Friday, 31 July 2009

Hot Towels Sir ?

There are two types of canal boating; soft boating and camping on water.

Personally speaking, my days of sleeping on camp beds and wearing fleeces indoors are far behind me.

Sometimes, I see people cruise by in sailaway narrowboats. The inside of the boat is just one corridor, with a plywood floor, no partition bulkheads and a Black and Decker Workmate for a table.

I appreciate that people need time to fit out their sailaways and often the temptation for a cruise on a sunny day is too much. However, I'm talking about that small band of hardened souls who are continuously cruising whilst barn-camping inside. You know who you are !!

Power to their elbow - I'm too old, soft and southern for such boating.

I like my creature comforts and one of my top priorities, especially in the damp of, well, every month except possibly August and September, is the hot towel.

I absolutely abhor reaching for a damp towel when I get out of the shower.

Willawaw has a large calorifier (the boaty term for a water immersion tank). This can be heated by the engine coolant, the Eberspacher diesel heater or an electric immersion heater when we are on shore mains.

Our interior boat heating is by radiator and these are heated by the Eberspacher. We also have an independent solid fuel stove, which burns coal or logs.

We have just finished our refit in drydock and the boat is looking pretty good. She was getting a bit tired and she now has a nice new paint job, new fenders, all her woodwork varnished or painted and so on.

The canals get a bit manic for us during the school holidays, so we tend to do repairs in the summer and start cruising in earnest just as the kids are going back to school. September and October are some of the best boating months, in our humble opinion.

Anyhow, I digress yet again.

Now, sorry to talk about those colder, damp, autumnal evenings in the middle of your summer holidays, but you have to think ahead on boats and it's not really that far away.

When we cruise in the darker, colder months, it can get quite chilly inside the boat during the day and we have to run our Eberspacher or solid fuel stove at the same time as the main diesel engine.

The former provides the heat and the latter is driving the boat forward. This is a bit wasteful, as it burns two lots of fuel, but it is necessary to stop the boat cooling down inside.   

However, this week I was given an idea by another boater.

In essence, what he was advocating, was a modification to the pump within the Eberspacher heater.

When we are cruising, the water in our calorifier gets heated by the engine and the heat will naturally transfer from the engine coil in the calorifier through the calorifier itself into the second dedicated coil for the switched off diesel heater.

As the radiators are connected to this second coil, if we could pump the water round, with the heater still OFF, we would effectively get hot radiators from the conducted engine heat, even though there is no direct connection between the two circuits.

This means there would be no need to use extra fuel for heating when cruising in the cold weather.

Whilst I applaud the notion, I'm not keen on modifying the internal pump circuitry in my Eber, BUT it would be easy to fit a second 12V pump into the pipe circuit !!

With this is mind, I plan to fit a new pump in parallel to the Eberspacher, together with some one-way check valves in the HEP plastic piping, so that the pumping pressure of the Eber when thats running can't short circuit through the stationary new pump and miss the radiators out completely.

I have ordered the HEP parts and a Jabsco 59520-0000 ecocirc pump. The pump is designed for hot water use and has a brushless motor with a magnetic drive, so it should run forever and as it has no seals, it shouldn't leak this side of doomsday.

I have also found a 12V supply on my alternator controller which will automatically run the pump only when the engine is running.

This is necessary because if you have the pump manually switched and you forget to turn it off when you stop cruising for the day, all the heat from the radiators will flow back in the reverse direction and keep the engine warm when it gets switched off, which is  counter-productive.

Anyway, bottom line is that it gives us warm rads whilst winter cruising, without burning extra diesel and just as importantly, it means that I can have just the towel rail on whilst summer cruising.

So, thanks to a bright idea from a fellow boater, I can now pat myself on the back for being eco-friendly and use a fluffy, hot towel to do it !!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sleeping With Strangers

It occurs to me that I waste quite a lot of my life sleeping with strangers.

I have always had the ability to sleep anywhere.

The mere motion of a plane, train or automobile, sends me instantly into a deep slumber.

However, my tendency to fly with budget airlines often tends to leave me sitting in a very uncomfortable, upright position.

My Turkish flight had me sitting in the emergency escape aisle, which is always good for legroom, but the seat didn't recline at ALL.

As soon as the plane starts speeding down the runway, I'm off into the land of nod.

V1, V2, Rotate - the nose lifts off the tarmac and the aluminium monster is suddenly airborne at 200 mph and climbing.

I'm pushing zzzzzz's, but its no problem at all, because the "nose-up" attitude of the plane means that my head is forced back into the seat, sticking me to it as if by magnetism.

However, when the plane levels out, the problems start.

The cranial magnetism disappears and my head falls forwards, causing me to wake myself up with a jerk.

I subconcsiously bring my head back to vertical and doze off again.

Some inmeasurable time later, my head goes forward again and I jerk awake, once more.

