Backseat Punter

Whenever anyone writes an article about boat life – which they do with alarming frequency and are presumably usually underpaid for – they will invariably begin their piece with that old Wind in the Willows quote we all know and love:

“…there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

This – is misinformation.

In fact, there are several hundred things more worth doing than messing about in boats. Reading, for example, or watching films. Or having baths. Or being clean. Or having electricity.

I can tell you from experience, dear reader, that the joy of messing about in boats is severely depleted when you have to do it every day or it’s a Thursday morning and the engine has broken down AGAIN and you have a casting to get to and tons of work to do and no power or hot water. AGAIN.

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“I can smell you from here.”

As you may or may not know, depending on whether you’re a stranger or one of the many people I complain to on a daily basis, Albion’s been a bit poorly of late.

It all started ages ago when we noticed that the engine wasn’t sounding great and decided to be super proactive and ignore it for a few months because the sound was the sound of something that sounded expensive.

Unfortunately, engines don’t take too kindly to being ignored when they’re feeling ill so – partly to punish us and partly in the spirit of Halloween – ours promptly died.

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“Bet you wished you’d fixed me noooooooooow.”

Luckily, Ed is somewhat of a dab hand at being pretty darn smart (and making things up as he goes along) and so – with assistance from my mum’s ever patient partner, the kindness of CRT to allow us to stay put for a while, and several hundreds of pounds worth of parts – he managed to get the old beast going again.

Very good, you might think. Nicely done. Off you pop then, you might say. Job’s a goodun, or something to that effect.

But oh, dear reader, you’ve been reading this blog long enough to know that wouldn’t be the end of it, right? (Unless you haven’t in which case please feel free to travel back through my posts and enjoy other instances of me complaining. There are quite a few about poo, sorry.)

You didn’t think we’d be boating off into the sunset happily ever after did you?

You did?

You must not be a boat owner then.

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Boat owners usually look like this.

No, what OBVIOUSLY happened is that, after a month or so of being absolutely fine, the engine suddenly become extremely and tenaciously not fine again (are you enjoying how much my engineering knowledge has come on after four years of living on a boat?).

I went to run the engine one day to top up our batteries and, while it started up okay, it very sadly petered out soon afterwards. Remembering the old rule of boat engineering, I vaguely wiggled some stuff that was on and around the engine but it was all to no avail.

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Em-woe-ji is me.

At this stage we had exhausted our collective engineering knowledge, which is 100% contributed to by Ed, and had to turn to The Experts.

The Expert this time being the lovely Darren at Cow Roast Marina who already knew us from when he fitted a very good and extremely electric-y invertor on our boat a few moons hence and therefore agreed to take a look at the engine for us.

BUT THERE WAS A CATCH.

Darren’s tools live in Cow Roast Marina. Albion was not in Cow Roast Marina. Albion was one lock below Cow Roast Marina and currently without the engine that was required to get her into Cow Roast Marina.

Which brings me neatly back to the futility of messing about in boats. You see, there was a way we could get Albion to the marina on time: via the extremely scientific technique of dragging. And also punting. And then dragging and punting some more.

I can tell you now that it was about as fun and easy as the last time we had to drag the boat somewhere.

I only wish I’d had my phone to capture the moment Ed discovered his vocation as a world-class gondolier. Having left me on dry land so that I could have a rope thrown at me once the boat had been steered to our desired landing point, Ed punted like a Cambridge University degree depended on it. Occasionally he nearly fell in. My heart, if not quite in my mouth, was certainly higher than is biologically normal. It was like watching The Fast and the Furious in slow motion. It was The Slow and the Furious.

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It was *exactly* this.

I also discovered at this juncture that I am a first-rate backseat punter. I could see, from my safe place on dry towpath, exactly how the boat ought to be punted right a bit or left a bit here and there. I occasionally helpfully yelled that Ed should avoid crashing into other nearby boats.

After being stoically ignored for several minutes, I decided to shut up.

