TIME TO BREAK FREE

Ever won­dered what it’s like to be a new live­aboard? Find out as our man David leaves the cosy ma­rina for his new life on the cut

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS AND PIC­TURES BY DAVID JOHNS

Don’t miss new live­aboard David Johns’s ad­ven­tures as he fi­nally sets off down the cut

Ithink I know how a baby bird must feel when fledg­ing the nest. Five months after I moved on to a nar­row­boat and moored it in a ma­rina for win­ter, the lines have been un­tied, the en­gine fired into life and the safety of the pon­toon berth left behind.

Farewell, Yelvertoft! You served me well. Ac­tu­ally, bet­ter than well – I had a very pleas­ant start to my wa­tery life there. Staff and fel­low boaters as one were friendly and amaz­ingly help­ful, al­ways happy to of­fer reams of ad­vice not­with­stand­ing that much of it con­tra­dicted what the oth­ers were sug­gest­ing. Such is the way of the canal, it seems; ev­ery­one has an opin­ion on how best to achieve a goal yet none of those opin­ions nec­es­sar­ily con­cur.

So what did I do to prep for de­par­ture? So­lar pan­els for one – two lovely great slabs of black and alu­minium ‘elec­trick­ery’, piv­oted to catch the best rays and giv­ing me 480 Watts of free en­ergy (yet leav­ing enough space on the roof to walk down the side). They’re so good that I barely plugged into the shore mains from the end of Fe­bru­ary on­wards.

With the water tank filled, fuel tank brimmed and bat­ter­ies charged, it’s on to the cut. De­part­ing on, per­haps fool­ishly, 1 April, I’ve not, at the time of writ­ing, ac­tu­ally trav­elled that far but ex­pe­ri­ences have al­ready come thick and fast.

Hardy boaters may chuckle but I con­sider getting through Crick tun­nel solo while pass­ing two other boats com­ing the other way, with­out hit­ting them or soil­ing my pants, as a sig­nif­i­cant tri­umph.

A lock at the Wat­ford flight was also han­dled solo with­out cause for send­ing up dis­tress flares though the stair­case sec­tion was mer­ci­fully taken care of by the su­perbly friendly vol­un­teer lock­keep­ers. They did ev­ery­thing bar mop­ping my fevered brow as the level was de­scended and I’m hugely grate­ful.

That re­minds me – I must buy a lot­tery ticket this week. For what are the odds, on my first jour­ney out, of bump­ing into the chap who painted my boat back in 2011? Pretty large I’d have thought yet that’s what hap­pened, a bearded man leant his head over the lock side as I was low­ered and shouted “I painted that!”. Chris We­ston, his name is, from the Oxon Boat Paint­ing Com­pany and he was very jolly, too, with plenty of chat and sug­ges­tions for places to visit along the Ox­ford Canal.

A gen­tle am­ble on­ward fol­lowed the next day from Wat­ford locks to Nor­ton Junc­tion where the weather was de­cent and the scenery splen­did, prompt­ing me to stay in situ for a while. I’ve no real timetable to speak of after all, and an en­gi­neer­ing ap­point­ment awaited me in Braun­ston a few days later so I was in no hurry to ar­rive early.

If I thought Crick tun­nel was un­pleas­ant, can I just say how much I dis­like the one at Braun­ston? Nasty twisty hor­rid thing, full of water and curves to catch the un­wary. If you were the very po­lite man who I banged into after I let the front of the boat wan­der out while con­cen­trat­ing too hard on what the back was do­ing, then thank you for not shout­ing. Clearly Braun­ston has it in

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