"Nodding dog" syndrome is no laughing matter and steps should really be taken to prevent this dangerous condition on all airlines.

Normally, mostly strangers get to sleep with me, so I never find out what they think, as they observe the secrecy of the cabin, but on the few occasions when I travel with company, they tell me that its very amusing to watch me try to nod my head off.

The sheer oppulent luxury of aircraft seating is so appealing, the owner of this Cork hotel decided to fill his restaurant with it.

Minutes before the photo was taken, the child in the picture was enjoying eating from the lowered seat tray that you can see on the middle seat back.

I wanted him to have the full airline experience, readying him for all those Easy-nair flights that he will take in the future, so I sat in the middle seat and reclined it fully and quickly while he was eating, causing him to ingest his bread roll.

He can now tell his parents that he has been through the induction course to be a seasoned traveller.

Its very hard to be a stranger in Ireland.

Irish jokes are legendary and the Irish are always portrayed as being thick.

In my experience, they are quite the opposite.

I have always found them to be very good negotiators.

They have a very lateral train of logic and this is often interpreted as being slow on the uptake.

In my opinion, they just approach a situation from a different direction and this flair for the lateral enables them to think up all kinds of variables when haggling over prices and terms.

This means that I have to think very carefully when trying to initiate a negotiation. The approach is very different from the norm.

For example, when we in the UK ask for directions, we typically stop the car, wind down the window and shout "excuse me, can you tell me the way to XYZ".

This doesn't work well in Ireland.

They always start such proceedings with verbal foreplay.

For example, "ah thats a fine display of roses you have there. I'm just on my way to visit my aunt/cousin/favourite donkey. Have you lived here long ?".

It's also essential to leave your car in the middle of the road, unbuckle your seatbelt, get out and walk across to the person concerned.

The conversation then rambles on until you can get it round to "I was wondering if you can give me some directions".

Of course, even this approach isn't guaranteed.

I once stopped and asked somebody in Ireland if they were from around here (another rather direct English way of asking for directions).

"No", they said "I don't live around here".

"Oh", I said, disappointed. "So where are you from ?" (another fallback attempt at opening conversation).

"Over there", they said, pointing to a group of buildings about half a mile away.

I once stayed in a lovely place called the Candlelight Inn at Dunmore East, near Waterford, with a group of ships captains.

On the morning of my departure, I was having a rather fine Irish breakfast with the Captains, when the owner of the hotel suggested that I let the hotel courtesy bus take me to Waterford Airport for my morning flight home.

I thanked him for his hospitality and finished my breakfast.

I collected my bag from the room, checked out and went outside to locate the courtesy bus.

There was no bus, only an ancient Morris Traveller with a little old lady wearing a chauffeurs hat,  sat in the driving seat. 

"Excuse me", I said. "Can you tell where the courtesy bus stops ?"

"Ah, ye'll be wanting me" she said "are ye for the airport ?"

Surprised, I nodded, but accepted - this was Ireland after all and nothing should be allowed to faze you.

I said my goodbyes to all at the hotel, jumped in the back seat of the Morris and we were off.

Waterford Airport is 4.5 miles from Dunmore East, as the crow flies.

About an hour later, we were back at the hotel.

"Forget something, did ye ?" said the proprietor to me.

"No", I replied "your courtesy bus couldn't find the airport and I've missed my flight".

She was obviously not from round there. 

Friday, 24 July 2009

Cats and Seagulls

The canals are far away.

A rather surreal evening sitting on the foreshore, having dinner in Turkey.

The cats fight the seagulls for scraps of fish from the table and the shipyards are in the distance.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Little Red Button (Continued)

Yesterday, I told you about my escapade with the deranged Stella Artois fisherman from hell.

Today, I want to continue on the theme of anger management.

When people like my fishing friend in Broxbourne want to do bad things to our heads with blunt instruments, we all momentarily wish ill on them.

It's a pretty human response. 

The ill is normally scaled in accordance with the bad things being done.

A rude boater is often wished an early bath.

Somebody cutting you loose from your mooring in the middle of a night is wished a transmission failure at 2am on the M1 - a complete rear axle lock up at 70 mph if you're moored near a weir.

However, most of us get over it when the emotion leaves the incident.

However, somebody once said to me, imagine that somebody does something bad to you. 

You might not want to kill them, just maim them a little -maybe not even hurt them at all.

But, imagine that you have a little red button with a cover over it.

You can lift that lid, press that button and that person will disappear for ever - they will cease to exist.

Nobody else will know what you have done.

Their friends and families will wonder where they have gone, but never know the truth.

Only you will know the truth and you have to live with that for the rest of your life.


This week, I made a brave decision.

I decided to fly to Turkey on a Turkish airline that I'd never heard of.

With the boat still in dock and me living at our house in Essex, I decided that I wanted to fly from London Stansted.

