ME & MY BOATS
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.
THe couple made good use of their twelfth share in Alexandrine
HenrytheNavigator was rented out to hirers
Nick, happily tinkering with his Ruston