Finally, after one lock, a tension-filled punt, and much top end muscle work (One Carli-and-Edpower is equivalent to about the same as one three-legged-horsepower), we rode triumphantly – if glacially – into Cow Roast Marina.

You’ll be glad to hear that Darren was then able to diagnose the problem and begin the long process of sourcing the correct parts to fix it (summin about fuel pumps?). You’ll be equally pleased to hear that we’ll only be without electricity and hot water for just a few weeks this time!

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Until next time readers, although you’ll probably smell me before then.

p.s. OPPORTUNITY: Are you a reader who also happens to be a millionaire? Would you like to be part of a unique opportunity to a) Give us heaps of money to fix up Albion or b) Buy us a house? If this sounds like you – get in touch with me in the comments!

Please!

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Winter BORING

When I wrote about the pros and cons of a winter mooring, I failed to take into account this: Winter moorings are winter BORING. We have spent the whole winter winter SNORING.

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Albion for the past three months.

While other hardy boaters have battled through the icy waters, their bargepoles glancing off the frozen canal like Ahab’s spear off Moby Dick’s back, we have merely sat in the warm and grumbled about what they’re doing to our blacking.

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BOATER VS FROZEN GRAND UNION

In fact things have been so pleasant and so easy that we’ve been at risk of feeling like not-real-boaters at all. That’s why, the other day, we decided we really ought to get out there and eat some ice.

Here’s a visual representation of how that went:

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At this point I should probably clarify that we didn’t just go for an ice-breaking jaunt for no reason. Our winter mooring hasn’t been entirely without excitement, we were in fact FROZEN IN for the last couple of weeks.

At first, being frozen in is really exciting and beautiful.

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See?

Everything is frosty and white and you can do all sorts of fun things like poke the ice, throw stuff on the ice, hit the ice with a stick, and watch the ducks wondering what in the actual hell is going on.

At night, the towpath glitters.

We even had snow at one point.

Snow is interesting!

However things get a little less fun when the ice starts to get fat and comfy and overstays its welcome, much like myself at your house in winter. The not-fun is amplified further when, although your winter mooring has a water point fairly close by, you can’t actually get to it unless you a) reverse all the way there or b) go down the lock, turn in the winding hole, go back up the lock, and make your merry way to the water point five hours later.

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It’s behind you! Of course because why would CRT make this easy for us.


A quick lesson in boatabulary (boat vocabulary): While you may initially think ‘winding hole’ should be pronounce in the same way as ‘winding a clock’ or ‘datty wind and grind’, it’s actually pronounced ‘winding’ as in ‘a cold wind’ or ‘boaters have definitely made up this pronunciation of winding’.

This is because a winding hole works by allowing you to ease your bow into the pointy end of the hole in order to let the wind blow you around until you’re facing the right direction. It is also because boaters love anything that has a misleading pronunciation upon which they can gleefully correct people over and over again. (See also: windlass – commonly pronounced ‘windlass’ as in ‘a cold wind’-lass but really ought to be pronounced ‘windlass’ as in ‘datty grind and wind’-lass).


Factor in thick ice that makes it impossible to go either forwards or backwards and getting water becomes impossible.

So when we ran out of water right in the middle of the deep freeze, it was not good.

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It was like this but cold.

Oh water, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee for letting me wash my hands. I love thee for letting me brush my teeth. I love thee for letting me do the washing up and for being quite a main component of showering. I love thee for letting me flush the toilet.

I do not love thee when thee is only available in 1L bottles of Waitrose essential spring water.

If you’ve ever washed exclusively from 1L bottles of Waitrose essential spring water then you’ll understand that it gets tedious pretty quickly.

After a week of this, things got gross.

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Since there’s only so much not-showering I can handle, we started to gaze longingly out of the window through our grime-encrusted eyes at what looked to be a defrosting canal.

“Hmm.” we thought, “That looks good enough for boating now.”

We decided enough was enough, it was time to face the ice and get some water.