My normal easyJet big orange bird doesn't fly from there, so I booked with an airline called Pegasus.
I knew it was going to be different when I checked in.

As I was standing in the check-in queue, I noticed a very British looking, dapper, middle aged gentleman with an "I'm important" Airport Staff ID badge looking at people's hand luggage.

He saw one of my fellow passengers with a laptop bag and as soon as he could get eye contact with him, said "is that a laptop" ?

The passenger nodded. If it's got lots of cables in it, the security won't like it - they're having lots of problems with cables at the moment.

Rightly or wrongly, I immediately labelled him a jumped up jobs-worth.

My bag is full of laptop and LOTS of cables. The security love to pull them all out over the examination table and then leave me to put them all back in, to teach me a lesson.

I resolved to ignore the jobs-worth and didn't make eye contact - it worked.

Security paid me no more attention than usual.

All went normally until it was time to board at the gate.

I noticed my dapper friend. He was receiving a customer complaint from a British farepayer.

I couldn't catch every word, despite leaning in their direction, but got the impression it was something to do with the size and weight of hand luggage that Turkish passengers were being allowed to take on.

There is a very strict and minimalistic allowance in force - clearly flouted by the Turkish. 

The British passengers, including me, formed an orderly line, waiting to board. 

The Turkish passengers, who have no word in their vocabulary for queue, charged the front desk in a cheese wedge of people - it was everybody for himself.

Luckily, seats were pre-assigned (unlike Ryan Easy), so I didn't care. 

Then it happened.

That Twilight Zone moment.

I was already uneasy about flying on an unknown airline - a Turkish owned and operated airline that I had no background or prior knowledge of.

Then, I saw what was written on the side of the aircraft.


It had to be an omen.

We were all going to die.

Luckily, my panic was quickly controlled by the sight of my trusty Jobs-worth, carrying a very stiff upper lip and adorned by the mantle of a tweed jacket.

He was waiting at the foot of the airstairs.

Up to that point, I had seriously considered pressing the red button on him.

Obviously having his dander dandered by the complaining passenger, he had sought his own personal crusade to stop the hand luggage offenders.

Single handed, he pulled peoples luggage out of their hand, with the battle cry "its too heavy - its going in the hold".

Unfortunately, all the inflicted were Turkish. The British play cricket - all their hand held bags were well within the rules.

The Turks were beside themselves with anger. He was stopping them getting on the aeroplane - delaying them from their rendezvous with Istanbul.

Undeterred, tweed gent persevered. The Turkish aircaft crew rolled their eyes as the bags were removed in the general direction of the Boeing's underbelly.

Now the Turks are a great spectator nation.

If there is a car crash between two cars in Turkey, not only do the drivers get out and argue in the street, the passers-by do as well.

Any public argument is considered to be a spectator or participation sport.

Its not unknown for complete strangers to pass opinions on the cause of car accidents that have nothing at all to do with them.

An accident between two drivers can quickly become an argument between 7 people.

The Turkish people in front of me, stopped moving up the airstairs.
They stopped, looked back, savouring the conflict.

Come on, I said, get on board, we've got places to go.

They sulked and wearily plodded up the stairs, miffed that they were missing the show.

I felt so proud to be British. Standards haven't slipped after all.

I was going to banish him into nothingness with my little red button, but in the end, I quite liked him.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Little Red Button

Anger management is a strange thing.

Modern life is very stressful and the frenetic pace and overcrowding that many of us are subjected to in the UK, don't make it any easier.

The other day, we got into a forum discussion about how there appears to be an ever-increasing number of rude people about, on the canals these days.

It's a widespread problem on the waterways with people generally being in a great hurry and having little patience when their progress is slowed by external forces beyond their control.

It's not unusual to be sworn at or even threatened with violence.

About 2 years ago, I came cruising round a sharp bend in the river on the Lee and was suddenly alerted by angry shouts.

Looking round, I saw a fisherman in a very concealed tent waving his arms around.

It transpired that he had placed the concealed tent behind the bridge buttress on the other side of the bridge from the direction I came from, had concealed himself in the tent and then consumed copious amounts of Stella Artois, the fishermans tipple of choice.

He complicated matters by ledger fishing in the middle of the river and not bringing his lines in, when we approached (probably because he was in the tent with his missus and he was half cut).

The outcome of this, was that his lines got well and truly wrapped around my propeller.

I stopped the propeller turning as soon as I heard his shouts and rod alarms sounding.

I opened the weed hatch and tried for some considerable time, to un-wrap his lines from my propeller shaft, but alas they were well and truly wound on.

When I said that I would have to cut them, he insisted that I give him money by way of compensation.

When I refused, pointing out that it was his own fault for:

a) Hiding from boats behind a bridge buttress
b) Usings ledgers that boaters could not see
c) Failing to retract them when said boaters approached

he went bezerk and said he wanted to kill me.

