Life on the open canal

Wind in the hair, water trickling from the rudder, potential crash approaching at 3 miles an hour, trusty crew hanging off the side of the boat.  Best day of living on a boat so far.

My first outing as a boat-owner followed a leisurely route, out of the marina and to the left.  We filled up with diesel and pumped out the toilet. And then returned to the mooring, covering about 500 metres in 90 minutes: a personal best which may take come beating.

The trickiest thing about driving a boat, is that there are a few tricky things about driving a boat.  You can’t just stop, and so there is inevitable drifting into solid objects.  You can’t steer in reverse, making a three–point-turn a mythical manouevre.  And when you can steer, you point the rudder in the opposite direction.

All of this means a crew is essential packing (applications currently being accepted for future voyages).  But be warned, future crewmates, the first voyage set a pretty high standard.  Not only did they give practical steering advice, pulled the boat here and there with the ropes, they also did the bulk of the work when pumping out the onboard toilet.  A crew that sorts out the sewage for me is a crew I need to keep sweet.

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Now the tank is full, there is no stopping me (although a lock may do a pretty effective job of that) – travelling at 3 miles an hour might be the kind of adrenaline junkie I have become.    Where next?  To Shardlow and its many pubs?  To the Erewash canal to get my solar panels replaced?  To Birmingham – the Venice of the North – if I ever find myself with a spare three months?

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Higher Love’. Both the Steve Winwood original  and the James Vincent cover.

There’s a hole in my roof, dear Liza

After my list-making escapades (is it a sign of middle-age that making a list qualifies as an escapade?), I decided action was needed to rectify my status as a leaky, dark, partially cold, unstable flat dweller. I was assured that fixed my leaking mushroom vent was an easy job, so that went to top of the list.

Helpful-sales-man-number-one thought that probably all that was needed was to replace the screws in the mushroom vent and reseal it.  I have a screwdriver, I can buy sealant, this is eminently do-able I thought.  Until I tried to unscrew the mushroom vent.

The first screw came away easily.  Because it had rusted itself in half, so I was left with a stub of a screw, and no idea how much rusted metal was left in the roof, and no idea how to get it out.  Uncharacteristically, YouTube was no help.  The second screw was stuck fast.  There was no way a person of my upper body strength was getting that sucker out.  Hmmm.

So I paid a visit to the shop, and helpful-sales-man-number-two.  The only way of getting the rusted screws out was to punch them?  I nodded as if this made complete sense, and asked if, as purely a short-term solution/only solution I feel I will ever be capable of undertaking, I could just cover the rusted nails with sealant.  Helpful-sales-man-number-two seemed this think this would work.  Part one of DIY mission accomplished.

Part two, involved a lot of mess and making a hole in my roof.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It also involved a valuable lesson about the importance of ventilation when using sealant, which I realised when my nostrils felt like they were being singed.

The many layers of previous sealant chipped off, the hole in the roof sort of cleaned (is there nothing that baby wipes cannot do?), the messy sealant fun began.  I tried two methods of reattaching the vent, one wholly unsuccessful and particularly messy, the second more successful and equally messy.

The finished result?  Drum roll please…….a little longer…….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OK, it may not be a smooth, seamless finish, but at least the vent is still attached to the ceiling.  And so far has not leaked (though has been aided in this by the plastic covering I put on the roof to try to stop the sealant getting wet while it dried.  Even so, I’m claiming it as an early DIY victory).  It’s not pretty, but I’m quite proud of myself (which you may have guessed, given that this post is twice as long as any of the others!)

This blog post was brought to you by the Wittertainment podcast (hello to Jason Isaacs).

The two week report

I have been a home owner for 14 whole days now, which I think means it is time for a couple of lists.

List 1: reasons why living in a boat is great
• I can demand people call me captain.
• My bedroom has portholes for windows.
• I get to make a fire every night (it is a travesty that I have still not invested in marshmallows). And this has meant my fire-making skills have improved from pitiful to passable (thanks to some emergency lessons from Martin).
• In the not-too-distant future I will also be able to say I get to toast marshmallows over my fire every night.
• My whole home rocks when I walk around on it.
• There has been a dramatic increase in interest in visiting Nottingham. I could say that people are just starting to realise quite how much they miss me, but I suspect it might be more boat-related.
• My neighbours are awesome.
• This is my view at night:

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List 2: reasons why living on a boat is challenging
• Every conversation I have can be manoeuvred to enable me to talk about my boat. Which is no drawback to me, though I suspect some of the women in labour may want to talk about it a bit less.
• I have no battery charger, which means the batteries can only be charged by running the engine and don’t get automatically charged by the mains electricity. As my lights run off the batteries, I have been living in semi darkness in the evening.
• I have yet to work out how my radiators work, and the stove only manages to heat the front half of the boat. Which means that….
• I can see my breath when I go to bed at night, and when I wake up in the morning.
• My roof leaks. I’ve been assured that it’s an easy job to fix, but am very nervous that I will just make it worse.
• I’m also very nervous about taking the boat out for the first time (and probably second or third times). So actually at the moment I live in what could be seen as a dark, leaky, partially cold, unstable flat.