We took up our positions; Ed at the back ready to steer us into the blizzard, me at the front – bargepole poised – ready to smash us a path through the tundra.

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We had this. We were getting water. Nothing was stopping us.

Except the ice, which did in fact stop us.

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We got about 10m down the canal, me flailing the bargepole wildly at all I beheld, until we came to a sharp and grinding halt that nearly threw me off the front of the boat.

From an open hatch nearby a friendly voice gleefully chirped, “You ain’t gonna get through that! Even if you could, you’ll never open the lock gates!”

Right. Excellent. Thanks. Reversing it is.

I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow account of how we, over the next two hours, managed to crawl backwards through the ice except to say that eventually we had to give up and head for the towpath where we commenced to drag the boat backwards like canal horses, with Ed smashing the ice as we went.

Later, as we huddled by the fire congratulating ourselves through chattering teeth and waiting for our water tank to fill up, I meditated on the fact that excitement is overrated.

The next day, I contacted CRT and asked if we could extend our winter mooring to March.

They said no.

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BAAAASTAAAARDS.

For the Love of the Sun

My mum recently remarked to me that my blog posts haven’t been very lighthearted of late.

Perhaps this is because boating often makes you grumpy and cantankerous in an amount that is exactly proportional to the amount landlubbers think boating makes you harmonious and floaty.

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I mean floaty in a dreamy sort of way, not a physical way. The boat is, of course, physically floaty otherwise I would be precisely 100% more cantankerous.

Example: Yesterday as we were boaty floating through Hertford in the late evening summer sun, a landlubber called out to me, “That looks so relaxing!”

In reality it was 8pm and we had been forced to move the boat despite having another week left in our mooring spot because we needed to empty the toilet and the nearest elsan was over an hour away. Upon arrival in Hertford we couldn’t find a space to stop and so had to go to the very end of the Lea, turn around and come back again. The sky was beginning to bruise and I was beginning to think we would be forced to camp, when Mr L. Andlubber innocently remarked upon the enjoyability of my evening.

I smilingly called back “You’d be surprised!” in a polite, conspiratorial sort of way but inside my head I was really thinking “ARRRRGHHHHHHHH”.

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Ohhhh, that’s why pirates are always saying that.

That being moaned about, it is summer and that is a reason to be happy because it’s the season that will this year contain a) my birthday, b) my wedding, and c) my honeymoon. So I’m going to literally lighten up and write a post about how much I love the sun.

(This one’s for you, mum).

God I love the sun.

It’s been very sunny lately. You might have noticed by the way British people have been joyously heralding the weather on social media only to complain about the heat five minutes later. Or by the way the press have been digging out their stock photos of families enjoying the sunshine (or their teenage daughters wearing bikinis, if you’re the Daily Mail).

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“Thousands of innocent sunbathers enjoy the weather unaware of imminent FLOODS and SKIN CANCER and IMMIGRANTS.” – DM

But I don’t love the sun for its warmth or its tanning potential or any other pedestrian terrestrial reasons like that.

I love the sun for its sweet, sweet laptop juice.

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I am enjoying the sun. Just from inside and via solar power.

When we first moved onto Albion, we didn’t have any solar panels. Instead we had to run the engine to get all our electricity. With both of us working from home this meant a lot of engine running, which in turn meant a lot of money wasted on diesel. And, since our engine is hardly the most purry of beasts, a lot of shaking and a lot of noise.

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And probably a lot of disgruntled canalside property owners.

Sick of hearing our own teeth rattling and not wanting to anger those around us, we realised this could not go on.

It was time to upgrade to…

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SOLAR POWER!!!!!

“But getting solar panels installed is so expensive,” you may lament.

Not so, humble person insterested in renewable energies!

We managed to get two solar panels bought and installed for just £325 thanks to Matt at Old Friends Canal Services. He told us to order second hand solar panels from Bimble Solar (£58 each) and then installed them for us in a few hours. We opted for Kyocera panels on tiltable brackets (we had had stick-on panels on the old boat but had found them next to useless) so we can even angle them towards the sun like energy efficient geniuses.

