ME & MY BOATS

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY NICK & DEB­BIE HUNT

A boat-share al­lowed a cou­ple to en­joy happy cruis­ing un­til they could af­ford their own boat

Look­ing back over our boating ‘ca­reer’, it came as a bit of a shock that 20 years had gone by since Deb, my wife, had the idea of hir­ing a nar­row­boat for a hol­i­day. Deb’s dad had not long been wid­owed,

A cou­ple were keen to have their own boat but couldn’t af­ford one. How­ever, buy­ing a twelfth of a boat share al­lowed them to en­joy many happy times cruis­ing the wa­ter­ways un­til they could even­tu­ally buy a whole boat of their own

and the idea was for him to spend time with his grand­sons ‘some­where dif­fer­ent’.

Bil­lyBones was hired from Stone on the Trent & Mersey Canal, how­ever I missed that first trip due to work com­mit­ments. The hol­i­day was a suc­cess and Deb thought that, hav­ing been sail­ing for much of my mis-spent youth as well as an eight-year stretch at sea on oil tankers, I might just en­joy canal boating, too.

The next Fe­bru­ary half-term saw us on

55ft Nuffield hired in Ox­ford, and a trip with un­sea­son­ably quiet weather on the Ox­ford Canal, at the end of which we were firmly hooked.

That sum­mer we man­aged to get a few days away with­out the kids and hired Gavotte from near Rugby, and cruised to Mar­ket Har­bor­ough and back, hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced Braun­ston tun­nel, Wat­ford stair­case locks, Fox­ton locks – and fall­ing in at the en­trance to the Mar­ket Har­bor­ough branch. I say we, how­ever, it was only me that fell in – try­ing to be clever walk­ing along a nar­row gun­wale with­out hold­ing on.

Hir­ing boats was fine, but we were keen to do much more cruis­ing and re­ally wanted our own boat but just couldn’t af­ford it. Evenings were spent por­ing over lists of boats in canal mag­a­zines but we re­alised the dream might stay as just that… un­til we came across an ad­vert for boat shar­ing. It meant that we could have our ‘own’ boat for four weeks of the year, but with­out the cost of buy­ing a whole boat.

In fact, it was less than a twelfth of the cost of a new boat as the ad­vert was of­fer­ing the last of 12 shares in a boat just two years old. This par­tic­u­lar share would give us a week ev­ery Easter, a week ev­ery Au­gust, and two weeks dur­ing the win­ter – ideal for school hol­i­days.

The fol­low­ing week­end we made our way to the Mid­lands, looked over 60ft Alexan­drine and paid for the share then and there. We spent time on her when­ever it was our turn and, over the next eight years, man­aged time on the Stafford & Worces­ter Canal, the

‘This par­tic­u­lar share would give us a week ev­ery Easter, a week ev­ery Au­gust and two weeks dur­ing the win­ter

ideal for school hol­i­days’

Shrop­pie, the River Sev­ern, Birm­ing­ham & Worces­ter, Trent & Mersey, in and out of Birm­ing­ham, the Wolver­hamp­ton 21 at least four times, through Manch­ester, up and down the An­der­ton Boat Lift, down to Stratford and up to Bugsworth Basin.

Be­ing part of a group of like-minded shar­ers, ev­ery­one al­ways tried to hand the boat over to the next co-owner in bet­ter con­di­tion than at the be­gin­ning of the hol­i­day. Con­se­quently the boat was al­ways kept highly pol­ished and spot­less.

Even­tu­ally it dawned on us that we re­ally just wanted to ‘pop over’ to our own boat when­ever we fan­cied, so we sold the share in Alexan­drine and looked at buy­ing a cheap sec­ond-hand boat with a view to strip­ping out the in­te­rior and re­fit­ting it. We quickly re­alised that, while we could at­tempt to re­fit the in­side of an old boat, the hull and en­gine would in­vari­ably have been well used. So fur­ther search­ing led us to the idea of a sail­away in­stead – a new hull with win­dows and an en­gine fit­ted, but oth­er­wise empty.

Our idea was to spend an hour or two ev­ery other week­end fit­ting it out and, af­ter a few months, we’d have a fin­ished boat just how we wanted it. Well, in re­al­ity it took the two of us ev­ery

week­end for a year and a half to fit out our new 45ft boat while moored at the end of some­one’s gar­den in New­bury on the Ken­net & Avon. Hav­ing man­aged to get to around 99 per­cent fin­ished (no boat is ever com­pletely fin­ished), we were pleased enough, and named her Swan Hunter (Deb’s dad worked for many years at the fa­mous yard in Ge­ordieland, and our sur­name is Hunt).

We cruised the boat on the K& A, but had ‘itchy fin­gers’ and felt the need for another boat pro­ject, so we bought an ex-hire boat as well (from Black Prince the hire com­pany), re­named it Hen­ry­the Nav­i­ga­tor and set up our own one-boat hire busi­ness. It was all le­git­i­mate with the right pa­per­work and busi­ness li­cence, but it was no good be­ing ‘down south’, so we moved to Stoke-on-Trent as there are more canals around there. Job changes, house mov­ing and boat mov­ing meant we had more up­heaval, but we had a plan!

The hire busi­ness ran suc­cess­fully for five years (we both still had full-time weekday jobs, too) un­til we re­alised that we sel­dom had a week­end avail­able to cruise on SwanHunter, hav­ing spent 18 months of blood, sweat and tears fit­ting her out. I met some lovely hir­ers and got to cruise for an hour each week­end on Henry in­struct­ing them, but it was through the same lock each time so not much va­ri­ety, and Deb missed out al­to­gether. So, af­ter five years, we sold Henry.

Around that time we just hap­pened to see our present boat for sale at a ma­rina near Nantwich, and for a num­ber of years, hav­ing had a han­ker­ing for a tug-style boat with a vintage en­gine and tra­di­tional back cabin, we sold Swan Hunter and bought the tug.

What sur­prised us was, hav­ing found our ‘dream’ boat, how easy it was to part with Swan Hunter. Bru­tus Max­imus is 60ft long and he’s fit­ted with a 1951 Rus­ton three-cylin­der en­gine (it has to be a ‘he’ with a name like that!). From an en­gi­neer­ing point of view, at last I have an en­gine I can re­ally play with, although our two dogs won’t go any­where near it when it’s run­ning.

The next plan is to stop work­ing and cruise the sys­tem con­tin­u­ously for as long as we can – I just hope my boss doesn’t get to read this though…

Opps,last­mon­th­we­la­belledaphoto ‘AtFradleyLock­swith­afriend­driv­ing’ –it­should­have­beenFox­tonLocks.

Win­ter­boat­in­gonSwanHunter

THe cou­ple made good use of their twelfth share in Alexan­drine

Hen­ry­theNav­i­ga­tor was rented out to hir­ers

Nick, hap­pily tin­ker­ing with his Rus­ton

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