I refused to step off the boat and kept it midstream, where he couldn't reach me, at least until he came down off the ceiling.

The situation then became a complete farce.

Imagine the scene - a grown man, holding a can of Stella Artois, going first from one side of the river and then to the other, backwards and forwards across the bridge, like a demented troll.

His wife was begging him to calm down (he obviously had a history of anger management issues) and his Staffy dog was going crazy because it sensed his darkening mood.

He wasn't calming down. If anything, he was getting worse. He was doing his level best to get from the shore on to my boat, to do unspeakable things to me.

I armed myself with a windlass and in the mood he was in, would have definitely whacked him with it, in self defence, had he managed to get onboard.

I've been in a few sticky situations during my time at sea and feel that I've become a good judge of character and people. I really didn't think he was bluffing.

In the end, I cut his lines with a knife and carried on cruising, ignoring the bad language and threats of violence.

He then started walking along the towpath, promising to kill me when we reached the lock, which was about a mile away.

At this point, I realised that narrowboats are not a vehicle for escape. As a boater, you are very vulnerable - in a slow moving, land locked craft.

The only method of escape was to call the police.

They arrived quickly.

He then started threatening them - it took three of them to quieten him.

The sad thing is that they wouldn't arrest him. They had plenty of evidence as he threatened them too, but apparently, they couldn't agree about jurisdiction - one bank of the river was Essex and the other bank was Hertfordshire. Two counties and two forces.

In the end, we had to cancel our stopover at Broxbourne and just keep going - as far away as possible, the police advised.

They kept him talking until we had a healthy headstart.

Part 2 tomorrow....

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Volks Volts

In an age where we think nothing of flying thousands of miles to see new things, it seems strange to consider that there are often new things on our doorstep.

Well old things that are new to us, to be more precise.

Take for example, Brighton, on the south coast of England.

Not more than 65 miles away from me.

Of course, I've been there, as most Londoners have.

However, what I never knew, was that Brighton was the home of one of the most strangest railways on earth.

Or to be more exact, under the sea.

Magnus Volk, the son of a German emigre, was born in Brighton in 1851 and became famous by inventing his Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Elecric Railway in 1896.

What was unusual was that the tracks for the railway, ran under the sea.

What was even more unusual, was that the railway was powered by electricity.

The railcar, officially called "Pioneer", but christened "Daddy Longlegs" by the locals, sat on 24ft legs ending in wheeled bogies which ran on parallel copper tracks, sitting on the seabed.

DC Power was obtained by an overhead line, not unlike that of a trolley cable.

Strangely, the return supply was through the tracks, which were underwater at high tide.

The Daddy Longlegs cruised at walking pace over the waves and had to be skippered by a qualified ships captain and have its own lifeboat.

The new railway only ran for 6 days before it was destroyed by a storm.

However, it was repaired and ran for another four years.

Its end came when the council wanted to introduce more sea defences along the coast and wanted to build groynes out into the sea.

An agreement was reached whereby the track was removed and Magnus was compensated by receiving additions to his existing land-based conventional electric railway.

Even today, at low spring tides, the concrete bed blocks for the tracks can still be seen on the seashore at Brighton. 

Fact is often stranger than fiction - long live British eccentricity.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Fed Up Staring at The Wall

Its a land-locked weekend !!  boo-hiss.

Willawaw is still in drydock.

We finally got our own way and the dock was flooded yesterday, so that Willawaw could be re-floated and moved along a foot or two.

The dock was then pumped out again and she settled back on the trestles.

Now, she has four rust-coloured transverse stripes across her bottomplate, where the trestles previously made contact with the hull and the blacking couldn't be applied.

These gaps should be closed on Monday and she should be floated out by the middle of the week.

The boat is looking good.

She has a pristine hull once again, is fitted with all new, black polypropylene fenders and is annointed with a newly painted non-slip roof.

Unfortunately, I am off on my travels again on Monday, so the first mate is in charge of docking detail.

Willawaw should be afloat on the lay-by berth, by the time I get home.

We then have to get cracking on servicing the Beta engine and the Mitsubishi prime mover on the generator.

To overcome our canal withdrawal symptoms, we picked up this wrought iron canal scene, which we now have hanging in our office at the house.

The only trouble with having limited space on a narrowboat is that you can't have much in the way of art around you. Well, you can, but you have to be very selective and pick the best, smaller items !!  

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Book Crossing

Much has been written about places to swop paperback books on the UK canal system.

Over a period of time, unofficial, inland waterway locations have sprung up, where its possible to leave books that you have read and no longer need, so that others may enjoy them.

It's been a very ad-hoc arrangement up to now and for some reason, one of the most popular repositories has been the trusty BW sanitation station.

Thanks to a tip off from the blog of fellow boater, Mortimer Bones, my attention has been drawn to an organisation called BookCrossing. 