We were a little worried that second-hand panels wouldn’t be as effective but oh how wrong we were!

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Our boat. All the time.

Since we didn’t get the panels installed until the end of last summer, we haven’t really had a chance to enjoy them until recently. Over the winter we do still have to run the engine for power thanks to shorter days and just generally living in England but the past few weeks have been a revelation.

The other night we fell asleep and left the inverter on. This is normally a disaster of broken-down style proportions but, this time, we woke up and the batteries were on 88%.

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IT’S PROBABLY QUITE HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND HOW HAPPY THIS MAKES ME BUT JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT.

We now haven’t had to run our engine for power for at least two or three weeks and probably won’t again until autumn (or the next grey spell).

So if you’re a new boater or just a BWaSP (Boater Without a Solar Panel), I really can’t recommend them enough. Although it is a little bit of expense to start with, it needn’t cost a fortune and will probably save you as much money in diesel and pissed-off neighbour lawsuits anyway.

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).

 

War.

A few weeks ago we went to see some stand-up courtesy of Joel Sanders, aka The Angry Boater. It was funny, of course, and enjoyable in the way only 1.5 hours of niche comedy directed exclusively at your interests can be. But most of all, it made me feel better. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Alone in being very, very angry.

I didn’t use to be an angry person. My angriness materialised over the past couple of years. Some might say that this coincides with moving onto a boat. Or adopting the World’s Maddest Dog.

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WMD.

But I, and only I (and maybe Ed), know the true root cause of my anger. That cause is: Cyclists.

Not just any cyclists. I’m talking mad, speeding, arrogant flesh bags of entitlement on two canal-side wheels. I’m talking Towpath Cyclists.

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THESE BASTARDS.

Oh Towpath Cyclists, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

(It’s five. There are five ways).

Way 1 – I hate thee on narrow sections of towpath

Let’s get one thing straight, cyclists. Pedestrians have right of way on towpaths. Okay? It’s as simple as that. Boaters are even more important than regular pedestrians since we are HISTORIC and AN ATTRACTION and ACTUALLY PAY TOWARDS THE UPKEEP OF THE TOWPATH VIA THE LICENSES WE PAY FOR WITH OUR (possibly) HARD-EARNED BOATER MONEY.

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Artist’s impression.

You know where that places you in the hierarchy of towpath importance, cyclists? At least third, that’s where. And even then, canal birds are pretty important.

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That’s why ducks always tag the towpath.

Unfortunately, some cyclists do not know how low down they are in the pecking order.

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Pecking order!

Some cyclists believe that pedestrians, boaters and ducks have to get out of their stupid lycra-clad way on sections of towpath where there isn’t enough room to cycle around us.

THIS IS AN ERRONEOUS BELIEF, CYCLISTS.

Case Study 1: Posh lady, Old Ford Lock, Victoria Park

Last week, Ed and I were walking Skipper back from Victoria Park. On the way back we passed Old Ford Lock. At this point on the canal, the towpath narrows as it passes between the facilities block and the lock. As we walked through this bit of towpath, a cyclist approached behind us.

Now, I have a fairly complicated set of rules a cyclist must follow in order not to anger me. One of these rules is: if the towpath isn’t wide enough, tough. Wait. If you do not wait or, worse, if you attempt to tell me to get out of the way even when there is no place for me to get out of your way in, I will do as much as possible to get in your way as I am physically able to.

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That’s what happened with this particular woman who refused slow down and wait until the towpath widened and so witnessed just how much of an obstacle I can be.

When she finally was able to get round us, she turned as she cycled past and informed us “You simply MUST GET OUT OF THE WAY.”

It was okay though because, in return, I politely informed her of the actual rules of towpath cycling.

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It was like this, but with fewer words and more of them were expletives.

Way 2 – I hate thee in tunnels

Guess what cyclists!? Tunnels under bridges are still… you got it! STILL TOWPATH. STILL PEDESTRIAN RIGHT OF WAY.

