A bit from here, a bit from there

First Mag­pie III changed her name to The Grif­fin, then she grew like Topsy– and she’s still grow­ing strong How a ‘mon­grel’ boat was trans­formed over the years into a com­fo­rat­able, and re­li­able, home from home

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY SARAH JURY

Ev­ery boater ex­pe­ri­ences at some point the same ques­tions about their boat from cu­ri­ous by­standers at locks. This is a con­ver­sa­tion I of­ten have:

Gon­goo­zler – “Is it yours?” Me – “Yes.” Gon­goo­zler – “Isn’t it cold on board in win­ter?” Me – “No.” Gon­goo­zler “How old is it?” Me – “Ah, It’s com­pli­cated.”

Our boat, The Grif­fin, is a bit of a mon­grel. My hus­band Mac bought her around 1982 when she was a five-year-old 36ft Han­cock & Lane lit­tle tub called

Mag­pie III with a Lis­ter SR2 en­gine. She had been fit­ted out by the pre­vi­ous owner who had pulled apart a Dawn­craft cruiser and in­serted the gal­ley, dinette and even part of the fi­bre­glass hull in­side his new steel boat.

It was an in­ter­est­ing idea and suited him, but Mac had very def­i­nite ideas about how he wanted his boat to be, and it wasn’t long be­fore work be­gan on chang­ing things around. Thirty four years later and work is still in progress – as many boat own­ers know, the job will never be to­tally fin­ished.

The first task was to change the name of the boat. Mag­pie as a boat name may be okay, but Mag­pie III was not for us. Mac owned a heat­ing and plumb­ing com­pany and one of his ma­jor clients at the time was the Fuller, Smith & Turner Brew­ery. The chief sur­veyor sug­gested if he named the boat The Grif­fin, the brew­ery would pro­vide bits and pieces to decorate her. This es­ca­lated over the years to pro­vid­ing the splen­did sig­nage now in place. As an en­thu­si­as­tic cus­tomer of Fuller’s prod­ucts and with no better idea at the time, Mac leapt at the of­fer and the boat was duly re­named.

How­ever, this was done when she was still in the wa­ter and although we’re not su­per­sti­tious, we do won­der if this was un­wise as it is said to be un­lucky to re­name a boat un­less she’s out of the wa­ter. Shortly af­ter­wards there was a ma­jor fire on board (caused by the gas fridge), and later on the same hol­i­day, wa­ter came in through the sink waste hole overnight and she was in dan­ger of sink­ing. How­ever, all was sorted out and The

Grif­fin sailed on to fight an­other day. In 1985 Mac de­cided a larger boat was needed as he was in dan­ger of fin­ish­ing the fit out on the first 36ft. He com­mis­sioned Paul Cas­tle to put 20ft in the mid­dle. As the bud­get was, to put it mildly, tight, the work was car­ried out in an old dis­used fac­tory at Spring­well near Crox­ley Green, Hert­ford­shire and Paul did a good job. How­ever, a big­ger boat meant a big­ger en­gine was re­quired and the trusty Lis­ter was re­moved. Mac had spot­ted a 1935 Perkins P4 en­gine gently rust­ing in the yard at Cowroast Ma­rina. It had (al­legedly) been re­stored. This en­gine was go­ing cheap (£350), but over the en­su­ing years, not re­ally go­ing, at least not for any length of time. Many hours were spent after each break­down bow haul­ing the The Grif­fin to boat­yards for help and Mac was of­ten up­side down in the bow­els of the en­gine hole try­ing to fix the lat­est prob­lem.

I even­tu­ally is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum – re­place the en­gine or I’m not do­ing any more boat­ing.

As he needed some­one to help with the lock­ing, steer­ing, cook­ing and the myr­iad other jobs re­quired on boats an en­gine was duly iden­ti­fied – a 1965 BMC 2.2 ac­com­pa­nied by a new PRM gear­box. This time the en­gine was fully and prop­erly re­built by Terry Yates and his son at New­bold on the North Ox­ford Canal. It was then in­stalled in Ayles­bury by Mac and marine en­gi­neer and boat builder John Pat­tle. This en­gine was not go­ing as cheap as the last one, it cost £1,700, but at least it was go­ing, and has con­tin­ued to go ever since.

In 1992 Mac was again in dan­ger of fin­ish­ing fit­ting out the new­est sec­tion of the boat. The op­por­tu­nity arose to add a 14ft front deck with a Josher bow to re­place the orig­i­nal bow from the Han­cock & Lane Mer­lin hull. An ex­cel­lent job was done by Roger Far­ring­ton as­sisted by John Pat­tle at Braun­ston Bot­tom Lock. Ini­tially the deck was made up of wooden planks but a steel deck was re­cently put on mak­ing it wa­ter tight, so an in­board gen­er­a­tor is now in place. There is also a lot of stor­age space un­der there. It’s amaz­ing how much es­sen­tial stuff has to be car­ried about with us (I am told by Mac).

The main ben­e­fit of our lovely front deck is when we use it as our ‘pa­tio’. A ta­ble and chairs with table­cloth and flow­ers of­ten prompt the com­ment: “How civilised!”, and when Wen­dover, our over-sized large bear (won at a Wen­dover Arm Trust auc­tion about 20 years ago) is sit­ting at the ta­ble, there is of­ten much amuse­ment and wav­ing from chil­dren of all ages as we pass by.

We worked hard on the boat for many years but had just two weeks’ hol­i­day avail­able for trav­el­ling the sys­tem. The worst part of th­ese hol­i­days was com­ing back to base - we would of­ten look wist­fully along a fresh sec­tion of canal at a junc­tion as we passed and com­ment “wouldn’t it be lovely just to turn up there and keep go­ing”.

Hav­ing now re­tired we have now re­alised our am­bi­tion of long-term sum­mer cruis­ing. All on our beloved boat which is 39, 31 and 24 years old. We travel north from our base on the south­ern Grand Union to the Mid­lands and be­yond for three or four months. This year we plan to visit Le­ices­ter, Birm­ing­ham, the Ashby Canal and are al­ready think­ing about where to travel next year. We don’t cruise for hours on end to keep to a sched­ule any more, or travel in the rain if we can help it. We have even been known to tie up out­side a pub or two.

We can now also de­cide to make an un­planned turn at a junc­tion and sim­ply keep go­ing.

The Grif­fin pass­ing Mar­ket Bos­worth

‘Wen­dover’ the bear gives amuse­ment to chil­dren as the boat passes by

In­side The Grif­fin’s saloon

The Grif­fin at 36ft, as built...

...and after ex­tend­ing by 20ft

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