The BookCrossing concept works on the same principle as the sanitation station idea, but it has been embellished by the knack of our colonial friends for thinking BIG.

This is how it works.

You register for free on their website 

When you have finished a book and want to pass it on to others, for them to read, you log-in to the BookCrossing website and type in the ISBN code for the book in question.

All the information about your book is then entered automatically for you.

You then have the option of leaving a critique and rating for the book.

Once the book details have all been recorded, the website will give you a unique number called a BCID number.

You then open the book and write the following in biro:

I've registered this book at so I can track its journey through this world. Please go to to let me know you found it, then read it and/or pass it on for someone else to enjoy. Thank you! 

The number 123-456789 is an example and should be the BCID for your particular book.

Then go to this web link and enter the BCID number for the book you want to release:

Choose wild release and then, using the drop-down menu, select the location that you plan to release the book in - For example, Little Hallingbury Mill on the River Stort in Essex is one of many canalside locations.

Then, you just leave the book there.

The idea is that other people will find it, read it and then hopefully, go on to the BookCrossing website to log its movements, before passing it on to the next person.

BookCrossing has captured the passion and imagination of over 740,000 people worldwide.

Potentially, your books, once released into the wild, could travel the world.

You will be able to track wherever the book goes.

Have you ever released a balloon with your name on, to see how far it will fly ? 

Give your book some time to let it wander, type in its BCID number and see how far it's got ? 

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Are You Serious ?

My background is one of deep sea ships.

When Willawaw was built, we tackled the build in the same way as if she were a ship.

We drew up a detailed specification and asked prospective boatbuilders to quote against the specification. Every detail was covered in that specification, even the paint and coatings to be used.

Many refused to quote as it was considered to be too much work for them, in terms of preparation.

They preferred to sell their standard fare.

Eventually, we got quotes from three yards and we chose the most serious one that we thought could deliver on time, with the right quality and at a fair price (they weren't the cheapest by a long shot).

That was six years ago.

Ironically, the yard no longer exists, but that wasn't our fault. Willawaw wasn't cheap and they didn't cut their margins to get the job.

In terms of maintenance, we don't go for a quick black and brush-up every two years like most narrowboat owners.

The boat was constructed to go four years between blackings. 

However, when she does dock, we insist on drydocking rather than using slipways or cranes.

As narrowboats have a flat bottom and very little longitudinal strength, because they aren't designed to ride waves, I don't like subjecting Willawaw to the stresses of a crane lift.

The bending moments are aggravated by partially full water, diesel and waste tanks, which take their own toll when the boat is no longer supported evenly by her buoyancy.

A friend of mine had his boat lifted in slings and the doors never shut properly again.

For the drydocking, we write a docking specification and present it to the boatyard, so they can see what work is needed in advance. We discuss how long it will take, what raw materials might be needed and whose job it will be to obtain them.

In short, it is a mini refit project in its own right.

This time, for our second drydocking, I decided that I would like the bottomplate to be blacked.

In the past, I was convinced by the builder and the first drydock yard, that it was not necessary or traditional to black the bottomplate on narrowboats.

As it happens, there was very little corrosion on the 10mm bottomplate at the first drydock in 2005.

However, when the boat came out of the water this time, although there was still little corrosion, there were a few fresh water mussels on the uncoated bottom.

We spent a lot of 2008 in the Fenlands and we assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the clear, clean water in that area may be responsible for the hitch-hiking shellfish.

They were a devil to get off, so we decided this time, we would get the bottomplate blacked.

I have a suspicion that mussels like the bare metalwork (there is some research to support this) and believe that a few coats of chemicals will deter them from adhering in the future.

The yard wasn't very keen.

After some discussion and the lure of more pound notes, they agreed, but they only wanted to black the parts that they could get to, between the trestles in the drydock.

I didn't want a striped bottomplate for the four years until we could dock again and fill in the gaps and thought this was an unprofessional attitude.

After some negotiation, they eventually agreed to flood and empty the dock again.

There was never any problem in us paying for the extra 3 days or so that it would take, as there is plenty of other work that needs doing at the same time. They just didn't seem to fancy the fuss.

It just seems to me that inland waterways boatyards never seem to want to do anything properly or take their work seriously.

I don't know whether its because narrowboat owners have a reputation for cutting corners and doing things on the cheap, when compared to their salt water cousins, or whether its the attitude that boatyards have been able to get away with historically ??

I've noticed it with many different aspects of narrowboat maintenance (not just yards).

Many canal tradespeople seem to have a very "laissez-faire" attitude to life and you're lucky if they turn up on time or even come back to finish what they started sometimes !!

We also have to choose our yards carefully, as we won't accept the usual Comastic type blacking.

