Clear off and Relinquish Traditions

As a fairly new boater with only two years under my windlass and smarting from some of the reactions to my latest post, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I am not by any means a canal or boat expert and the majority of my blogs are roughly 12% serious. 14% on a day when something’s made me grumpy.

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DEAR GOD THIS BLOG IS ANYTHING BUT EDUCATIONAL.

That being said, today I am going to offer MY UNDERSTANDING of the CCer crisis as it currently stands based on MY EXPERIENCES. Please disregard the lot as soon as you’ve finished reading it. (No, not yet.)

(I’ll tell you when).

We recently watched the insightful Off The Cut by Wendy Zakiewicz. It’s a documentary film about what it’s like to be a ‘Continuous Cruiser’ or ‘A Boater without a Home Mooring’ or ‘Definitely the Best Sort of Boater You Can Be’ or whatever you choose to call us.

Here is the film (you can watch it now, I’ll wait.):

If you don’t want to watch the film or you can’t currently watch the film because you’re reading this blog at work (I like your style) then I’ll try to cram a very huge and complicated issue into a very small nutshell.

Haha Austin… anyway… what?

Oh yes, so, Off The Cut is a pretty accurate, heartfelt account of what it’s like to be a Continuous Cruiser. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules surrounding our way of life, the waterways are looked after/RULED OVER WITH AN IRON FIST (depending on your opinion) by CRT – Canal & River Trust – a charity designed to oversee the likes of lock fixing, dredging, taking away the homes of children, and towpath maintenance.

To be allowed to live on a boat as a Continuous Cruiser, you have to pay for a CRT licence. This entitles you to keep your boat on CRT waters, use facilities, live with the constant threat of your home being taken away, and have a cool key on a cork!

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IT’S ALL WORTH IT FOR THE FLOATY KEY THAT ANYONE CAN BUY ON EBAY.

To receive your licence (and to have it renewed on a yearly basis), you must comply with certain rules as set out in the British Waterways Act 1995:

[to satisfy] the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.

A failure to comply with these rules will result in your licence being taken off you or not being renewed when your current licence runs out. Which means you will be issued with a Section 8: After giving at least 28 days notice, to remove a craft which is sunk, stranded, abandoned or unlawfully moored on the Trust’s waterways

…or a Section 13 (I think?): the British Waterways Act 1971 states that it is unlawful to moor or keep any houseboat (defined mainly as any vessel not used for navigation) on the Trust’s waterways without a valid licence. It further gives the Trust the power to remove or (ultimately) demolish a houseboat if, following proper notice, the owner does not first remove it.)

Simple, right??

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Nope.

The problem with the act is that it doesn’t specify… well, anything really. It doesn’t specify what a place is or what ‘bona fide navigation’ means or what sort of circumstances make overstaying reasonable or why geese eat my blacking or why Pickett’s Lock always makes me crash my boat or why cyclists suck.

Thus, as #LawInspo for the CRT license terms, it’s not particularly useful.

Or at least it was completely fine until canal living became hugely popular and CRT suddenly found loads of dirty boaters clogging up its canals and demanding more of the basic facilities they needed to live (like water and somewhere to empty your poo) and CRT had to begin making the rules the hell up in an effort to get rid of all the boaters who weren’t neatly hidden away in marinas so that they could go back to spending their money on duck graffiti.

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Or, until a charity designed to cut weeds and fix big wooden floaty doors found itself at the eye of a government-created housing storm and did what it had to do to save the poor waterways from a new breed of ukulele-toting millenials who infest Broadway Market and poo in the canal.

Depending on your opinion.

To put an end to the confusion, CRT now state Clearly and Finitely that:

  • a CCer must move to a new place every 14 days
  • a ‘place’ = somewhere CRT made up on a map
  • ‘bona fide navigation’ means not returning to a place you were just at. Or the place you were at before that place. Or shuffling between a few places. Even though those would be different places in accordance with the British Waterways Act? Yes, look could you just keep travelling in a straight line until you hit the sea and then you can turn around. Except maybe don’t turn round even then. Maybe go in the sea. Yes it’s best if you were all in the sea.
  • You have to cover around 20 miles during the license period.
  • What?
  • Where did that come from?
  • I can’t see that anywhere in the Act.
  • What does around 20 miles mean?
  • Like 20 miles in one direction or 20 miles and back again?
  • I dunno, just like… around 20 miles.
  • Around?? Is 10 miles enough?
  • No.
  • 15 miles?
  • Maybe.
  • Maybe?? You’re going to take away my boat if I don’t go far enough so how far is far enough?
  • Look at this duck graffiti! So viral.

So you see, a lack of clarity is the problem. CRT cannot be more specific about the rules because the Waterways Act isn’t more specific about the rules and CRT is a charity without the legal standing to create new legislation and enforce it by law ( I have no idea if I explained that right. I’m just paraphrasing the script of Silk.) (How good was Silk??) (I loved Maxine Peake in Silk).

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What a powerhouse.

On the other hand, some of the boaters camp argue that murky law is our friend.

(Murky law, not Murphy’s Law).

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Murphy’s Law is no one’s friend.

They argue that, because the official laws are so vague, CRT can’t actually enforce any of its rules and we can all get away with doing whatever we want as long as we all just shut up and put down that ukulele. Pushing CRT (and perhaps, eventually, government) for more definite rules might result in new laws being created that make our way of life even harder. Where our boats will be tracked by GCHQ and any boat travelling just 19.9 miles during its licence period will automatically explode.

