To Winter Mooring or Not to Winter Mooring pt. 2: THE DARKNESS INSIDE

Estoy triste. Ich bin traurig. Je suis sad as.

Let me set the scene. It’s 5am and a cheery alarm rings out sudden and loud over Albion.

I wake up and hit Ed on the head as I am wont to do when startled.

“Why did you hit me on the head?” said Ed.

“I set the alarm to wake up and book our winter mooring,” I said.

“I wasn’t snoring,” said Ed.

“No… I’ve woken up to book the winter mooring,” I said.

“You can’t just hit someone on the head for snoring,” mumbled Ed into his pillow.

“No, Ed, listen. I’ve woken up to book the winter mooring. Am I going ahead with it or not?” I said.

“No,” said Ed.

No. N-O. Two little letters and one little word that sent cold, cold icy shards into my heart. A bitter winter fog descended on my chest. Images of iced-over canals and snowy towpaths froze my soul.

I lay in bed, already part White Walker, as I contemplated this news. This year, we would not be taking a winter mooring.

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What the heeeeeellllll

As anyone who reads this blog might know, I love winter moorings. I know they’re a contentious issue amongst boaters, many of whom don’t see the point in shelling out yet more money on top of your license for the privilege of mooring somewhere for a few months yet still having to move every two weeks to empty the toilet and fill up with water anyway.

To which I usually respond, “Yeah but guys… Berkhamsted.”

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Bakhamstaaaaad.

I love Berkhamsted even more than I love winter moorings in general so was feeling pretty darn excited to book the same winter mooring we had there last year.

Imagine, then, my disappointment when I excitedly browsed this year’s winter mooring information only to find out that the Berkhamsted mooring had been treated to a right royal cubuph.

In case you don’t know what a cubuph is, it’s a word I just made up that stands for a Completely Unfair Bloody Unjustified Price Hike.

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Just call me Carliam Shakespeare.

Our little mooring in Berkhamsted had been upgraded from a Band 3 mooring to a Band 2, meaning a price hike that would now cost us £200/month if we wanted to take up a winter mooring.

Just FYI, here’s the difference between a Band 2 and a Band 3 winter mooring.

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Now here’s the spec for a Band 2 winter mooring, with my edits to show what the Berkhamsted mooring actually offers.

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The Berkhamsted mooring offers pretty much none of the things specified by the Band 2 description. There are no mooring rings or bollards and no facilities, unless you count the water point and elsan round the corner which it once took us two hours of painfully cold ice breaking to reach.

In fact the only thing the Berkhamsted mooring has to offer to make it a Band 2 mooring is the fact that it’s within walking distance of a popular town. NOT THAT I’M EVER CYNICAL ABOUT THESE KINDS OF THINGS but it seems to me that the price hike is a bit of a shameless money grab based on the fact that Berkhamsted is super popular and people will pay money to be near it even if the mooring fulfills none of the other things it’s supposed to.

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I mean, fair enough.

 

Not only that, but our mooring last year was far from stress-free. The water levels in Berkhamsted are notoriously terrible and more often than not we woke up completely tipsy.

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Not even the fun kind of tipsy.

Smashed posessions and wobbly showers aside, the facilities the mooring supposedly offers include the elsan point in the grounds of the Old Mill pub that is currently a battleground between the pub and CRT, who can’t seem to decide who is responsible for keeping it clean and functional. Add to that the fact that local builders seem to frequently use it to dispose of waste materials and you get an elsan that, last year, was blocked more often than not and took months to get repaired.

“But Carli,” I hear you cry. “If the mooring was that terrible, why would you even want to spend money to stay there anyway?”

To which I reply…

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BAKHAMSTAAAAAAAD

Unfortunately even the delights of Berkhamsted couldn’t change the fact that the new increased price was just too much for our freelance bank accounts, especially considering how imperfect the mooring had been last year.

That’s why this morning, with a heavy heart, I switched off my 5am ‘BOOK WINTER MOORING’ alarm, and went back to sleep.

Now, instead of our lovely, crappy, comfy, useless winter mooring, we’re going to be roaming the canals all winter, fighting the ice, and braving all sorts of terrible and hilarious incidents I’m sure.

Which is bad news for Carli, great news for Carli’s Blog.

Watch this cold, cold space.

 

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Top 5 Ways to Wake Up on a Boat

OMG I FORGOT I HAVE A BOAT BLOG.

I do apologise, dear readers, for not having updated this blog in such a long time – I’ve been somewhat busy taking care of my dog who just lost her ear to cancer.

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Now you feel bad.

Fortunately, something happened in the early hours of this morning that inspired me to pick up my quill (laptop) and get bloggy with it.

Quick recap: we are currently moored in Rickmansworth, on our way Oop North (Milton Keynes is Oop North when you come from London), on a corner of the canal where the towpath bends around towards a lock. We are also very much In Nature, meaning that when night falls and it is dark… it is dark.

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Our view during the nighttime.

Around 1am this morning, a cyclist – who evidently thought night cycling with lights is for BABIES – cycled right onto the front deck of our boat.

