Saturday, 27 November 2010

Early winter at Kate Boats

When I awoke this morning I was most surprised as I gazed out of my port hole, to find a thin layer of snow covering everything. I was shocked even more, as I peered sleepily through the lace doyley that covered the glass, that there was quite a thick coating of snow across the ice itself. Where yesterday there had been only a very thin layer of ice, today it looked ominously dense, especially as it was so early in the winter. It was thick enough anyway to support the weight of the excited moorhens and mallards that were prancing most unconcernedly across the surface getting on with their business. But nothing stirred on the virgin covered land. Because of the white mantle, Man was not yet brave enough to carry on his life normally and as is usual in these conditions, probably never would.

So I’m glad I was allowed to begin my winter mooring at Kate Boats last Friday, instead of having to wait until 1st December, as was the original arrangement. Otherwise, moored temporarily as I was, alongside the towpath, though it was only one hundred yards away, it might have proved difficult to get here without hacking my way through the ice, which is the one thing I was determined not to do this winter. In my ignorance last year I tried it and ripped all the blacking off ‘Futurest’s side by pretending to be an ice breaker. I learned an expensive lesson, since I had to have her re-blacked by Tooley’s in Banbury when I arrived there, barely five months after having it done when she was originally repainted at Great Haywood.

But I am here now safely ‘behind bars’ (yard gates) with all the necessary facilities I could possibly need for the winter, no matter how hard it is. Being a continual cruiser up until now, I had never experienced the sheer luxury of having mains power aboard so I’m particularly chuffed with the 240 volt hook up from ashore, especially as I made up the electric extension cable myself. It is forty metres long, to enable me to get power from any distance if necessary. It’s a strange feeling though not having to start ‘JP2’ every day to charge up the batteries.

Which is currently just as well, since she has decided, for reasons that she is not yet disclosing, to take a well earned rest and last Friday refused, quite determinedly not to start? Though I swung her starting handle lovingly but vigorously many times, and normally only once is necessary, the best she would do for me was to chug rather tiredly for about four revolutions, before clicking to an ignominious stop.... I’m sure I heard a deep sigh too!

By checking that I hadn’t missed any vital thing out of my normal starting routine and by now I had done it so many times that I certainly shouldn’t have done, I came to the end of my full engineering knowledge and decided to call Matt from Tooleys for further advice. He knew her quite well as he had done a service on her about a month ago. Bless him, realising how urgent it was needed for battery health, he came out straightaway and quickly decided that the two fuel injectors had to be overhauled and would need to be sent away for a week. So I gained permission to take ‘Futurest’ into Kate Boats that afternoon, so that I would be able to use the shore side 240 volts for power and very willingly Matt helped me to haul her the short distance down the towpath and then launch her for the opposite side of the canal, where I would moor.

He returned yesterday with the refurbished injectors, refitted them and enticed the fuel through to them. But in spite of renewed vigorous handle activity many times from Matt and myself and accompanied by much stertorous breathing in my case, the little beggar still refused to do anything more for us but a single rather churlish and cheeky - chug!

So the saga goes on with Matt saying he will return next week with advice from higher authority.

Monday, 22 November 2010


After my wife died in May 2007, it took me a year to decide what to do with the rest of my life.  I was alone but owned the house I lived in, all the family had moved away and though my pensions were not enormous, I should be able to see my days out with no financial anxieties. So being able to do this comfortably, what more could any man want?

But when I was a lad in my teens and a single man at sea in the Merchant Navy, I had always fostered the dream of sailing around the World single handed as soon as life allowed me to do so. But at that tender age what I hadn’t taken into consideration was the fact that someday I might fall in love, get married and have to bring up a family, which might probably take up the remainder of my life.

But when my wife died, regrettably earlier than expected, I realised that if I wished, I was now able to fulfil my old ambition. However a lot of water had passed around the World since then and did I still have the courage to take on this task, when I had the alternative of living for the rest of my life in my big comfortable warm house, with a big television screen and a brand new sporty Smart car on my front drive?

My First sighting of ‘JP2’
" at first sight"

By May 2008 I had made my decision. Having reached middle age (ahem!), I decided sensibly I think that though I was very fit for my years and the original idea was still very attractive, I would probably not possess anymore, the stamina necessary for sailing round the World. Working the sails and looking after the ship in the middle of the oceans, possibly continuously with little sleep, I might find a bit too difficult and I didn’t want to have to call for help with the inconvenience that this would cause. However the alternative of ‘nodding off’ and dribbling down my shirt front whilst trying to concentrate on television and then not being able to sleep at night, was not a viable proposition either.