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“This one’s okay actually I just forgot to log him in Broxbour… Oh.”

That all being laid out, it’s time for me to confess.

I am one half of a boating couple in our 20s. We moved onto a boat in London (BOATING PROBLEM AREA #1) because we couldn’t afford to live in the city any other way. During our first year, we even RENTED.

According to many people on both sides of the debate, we are The Problem.

I even look exactly like what happens when you type “hipster girl” into Google Images.

So let me give you an insight into life as The Problem.

We moved onto the canals at the beginning of 2013. We started out knowing nothing and making all sorts of mistakes just like ANYONE ELSE DOING ANYTHING EVER. As we got more used to life on the canal, we took the time to learn about its history and about the rules, we found out that renting was a bit of an issue so we used our savings to buy our own boat (although I have to say we were very lucky with our waterlords who were nice and reasonable and took care of us. This is all I will say on renting because I don’t know how many contentious issues I dare to fit in one post).

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“I have read all of the boat informations and I still cannot work out why everyone on London Boaters is angry at me!”

In our rental year, we asked our waterlords to let us leave London and travel up the Grand Union, which we fell in love with. Over the past year on our own boat we have travelled to Oxford and back and are currently travelling up the River Lea heading for first the Stort and then Hertford, even though we both have work that requires us to be in London on some days (thankfully not every day, we are luckier than others with 9-5 jobs).

Not asking for a pat on the back or anything, just stating that this is the case for most of the Continuous Cruisers we have met – just normal people trying their best to live a certain way of life and trying to live it within some pretty changeable rules. I’m sure there are overstayers and poo-in-canalers but I haven’t met any and I certainly haven’t witnessed anything like the extent of problem boats CRT (and some other boaters) claim to exist. In fact, apart from the congestion in London, the only problems we’ve faced are a lack of boater facilities and the unpleasant sensation of being constantly watched by CRT.

Over the past few years we have experienced:

  • Having to risk mice and other pests by storing our rubbish on the roof or in the gas locker for days because there are no bin facilities nearby (where we are currently moored there is a big bin by a cafe with a sign that specifically says ‘No Boaters Rubbish’ or something to that effect, which makes me feel sad and rejected. By a bin.)
  • Continuous texts and emails from CRT telling us to move on from an area during two separate occasions when I had notified them that we had first an engine problem and then a gas leak.
  • CRT Volunteers (who walk the canals checking people’s license numbers to make sure they’re not overstaying) banging on our doors – and I mean banging like “STASI! OPEN UP!” – because they couldn’t read our brass licence plate (Landlubbers: This is akin to the police banging on your door once a week and asking to see your council tax information).
  • Having to pretty much cross my legs and wash with baby wipes for the time we were stuck in Berkhamsted with engine failure because one water point was broken (and never fixed the whole time we were there), one Elsan point was blocked and had started overflowing into the canal, and the other Elsan was an hour away on foot or by boat (and was locked when we got there.)
  • Wanting to visit Oxford but finding the moorings all ’24hrs only’ so having to retreat to Kidlington if we wanted to actually settle somewhere for our LEGALLY ALLOWED two weeks (there’s talk of doing this in more areas now, Berkhamsted included, making yet more ‘places’ unlivable for Continuous Cruisers).

This is just a small amount of the difficulties that we’ve come across as Continuous Cruisers and they are ongoing. We’ve currently come up the Lea because we a) really like Hertford and b) want to fulfil the terms of our licence but there is nowhere to empty our toilet within an hour’s radius of where we are currently moored. We are also two able-bodied people who are lucky enough to work from the boat for the majority of the time meaning we don’t need to be tied to one place. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the disabled or ill or those with children of school age who are no longer allowed to cruise within a commutable distance to their school.

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I got a bit ranty for a while there and forgot to do any pictures so here’s a funny-looking duck.

People who don’t like Continuous Cruisers (or who are smug CCers themselves) argue that there are plenty of facilities if you just move far enough to find them. Well we’re movin’ and facilities we ain’t seein’. They also say that, if you can’t comply with the rules, you shouldn’t move onto a boat. Which is fine until the rules change so often that you don’t know whether you can comply with them or not from one year to the next. It’s not like you can be happily working, child-rearing and doing an acceptable cruising pattern around your desired location, only to read that the CC rules have changed and then suddenly have enough money to move into a house near your job or child’s school. It is hard not to feel like Continuous Cruisers are having their lives deliberately made harder in order to drive them out, either into CRT-owned marinas or off the canals completely to free up supposedly-protected land to sell off to developers. Either way, CRT stands to gain financially and the canals are kept ‘clean’, ‘tidy’ and ‘free of poor people’.

I don’t know what the solution to the busyness of the canals is, except to suggest that simply adding more facilities might help people spread out a bit more instead of clustering and shuffling around the places where they can find the things they need to, you know, live. As to CRT’s motives and financial dealings, I don’t know enough as yet to say what is truth and what is conspiracy theory. I only know that I don’t believe Continuous Cruisers are the problem we are made out to be and I increasingly suspect that we are simply subject to the same sort of prejudice as any sort of traveller has been since the dawn of time.

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AKA We don’t have to pay bills and get to enjoy views like this and y’all are just jealous.

(You can disregard this all now).

 

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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.

Mechanic

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.

 

The Journey So Far

Remember when I said we’d be moving on to Albion in ‘about a week and a half’?

"Hahahah good one, past Carli!"

