechanic/whatever. He once walked for miles in the rain, to a particularly inaccessible spot, to deliver a case of Bud. What a hero!

Lorna and I also became firm friends on that trip. The booze cupboard was a resounding success and inspired themed evenings: beer night/gin night/Pimms night/cocktail night etc. We really did get regularly shitfaced have the time of our lives and made memories that will haunt us forever last us a lifetime.

This is but a small excerpt of life before this boatbird became fully fledged…

Did you know....

But there’s much more to tell if you want to hear it…