Which means it is not okay to cycle through them at high speeds regardless of how many Carlis and their dogs are currently walking through them already.

If you cycle through a tunnel at high speed without bothering to check if I am in there already, you know what’s going to happen?

That’s right!

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ARE WE LEARNING YET, CYCLISTS?

Case Study 2: Grumpy Old Scottish Man, Tunnel Underneath Mile End Road, Mile End

Earlier this week, I was walking Skipper through the short tunnel that goes under Mile End Road. When I was already halfway through the tunnel I saw a runner coming towards the entrance. That’s okay, I thought, we can Share the Space. Anyway, runners tend to be less aggressive because Skipper can catch them more easily.

However before said runner had a chance to even enter the tunnel, a cyclist swerved round him and came straight towards me at fairly high speed.

So, naturally…

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Repetition is the key to learning, cyclists!

As well as making full use of my limbs to get in as much of his way as possible, I also added “There’s not really much room in here, is there? Perhaps it would have been better if you’d waited.”

To which he replied, “Well ask them to make it wider then.”

What!? What grumpy old Scottish man!? What are you talking about? Ask who to make it wider? Who do you think I am?? I am not Boris Johnson or Mrs. Canal & River Trust. I have no influence over these matters. If I did, YOU’D BE BANNED FOR A START.

Way 3 – I hate thee’s unecessary out-loud music??

People who can play music out loud in public: Buskers.

People who cannot play music out loud in public: Everyone else.

Cyclists who play outloud music while they cycle around are Bad People in the way that people who play outloud music on public transport are Bad People. No one wants to hear your music. Stop it.

Case Study 3: Unidentified cyclist, Mile End, 6am

In Mile End there is a cyclist who goes along the towpath blaring music out loud at 6am. EVERY. MORNING.

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Way 4 – I hate thee cycling past dogs at high speed

I hate thee cycling at high speed on the towpath at all but most of all please do not do this past people with dogs. You have no idea whether that person’s dog is a nervous one and whether you zooming past might terrify them into dragging their poor owners into the canal.

You also have no idea whether that person’s dog might have a history of eating rabbits’ heads completely whole and whether you zooming past might make you look like a particularly big rabbit on wheels who might be super fun to chase and whose head could definitely be eaten in at least two bits if not entirely whole.

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You just never know.

Way 5 – I hate thee’s BLOODY BELLS

My views on cyclists’ bells are also fairly complex but easy to grasp for the initiated.

They are as follows:

1-3 rings of your bell: ACCEPTABLE. I understand why you have bells, even if a lot of you don’t. Bells are for letting people know you are coming so that we don’t accidentally walk into you or so that we know you’re about to come round a corner or enter a tunnel (FYI if you get there first, I will wait for you to come through. Because that’s MANNERS).

4+ rings of your bell accompanied by “MOVE” or “GET OUT OF THE WAY” or, worse, a cheery “COMING THROUGH!”: UNACCEPTABLE. I repeat: If there’s no room. Tough. Wait. Bells are not for making people get out of your way. I do not have to get out of your way. I will not get out of your way. If you ring your bell at me four or more times I will get very much in your way.

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You won’t be ‘coming through’, as it happens!

 


 

So there you have it. Those are all the ways in which I hate thee, towpath cyclists.  If you are one such offender, please learn from this. Please slow down and stop expecting people to get out of your way. Please stop playing music out loud. Please learn how to use your bells properly. Please just stop everything you’re doing and start doing everything differently. Otherwise we, the rightful towpath kings, cannot be held responsible for our actions.

DISCLAIMER: Obviously I am aware that ‘not all cyclists…’ in the same way that ‘not all men…’. So don’t worry, it’s not all of you I hate.

Just most of you.

 

 

Some Happy News

A little off-brand today but this post does involve boats at some point so bear with me.

A week ago Ed and I were lucky enough to get to go and stay at the beautiful Finn Lough Resort in Northern Ireland.