“Hahahah good one, past Carli!”

In reality, Albion is still not finished and we weren’t actually able to move in for a good three weeks.

HOWEVER, she is now fully liveable in…able. The bedroom under the tug deck was completed a few weeks ago, the bathroom is pretty much done bar some finishing touches and the living room is finally white after 11 coats of crap B&Q paint (do not buy crap B&Q paint).

Trust me.

Trust me.

However there’s still loads we want to do and, with that in mind, I’m saving my ‘Albion: Before, During and After’ pictures post until we’ve really properly finished (although if you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen a few snaps there).

Instead, I’ve got a bit of an update about where we’ve been so far.

Oxfordshire

Where we’ve been so far.

With only superficial work to be done and the assistance of professional builders no longer required, we left the comforting womb of Stowe Hill Marina two weeks ago and set off into the abandoned wilderness that is the Oxford Canal, home to sheep, more sheep, red brick bridges, more red brick bridges and never ever any phone signal.

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Believe it or not these are all different bridges.

This same stretch was actually just featured on Great Canal Journeys, the Timothy West and Prunella Scales boating programme. This has been very exciting for us, not least because I have been doing some of the steering and recently managed to get into a diamond lock that made even the experienced Timothy West do a little crash.


Like. A. Boss.

I’m more than a little proud of this, especially as Ed’s always been the designated driver due to superior unpanicking skills.

Now that we own our own boat though, we decided that we should take it in turns to be skipper and so far I’ve managed to steer us out of some pretty sticky situations, such as the time we became grounded on a shallow bit of canal and nearly capsized until I saved the day with some expert tiller manoeuvring (Ed might have been simultaneously pushing us off the side with a barge pole, I don’t know, I was too busy saving the day). Or the time when another boat came round a corner so quickly that he didn’t leave himself enough time to turn and a crash was only avoided by my selfless decision to ground our boat on the side of the canal in order to get out of the way.

"It sort of sounds an awful lot like Carli just runs the boat aground every time she takes the tiller" - IDIOTS MIGHT THINK.

“It sort of sounds an awful lot like Carli just runs the boat aground every time she takes the tiller.” – IDIOTS MIGHT THINK.

The Oxford Canal itself is part beautiful and part pretty weird, in that we’ve been treated to lots of beautiful scenery but we’ve seen some pretty weird stuff too.

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Like the time we discovered a skinned deer carcass on the towpath and initially thought it was a person.

We even braved the terrifying 1,867m Braunston Tunnel:

When I say ‘braved’ I mean Ed braved the tunnel and I hid inside making a timelapse video and only crying a little bit maybe once.

The Oxford is also pretty remote. Unlike the Grand Union, towns with shops and internet signal are few and far between so our original route keeps altering. Unfortunately I need the internet to work from home so we’ve been forced to move on several times from places we’d like to have stopped for longer.

HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE?

HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE?

Even the places we thought would be ideal have turned out to be the opposite. For example, we had planned to stay in Banbury for a couple of weeks to give us time to settle down and have good access to trains into London. My mum lives nearby and it’s a pretty town. We thought it would be nice.

Sadly, it was not. On account of the little shits.

We’re used to little shits on the canal, having spent our first boating year in London, but the ones in Banbury are somehow even worse. Instead of doing anything solid like actually mugging you, they just race up and down the towpath on their expensive BMX bikes, sporting 2004’s emo haircuts and calling everyone twozzas.

What language are you even speaking?

What language are you even speaking?

They’re all so painfully middle class that it’s 100x more annoying, especially because you know that — instead of lurking around shopping centres after closing time (yeah I see you smoking weed behind Debenhams) — they probably do have better things they could be doing.

Oh shut up and go home to the £400 PlayStation you definitely have.

Oh shut up and go home to the £400 PlayStation you definitely have.

On our first night in Banbury, the steam from the cooker kept setting the fire alarm off so we had to open the hatch onto the towpath. Within minutes, one LS had poked his head through the door. When Ed politely asked if we could help him, he panicked and raced off on his bike, yelling insults over his swiftly retreating shoulder.

It wasn’t until Ed went to lock up later that night that we realised they’d returned and untied the back of the boat in retaliation, setting us adrift across the canal. It wasn’t very dangerous, it didn’t do any damage, it was just really really annoying and made me want to shake my fist and clip people round the ear and other such irritable elderly person habits.

"You come back here you little shit, I'll give you what for!"

“You come back here you little shit, I’ll set your face adrift!”

And while you’re being attacked by youths from the towpath, your boat is constantly being attacked from the other side by retired boating boy racers.

This wasn’t just a problem in Banbury, this is all over the Oxford. While we tend to pass moored boats at a slow tickover (because, goddammit, if a sign tells me to do something, I’ll do it), these Golden Age boaters zoom around as though they’re afraid they might not actually make it to the end of their journey. I’ve lost count of the times our little boat has been rocked so hard by speeding oldies that it’s knocked over all my new pot plants.

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BOATING HAS TURNED ME INTO HYACINTH BUCKET.

Thankfully we’ve settled for a while on the outskirts of Oxford and hope to help the pot plants recover from this traumatic journey and once more piece together the semblance of a normal life.

For the time being you can keep your eyes peeled for us in your local Ikea and hopefully I can share our finished interior pictures soon.

 

Bring Out Another Thousand

There’s been a lot of press for boating recently, largely concerning the lifestyle’s popularity with young people looking for a cheap way to live.

And also because it’s pretty cool.

