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
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 CruisingTheCut.co.uk, on Twitter (@
CruisingTheCut) or here in the pages of Canal Boat magazine.Tio corumqu
Sunsets are always better on the canal
New lamps for old!
Having a sparkling time at the Foxton illuminated boats festival
The illuminated view from afar