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’
"....love 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!
In Bancroft Basin at Stratford-upon-Avon
Safe and sound at winter moorings 2010 in Warwick