We know this because we sleep right underneath it and also because, when someone crashes into your bedroom ceiling at 1am then proceeds to yell ‘I RAN OUT OF TOWPATH’, you tend to wake up.

This delightful wake-up call got me thinking about how #boatlife is actually really good for those of us who are not the world’s most natural early birds because it often tends to wake you up in the most horrifying and adrenaline-triggering ways possible.

There really is no better alarm clock; when you’ve been woken by boatlife – you stay awake.

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Boatlife

So without further ado, I present to you…

The Top 5 Ways to Wake Up on a Boat!

  1. Wake-Up by Coot

“Oohh boatlife must be so peaceful. Is it so super peaceful? I’ll bet it’s the most amazingly peaceful,” say People when I tell them I live on a boat. ‘Peaceful’ is actually the Number 2 erroneous adjective People use to describe imagined boatlife, after ‘Romantic’.

As anyone who has read this blog before will know, boatlife it is not romantic (unless you think poo and dirt are romantic) and it is most certainly not peaceful. Yes, we are surrounded by nature but – guess what? – NATURE IS REALLY NOISY.

Introducing the drunken football fan of the natural world: THE COOT.

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“**** YOU, I’M MILLWALL.”

If coots aren’t fighting then they’re procreating and when they procreate they make miniature coots whose natural state is yelling, constantly.

Awesome!

2. Wake-Up by Sinking Noises

Of all the noises to get you out of bed faster than a coot when it sees another coot it doesn’t like or wants to have sex with, sinking noises are numero uno.

Since our boat has never actually sunk…

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TOUCH ALL THE WOOD

…I’m not sure what I think sinking noises are but generally bubbling, swishing, dripping, and swooshing are all enough to get me out of bed faster than you can say ‘coots suck’.

Wake-Up by Floating Away

Okay I’ve written about this before but I really cannot stress enough how quickly you wake up once you realise your home is floating freely wherever it pleases. Coming adrift from your mooring is Number Two Not Fun Boat Thing (after sinking).

Also I am sorry to say that that time I wrote about wasn’t a one off. Thanks to soggy ground, dry ground, storms, wind, rain, no rain, and people who don’t understand that four miles per hour is a necessity not a lifestyle choice, this has actually happened many times since I wrote that first blog. Many times I have awoken to the sound of our mooring pins joyfully shaking themselves loose from their dirty homes. Many times I have looked out the window only to see the towpath waving sadly goodbye.

And all this is even despite Ed purchasing a new heavy metal pin-hammering mallet that I can barely lift.

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That’s the one!

Wake-Up by Boris Johnson

Once I was woken up from a perfectly good nap in the most horrible way possible: by experiencing the nearby presence of Boris Johnson.

I was awoken as he cycled past, both by his characteristic call of ‘Hrrrmpg burrghh gurrgh bruuhh’ and the sound of people loudly swearing at him.

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A rare occasion in which I am in agreement with a cyclist.

Wake-Up Upside Down

Ahh, I saved the best one until last. Also, unfortunately, the most common one of late.

Due to a lack of dredging and an abundance of idiots (the sort who leave paddles open on lock gates), the water levels on the Grand Union have been a nightmare these past few months. More often than not, we awake to a tipped-up boat, broken possessions, and SMASHED WINE.

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THIS IS THE WORST THING OF ALL THE THINGS I JUST SAID.

The fun thing about waking up to low water levels and a listing boat is that, when the boat goes like this:

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…we wake up like this:

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Which is only appropriate if you are a) in hospital, or b) a vampire.

What better way to wake up than with a rush of blood to the head and the acute pain of losing a full bottle of Campo Viejo?

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If it was a Reserva then probably don’t even bother talking to me until at least 2pm.

 


So there you have it!

A comprehensive list of reasons why a life afloat means I am pretty much always wide awake and 100% bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

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Or, at the very least, extremely nervous and easily-startled.

Thanks for reading, I’m off for a nap.

 

 

A Fortnight To London

 

As those of you who know us might have realised, we’ve been ‘heading back to London in about a week or so’ for five months now. There are many reasons for this. The reasons are four-fold.

Reason Number One – Thamesphobia and The Stoppage That Never Was

When we first bought Albion it was still winter and so there were a fair few stoppages taking place on the canal (non-boaters: a stoppage is when a bit of the canal gets closed off for maintenance). One of these was on the Grand Union at Milton Keynes. Since we needed to pass through here to get to London from our starting point of Stowe Hill, we were in a bit of a pickle.

We decided that, since we’re both working from home now and not tied to the city anyway, we would avoid the Milton Keynes stoppage by going down the Oxford Canal and heading back into London on the Thames. We planned to do this over one two-week trip.

That took up the first three months.

One small hour-long drive for a car, ONE GIANT QUARTER OF A YEAR TRIP FOR BOATKIND!

One small hour-long drive for a car, ONE GIANT QUARTER-OF-A-YEAR TRIP FOR BOATKIND!

