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.

boat-explodes

“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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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.

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“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:

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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!

How to tell if you’re a boater.

We’ve been livin’ la vida boater for eight months now!

Naturally this means I now know absolutely everything there is to know about boating, including how to tell when you are (or are not) a boater.

Do you suspect you might be a boater? Check my list to find out.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.07.561. You live on a boat. 

We'll start out easy.

We’ll start out easy.

2. Answering the question ‘Where do you live?’ always results in an hour-long conversation.  

"You live on a boat? Like one of those long ones? Where is it based? You move every two weeks?? Why do you live on a boat? ISN'T IT COLD?!"

“You live on a boat? Like one of those long ones in Camden? Where is it based? You move every two weeks?? Why do you live on a boat? ISN’T IT COLD?!”

 3. Coal fire season kicks in and suddenly your idea of ‘clean’ is not like other people’s idea of ‘clean’. 

"THAT'LL DO."

“THAT’LL DO.”

4. Your idea of speeding is also a bit different from other people’s idea of speeding.

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5. You can always tell when Winter Is Coming.

You know you’re a normal person if you realise that winter is coming when you step out of the front door and see your breath in the air for the first time that year.

Pictured: normal person.

Pictured: normal person experiencing winter.

You know you’re a boater if you realise that winter is coming when you wake up in bed and see your breath in the air for the first time that year.

Pictured: boater.

Pictured: boater experiencing winter.

6. In fact, you are far more in tune with the weather in general. Particularly when it’s windy.

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7. Annoying neighbours are a thing of the past.

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8. ‘Moving house’ takes on a whole new meaning. 

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9. Trees suddenly become even more attractive than they were before. 

All you can see is Warmth Potential.

All you can see is Warmth Potential.

10. You’re considering being really naughty in the lead-up to Christmas because you could really do with the coal. 

"Excuse me Santa, is this Excel?"

“Excuse me Santa, is this Excel?”

11. You have, at some point, worried about both paper cuts and rat urine in the same sentence. 

Also about how to pronounce 'Weil's'.

Also about how to pronounce ‘Weil’s’.

12. Much of your life revolves around poo. 

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13. You have become really good at fixing things for yourself. 

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Mostly.

14. You have also become really adept at looking like you know what you’re doing when actually you have no idea what you’re doing. 

"YEP THIS ALL SEEMS CORRECT."

“YEP THIS ALL SEEMS CORRECT.”

15. Lastly, you know precisely how it feels to both completely hate and utterly love where you live at exactly the same time. 

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The End.

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.

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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!