At this juncture I googled 'hipster' to prove a point but found my screen suddenly and inexplicably filled with pictures of myself. I dunno.

At this juncture I googled ‘hipster’ to prove a point but found my screen suddenly and inexplicably filled with pictures of myself. I dunno.

Admittedly, renting a boat is cheaper than renting a flat in London but since that venture often comes with various life-threatening side effects depending on how conscientious your waterlord is, I’ll leave that topic for the meantime and focus on Buying a Boat. Which is what We Did.

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This boat! This beautiful, beautiful boat. Have I mentioned yet that we bought this excellent boat?

Buying a boat is decidedly Not Cheap. Yes, okay, it’s cheaper than buying a house but it comes with all sorts of hidden costs like Anti-Sinking Repairs and Getting Rid Of That Weird Engine Noise Callout Fees. None of which are mentioned in the ‘Boats are really cool!’ articles because rooting around in a gungy bilge trying to find which bit of your engine fell off isn’t so cool, I guess.

So I thought I’d write a little bit about what buying a boat actually costs, to save you collecting all those stripy tops and getting that anchor tattooed on your head just yet.

Firstly, before you can buy the boat of your dreams, it’s really recommended that you get a survey done to make sure your new home doesn’t sink two minutes into its maiden voyage.

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I don’t know if it comes across, but sinking is really high on my list of general concerns.

From what we could see, a full survey can cost anywhere between £300 and £500 (if anyone’s interested, we opted for Michael Clarke at Northern Star Marine who was lovely and thorough and helpful and should be hired immediately to survey everything in your life to make sure it won’t sink).

He could have prevented this.

He could have prevented this.

In order to have a full survey, you’ll need to take your dreamboat out of the water so its hull can be properly tested. Depending on whether you do this in a dry dock or lift it out of the water with a crane, this too can cost anywhere between £150 and £300.

This sort of crane won't work.  For anything less than £10,000 a day, darling.

This sort of crane won’t work.
For anything less than £10,000 a day, darling.

Hurray! Your dreamboat passed its survey! Don’t sail away just yet though, you’re going to need insurance for that sexy 11-tonnes of steel, just in case…

YOU KNOW WHY.

YOU KNOW WHY.

I do have to admit the insurance wasn’t actually anywhere near as expensive as I’d imagined BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. You didn’t think you could just waltz around on the canals willy nilly without contributing to society, did you?

Boaters: historically big on contributing to society.

Boaters: historically big on contributing to society.

No, no madam or sir, you also now have to pay for a Canal & River Trust license to give you permission to rove the British inland waterways without being hung, drawn and quartered or being forced to get a giant black ‘P’ tattoo.

Or worse, a Black Eyed Peas tattoo,

Or worse, a giant Black Eyed Peas tattoo.

And that’s before you take into account any building work you might want to have done. Boat building is a specialist skill and doesn’t (or shouldn’t) come cheap.

Oh also, just before you sail off to apologise to your bank manager, have you bought a windlass?

A BW key?

Mooring pins?

Spare rope?                       A coal bucket?                       An Ecofan?               A tool box?

Elsan blue?      Fenders?                        A carbon monoxide alarm?

Coal?                            A poker?                                             A tippy?

Kindling?                                                A chimney brush?

Grease?

A mallet?

A novelty tiller pin (compulsory)?

There’s one saying that’s been repeated to us a few times since we bought Albion: “Do you know what BOAT stands for?”

“Bring Out Another Thousand.”

Introducing Albion

When we first decided to buy a boat, we made up our minds that we didn’t want too much of a challenge to start out with. Keeping a modern boat running is hard enough as it is, so the maintenance and expertise required to run a traditional boat seemed all a bit too much for our very first purchase.

Sunnmørsfæring_-_Herøy_kystmuseum

“WE’RE GOING FOR SIMPLE AND EASY TO USE, GUYS.”

We decided that it was best to go for a fairly new build with an easy-to-run modern engine much like the one we have now, and about 45-foot of well laid-out living space.

Meet Albion — the 1980 51-foot traditional tug style narrowboat with a vintage Petter PH2W 2-cylinder engine that we actually bought:

Plans be damned, she's beautiful!

Plans be damned, she’s beautiful!

As it turned out, we didn’t want a modern narrowboat at all. The more boats we looked at — and we saw some lovely ones — the more we realised we actually wanted something with a bit more history and character. Albion popped up on the second day of our online search and seemed too good to be true. She’s the perfect blend of old and new; though not precisely a historic boat, from the research we’ve done it seems that she did used to be a working boat before being lengthened into the shape she is today. It’s going to be a whole new learning curve for us but we think it’ll be worth it to own something that bit more special.

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That being said, ask me how I’m getting on with the engine in a few months.

Luckily for us, the previous owner has fitted her out really nicely inside too:

1399-04

1399-06

All picture credit goes to our lovely brokers, Rugby Boats, by the by. If you’re thinking of buying a boat, I would highly recommend them. Or even if you’re not thinking about buying a boat you should buy a boat from them anyway.

There is a bit of work to be done on her still. At the moment the sleeping space is a replica of a traditional boatman’s cabin with a fold-down bed which, while lovely…

Look! Really cool.

Look! Lovely.

…is a little less practical for the two of us, so we’re going to have the space under the front deck converted into a bedroom.

These are the official technical plans sent over by our boat builder.

The official technical plan drawn up by our boat builder.