By the time we reached Oxford and looked into the logistics of travelling into London along the Thames, we realised that it would actually cost less in diesel to just go all the way back up to Northampton and down the Grand Union to London than it would be to buy the gold license you need to take your boat on the river (and to pay to moor up each night, which it looked like you had to do on the Thames).

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People who have boats on the Thames, apparently.

I have to admit, making this decision was easy for me because I was terrified of taking our little boat on the river anyway.

NOPE.

NOPE.

Funny story: Halfway to Oxford we also realised that – since it took so long to complete all the work we needed to do on the boat in the end – by the time we’d set off, the stoppage would have been over anyway. Lol!

Lol.

Lol.

Reason Number Two – We Accidentally Got a Dog

One of the things that made our trip down to Oxford so much longer was the dog that accidentally joined us halfway through.

"OH HI I LIVE HERE NOW!"

“OH HI I LIVE HERE NOW!”

When I say accidentally, I half mean it. We had always planned to get a dog ever since we decided to buy our own boat (we had always wanted pets but had never owned our own property before). At first we wanted a cat but, after seeing the amount of ‘drowned cat’ posts on the London Boaters Facebook group, we decided a dog would be a better choice.

Being the sensible creatures that we are though, we decided to wait until we’d been on Albion for a while to ensure that were settled and used to all the boat’s quirks before we took on a new challenge.

Except then one day I looked at the Dogs Trust Rehoming site.

How could we resist? Except by being normal mature adults?

How could we resist?? Except by being normal mature adults??

There’d be no harm in just going to have a look, we said. They probably won’t even let us rehome a dog on a boat, we said.

Two weeks later we were en route to pick up our new crew member, Skipper.

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11036257_10101616134630655_4614051092777787521_n And we haven’t regretted it once. Apart from on the first night when she peed on our bed, or the initial two-month period where she point blank refused to get on the boat without being carried, or the time she chewed the handles off our chest of drawers, or the time she ate an entire loaf of fresh giraffe bread after I HAD JUST BOUGHT IT.

This added ages onto our journey since we had to spend loads of time settling her in. Still, three months on and she’s a boat dog through and through. She sits on the roof of the boat when we move and, since she’s a lurcher (half greyhound/half collie), she sleeps for 80% of the day. Just like I do.

A nap is no good without a nap buddy.

It’s not a nap if you don’t have a nap buddy.

Reason Number Three – The Oil Watergate Scandal

Living on Albion has by no means been plain sailing (no, it’s not a pun. We don’t sail, we navigate). Getting used to a significantly-reduced living space has been hard, our fridge wouldn’t work for ages and our hot water system has been temperamental at best.

Still, these were all things we could get used to or fix. Water getting into the engine however, required Professionals.

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We only have amateur-level overalls.

Turns out it was a good job we didn’t go on the Thames as, one day journeying back up the Oxford Canal, the engine suddenly starting cutting out at low revs, sending us drifting – unpowered – down the canal (if anyone saw me drive straight into the wall of that lock, THIS IS WHY). Then the oil pressure gauge dropped dramatically.

I won’t go into the technical details (largely because I don’t know what they are) but the long and short of it was that water was getting into the oil in the engine. Since this can destroy the internal workings of your engine, we could no longer continue. We were stranded.

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Luckily, with the combined help of the positively angelic James Hoare and Keith Duffy on Facebook and Tom from River Canal Rescue, the engine was fixed up just enough to get us back to our Alma Pater, Robbie at Stowe Hill Wharf.

Positive things: Being back at Stowe Hill meant we were able to get the engine fixed, the boat blacked and amazing new solar panels fitted by the wonderful Matt from Old Friends Canal Services.

Negative things: Not only did we have to borrow a lot of money to do all of this, we were also now four months into our trip yet had only managed to make it as far as right where we started.

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 Reason Number Four – The London Conundrum

Though we had initially planned to return to London (or thereabouts) with Albion, the past few months have had us questioning our decision. On the one hand, our friends, social lives and work opportunities are in London. On the other hand, London sucks.

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NOPE AGAIN.

Everything’s too expensive, the tubes are packed, the streets are packed and – worse – the canals are so overpacked we don’t even know if we’ll be able to moor up when we get there.

That being said, we do need to be able to commute in easily for various reasons and the Oxford/upper reaches of the GU have not been ideal for this (up until literally this week, getting into London has meant a four-hour round trip and extortionate train fares that would be better spent on buying fun dog toys that I like more than the dog does).

IT'S A GIANT JAMMY DODGER.

IT’S A GIANT JAMMY DODGER!?

So, while we are heading back into London for a bit, it’s really for a change of scenery from the remoteness of the Oxford and we’ll probably spend the rest of the summer exploring the Stort and going back up the Grand Union again.

After all, what’s the point of living on a boat if you’re not going to discover what lies on the nearest easily-commutable-distance-from-London-with-plenty-of-shops-and-boating-facilities horizon?

Adventure is Rickmansworth.

Adventure is Rickmansworth.