The boat was built with a Jotun 2-coat Epoxy Coating, of the kind that is used to protect large bore pipelines. It's not cheap to buy and it's a pig to put on, but it lasts for ages (and resists all but direct hits from the odd bolt protruding from bankside steel pilings).

It's the Jotun that enables us to achieve the magic four years.

Anyway, I think we are getting there now.

Today, we replaced the Jabsco Water Pump, the fresh water tank filter and the Shower Sump Pump. These are quite crucial to peace and harmony when continuously cruising, so we have replaced them before they fail and we carry complete spare pumps onboard - it's no fun when your fresh water pump stops working, usually at the most inconvenient moment.

Once the boat is finished in the dock, we will put her on a floating lay-by berth out on the canal and start work on servicing the engine and generator.

The bow thruster has already been fitted with new brushes, anodes and had its oil changed.

The shaft seal packing has been replaced, the rudder assembly has been dismantled, cleaned and lubricated and the coachroof is being painted with anti-slip.

 A Real Drydock !!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

It's a Roll-Over Week

Spotted on the Grand Union near Braunston.

13 or 14 lads had hired this boat and barring the steerer, were quite inebriated.

It just shows that legal moves to stop the steerer drinking by imposing car style drink-driving limits won't solve all the problems. 

I'm surprised that they didn't get water in their engine vent, which would fill the bilge.

The deaths of boaters usually makes a few lines in the dailies, but makes headline news in the boaters press.

A few deaths every year are due to fires and carbon monoxide poisoning and very occasionally, it turns out to be murder.

However, I have noticed that a growing amount appear to be related to intoxication.
Well, to be more precise, drowning or fires as a result of alcohol excess.

The death of a Pewsey boater in March last year was attributed to drinking.

The boater in question was found to be three and a half times over the legal road driving limit.

The combination of: boat, heavy drinking and often a boater living alone on board, can be a tragic mix. 

Logically, getted tanked to the point where judgement and coordination is seriously impaired and then returning to your boat along an uneven towpath (often in the dark) and then trying to board your boat, often stopping to adjust lines, fenders, etc on the way, can mean that a boater ends up in cold water, with a slippery, muddy bank or moored boats making it hard to get out. 

Its a free country and people are free to drink as much as they want.

I'm not suggesting more nanny-state controls.

It just occurs to me that this probably goes on, ashore, as well. 

It's just that a stagger down the path from the pub and abortive attempts to get the key in the front door don't generally yield such fatal consequences.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Mousey Housey

Its been a very strange weekend.

As I mentioned in an earlier bloggette, the boat is sitting on its bum in a drydock, smelling of paint.

We have moved back to our house temporarily and naturally, have brought the two cats back with us.

Now, I've talked about Moo quite extensively in the past, but her brother, called Blue (or Boo) is as much a character, albeit in a different way.

For some reason, our garden always attracts a lot of wildlife.

Possibly because our grown up kids don't go out there and we are never home, so they get left alone in the Jungle.

Last night, we were watching TV late and there was a noise at the patio door.

It was obviously one of the cats wanting to come in, so the First Mate opened the door a foot without taking too much notice.

In comes Blue, complete with small brown mouse in mouth.

"He's got a mouse" she says, rhetorically, so suddenly there is a lot of noise and movement.

Blue, who is the archetypal cowardly lion, panics and drops the mouse on the carpet.

Now, it must be said that Blue is a lover not a fighter and never kills anything.

So, said mouse is very much alive and starts charging arround the room at great speed.

What follows, would be prefectly acceptable in a 1920's silent slapstick comedy.

People jumping on and off chairs, heads trying to follow a brown streak of lightning chasing round the skirtling boards, the sweeping of a broom Tom and Jerry style (Thomasssss !!)

When told to finish what he has started, Blue just decides he wants petting and then its very late, so it must be time for bed, Zebedee - boinnnng.

To cut a long story short, we hunted everywhere, saw it a few times, but couldn't catch it.

Last night, we went to bed with a lodger.

This morning, the unwanted visitor has been in the kitchen helping himself to the cats food (how ironic is that) and as I write, we have him cornered in the lounge, trying to drive him back out into the garden without hurting him. We have towels stuffed under the doors to restrict his movement.

Blue is nowhere to be seen.


Saturday, 11 July 2009

Bobby Dazzler

The Hertfordshire Constabulary are the first police force to offer an enhanced level of policing to local tradespeople,  in return for cash.

Apparently, they have offered a 2-man team to patrol 20 businesses in the town of Royston for a three month trial.  

I can see the adverts now.

Want that extra care at the dead of night ? Worried about drunks smashing your shop windows - just ring this freephone number and ask for our copper-bottomed service !!

So, Royston has broken new ground.

Or have they ?? 

Bobbies began policing the Norfolk Broads in 1820, but stopped in the 1980s because of funding shortfalls. 