We’re also going to have to get used to a bit less space than the modern 65-footer we have now. While Albion is actually about the length we were looking for, she is narrower and smaller inside than some other boats we’d looked at. Still, she will (should) be easier to move round and easier to moor up than our current behemoth and she’s just the nicest looking boat we’d seen — inside and out. All this should make up for the amount of clothes I’m going to have to throw away and the fact that I’ll only be able to have one friend over at a time.

"DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HOME? No the others can't come in yet, it's one in one out."

“DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HOME? No the others can’t come in yet, it’s one in one out.”

Anyway, all joking aside we are absolutely over the moon to be the proud new owners of such a unique and beautiful boat and we can’t wait to move aboard.

Updates on building work soon!

Towpath Laws

I don’t know if it’s because we’re currently neighbouring the (actually very lovely) Angry Boater and his angriness is contagious, but I’ve been getting a lot of Towpath Rage lately.

Essentially the problem is that the towpath is not exclusively used by boaters. Instead, at some point in time some idiot had the stupid idea to make it accessible to the general public as well. The result being that it is now filled with people talking too loudly on their phone, overexcited teenagers, awful awful cyclists, more-important-than-you businessmen, screaming kids and just all-round morons.

As I said, the general public.

As I said, the general public.

Luckily for everyone involved, I have come up with a series of foolproof laws which, if everyone follows them, will make the towpath a much safer and lovelier place for me.

As set out by me on September 5th 2014 to make my life easier and bring down towpath cyclists once and for all.

As set out by me on September 6th 2014 to make my life easier and to bring down towpath cyclists once and for all.

1. CYCLISTS: Thou shalt not be terrible people. This is just pretty good advice for cyclists in general but, if I must elaborate: A) Stop speeding on the towpath. It is not a cycling highway and you do not have right of way. If you have ever cycled too fast down the towpath then I’m sorry to break it you but everyone in the world thinks you are a bastard. B) Bicycle bells are for warning people that you’re coming round a corner, through a tunnel or under a bridge. THEY ARE NOT FOR FORCING PEOPLE TO GET OUT OF YOUR STUPID LYCRA-CLAD WAY. Again, pedestrians have right of way on the towpath so, if you ring your bell at me one more time, I will follow you around and ring a bell in your ear for the rest of your life.

You have been warned.

You have been warned.

2. RUNNERS: Thou shalt not act like cyclists on legs. It’s not just cyclists who seem to think they own the towpath (they don’t, FYI, I do. Hence all the laws). Plenty of runners act super impatient when regular old unimportant pedestrians fail to dive out of their way too. The other day in Victoria Park, a lady jogger ran right at me then yelled ‘HELLO’ when I didn’t move. This lady was a Bad Person.

Marathon runners

WHATEVER LADY, ENJOY YOUR FREAKISHLY MUSCULAR LEGS.

3. PEOPLE ON THE TOWPATH: Thou shalt not talk to me while I am enjoying peaceful leisure activities on the outside of my boat. I honestly don’t mind talking to people about the boat. If I’m standing around waiting for a lock to fill up, it can be quite nice to chat to friendly and genuinely curious people. When I am reading at the front of the boat or sunbathing on the roof however, questions, cat-calling and comments such as “READING ON A BOAT ARE YA?” (or the particularly excellent “Is that your boat or can anyone sit there?”) are UNWELCOME.

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It is the equivalent of me poking my head over your garden fence and asking how much your house is worth.

4. TEENAGERS: Thou shalt not scream unnecessarily. I’ve been a teenage girl. I know that screaming is sometimes a necessary method of communication. But please, teenagers of London, stop doing it next to the canal at midnight or I’m going to have to assume you’re being murdered. I can think of at least three separate occasions when we have (Ed has) had to venture out into the darkness to make sure said screamer is okay, only to find idiot teenagers messing about on the towpath.

fangirls-blog

If you must scream, please suffix it with “Don’t worry Carli I’m not being attacked, it’s just that I’ve just seen a member of One Direction and I’m an idiot!”

5. PARENTS: Thou shalt not do parenting next to my bedroom window at 7 a.m. Talking of screaming, aren’t kids just the worst? While I am a big fan of parents who don’t give into tantrums, I would prefer it if they did this at home as opposed to on the towpath while I am trying to sleep.

I don't care if its the school run, I don't have to get up until 9 because I was clever enough to not have kids.

I don’t care if its the school run, I don’t have to get up until 9 because I was clever enough to not have kids.

6. DOG WALKERS: Thou shalt also shut up. Another one on the noise offenders list, dog walkers seem to think it’s okay to yell their disobedient dog’s name repeatedly on their 6 a.m. morning walk along the towpath.

That was only cool when it was Fenton.

That was only cool when it was Fenton.

7. LOUD PHONE TALKERS: Thou shalt not shout thou’s credit card details out loud down thou’s mobile when walking past boats. I kid you not, this has happened at least three times already. I can only assume that people forget there are boaters living inside narrowboats and those boaters have ears. Luckily for these people I was too moral to note down their details and steal all their money.

If you ever want to make a ton of cash, just get a narrowboat and sit inside with a pen and a notepad.

Plus I couldn’t find a pen and paper in time.

8. LOUD TALKERS IN GENERAL: Thou shalt not forget that boats have ears. It’s not just credit card details, people loudly share all sorts of personal information while strolling the towpath. For example, the other night we were regaled with the tale of someone’s 85-year old grandma who had done the ice bucket challenge and died.

I DON'T NEED TO HEAR STORIES THAT MAKE ME SAD BEFORE BEDTIME.