So some good, some bad. I think if I had to grade my living-on-a-boat experience at this point, weighing up the pros and cons, on balance I would have to give it an A. Because living on a boat is flipping awesome.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Think Twice‘ by Celine Dion. A classic.

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

I’ve lived in quite a few houses and flats over the years, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve spoken to the neighbours. Much less learnt their name (as I type I am realising this doesn’t reflect so well on me, but I’m going to carry on regardless, hoping I can redeem myself). However, here were are on night six of the great Narrowboat adventure, and not only do I know several of my neighbours names, I have got many of their possessions on my boat. (Again, I just heard how that sounded, but have decided against editing – I’m confident I can save this still). Neighbours to left and right have played a vital role in me getting mains electricity, and yesterday neighbours-who-but-their-own-boat came to my rescue as I struggled to fill up the water tank. (It turns out I was missing a vital bit of plastic in order to attach my hose to the tap, which they then duly supplied. I have since found three on my boat.) Neighbour-with-the-dog has offered to come with me when I practice driving the boat (he has no idea what he is letting himself in for), and last night mystery-neighbour left this on my doorstep:

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I think I need to develop some tradeable skills pretty quickly before I become known as neighbour-to-avoid or freeloading-neighbour.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman‘ by ELO.  (Listen to this one – it’s a particular good one.)

The first casualty

Was not me falling into the canal. Hooray.
Let me set the scene. The Midwives had come back to the boat after our training day. Spirits were high – we were, after all, going to spend the evening on a boat. The stove was lit first time (we may have to use a loose definition of what ‘first’ actually means in this context) and we set about cooking a Mexican/Pakistani feast. All seven of us fit around the table – so far so good. Mid-fajita though, it became apparent all was not quite right. A slight fog in the air? An unusual aroma? Stinging eyes for several minutes?
And then we saw them. The remnants of rubber gloves smoking on top of the stove.

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(The thumb of the right hand in case you were wondering.)

Valuable lessons have been learnt about not burning down the boat and the etiquette surrounding gassing your dinner guests. I don’t usually make the same mistake twice future guests may be slightly reassured to hear.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘All I Want‘ by Kodaline.

And so, dear reader…..

I moved in.  Thanks to my crack team of movers (who had no idea that heavy lifting would be involved when I invited them to visit several weeks ago), the boat was transformed from a place of homely potential to one with a more ‘lived-in’ look.

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More firsts were duly achieved – the first fire (and not a fire-lighter in sight), and the first pan of tea.

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The first (and last?!) bottle of Asti to be drunk.

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And then the first night.  Electricity still eludes me, so it was a low key affair, with candles, limited but excited texting and Game of Thrones (in book-book form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOXQo7nURs0).  I tried out both toilets (too much information?) and it took far longer than I should admit to for me to work out how to flush the Porta Potti.

And so eventually to bed, where I tried to shut out the dripping noise.  It may be coincidental, but I did wake up in the morning to find a puddle underneath the mushroom vent over my dining area.  Boat maintenance adventures to follow this week (or maybe I will knock on the door of the marine engineer a few boats down and bribe him with tea and biscuits).

This blog post was brought to you by ‘I’d rather be with you‘ by Joshua Radin.

I got the key, secret yet to be discovered

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Excited doesn’t really cover it. I actually have a boat. And so normally mundane tasks, such as turning on the hob, have become unusually thrilling.

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Sadly, the success with the gas has not extended to the electricity. The cable that came with boat did not stretch to the mains hook-up. But then neighbour-to-the-left searched his boat to find me an extension lead. Then, when I tried to switch on the lights, nothing happened. Maintenance man worked out that the electricity had not been switched on for my hook up, and rectified this with a phone call. But then maintenance man discovered that the neutral and live wires were the wrong way round in my cable. Step in neighbour-to-the-left, who not only gave me a beginners guide to canals, but volunteered her partner’s electric-y skills to fix the cable tomorrow.

So in summary:
1. I have a boat.
2. I can turn gas on and off in three different places on my boat.
3. Electricity may elude me.
4. I think my neighbours are going to look after me.
5. Oh yeah, I have a boat.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Little Talks‘ by Of Monsters and Men.