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.


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!



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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t snoring,” said Ed.

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

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

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

“No,” said Ed.

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

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


What the heeeeeellllll

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

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



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

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

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


Just call me Carliam Shakespeare.

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

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

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

WM edit

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

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


I mean, fair enough.


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


Not even the fun kind of tipsy.

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

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

To which I reply…



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

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

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

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

Watch this cold, cold space.



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.


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.



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:


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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Except the ice, which did in fact stop us.


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.