Wait­ing out the win­ter in front of a glow­ing hearth has left liveaboard David Johns ready to get fired-up again and head off for the trip of a life­time

Canal Boat - - This Month -

It’s time for the new boy on the block to emerge from his cosy cabin and start chart­ing chal­leng­ing new routes to test his met­tle

Imust have been a dor­mouse or a cat in my past life as my only ac­tiv­i­ties for the last four months have com­prised curl­ing up un­der the du­vet and doz­ing in front of the fire.

Such is the lux­ury and lazi­ness of the free­lance liveaboard al­beit one with – ac­cord­ing to one re­cent YouTube com­ment – a “lack of am­bi­tion”.

For­tu­nately, my sole am­bi­tion is to be happy and con­tent so I’ve achieved 100 per­cent of my goal. I won­der how life’s work­ing out for the bit­ter soul who posted that mes­sage.

It’s been a chilly win­ter, you may have no­ticed. Fun fact: I spent 50 per­cent more on coal in Jan­uary com­pared with last year.

In­deed, apart from the afore­men­tioned ac­tiv­i­ties – do they even count as ac­tiv­i­ties? – some weeks seem to have been spent do­ing lit­tle more than shov­el­ling bri­quettes into the stove and open­ing up the bot­tom vent to en­cour­age that won­der­ful or­ange glow from the coals.

Hav­ing the stove stoked up is no bad thing, mind you; it means there’s per­ma­nently a ket­tle on ready for an­other cuppa.

And warm­ing up a tin of beans for a spot of lunch or quick sup­per just re­quires a pot on the stove in­stead of burn­ing propane with all its ir­ri­tat­ing con­den­sa­tion is­sues.

Oh, hang on – the toast still needs grilling. Never mind, cook­ing was never re­ally my ex­per­tise.

For the first time, the dirt of the stove is get­ting me down though. Much as I adore its warmth, that lit­tle cloud of dust which es­capes ev­ery time I empty the ash pan, no mat­ter how much I try to con­tain it, is be­gin­ning to grate (I do love an ac­ci­den­tal pun).

I have even gone so far of late as to idly be­gin sketch­ing what an ideal nar­row­boat might look like based on my ex­pe­ri­ences so far and, shock hor­ror, it in­cludes a diesel stove.

I’ve heard peo­ple say that wa­ter­d­wellers will try about three dif­fer­ent boats un­til they set­tle on their life­long float­ing com­pan­ion. I can’t re­ally imag­ine swap­ping mine now, es­pe­cially after fet­tling it to just the way I like.

But if that lottery win ever does fi­nally

‘Such ab­surd fri­vol­ity aside, let’s come back down to earth (wa­ter?) with more pro­saic mat­ters afoot… namely the start of spring and sum­mer cruis­ing’

come up – surely I’m due it soon – then I may well be tempted to head for Crick with a blank cheque to hand over to a top builder.

Such ab­surd fri­vol­ity aside, let’s come back down to earth (wa­ter?) with more pro­saic mat­ters afoot… namely the start of spring and sum­mer cruis­ing.

I didn’t get to do ev­ery­thing I’d planned last year for var­i­ous fam­ily and work rea­sons, but two chunks of nav­i­gat­ing are now on my sched­ule.

First of all, a three-month round-trip head­ing up the GU Le­ices­ter Arm and the Soar, left onto the Trent & Mersey, over to Mid­dlewich and then down to­wards Stour­port.

The fi­nal bit, the re­turn leg, is cur­rently un­de­fined but could ei­ther be back up the Staffs & Worces­ter to the T&M and down the Coven­try and North Ox­ford. Or, I could travel down the Sev­ern to Tewkes­bury, up the Avon to Strat­ford and across on the Strat­ford Canal.

Cer­tainly the lat­ter course would be quite am­bi­tious for me – rivers as yet be­ing un­charted ter­ri­tory – but it would also, I am sure, make for good tales to bore peo­ple with for years to come.

In July and Au­gust, I plan to moor some­where, sit on the tow­path and en­joy an in­tra­venous drip of gin and tonic while watch­ing the jam-packed canals full of sum­mer hol­i­day­mak­ers from the safety of the bank.

Then a fi­nal blast for this year will come in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber where the long-awaited jaunt down the Grand Union to Lon­don and back will hope­fully come to fruition.

Be­fore all that comes a bit of prepa­ra­tion. I’ve kept the fuel tank pretty much full over win­ter as well as al­ways dos­ing it with Fuel Set so I’m hop­ing there won’t be any nasty diesel bug to cause me any hic­cups.

But I’ll dunk a long pipe in there, suck up some fuel from the bot­tom and have a look if there’s any­thing ob­vi­ously yucky wait­ing to choke my en­gine.

Then there’s a very slow but per­sis­tent oil leak which I’ve dis­cov­ered is on­go­ing even when the boat’s moored up and doesn’t have the en­gine turned on. The oil fil­ter’s screwed on tightly enough and there’s no drip on its un­der­side so quite

where the oil’s sneak­ing out from to spoil my oth­er­wise clean bilge I re­ally do not know. I’d like to get that mys­tery sorted be­fore I get as far as the Soar though.

One – hope­fully easy – up­grade will be to swap the old tun­nel light which seem­ingly has all the il­lu­mi­na­tory power of a ci­garette lighter. I’ve bought one with LEDs in it and am told by a friend who bought the same item that it’s re­ally bright. As a (mostly) con­sid­er­ate boater I shall in­stall it tilted slightly of course so that it doesn’t blind any on­com­ing skip­pers.

But un­til I go through the first tun­nel I shan’t re­ally know how well I’ve done. So if you meet me in Braun­ston tun­nel early in April and can’t see any­thing for weeks af­ter­wards, I apol­o­gise.

De­spite the grand vi­sion of my im­pend­ing trav­els, I do won­der if I’ll ac­tu­ally ever man­age to tear my­self away from the moor­ing. I’ve be­come rather too com­fort­able and com­pla­cent here, you see. The per­ma­nent avail­abil­ity of 16-amp mains is a lux­ury, not least be­cause it pow­ers my im­mer­sion heater for a steam­ing morn­ing shower with­out all the pe­cu­liar noises the Eber­spächer makes at full tilt.

A wa­ter tap on hand is rather splen­did, too.

Equally, I fan­cied pop­ping along to the CRT’s il­lu­mi­nated boats shindig at Fox­ton in De­cem­ber and had I gone by boat it would have taken a few days dur­ing a rather wet and windy spell.

But, be­ing moored, I hopped into the car which is parked nearby and drove straight over. Bliss.

It might sound as though I should stop now and go back to bricks and mor­tar but there’s some­thing oddly com­pelling about be­ing on a boat.

I can’t work out what it is; if I imag­ine sit­ting down in a con­ven­tional liv­ing room with con­ven­tional kitchen and bed­rooms up­stairs and so on, the no­tion leaves me cold.

Think of the same rooms in a boat and I come over all pe­cu­liar (in a good way).

No, boat­ing is def­i­nitely still on the cards. The ad­ven­ture still awaits!

And I’m go­ing to do it – even the ‘Scare­cas­tle’ tun­nel – no mat­ter what.

You can fol­low my ad­ven­tures in video at Cruis­, on Twit­ter (@

Cruis­ingTheCut) or here in the pages of Canal Boat mag­a­zine.Tio co­rumqu


Sun­sets are al­ways better on the canal

Go­ing nowhere

New lamps for old!

Hav­ing a sparkling time at the Fox­ton il­lu­mi­nated boats fes­ti­val

The il­lu­mi­nated view from afar

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