About ten years ago, Broadsbeat was started, funded by local businesses, who paid for two full-time officers, a fast response boat and a 4x4 vehicle during the summer months.

Broadsbeat this year is sponsored by Hoseasons, A.R. Peachment, Royal and Sons Ltd, Norfolk Broads Authority, Roys of Wroxham Ltd, Norfolk Yacht Agency, Navigation and General Insurance, Broadland Owners Association and Blakes Holidays.

How long before British Waterways catch on and start adding an additional security charge to improve boat security, keep motorcross riders from racing along the towpath and prevent yobs from terrorising infamous inner city locks ??

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Busmans Holiday

With Willawaw snuggled up in a boatyard, awaiting her drydocking slot, we moved back to the house for some R and R, away from narrowboats and inland waterways.

I arranged to meet up with an old friend, for a pint at the Old Ship pub in Heybridge Basin, near Maldon (on the east coast).

As we sat outside in the summer sun, supping our beers, he uttered those immortal words.

One of the most foolish sentences that can come out of a man's mouth.

"I've bought a boat - I only got it yesterday - do you want to see it ?"

It turned out that he had bought a 20-year old Microplus GRP cruiser.

When I was a teenager in the mid-seventies, my father bought us a Microplus 502 and it was my first proper boat.

That was it - I had been hooked, reeled in and landed !!

His co-owner turned up and it transpired that neither of them knew much about boats.

However, fortune must have been smiling on them when they parted with their cash.

They had fallen on their feet - for the money they spent, they got a good deal.

Before we knew it, somebody suggested we went for a spin.

We started the Yamaha 50HP outboard, cast off and headed up the Chelmer Navigation.

I taught them how to handle lines, gave them tips on boat handling and then, when we came to our first lock, I showed them how to safely work a lock.

A chance meeting ended up with them getting a boating lesson and me reliving my youth and happy memories of boyhood boating with my father.

Anyway, some 5 hours later, after helping them with anchor rigging and a few other things, I wended my way home. 

I can think of much worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Take That and THAT

At the weekend, we went to Wembley to see "Take That" in concert.

I have a confession to make -

- it was my first ever live pop concert.

A few things struck me from the experience.

Firstly, the sound quality was terrible. The music was distorted, presumerably due to the number of speakers involved and the fact that they were all at different distances from where we sat. I was surprised - I didn't expect that.

Even when Gary Barlow and company talked through their microphones, it was hard to understand everything they said.

However, the atmosphere was fantastic.

Every time one of the fab four moved, the crowd of 80,000 went wild and the resultant noise was a physical wall of sound, that boxed your ears, leaving them ringing in the aftermath.

The event was akin to a religous experience.

In a time when churches and organised religion are reporting falling attendance numbers on Sunday's, it seemed that the worship of music was taking its place.

The cathedral of Wembley Stadium was well attended.

Thousands turned up to worship Jason Orange, with their hands raised in supplication to the cloudless sky, visible through the open dome.

The loyal following wore the clothes, made the moves and moved their lips to the familiar prayers of Take That.

The technical show was awesome. A huge, 40ft high, robotic elephant rose from the ground and sashayed its way to the big top, with the group riding on its back.

The Circus theme was maintained throughout the whole show, supported by lasers, wall screens and a cast of big top performers.

The drumming toy soldiers sequence in the show could only be described as tribal, with the beat making the whole stadium throb to a rhythmic, staccato heartbeat.

However, the fickleness of the public is sobering.

It transpired that the lads from the boy band, JLS, who appeared on X-factor, were sitting about ten feet from us. As people started to become aware of their presence, they were mobbed with spectators starting to photograph them and seek autographs.

For a moment, Take That were ignored and all eyes were looking towards the rear of the stadium, with a sea of backs being turned to Gary and the boys.

Then the moment was gone, the security closed in and JLS were forgotten again.

Fame is as brief as a candle flame and flickers equally unpredictably. 

The concert finished with a big finale and TT sang "Rule The World" as their final gift.

They said their goodbyes and the last night of their UK tour was over.

As the stands cleared and the 80,000 ants trickled away to the streets, the audience was already whispering about the forthcoming Oasis gig, with memories of Take That fast receding.

Moths to the flame indeed..

Fame and riches ? - I wouldn't ask for either.. 


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Can You Have a Garden on a Boat ?

As Willawaw is in the boatyard, waiting to have her bottom scraped, we are living ashore for a short while.

Yesterday, we went to the Ware Festival on the River Lee.

The theme of the festival was Gardens.

Many of the boats at the festival entered into the spirit of the thing and displayed their very own rooftop gardens.

Ware combines its annual carnival with a boat festival organised by the local branch of the IWA.

The event was well attended and the moorings in Ware were largely "double-banked" by members of the local clubs like the Stort Boat Club (S.B.C).

Personally, I find these boat festivals a little bit suffocating. 