Boatman’s Cabin and Engine Room

So I compromised and decided to buy a narrow boat to live aboard and spend the rest of my life cruising blissfully the exotic waterways of Britain. In August 2008 I put my house up for sale with a local agent in Banbury, just as the market was beginning to fall. The house was beautiful and had been well kept but between then and Christmas I had had only one enquiry. The prospect looked bleak and apparently it was getting worse every day. But there was no way that I could finance my new project before my house sold.

Luckily by Christmas the people that had looked at the house earlier decided to go ahead at a negotiated price, well below what I had asked for. But the new price was still satisfactory for my budget and as the gloom of house selling was getting worse, I might not have another opportunity. I decided to go ahead.

Having safely arrived at the solicitors stage, I could now proceed in finding the little ship that, as well as being my ‘last command’, would also be my new home, my new friend, and in many respects, my new lover.

Victorian Style Galley

Since the previous August I had trailed around numerous boat festivals and visited many builders’ open days. At first it was difficult to know what I wanted, everything I looked at was wonderful. But I soon came to the opinion that I would like a boat with a traditional boatman’s cabin and separate engine room. All the ships that I had ever sailed on had possessed their own engine room. It seemed such a shame and an insult that such an important part of the ship should be hidden as far away as possible, ignominiously squashed beneath the floor boards, as it was on so many narrow boats.

In January 2009 I found ‘JP2’ up for sale; a fifty seven feet long trad, owned by Ian and Linda of Doncaster, and I made the journey from Banbury to Great Haywood in Staffordshire on that cold and icy winter’s day. In my brief career so far, I had seen many beautiful boats but they had all lacked that certain excitement, which suddenly overpowered me when I saw for the first time the outside of ‘JP2’, on that long walk along an icy towpath on a dull overcast day in January.  She looked so forlorn but before I had even stepped aboard there was perhaps something about the paint design, or the rather low portholed profile, that immediately grabbed me. It was love at first sight, hence the earlier ‘lover’ analogy.

All the traditionally built boats that I had seen were wonderful in that the boatman’s cabin and engine room had totally bewitched me, with their carefully scumbled woodwork and artistic roses and castles paintwork. But forward from there, the accommodation had been like a Twenty First Century apartment or motor home even, with very un-nautical square windows and all mod cons with lots of electrical machinery to work it all, that could also break down. In a way I had felt let down since I could have found all this luxury even better, had I stayed ashore on the bank. But they were beautiful and I was prepared to compromise, thinking this was all that was available, until I found ‘JP2’.

Arrival at Banbury

Aboard this boat, the traditionally designed and painted boatman’s cabin had been adapted to incorporate an office space, which was a bonus to me, an aspiring writer that I hadn’t expected. And when I was introduced to the 1935 Lister ‘JP2’ engine with its shiny dark green paintwork and brass rocker covers, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was spellbound!

The thrill continued for forward of the back cabin and engine room, the accommodation had been designed and fitted out in the same traditional manner. With its ash panelling and solid oak deck and cupboards, it was like a small floating Victorian cottage, with all its magical charisma. There was no central heating and the cosy warmth on that icy day was provided solely by a ‘Squirrel’ stove in the saloon. There was not a radiator anywhere. I knew I would be warm enough in the winter, since the ‘Epping’ range in the boatman’s cabin wasn’t even lit.

In the brief hour or two I was aboard, I had made up my mind and I agreed there and then on a price with Ian and Linda. They were very good since they would have to wait until my house sold till they received the payment. However they were very kind and were prepared to take the boat off the market immediately, even though they had to wait for another three months before they received payment.

I moved on board on Monday 6th April 2009 and have had no regrets since. I had the boat repainted at Great Haywood Marina, changing the name to ‘Futurest’ at the same time and this year we have cruised for 750 miles all over southern England, becoming a great team. Next year we shall continue our adventure in a northerly direction.

Repainted and relaunched as 'Futurest' at Great Haywood

In the Floating Harbour at Bristol with the SS ‘Great Britain’.
In exalted Company!

Dwarfed by the glass and steel in Paddington Basin

In Bancroft Basin at Stratford-upon-Avon

Safe and sound at winter moorings 2010 in Warwick

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

With a great deal of difficulty for a wee brain like mine, I think I have set up something resembling a blog.... I hope so anyway. After writing this entry I shall then check the site to see what has actually registered there. I know these sites are designed especially for newcomers like me, but the setting up still remains difficult when one doesn't understand fully what all the terms used are and the boxes to click mean!

However when I do finally get things sorted, I plan to use the blog as a way of informing relatives and friends, who may be interested, quite where I am and how I am spending my retirement! Currently I have to rely on emails to do this for me and whereas I shall still write the emails, I shall not have to repeat to everybody the same tale. From now on I shall just give them my blog address so they know where I am and then be able to talk about other more personal subjects in the letters.

But I have a visitor so more to follow.