I DO NOT NEED TO HEAR STORIES THAT MAKE ME SAD BEFORE BEDTIME.

9. OVERLY CONFIDENT GONGOOZLERS: Thou shalt not climb on people’s boats. This really ought to go without saying but I am a little shocked at the amount of people who see a boat and think ‘Yes I am definitely now going to get on that.’ I’ve had a guy stop and ask me questions about the boat as I was tying up who then climbed aboard and took a peek through our front door while I was talking. I watched a bunch of besuited office idiots (presumably on some godawful ‘team bonding’ exercise) running up to boats, jumping on to take a picture then jumping off again. Yesterday I even watched two teenage girls climb onto the boat next door in order to sit on the roof and enjoy their Starbucks. For a while I assumed it was their boat until they finished their coffee, climbed down and left. STOP DOING THIS. It is not okay.

Let us see how THEY like it.

Let us see how THEY like it.

10. PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO SIT: Thou shalt not sit on or around locks when I’m trying to use them. Just to clarify, I’m not saying people can’t sit on or around locks at all. The canals and locks are beautiful places and should be free to be enjoyed by everyone, I GUESS.

Even IDIOTS.

Even IDIOTS.

All I’m asking is that you please move out of the way when I need to use the lock. It’s pretty awkward to have to ask people to move, especially when they’ve set up an entire lunch break picnic on the lock gate, so it would be awesome if you’d just feel my rage telepathically and move of your own accord so that I don’t have to sound like a canal nerd.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 19.35.38

“ERM, excuse me, I need to open this gate and you’re sort of EXACTLY RIGHT IN THE WAY. Also, you could help me open the gate instead of consuming hummus and watching me struggle if you like? No? Okay, enjoy the hummus.”

A really complicated engine problem

I think I’ve mentioned this before but, a little while ago, we were struggling with a dodgy connection to our ignition panel that meant the engine sometimes wouldn’t turn start up… or turn off after it’d been running.

This can be a problem when mooring.

This can be a problem when mooring.

We had the loose connection fixed though and everything worked splendidly again. We even went on an epic two-month boat trip and encountered no problems whatsoever. So we were quite surprised when a simple little jaunt to get some water ended with us pressing the ‘stop’ button on our ignition panel to no avail once more.

By the way, our boat really does have a 'stop' button. And boaters will have you thinking this stuff is difficult!

By the way, our boat really does have a ‘stop’ button. And boaters will have you thinking this stuff is difficult!

Going on experience, we knew there was only one thing for it.

When in doubt...

When in doubt…

We opened up the engine hatch, grabbed some wires and wiggled for all we were worth.

Sadly all the wire-wiggling that had worked so well on our loose connection failed to solve the problem this time and the engine remained stubbornly and loudly engine-ing.

When wiggling didn’t work, we turned to the other only known solution.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 11.49.46

After a little internet sleuthing, I discovered that every engine apparently has a manual off switch.

Seriously, we just had to press another 'Stop' button.

Seriously, we just had to press another ‘stop’ button.

We felt pretty pleased with ourselves and had a cup of tea, not yet ready to deal with the fact, while the engine was now off, we also had no way of turning it back on again.

However no engine = no power, so we did eventually have to seek the services of a nice man from River Canal Rescue.

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I’m going to take a guess and say we were his least interesting callout of the day.

Along he came, all equipped with boat-fixing equipment and such. We sat back and waited for the bad news. Would we ever boat again? Who knew. Would we sink promptly and immediately? It was a possibility. Would I be able to charge my phone and check Twitter? Only the gods of fate could decide.

We sat with baited breath.

“Fuse’s blown.” the engineer said, pointing at a little black box next to the engine.

“Oh, right.” we said.

“I’ll just pop a new one in.” he said.

“Um, yes okay.” we said.

“I’ll be off now then.” he said.

“Yes, great, thank you.” we said.

He left, kind enough only to chuckle a little bit on his way out.

A New Boaters’ Survival Kit

Recently, I was asked to write a guest post for online narrowboat magazine The Gongoozler. My post was all about the unexpected aspects of boat-living we’ve come across since we moved aboard. (If you haven’t read it, you can do so here.) Now I thought I’d complement that with a New Boaters’ Survival Kit featuring five things we never knew our lives would suddenly and bizarrely depend upon.

If you’ve recently begun boating, are considering taking up boating or would like to pretend you are boating from the safety of your own living room, here are some of the things you will need:

1) SLIPPERS

If you don’t already own slippers then for the love of God buy some, buy them now. Although we’re lucky enough to have nice wooden floors in our boat, it can still feel a lot like walking on an iceberg. To avoid fourth-degree frostbite, slippers are number one on my list of essentials.

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 14.40.09Scientists also agree that, the more cat-shaped your slippers are, the warmer your feet will be.

I would also recommend having two pairs of slippers on rotation since I forgot to mention that, if the floor is like walking on an iceberg, then it is an iceberg that also happens to be made of coal. My Number 2 Replacement Slippers have now been conscripted since the bottom of my other slippers currently look like this:

IMG_5780 Yes it’s gross but YOU NEED TO KNOW.

 2) A mallet – (named Timmy (optional))

As detailed in this previous post, we were once unlucky enough to come loose from our mooring in the middle of the night. It was not fun. In fact, I think it was the least fun thing I’ve ever experienced including the time I thought it would be a good idea to fly all the way to New Zealand on my own.

fear_of_flying1That was not fun either.