The "boatees" all moor up on top of each other and they always seem "cliquey" to say the least - I once had a run-in with the commodore of the fleet of the S.B.C, but that's another story. 

The Ware-do was interesting, as all the young people were on the other side of the river from the boats, sitting on the grass in the priory, drinking cans of beer and listening to live bands.

You can just make this out in the background of the "beer garden" photograph above.

With my overactive imagination, the boaters remind me of the white settlers with their circle of wagons, in those old western movies, being circled by whooping red indians (sorry, first nation people). 

Personally, I found the music much more interesting than the static, bunting adorned, boats. 

A local music shop and music school called "The Academy" have a big hand in this.

We were delighted to see young teenagers playing drums and electric guitars to a packed audience in the park, each of whom had paid only £1 to be there.

The Academy offer music lessons and are very active with local kids, keeping them off the streets and coaching them to be rock stars for as little as £6/hour.

It was great to see youngsters getting the chance to show their talents to a real audience and one of the groups called Nightmare did a great rendition of the Guns and Roses' hit Sweet Child of Mine. 

The Academy/Play Something ( have been grooming and filtering would-be bands for the forthcoming Rock In the Priory Music festival on the 26th July.

For more information, click here:


Saturday, 4 July 2009

Green Shield Stamps With That ?

So much is written about red diesel and how British inland waterway boaters are"hard done by", I thought you might appreciate this.

This is a leisure boat fuelling station at a marina in Croatia.

Croatia is not a member of the EU and they don't have red diesel available for leisure boaters.

They sell only road diesel here and the price is the same as it is in the auto service stations in the town - around 70p/litre.

Now I appreciate that their fuel is cheaper than ours, which is now over a £1 a litre for road diesel, but they get no concessions for the fact that the fuel is going into a boat or is being used to provide heating or power generation in a marine application.

By the way, their fuel might say Euro diesel, but its exhaust gases smell very rough indeed.

There seems to be a lot of differences in fuel quality around Europe - apparently, the fuel is both cheaper and better quality up the coast in Slovenia !!!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Opatija Dusk

I've just spent a couple of days working in the port of Rijeka in Croatia.

Luckily, Northern Croatia was a little bit cooler than the UK has been this week.

Last night, with the work finished, I thought I'd go to the seaside resort of Opatija for an ice cream in front of one of the old Edwardian hotels.

So, dusk saw me taking some photo's and eating a double helping of Rum Punch ice cream.

I like Opatija - it has class.

In the evening, people dress up to stroll the promenade, amidst Italian-style cafe society.

The absence of any meaningful tide means that Opatija has little sea water swimming pools, that are nothing more than diving boards and steps perched on the rock shore.

I returned home today using the Ryanair service from Pula.

I don't usually fly Ryanair and regular bloggites following "Revelations" will know that I usually fly with EasyJet.

Ryanair has made a few changes since the last time I used them, namely the introduction of passengers printing their own boarding card.

Initially, I thought this might be a good thing.

You log on to their website, answering all those tiresome questions about whether you packed your own bag, are you carrying drugs for anybody else and so on.

Then, hey presto, you print your own boarding card.

Great, I thought - smooth sailing.

Except, when you get to the airport, you still have to queue up, so the baggage drop-off girl (the very same girl who used to be the check-in girl) can check your passport and tag your luggage.

In actual fact, this only seems to save them the time and tedium of printing your boarding pass for you.

Another example of Ryanair getting you to do more, so they can make more money.

Anyway, I boarded the flight at Pula and found myself sitting next to an Irish mother and daughter combo.

As we started taxying out, I had one of those surreal moments that seem to occur with regular frequency in my life.

The eastern european trolley dollies were going through their safety drills in heavy accented Czech-English.

Why do they say, "if there is a loss in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. Pull them towards you to start the flow of Oxygen, place them over your face and breathe normally" ?

If the cabin depressurises, the plane driver will push the stick forward and lose as much height as possible, in as shortest time as possible.

The last thing anybody will be doing is breathing normally.

Their heart will be hammering in their ears and their breath will be coming in some very deep panicky gasps I would imagine !!!

It's like saying "don't panic - normal service will be resumed shortly" which means you should really start worrying now as we are patronising you.

Anyway, as usual, I digress.

As we taxied out, we passed some very overgrown, disused, concrete military aircraft shelters.

I realised that Pula must have been a military base, many years ago.

The numerous, gaping black mouths of hardened shelters hidden behind mounds of earth gave the sunny holiday airport, a very sinister feel.

Apparently, I have now discovered that Pula was controlled by the Yugoslav Army from 1954 to 1967.

Shades of communist tyranny and Marshall Tito seemed even more poignant, when the two Irish ladies next to me, crossed themselves nervously, lips moving in silent prayer,  as our 21st century Boeing accelerated down a runway formerly used by eastern bloc Migs. 

Happy days.