Look at it! Beautiful.

I lake it a lough.

Just as an aside, if you’re planning a trip to Northern Ireland or you go all the time or you’ve never been but have always wanted to go or you didn’t know you wanted to go but you do now or you’re in Northern Ireland RIGHT THIS SECOND — this is the place to stay. It’s run by my friend Gill Beare and her lovely family, and is made up of luxury waterside cottages on the banks of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.

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It is for reals one of the most beautiful places I've ever stayed in in my life.

It is for reals one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed in my life.

As well as being just generally mindblowingly pretty, the resort also offers loads of activities.

We went cycling…

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…surfing…

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…and then we decided to head out onto the lake in our very own little boat.

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See, I told you there’d be boats eventually!

Unbeknownst to me however, after conspiring with Gill for months, asking my parent’s permission and managing to get down on one knee despite being in a rowing boat (proper boater, see), Ed chose this spectacular moment to ask me to be his boatwife forever.

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Yaay!

The surprises didn’t end there. I was then rowed to a beautiful little picnic spot…

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I must add that at this point we did have a bit of a heated debate about how to tie up the boat. After all, it’s not a proper boater proposal if it doesn’t include at least one argument about mooring.

…where I was greeted with champagne and, to even Ed’s surprise, a riddle…

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…which led us to this beautiful little camp, all set up by Gill to help us celebrate our engagement.

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So there you have it, we met on a boat, live on a boat and now we got engaged on a boat. It only remains to be seen whether we’ll marry on one too…

We won’t. We can only fit two people on our boat at one time. The registrar would have to stand in the canal.

NB. We’d like to say a massive thank you to Gill and everyone at Finn Lough for making the weekend unbelievably special. If you’ve got a proposal, celebration, wedding, or just an urge to row a damn boat across a damn lake for the damn hell of it, I’d really recommend you book your stay there now. It’s magical.

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.

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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.

 

Progress

Things are happening on Albion! People who understand tools are building things I’ve asked them to build!

Here she is in the dry dock the other week, having her insides all nice and warmed up with spray foam.

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For those of you who aren’t currently trying to turn a floating fridge into a bedroom, spray foam is a type of insulation that will hopefully stop us freezing to death in our sleep. Yay!

The rest of the bedroom under the deck is taking shape and we now have a nice curved ceiling and wooden walls which will soon be joined by an insulated floor and some shelves for the keeping of important boat equipment.

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Important boat equipment.

It also has a hobbit hole for a bedroom door, which is great for shouting things like “”We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!”

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I am now going to speak solely in Bilbo Baggins quotes.

The other big project is the bathroom, which we have decided to pretty much rip out and start afresh.

So far our builder has taken out the old shower tray to put a new one in…

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…and chopped the top off this cupboard to make way for a sink (more on that another time).

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Soon the bathroom will be decorated by these lovely, lovely tiles…

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…this copper shower…

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…and this very specifically-labelled copper tap.
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For all your women-washing needs!

It’s all very exciting!

And expensive.

Mostly expensive.

For example, did you know that mattresses cost more than one hundred pounds? Even at IKEA where you can get a lamb shank for £2.95.

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Luckily Sweden did deliver on sofas, and we found this excellent one for £95.

And those of you who saw the DFS Winter Sale adverts know there's nothing I love more than a bargain sofa.

And those of you who saw the DFS Winter Sale adverts know there’s nothing I love more than a bargain sofa.

Anyway, our builder reckons we can move on in about a week and a half but until then there are a million other little jobs that need doing so we’ll be back and forth with our NEW TOOL KIT…

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EAT YOUR HEART OUT BOB.

… so that Ed can get on with lots of DIY and I can get on with putting pictures of it on the internet.

More updates soon but I’ll leave you with this picture of Mother Nature just loving the hell out of us and our new boat.

Was the QEII blessed with rainbows? I don't think so.

Was the QEII blessed with rainbows? I DON’T THINK SO.

 

 

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.

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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!