Tag Archives: hartford marina

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.


Snowshots – Now and Then

5 Feb

There is one definite advantage to being an occasional extreme early riser (that’ll be Boatbloke not Boatbird) and that is unusual photo opportunities…IMG_20150130_022121

Snowing polar bears at 03.00 hours, as seen from the little boat. Ragetty Ann catches the yard light while other hulls are seen in silhouette.

It settles on the roof…IMG_20150130_034756

Wonderful white fluffiness.

And just before it turned to mucky, muddy, mushy slush and sludge…IMG_20150131_122330

Dogdirt Alley in all its splendour, still looking pristine before the temperature rises and the march of everyone’s welly boots takes its toll, depriving us of that delicious crunch beneath our feet.

We’ve seen nothing (yet) this winter though. Nothing like one I remember when living at Hartford Marina in Cambridgeshire – I think the winter of 2009/2010 – when we had weeks of serious sub-zero temperatures.

Which meant the water taps on the pontoon froze for days on end…12

And the lake had ice an inch thick all over.

As I walked about inside the boat, I’d hear the ice around the boat cracking and, once I’d identified what it was, a strange yet fun experience. Even more odd was the sound of someone across the water breaking the ice around their boat with a pole – a kind of echoing noise, almost like an underwater explosion . And this one took me quite a while to figure out.

We get so used to familiar noises, knowing each and every one from ducks nibbling the hull (weird and worrying till you work it out) to a flight of swans (unmistakeable), a skein of geese flying homeward (noisy), the dismayed whimpering of a neighbour’s cat that has taken an unexpected dive into the drink (pitiful) or a neighbour topping up his coal scuttle (frequent).

Each with its own distinctive signature.

The wildlife were fun to watch…3 10Swans and their cygnets walking on water

So comical as they nonchalantly went about their daily routines.

I learned how to eke out my water, often using the marina showers so as not to deplete what remained in my tank as topping up would not be possible until the outside taps thawed. It was a good lesson in water conservation that has stayed with me. Here at the farm the hose and or tap will freeze – as will the water points on canals and rivers – when a cold snap snaps.

The surroundings became beautiful…15 1613Serene…Iced in at the marina

Austere beauty at the marina

But despite outward appearances…Winter in the marina-but cosy inside

We all stayed warm and cosy inside our boats.

These are a few of my pictorial reminiscences of a previous life. What were your memories of that winter..?

Roydon and the unexpected…

24 Aug

Less than a  week back on my mooring (few things to attend to – MOT the car for one (yes of course it passed, it’s a Toyota) – and we’re off again, this time headed for Roydon.

We had a lovely long day cruising on the Saturday, into the darkness, finally finding a convenient piece of piling to hook to for the night.  A quiet spot, considering how close we were to Harlow – that parallel universe thing. Nights on the river in the middle of nowhere (seemingly) are special.

After a quick visit to Roydon Marina for top-ups and tip-outs, Sunday sees us at the designated spot, one we’d earmarked from long ago and more recently checked out for car parking, suitability etc.

You moor against a wall next to the little road that leads to the marina..100_1673Lovely great big old mooring rings..100_1672And a reasonable outlook the other side..100_1671Never know there was a busy railway line behind that tree would you? Trust me, there is. Hobo is in fact sandwiched between the road (surprisingly busy and very close) and the railway. On a positive note though, no jets for once, as we seem to be out of the Stansted zone here.

But it’s the road noise that offends me, I am simply not used to this these days, and would another time tootle just a little further on, under the bridge and round the bend, where there’s more mooring away from the road. Perhaps my recce wasn’t all it should have been… didn’t spot this till I’d walked down to the car park once or twice.

That said, I had a very pleasant seven days here while John was working away on the farm in the Fens. Travelling to work became shorter and quicker, apart from one day when I got stuck at the level crossing – 4 trains worth with huge gaps in-between – felt like I was there for at least 30 minutes!

I enjoyed strolling up the hill to the village store that sold everything you could possibly want/need and plenty more you don’t.

It’s a well used stretch of moorings – from the commercial crayfish boats..100_1674..a very busy and, at times, noisy operation, to the assorted boats with their assorted boatees, just parking off for the night.

Also some serious messing about on the river..100_1669How good does that look?

Internet connection (via 3 dongle, usually brilliant) here wasn’t great but kicked in occasionally with just about enough oomph to get me into the e mail and facebook but not enough for me to get blogging (without serious frustration on my part) sadly. So recent posts are all history, as it were.

Now a very funny thing happened during my stay here. A friend from Infants/Junior school in Higham Ferrers and The County High School Wellingborough (and not seen or heard from since) sent me a friend request on facebook, asking if I was me from HF and if so she was sorry she nicked my flip-flops!!

We were the best of mates back then, some 40 odd years ago, so have been doing some serious catching up.

It’s been great discovering what we’ve been up to and how our lives have panned out and seems we’ve sort of shadowed each other over the years, unknowingly living in the same areas. For all we know we’ve passed in the street and not known. Curiouser and curiouser.

Sharon is a very accomplished artist and blogger – check her out at sharonwrightartist.blogspot.co.uk where you will see this..Boatbird   20 x 16  oil[1]and the stages leading up to this, which she took from my Skype profile picture.

There’s an awful lot more good stuff on Sharon’s site. I thoroughly recommend you take a look.

John took this photo of me at the helm some 3/4 years back as we left Hartford Marina for destinations unknown. It was a high spot for me and Hobo, I was on top of the world and full of anticipation and excitement, tempered with  sadness at leaving behind friends and a super community that had been my (very happy) home for 4 years plus. And, if I’m honest, a flicker of fear.

It’s all there in this painting don’t you think…brilliant or what?

There’s a good chance we will get to meet again as she now lives quite close to my brother in Norfolk and visits this neck of the woods every month.

Life is full of surprises.