Although this boatcident was mostly due to the full-on hurricane a-blowin’ that night, it was also a little bit due to the fact that we hadn’t really hammered our mooring pins far enough into the ground to make them secure. And this was due to the fact that we were hammering them into the ground using an old brick instead of a trusty mallet.

60mm-red-handmade-brick-01Pictured: 1 x bad hammer

Lesson: If you’re going to canal it, buy a mallet.

3) Elsan Blue or alternative

For those of you who have never pooed in a box, Elsan Blue is a bacteria-killing, waste-smushing, odour-suppressing wonder fluid that you put in your cassette to make emptying it less like the worst Bushtucker Trial ever.

toiletThis is a pretty accurate collage of all the faces Ed pulls after returning from emptying the toilet on days when we’ve run out of toilet fluid.

To put it finely, Elsan fluid turns your poo blue. Which makes all the difference when emptying a cassette as, with it, you’re just pouring an innocuous blue soup into a hole but, without it, you’re getting a third look at last Tuesday’s dinner.

Of course I must add that I only mention Elsan Blue as it’s the most well-known brand. It’s actually a lot better to use organic toilet fluids as these have a much less harmful effect on the environment.

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Elsan Booooo.

4) A magic wand

I never suspected that, such a short time into my boatlife,  I would have grown to hate matches quite so much. But I do. I hate them. Matches are useless, lazy layabouts who break down under the least bit of pressure and only dabble in firelighting when they feel like it. I also hate lighters. If you’ve ever tried to use a lighter to light a gas hob then you and your thumbs will hate lighters too.

Luckily for me I have a magic wand.

IMG_5821I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

It might just look like a weird silver stick at first, but look what happens when I press the button!

Aaaaah!

IMG_5823Saying ‘LUMOS!’ at this point is both completely unnecessary and totally necessary.

My fire stick is just the best. It means we can light the fire without getting burned. We can light the hob without getting burned. We can light the grill without getting burned. We can do all sorts of fire-related activities without getting burned!

Definitely a boat must-have. Or just a must-have for people who don’t like getting burned in general.

5) UHT Milk

One of the things that surprises people most about our new life is that we don’t have a fridge. ‘How awful!’ everyone cries. ‘But how do you keep your food cold??’

tumblr_lfgl6nq8dx1qg7lypo1_500I keep my food cold with this icy glare that appears on my face every time someone reminds me I can’t keep my food cold. 

For the sake of factuality, we do actually have a fridge. It just takes up so much of the electricity that we prefer not to use it.

wide-bottles-of-beer-in-iceExcept when it’s really important.

When we first moved onto the boat, this was not a problem. Since we couldn’t work out how to light the fire properly, the boat was so cold that it acted like its own giant fridge anyway! Yay!

the-shining-snow_2“This… is so good… for the milk.”

Sadly, we have since learnt the most basic caveman skill of keeping ourselves warm so the boat no longer cools our food for us.

Most things stay pretty fresh in the cupboards but, instead of just getting on with it like the other foods, milk has turned out to be a whiny good-for-nothing reprobate who curdles at the slightest rise in temperature.

badmilk2IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT THEN GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN, MILK.

Thankfully we have recently discovered UHT milk, or SuperMilk as I like to call it. UHT milk never ever ever ever ever goes off (for a few months). The carton currently in my fridge won’t go off until SEPTEMBER. That is both delightful and gross at the same time!

I don’t understand how UHT milk works. No one understands how UHT milk works. We the fridge-less are just thankful for this weird long-lasting milk potion.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 16.04.07Yaaaay SuperMilk!

That’s all I can think of for now but I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list as more bizarre yet useful items work their way into our inventory. If you’re a boater yourself, feel free to share your most useful gadgets and must-haves in the comments too!

Canal Trek: Into Darkness

We recently read somewhere that, if you want to know how long a narrowboat trip is going to take, you have to add the number of miles you’re travelling plus the number of locks and divide it all by four. I wish we’d known that before we decided to travel the entirety of the Regent’s Canal in one afternoon.

Cast_Away__2000__2763977b“YOU SAID IT WOULD ONLY TAKE A FEW HOURS WILSON.”

    The day had been going so marvellously. The sun was shining and we were helped at every lock by adorable rosy-cheeked Enid Blyton characters.

Gongoozlers Help us tiny gongoozlers! 

    However it wasn’t until we reached Kings Cross and the sun began to set that we realised we still had a million narrowboat miles left to go (Official Rule: five normal miles = one million narrowboat miles) and that we’d now probably have to finish our journey in complete darkness.

    In some trepidation, we pushed forward into the gathering dusk.

    The first place we came to was Camden.

   I love Camden. I used to live in Camden in some hazy far-off day before my house floated.

    Camden by canal though, is horrific. It is dingy and grimy and the water is so dirty that it actually feels sad.

tumblr_lkyjtl1dyD1qhula8o1_500 Someone take Camden to a magical Japanese bathhouse immediately.

    Once you’ve dealt with the general surroundings, there’s also the people of Camden to consider. They’re not so much gongoozling as gong-oozing across the towpath. As fellow boat blogger Joel over at The Angry Boater puts it, they’re a mixed set of ‘trendy, touristy & druggery’.

    And that’s by day. By night, stood there holding the boat in the first of three locks while Ed ran ahead to open the others, I more than once considered fetching the axe.

last-of-us-museum-clicker-attack-670 Turns out those hours spent playing The Last of Us were just training for cruising through Camden.    

    Those weren’t the only problems of traversing Camden by night though. We had not expected The Man Who Lives in The Lock.

img1316574248No.

Still standing at that first lock, I was greeted by the return of a confused-looking windlass-bearing Ed.

“I couldn’t open the second lock.” he said.

“Why not?”

“There’s a man in it.”

“What? What’s he doing?”

“Well… he’s eating his dinner.” After much confused whispering it transpired that a man had moored in the lock for the night. Since we haven’t been boaters for very long and haven’t got a clue whether the middle of a lock is a legit place to moor up and eat your dinner, we just politely asked if he wouldn’t mind us using his mooring spot for a little while. He graciously accepted and we were on our merry way.

blessed“Okay! Thanks! Bon appétit!”

    If we thought we had got past the worst, we were sorely mistaken. Next up on our list of trials was Regent’s Park.

    The first terrifying thing about Regent’s Park by night is that you’re not allowed to moor there which means that, not only is it pitch black, it is also completely deserted. The second terrifying thing occurs when you pass the aviary at London Zoo.

All of a sudden, Dark + Abandoned + Fog + Giant cage =

JPIIIAviary3JURASSIC PARK III

   It also didn’t help that the first thing we came across in the park was a drunk man collapsed on the towpath, illuminated only by the lights of a concerned cyclist who had stopped to call an ambulance.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.19.33Or, what I saw.

    To make matters worse, it was rapidly becoming clear that our headlight wasn’t doing a great job of illuminating our path. Ed dispatched me to the front of the boat where a quick examination showed that the lamp was at the wrong angle to properly illuminate the canal. I wiggled it around a bit.

“That’s right, leave it there.” yelled Ed.

    I let the lamp go.

    “No it’s moved now.” yelled Ed.

     I wiggled the lamp.

    “That’s it.” yelled Ed.

     I let the lamp go.

     “No! Where it was before!” yelled Ed.

     Feeing very hard done by, I sat at the front of the boat with one arm in the air holding up the lamp. I sat there by myself in the cold for the whole dark horrifying stretch of Regent’s Park.

     I sat there as we slipped into Maida Hill Tunnel where unknown things drop on your head and the light reflects off the tunnel ceiling in such a way that some people might have to close their eyes and wrap their scarf around their head so that they can’t see the canal demons.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 23.19.09YOU DON’T KNOW. YOU WEREN’T THERE.

   Eventually the bright lights and welcoming sights of Little Venice pulled into view and the traumatic journey was finally, finally over. As we emerged from the tunnel…

Upset-lady-or-mid-sneeze-1900-e1310158985872

…we vowed never to venture out into the darkness again.

Gently down the stream

Today’s post was supposed to be about our first two attempts at moving the boat by ourselves (one awful evening scramble in the dark to find a mooring and one very enjoyable journey — in case you’re interested). However, everything has been eclipsed by the fact that we had a boatcident last night.

I would set the scene for you but if you live in London you’ll already know that the weather last night was bloody awful. We had just taken a really nice (if a bit soggy) trip down the Regent’s Canal when the wind picked up and we decided we should probably stop for the evening.

We were using mooring pins for the first time but the wind was so strong that we could barely pull the boat over to the towpath, let alone secure her to the pins.

StormArtist’s impression.

    Eventually we managed to hammer the pins into the ground, tie the boat up and retire to the kitchen to warm ourselves up with Nando’s extra hot sauce (chicken boast).

The wind and rain were getting worse and the boat was moving around a lot so we went to bed feeling a bit uneasy. I ended up not really sleeping, waking up every ten to twenty minutes to look out of the window and check the pins.

Eventually at about 2 a.m., I drifted off.

Sadly, not much later, so did the boat.

I’m not sure what woke me up but I sat up and looked out the window as I had been doing on and off all night. This time however, all was not shipshape.

“Uuuummmm… Ed?” I said, poking Ed in the face.

“Blrgghh.” said Ed.

“Uuummmmm… Ed…?”

“What?!”

“… What side of the boat was the canal on when we went to sleep?”

“The left side. “

“Oh.” I looked out of the window again. “Well… it’s not anymore…”

IMG_5799“I’m sure this used to be towpath…”

    We shot out of bed and rushed over to the other side of the boat like a Buster Keaton sketch.

IMG_5800“I’m suuuure there didn’t used to be a wall here…”

    Eventually we woke up enough to realise we had come loose from our mooring and drifted down the canal. As you can imagine, at two in the morning, this was quite terrifying.

narrowboat mist

There go, go, goes your boat
Gently down the stream
Scarily, scarily, scarily, scarily
Life is but a dream nightmare.

    After a mad rush to put on coats and boots over pyjamas, we quickly started up the engine and fought against the wind to get back to the other side of the canal.

1979.79.16Actual photograph.

    Stood there on the towpath at 2 a.m., struggling to hold the boat in the wind and rain while Ed ran round frantically hammering mooring pins into the ground, I couldn’t decide whether the whole situation was absolutely hilarious or just absolutely awful.

    I decided it was a mixture of both.

laughing-and-crying

    Eventually we felt secure enough to take our soggy, muddy selves back to bed but I don’t think either of us got any sleep for the rest of the night.

gdo_nsg_11_0“Are we still moored up??”

empty porthole

“Yeah…”

gdo_nsg_11_0

“… Are we still moored up??”

Safe to say, we moved her somewhere much more secure this morning.

giant knotThat oughta do it.